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Introduction to Animal Totems: Life Totem Animals

Introduction to Animal Totems: Life Totem Animals

By Lisa Caza

Animal spirit totems can be viewed in many different ways according to each of us as individual people. The basic principle of an animal totem is an animal spirit who gives us insight into ourselves as well as a glimpse of the divine powers at work in our world. We can tap into the energies of these animal totems for strength, guidance, personal answers for questions that we may have, as well as for healing ourselves and others. They ultimately help us to learn exactly who we are emotionally and spiritually. Ted Andrews defines animal totems in his book “Animal Speak,” as “any natural object, animal, or being whose phenomena and energy you feel closely associated with during your life”. A totem is considered to be a power, also called ‘medicine,’ and is capable of walking down our path with us on our spiritual and personal journey in this lifetime.

If we take the time and effort to connect with Mother Earth and her animal children we can learn to harness these medicines; enlightening our perceptions, spiritually and personally growing as people, and sharing that new found source of energy with others in the world. But one very important concept to note is that our animal totems and guides CHOOSE US according to what is necessary for our personal growth at any given time. We do not simply choose a random animal. Likewise, it has been my own personal experience that certain animal totems will only come to you if and when you are actually ready for their particular medicine.

When discovering your animal totems you must first understand which KINDS of totems they could be. There are four different levels of animal totems: a Life Totem, A Journey Totem, Shadow Totem, and a Message Totem. Indeed all totems are very powerful, but the meaning that the totem brings will vary depending on what type of totem has in fact come to you. We will address each specific level of totem animal separately; but for today’s article we shall concentrate on the Life Totem.

Your Life Long Animal Totem works with you throughout your entire life … or until such time that you no longer need that animal totem. It is always there when you need its powers; and it is always reminding you of your power and connectivity. You may have only one or a few life totems, and they can become your life totem at any time – they don’t necessarily have to be with you right from birth (which I shall illustrate for you shortly by disclosing my own most recent experience). The messages that your life totem(s) bring are a hard reminder from Mother Earth, and is always there for you … generally reflecting your inner spiritual nature. Some folks call the life-long animal totem your Spirit totem. For example if your Life Totem was a Penguin you would be a person who should be very spiritual since the penguin moves better in water (the symbol of the astral plane – which is where we go when we dream) than it does on land. Being able to leap out of the water (up to six feet) represents the ability of out of body experiences. It is also important to understand which type of penguin is your animal totem since some have additional characteristics that are important to consider, like most penguins live in tropical conditions not arctic ones.


To illustrate the concept of how life animal totems can appear at any given time throughout the course of your life – I wish to share with you my own personal experience:

For as long as I can remember I have most definitely always had a black stallion as my life long animal totem. He has always been here to comfort, guide, and love me. Since the age of two I have been riding horses, entering competitions (Western and English), taking out trail ride parties, and now ultimately training them and working alongside my husband with farrier work (working with their hooves). Horses have always been a life long passion for me – they always will be. However, I have also had the Snowy White Owl as an animal totem. Notice how I referred to the Owl in the past tense?

One evening I was sitting with my two native elders receiving a teaching, when I decided to tell them how I have been experiencing frequent bouts of insomnia for the past year. My one elder asked me, “Who are your helpers?” (in other words who were my spirit totems). When I told him it was the stallion and owl, he laughed and me and said, “Well that’s why. Owl is keeping you up. Just tell Owl to leave you alone.” So I went home, got into bed for the night, and did exactly that. I didn’t do it in a mean way; I simply said, “Please leave me be.” Next thing I know I hear this extremely loud yet most absolutely amazing screech in the darkness. I knew it was another bird, but not what kind of bird. It definitely wasn’t an owl! But I wanted to sleep so I left it alone – and indeed I immediately fell asleep … and I slept all night!

Upon waking in the morning, of course the first thing on my mind was that awesome bird screech that I heard the night prior. I needed to know what kind of bird made that distinct sound. So I went on Youtube and researched the sounds of the Eagle, Falcon, Owl and Hawk. It was the sound of the Red-Tailed Hawk that made me stare at this computer screen with the widest eyes imaginable I am sure. I must say that it was a good thing I was sitting down at the time … for I had found what I was looking for. The Red-Tailed Hawk’s call matched EXACTLY what I had heard. Below is the actual video that I found on Youtube that morning – which ultimately introduced me to my amazing life animal totem that I didn’t even realize I had!

Once I realized who this amazing bird was that came to me, I was then overcome with the most overwhelming sense that I needed to learn all that I could about this animal – for he is indeed a Life Totem. I had a life animal totem that I didn’t even know about! I will now share with you the information I found regarding this powerful bird. You will see comments that are italicized – they are my own realizations and comments – to show you just how amazingly connected I actually am with the Red-Tailed Hawk (and didn’t even realize it until now).

(This information I found on a Native Spirituality website):

The red tailed hawk carries the roll of visionary and messenger. This honorable totem brings the lesson of discovering dormant abilities and helps us to see the big picture. It is a symbol of illumination and peace. This special friend offers a path to channel direct contact with hidden wisdoms and insights. It further teaches us to be very observant of these insights and wisdom, the treasures offered by Red Tailed are sacred and of a higher calling. We are asked to show precision and a sharp mind in our hunt for wisdom along our path. When the Red Hawk Soul is then operating from such Higher Intent, these are the natural born investigators, psychics, attorneys and observers that deploy their acumen for insight and direct speech in a constructive, rather than destructive, manner (Uhm … now we know why or how I came to be psychic!).

