Thursday, October 23, 2014

Working with Animal Totems

Learning From Your Animal Spirit Guide And Ally

To begin to work with animal totem, all I've found that you need to have is respect for your animal.  Do not judge it if it is not as glamorous as you would like; each animal has its own unique gifts to share. Also, don't use your animal to boost your ego; the animal has come to you to aid you in your personal growth and should not be abused in this or any other way. Generally, I suggest you only tell people who can understand and who you trust. Negative reactions from others only serves make it more difficult to connect and build a relationship with your animal totem. Once you can respect your animal totem, you are ready to work with it.

The easiest way to begin working with animal totems is to first study your animal -- its natural abilities and ways -- then metaphorically apply them to your life situations. For example, because of its good vision, the hawk could help you to keep sight of your true goals. The image of a hawk swooping down to capture its prey is a powerful tool for helping you achieve these goals. Such images serve to give you strength when you need to keep sight of your goals. Studying the natural ways of your animal also helps to create a more powerful bond between you and your animal, thereby allowing it to aid you even more in your life.

When looking for information about your animal totem, be sure to try to study some of the most recent material published concerning your animal, as much of what biologists believed about certain animals has changed, even in the last couple of years.

One thing to consider when applying an animal's lessons in your life is "human medicine". Just as all animals have certain spiritual traits ("medicines") associated with them, so do we. Human medicine refers to free will. While animals generally stay true to their original instructions, those given by the Great Spirit (God, Goddess, etc.), we humans have an overwhelming ability to make decisions. This doesn't mean that animals have no decision-making abilities -- many do -- but of all animals, humans have this trait in greatest abundance. Before applying any medicine of an animal in your life, it is important to consider and respect human medicine. In short, we must never violate the free will of another, human or otherwise.

Free will is very important when applying the lessons of animals into your life. For instance, did you know that chimpanzees sometimes murder other chimps, or that weasel males "rape" females? Obviously, these are not meant to be applied directly into human life! Despite this, I feel it is important not to judge the animal kingdoms. (Too often I see people focused on either the "violence" or the "cuteness" of animals. The animal world is much more than either of these simple stereotypes.) After all, the animals are only following their original instructions. Besides, these images can still be put to a good purpose. For example, the chimpanzee could help remove obstacles to our well-being, while the weasel could remind us to take the chances we are given; both of these things in accordance with free will, of course! In the end, however, it is your decision to the images you wish to work with. Whether or not you use them, just be sure to accept them as a part of the animal world.

In addition to studying the natural ways of the animals, it is also important to study the mythology of the animals. Around the globe, different cultures (especially shamanic cultures) have applied many mythical aspects to the animals. Some examples: the bear represents introspection, the hummingbird represents joy, and the leopard represents inner power. We can use these myths to aid us in connecting with our animal allies and as a focus to understanding the place the animal has in our lives; what it has come to teach us.

Before you study the myths of animals, however, I personally feel that you should study their natural habits first, in order to forge a powerful connection to begin with. Besides, sometimes myths, rather than creating a sense of wonder about the natural world, simply serve to confuse the truth.

Meditation and Journeying

In addition to using simple animal imagery to effect changes in your life, you can also meditate or journey to speak with your animal. You can modify the same meditation from the last issue to talk with your totem and ask any questions you would like. But beware! I have found that animal totems never lie, so be sure you really want the question answered before you ask. Also be aware that sometimes, certain animals (especially trickster animals) speak in riddles. Further, some animals don't speak at all. In general, it seems that the attitude you have when you enter meditation determines what you receive, so always try to enter meditation peacefully and without expectations.

You can also use guided meditations, in which you plan out what is basically going to happen before you meditate. One of the more powerful guided meditations to do when you are in need concerning predator and prey animals. Imagine your need as the prey animal of your predatory animal totem. Now imagine the predator animal chasing the prey, eventually catching it and devouring it. Try to imagine it as real as possible, using all your senses. Performing this meditation regularly can very empowering. Just be patient... even predators must run the chase several times before it is successful.

A similar guided meditation can be used to help kick old habits, to banish negativity, and to remove disease. In this case, the prey animal represents what you want to get rid of. Imagine your predator animal chasing, catching, and eventually devouring the prey. The part of the prey that is needed (the lesson you needed to learn from it) becomes a part of the predator animal totem and helps it (and you) to grow strong; the rest is excreted. Repeat this meditation regularly as before.

Using a Focus

Another shamanic way that you can use to connect with your animal totems is to utilize a focus (a physical object to represent the animal) for connecting with your animal spirit. Although a focus is not necessary for working with animal totems, it can be useful on occasion. For example, if you don't feel you have the proper attitude when you need to connect with your animal totem through meditation or journeying (you're in a terrible mood and need some guidance), and when you are unable to visualize the animal clearly in your mind (such as when you are stressed or depressed).

In these cases, it better to use an object that represents your connection with your animal totem. This focus could be a carving of your animal, a part of the animal's body, a crystal (representing your connection), a plush animal (teddy bears, etc.), a picture of your animal, or whatever. From experience, I've learned that no focus is necessarily better than any other, so an actual part of the animal is not necessary. Your intention is what really matters. Because I personally don't wish to harm my animal totems, I would never kill one merely for a focus.

Before using a focus, I usually prepare it in advance using simple ritual. Hold it in both hands and present it to Mother Earth and Father Sky, and ask that it serve to connect you with your animal totem, in peace, respect, understanding, et al. Then imagine energy flowing into it from you, then back to you. You can be elaborate or as simple as you like. (Again, intention is the key!)

When you want to use the focus, simply hold it in your hand. Usually, I hold a focus in both hands. You could also lie down and place it upon your body (such as over your heart to represent the heartfelt connection). Feel the animal sending you the energy you need. You may speak to it if you need to release in that way. Sometimes, you may even "hear" the animal speaking back to you, just as if you were in meditation.

Additional reading from this author: The Different Types Of Animal Totems: Appearances, Messages, and Impact

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Licensing