Being raised as I was with Mesoamerican and Native American influences, I was taught from an early age about the importance of Spirit Animals or Animal Guides, what some today in Neo-Pagan circles call ‘totems’. Actually, the word totem for an individual symbol is a misnomer, as a totem typically describes a symbol that represents an entire tribe, clan or community.
When I was about 7 years old, I was bitten by a Brown Recluse spider, which can be deadly. My dad said that the Spirit of the Spider had chosen me. I feel honored to have been chosen in such a manner. It is said that when your Spirit Animal comes to you, you will be changed. Your outlook, demeanor, character and soul are transformed by the Power of the Animal, Insect or Reptile that has taken up a home in your soul. I have found this to be true.
For those not accustomed to utilizing Animal Spirits, the philosophy can seem ‘primitive’ or backward. This is depressing, because the Ancients recognized the fact that Spirits infuse and inhabit each Animal, Plant, Mineral and Insect that exists; in fact everything in Creation has Its own Spirit. Each one of the Great Mother’s creations pulse with a passion and character uniquely Their own. To be granted a Spirit Animal and to be recognized by One is to be honoured by the Mother and by the entire Web of Her Universe.
At the risk of offending many, I have to be true to what I was taught and state that just because you have a ‘liking’ for ravens or you enjoy the sounds of frogs, does not mean that a raven or a frog is your Spirit Animal. For you to embody the Power, Force and Mindset of another Creature, there must be an ‘energy transference’; a distinct acknowledgement by the Spirit Animal and yourself of a deep, abiding connection. In the past, Shamans would kill and eat the heart or brain of the freshly killed animal to ingest the mental or spiritual qualities of that animal. The meat alone wouldn’t suffice. It had to be the organ that carried the characteristic desired by the Shaman.
Alternatively, one can be bitten or wounded by the Animal Itself. A transference of venom or saliva is a highly potent act of magical contagion that transfers the Powers and Influences of the Animal to the human. This is also done with Plant Spirits, when we ingest herbs or other plants that help ‘alter’ our perceptions and ways of thinking. We are linking with the plant, Spirit to Spirit.
There are cases where ‘non-physical’ transferences can occur. These are those deep, soul-changing exchanges where you gaze into the eyes of the Other, not blinking, not moving, but relishing and devouring each other’s Spiritual and intangible essences.
You are walking in the woods or along a deserted path and you come across a fox. You both stand, staring, not flinching, for what seems like an eternity, neither of you turning away, each delving into the Heart of the Other. There is a definite spiritual transference at that point.
Non-physical transfers can also occur during a deep trance or meditative state, where you meet your Animal Guide in the astral and you form an impenetrable bond. These non-physical states of transference can occur, but are less common than one might think.
Sometimes, your Animal Guide may be one you are not even drawn to or admire. I believe the Guides choose us, not the other way around. You will be dishonouring the Spirit of the Animal chosen for you if One is sent and you discard Its presence because It isn’t ‘pretty’ or it isn’t what you had in mind. Sometimes what we need isn’t always what we ask for or what our preconceived notions may imagine.
I have found it true that typically, the Spirit Animal will be shown or come to you in times of mental, physical or spiritual distress. When our own reserves are weakened, the Great Mother in Her kindness brings to us an Earthly Power that helps supplement and gird up our own. When I was bitten, my home life was in a critical state of alcoholism and physical violence. Sister Spider gave me the insight to remain quiet, to be observant, to stay in the shadows and to seize favourable opportunities when they came across my path. She helped me to survive my chaotic childhood. I use Her skills to this very day.
There is no great mystery or ritual to gaining a Spirit Animal. If you are open, if your intent is sincere and you pray to your Deity or to your Spirits, if you need one, one will appear to you. You must be observant, quiet and pay attention to your surroundings. If you don’t experience a physical transference, don’t worry. Sometimes Animal Guides come into our lives not as life-long companions but as short-term tutors, helping us recognize a deficiency in our lives or way of being. Their lessons are swift and They leave our lives as quickly as they enter. We need to be attentive so we don’t miss the lesson; so that Their appearance is not wasted on the hard of heart or stubborn of mind.
Be open then. If you feel you are being called, have an open Heart. Pray. Meditate. Be attentive. For your Animal Guide will come to you. Whether through the forests, through the deserts, through the oceans, through the air or crawling across the ground, They will find you. Be grateful and honour Them and strive to be deserving of Their presence in your life.