Red Tailed Hawk’s Power is further represented by the beautiful red color that comes with maturity. This is our reminder that wisdom takes time and is not something that is given, the wisdom of Red Tailed Hawk is something that must be earned. (Now I understand why I am just now learning of this LIFE TOTEM animal. Of course my stallion is still here … but I have always had Hawk as well. Interesting also that this all occurs just after I have requested to learn my native spirit name and clan from my elders – because realize that everything is indeed all connected: spirit animal, spirit name and clan!).

Red Tailed Hawk individuals will have the ability to view the broad picture, in much the same fashion that a Hawk can gain a wide view of their surroundings while soaring on the unseen currents of wind as they ride the sky. The human counterpart will be a believer in the philosophy that all things happen for a reason, and it will be this awareness of the ~Big Picture, ~ that will assist both themselves, and those whom they share their gift of keen insight with, through many a difficult time (I have always held this belief and try to teach this concept to countless clients that I have worked or am working with).

And this is what I learned on another website – which resonates even more:

Hawk helps us to not only be aware that we are receiving a message but how to interpret them. The realm of symbols is also the realm of Hawk for Hawk is able to soar high above the earth to soar on the breath of Spirit, to commune with Spirit and thus understand through the intuitive level what the message means and with their keen eyesight, how to implement it once they return to earth through seeing the broader picture below. Because of their ability to soar, they are able to reach up to the heavens to extract needed information and bring it back to earth. Much of this information is also very practical for use on a daily basis! It is not only higher concepts or ideas that are relayed, but also information we need to make our material or mundane lives more prosperous and fulfilling. Hawk people have their own unique challenges in life. Often they feel misunderstood in that when they attempt to deliver an important message others may shy away from it or respond with anger. Sometimes the messages may not be what the other person really wants to hear and yet the Hawk person feels duty bound to relay the message, no matter the consequences (this is my practice with clients and their spiritual guidance/readings). It is important however that Hawk people do be aware of how they are presenting the messages they receive. They need more than many others to try and deliver the messages as gently as they can, only becoming more forceful if their inner guidance absolutely says it is needed (also interesting to note that this is where my Spirit finds balance – as my native spirit name suggests. I cannot divulge my full spirit name, but part of it is “deer” – deer’s medicine is of gentleness and unconditional love). Sometimes simply thinking through for a time what needs to be said can help Hawk medicine people find just the right words to use that will make all the difference and in this they should be encouraged to take their time and soar above for a while before speaking their truth.

Hawk medicine people like many who carry strong predator totems may be shunned by others who sense and fear their inner power. Others may sense that this is a person who can see straight through them and as many folks think in terms of judging things as being good or bad, they are afraid that the Hawk person will see who they “really” are and so they strike first in an attempt to keep the Hawk person at bay (I’ve unfortunately experienced this countless times throughout my life. And wow! Lightbulb moment. Now I understand WHY I have been “burned” by folks over and over again – and never did I ask for it or initiated the “trouble.” It was always them who lashed out first – leaving me feel so depressed, used and abused). Hawk people need to learn how to veil their energy somewhat, not as an attempt to deceive others but to allow people to get to know them and understand that Hawk has no interest in judging others (I do exactly that all the time). Often these people have seen so much of the best and worst in life that they find they have no need to judge (that’s right – I have and I don’t judge anyone as a result – which is something Yvon cannot understand). All is part and parcel of Spirit’s plan and if Spirit sees fit not to judge, why should the Hawk person?

Some with Hawk medicine find they have difficulty attracting the “right life Partner”. Hawk people may find that they tend to attract more “earthy” types who find the Hawk person’s need to “soar” disruptive or unimportant. This may occur because at a deeper level the Hawk person is fearful of soaring too high and crashing to earth Icarus like. In this instance, the Hawk person’s real issue is one of learning how to trust themselves and their medicine (guilty). Since Hawks mate for life, the Hawk Person may need to accept that it may take them some time before they find the person meant for them yet when they do, it is well worth the wait! Otherwise the Hawk person may find themselves tied to someone and unable to free themselves easily because of the deep entanglements they have created with this other person. Especially if children are involved in the relationship, the Hawk person may feel an extra strong sense of duty to stay in the relationship for the “sake of the children” as in many cases I have seen where the Hawk person ended up as the sole provider for the family (I am guilty of BOTH very very much – that’s why it took me 14 years to leave an abusive marriage, and yes I became a sole provider when I had my ex stepson living with me). What the Hawk person needs is someone who can accept and honour their gifts and talents, giving them the space they need to soar high above.

In the Celtic tradition Hawk empowers a person to seek out their ancestral roots (which is what I am doing now in receiving the teachings of my ancestors from my native elders) and to examine in depth that which is positive so that it may be integrated into the person’s life and that which is limiting so it can be released. Tradition is only worth honoring when it supports joy and fulfillment in one’s life!

So as you can see from my most profound experience that I shared with you in detail above, indeed Life totems can come to you at any given time. It was obvious that up until now I have not been ready to receive my Hawk totem’s medicine – even though it is very apparent that I am quite connected to this particular animal totem. However, I am so very thankful for him today and for indeed finally allowing me to meet him. And as a final note, as to what happened to my Owl totem? Little did I know that hawk’s actually prey on owl’s – and they do in fact give that very distinct descending screech that I distinctly heard! However, it was revealed to me that Owl was a “stand in” – taking the place of Hawk until I was ready for him. Hawk came swooping in to “chase Owl away” so that he could in fact come in to my life. Now that I am ready, Owl’s medicine is no longer needed – once again showing how our life totems can most certainly change when needed or required.

So for those folks who are wishing to meet their animals totems, understand that for the most part our totems CHOOSE US – we do not choose them. And not to worry if you’re having difficulty in connecting because you will … they will come to you … especially when you are ready to receive or are overdue for your animal’s medicine.

Baamaapii (Have a great day in Ojibwe)

Lisa Caza

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