Many people enjoy looking into the symbology of animals, but few are aware of the origins, scope and depth of the benefits in which animal guides are capable of supporting you. Many Ancient Civilizations believed that humans did not stand superior to nature’s inhabitants but revered each as brothers and sisters, coexisting for each other’s benefit. Each member of Mother Earth had something valuable to contribute to the collective knowledge and Ancient Civilizations were well aware of this.
What is Animism?
Animism is said to be the seed of most spiritual and religious thought: animism is the concept that everything in nature has consciousness and spirit (soul) which survives after its hosts’ destruction, prevalent in ancient times. In the Chinese ancient art of Feng Shui the three principles of Chi holds that everything is alive, connected and ever-changing.
Native Americans traditionally honored everything of Earth and Sky: through observations, they gained intimate knowledge of the world they lived in.
Recent interest in Animal Spirits, Spirit Guides and Animal “Totems” is bringing about the resurgence of the deeper study into the guidance of animals and the knowledge that they hold for us. These familiar titles are often used indiscriminately and interchangeably, causing confusion as to which animal guide helps when and for how long in our lives. How are all these animal energies fitting into our lives to guide us? Are there different categories of animal guidance and when and where do they help us?
Misconceptions: Animal Guides Versus Totem Poles
Totem Animals should not be confused with totem poles. Totem poles were important to the Native American tribes of southeastern Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Cedar was usually the tree of choice. Most totem poles either represented 1) the status or lineage of a family, clan or tribe; or 2) a recorded history or a tribal legend that was previously handed down orally which conveyed a life lesson, similar to ancient myths. Some totem poles were said to be made as commemorative works of art for major achievements or celebrations.
A totem pole did not represent a person’s Personal Animal Guides. As a rule, an individual’s Animal Guides were not presented in such a public display as a totem pole. However, Personal Animal Guides could be displayed on one’s own personal medicine shield. Medicine shields should not be confused with war shields or medicine circles/wheels.
A war shield was a tool used for protection during confrontations with enemies to deflect airborne objects and could have contained some portrayal of strong and ferocious animals. Medicine circles are used by medicine men/women as a spiritual tool of healing for a person, clan or tribe. Depending on the circumstances, medicine circles may contain drawings or parts of animals used for the purpose of healing. After healing ceremonies were completed, all traces of the circle were erased.
The vision boards of today can be considered a modern day, watered-down version of the Personal Medicine Shields of the Native American. Both contain symbolic objects and images which reflects one personal vision of what is needed or desired to be achieved. A vision board can include elements of the spiritual whereas a medicine shield, rooted in societies where all living is spiritual in nature, is considered one’s own spiritual path. A medicine shield contains drawn symbols and most likely will be adorned with herbs, plants, parts of animals (teeth, feathers, etc.) or any other reflection of the natural world around the owner. Every piece of one’s own personal shield conveys messages and reminders obtained through spirit guides and/or visions to the owner of the best person that he can be and what may need to be worked on.
In the vernacular of animal guidance speak, Totem refers to an animal spirit guide which has a prominent position in an individual’s personal growth pathway.
A great many of Native American tribes believed there to be nine animal spirit guides holding prominent positions within the individual’s personal makeup. This can be similarly thought of in the same way in which an archetype is thought to hold a position in one’s personality.
Discover Your Animal Spirit Guides
The first four Personal Spirit Animal Guides position themselves in the four directions: East, South, West and North. You can now more clearly understand the greater similarity to a personal medicine shield than to a totem pole. Each direction holds entrance into your personal growth and understanding of your being and the world around you.
As the sun illuminates the day rising in the East, the East Spirit Guide illuminates your personal path. A traveling animal companion helps you see your spiritual challenges more clearly, leading you to spiritual awakening.
Your South Spirit Animal holds the place for emotional wisdom and protectd the delicate inner child within. They help you claim who you really are amidst the ever shifting emotional waters of living life. This spirit teaches you the benefits of whom to trust, when and in what situations. Another function of this Animal Guide is to teach the qualities of humility.
The Spirit Guide in the West direction helps you to dig deeper to find your personal truths, locate your inner answers, listen to your intuition and clarify your goals. This is sometimes the one guiding you through a midlife crisis.
The life lesson of when to speak and when to listen, a quality of true wisdom, finds its place in the north direction. The North Animal Spirit Guide pushes you to express yourself and at times can stand in your way, making you stop and listen to others. They also teach the important quality of gratefulness, which can take you a long way on your path.
