What are Totems and Spirit Animals?
The terms ‘Totem’ and ‘Spirit Animal’ refer specifically to those beliefs and traditional practices held by various Indigenous, Native and First Nation cultures. Some people are born into their totem, some are chosen, some go through a rigorous time of cleansing, facing obstacles, fasting, and vision seeking to earn their ‘spirit animal’. The animal chooses the native in this instance. These totems are seen as not the spirit of an individual animal, but instead the collective or ‘head’ spirit of that species. It is not an ‘animal’ representation of the person’s own personality, like some new age white girl hippie zodiac shit might say it is. A native’s totem or spirit animal is a collective soul of a species of animal that has chosen that native person specifically in order to teach them lessons and offer their guidance for the rest of the person’s life.
Do you have one?
I do. I am Mvskoke Creek and Western Cherokee. I earned my spirit animal after a period of 5 years, starting when I was about 17. The obstacles and trials I faced nearly killed me, on multiple occasions. It was not until I was about 19 that I realized what was going on and when I was 20, my animal appeared to me and chose me. I have been learning diligently from them and their people ever since. I am constantly grateful and appreciative that they chose me.
Okay, so, how can I get a Spirit Animal?
You can’t. Unless you are a member of an Indigenous tribe that practices a tradition of Totems or Spirit Animals, you cannot have one. The process of receiving or being chosen by one varies from tribe to tribe, and native to native, and it is a very personal and private matter.
But, other cultures have Spirit Animals???
Actually, no. No other cultures have totems/spirit animals in the exact same sense as Indigenous peoples do. However, many other cultures do have traditions that refer to ‘clan animals’ and ‘animal guides’ (such as the Nordic Fylgja, which is a guardian spirit that takes the form of an animal that best represents their human’s personality.) but these are more closely related to the idea of a witch’s familiar. A person can relate to an animal, connect with a specific spirit of an individual animal and learn from that animal. An animal can represent a family’s lineage and their characteristics throughout the bloodline’s history. That does not make it your totem or spirit animal. These phrases, ‘spirit animal’ and ‘totem’, are tied directly to the colonizer’s ideas of those practices in Indigenous religions. Because of centuries of having our cultures ripped from us and beaten out of us, we have lost our original terms for many rituals and important spiritual aspects of our cultures. So we are reclaiming the English words used for them, much like the terms ‘two spirit’ and ‘smudging’.
So, why exactly is it so bad if someone says they have a Spirit Animal?
It’s usage in modern new age culture is a mockery and insult of its original form. It’s just another piece of our culture that was violently taken from us. We weren’t allowed to speak our own languages, or practice our own religions, under penalty of torture, for hundreds of years (Yes. Hundreds. Colonization began nearly 500 years ago and we are STILL being persecuted. See the NODAPL and Standing Rock situation going on right now for example). While white children jokingly say, ‘omg Johnny depp is totally my spirit animal!’, we are still struggling to reclaim the pieces of our culture that were stolen and held from us at gunpoint. Totems and spirit animals are an important part of many tribe’s religious beliefs, and are seen as a right of passage for many. I, for one, never considered myself an adult until after my animal chose me. I had to EARN their guidance. It’s not something you can just take an online quiz for, or joke about. Bottom line is, if you aren’t native, you cannot have a spirit or totem animal. You can have individual spirits of animals that you befriend and learn from, sure. But not spirit animals or totems. They are part of native cultures and native religions. Not native? Then it’s not something you can have.
Please do not send me any hate over this post. I am neurodivergent and very prone to panic attacks. I will not hesitate to block and delete anything that may threaten my mental health. Thank you so much for reading. Mvto!