The next three positions can be compared to Father Sky, Mother Earth and the True Self:
In our modern world, it may be harder to trust that there is a Great Universal Spirit or Source; Native Americans referred to it as Father Sky or The Great Spirit. The Animal Spirit Guide holding the above position can help you believe in Great Universal Spirit, as well as to believe the messages you are receiving to help you along your path or to help others. This animal teaches you to honor Father Sky and protects your subconscious mind that is in receipt of important messages.
This Animal Spirit Guide leads you to Mother Earth and teaches you the importance of staying grounded while you are living your life. When you are not grounded it’s hard to stay firmly walking your true path. Trying to keep you from becoming confused and unfocused at times in your day-to-day life can be a difficult job for this animal guide.
Having a central position in the picture of your personal medicine shield, the Animal Guide located here is assigned to protect your most inner being. Your true self, someone who is infrequently shared with anyone else, you need this guide to protect your innermost doorway. Only you know the real you, deep down inside, and the work that you still must do to grow. At times this is a heavy weight to carry but this Animal Guide also teaches you the benefits of finding joy wherever you walk to lighten your load.
The last two positions can be compared to your male/female sides of self. These Animal Spirit Guides usually present themselves very early in life and most likely are lifelong companions.
Being the male side, this Spirit Animal Guide is most likely the first to show up in your life. Your all-encompassing protector with courageous spirit, he teaches you how to summon the courage inside yourself to face your inner fears and assaults from the outer world.
Arriving not long after your right side animal guide, your left side is your female side. This Spirit Animal is nurturing and teaches the nurturing aspects of your life. A true bearer of a constant mother’s love, she teaches you adaptability to life situations and its relationships.
How Do You Find Your Spirit Animals?
As just mentioned, the right and left side Spirit Animal Guides show up early in your lifetime. Think back early in your life: did you have recurring dreams or nightmares as a child which contained a certain animal? Maybe you had an almost obsessive attachment to a certain animal. While on a visit to the zoo (and successive visits) did you spend the longest time watching a particular animal, practically having to be dragged away? Did you collect books about that animal? Or were you fascinated by nature shows or movies which contained a certain animal? Did you have a certain animal showing up frequently in real life for which you had a deep fondness? The first animal appearing to you in this way is your right side. The second animal appearing to you in this manner is your left side.
As you become older you may discover an Animal Spirit showing up as you are working in the areas described in the other seven directions. It may show up in dreams or in meditation where you ask for help in a particular situation. There may be a particular live animal consistently showing up in your life. Or you can use divination tools to reveal the Animal Spirit Guide when you ask for help which reflects a particular direction.
These guides find you: you don’t get to choose your spirit animal guides.
How to Communicate with Your Animal Guides
When you start communicating with spirit animals, try not to approach it with a human point of view. Learn about the animal and its qualities and behaviors. Start thinking like the animal: Become familiar with how they move through their environment, what sounds they make, how they use their senses and what skills they use. What about this animal can protect, guide and/or teach? Once you become closely familiar with the animals you will be increasingly receptive to their telepathic messages. Use your inherent intuitive gifts, as animals do. Remember, as human beings, we are also spirit animals and have the capacity for the same power and gifts.
As you seriously work with Animal Guides to develop life balance and growth along your personal path, these guides see that you are serious about your personal growth. This also increases communication in content and quality. The most common forms of communication with Animal Spirit Guides are through your intuitive gifts, meditation periods, dreams and telepathy. Occasionally a ‘heads up’ shout out is given through an appearance of an actual animal.
This in-depth work also makes you more aware of Animal Messengers that show up to add a certain piece of needed information of any kind. They can show up in real life, briefly in a dream or during a meditation.
When you are at a situation or crossroads in life that may take months or even longer to move through or understand, an Animal Guide may stay with you until this is resolved. A Journey Animal is your companion and guide during a major life change or challenge.
When you repeatedly fall in a pattern of mistakes and negative behaviors, due to holding onto negative qualities, a Shadow Animal Guide may show up in your life. They usually arrive with a “scared straight” approach and blindingly show you the truth of regarding your situation. They challenge you to go deep to find the necessary and often major lifestyle changes required to reorient yourself on a productive growth path. Refusing to change the present lifestyle and ignoring a Shadow Animal’s guidance may lead to severe negative influences showing up in your life.
Show Gratitude to Your Animal Guides
Always remember to thank and honor all Spirit Animals that bring you messages. They are your protectors, teachers and guides. You may additionally show your gratitude for your Personal Spirit Animal Guides through the use of pictures or small statues as a focus point during meditation (or on an altar) or create your own Personal Medicine Shield. Expressing your thanks is always appreciated.