Excerpt from the new book Kindling the Native Spirit: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life
In many native traditions, finding one’s animal ally often involved a vision quest in nature. However, as we don’t always have the opportunity to go on a quest, there are a number of other ways that you can find your spirit animal:
- Think about what animal you are drawn to: You may find your power animal by noticing the animals to which you feel irresistibly drawn. It could be your favorite animal since childhood. Perhaps you’ve loved stories about cats and have always felt aligned with them. This might indicate that some kind of cat is your ally.
- Watch your dreams: A totem may also appear repeatedly in a dream. Before you go to sleep, ask that your spirit animal appear in your dreams. Consider keeping a journal next to your bed so that you can record your dreams as soon as you awaken.
- Pay attention to the signs: Ask the Creator to give you a sign in regards to your totem. If an animal appears a number of times, especially in unusual ways, this most likely is one of your allies. For example, you receive a card with a horse on it in the mail. Then you begin seeing horses on posters and billboards. There’s a song playing on the radio about a horse, as you’re driving by a field full of horses. If everywhere you turn, you see horses, there’s a good chance that the horse is your totem.
- Take the inward journey: One of the most powerful ways to find your spirit animal is to go on an inner journey (meditation). Imagine yourself in a mist, and picture yourself reaching into the mist to touch your spirit animal. Imagine the mist thinning and “see” what animal has appeared. You can even communicate with the animal to understand why it has come forward as your totem.
- Spend time in nature: The traditional way to discover your totem is to spend time in solitude in nature and then notice the animals that show up. You can also watch the images in the clouds and even in the patterns on the bark on the trees to get clues as to your totem.
Qualities of your animal ally
Different cultures assign varying meanings to totems. Trust your intuition to find the significance of yours. There are many books that list power animals and what they represent. Although these can be very useful, it’s important to remember that this is only one person’s or one culture’s interpretation. Read the definition of your animal ally in the book and see if it feels right to you. Your own sense of what a particular spirit animal means is unique and is more valid than anyone else’s opinion.
The owl is a good example of these varying definitions. When I was in Western Australia discussing totems with Aboriginal elders, I was told that men feared the owl, for it was a woman’s totem and represented the darkness and the unknown. They said that as men were afraid of the power of women, they also feared the owl. In New Zealand, I discussed animal allies with members of the Maori tribe and asked about the owl. I was told that it was a sacred bird to the Maoris. It was so sacred that its name was never spoken. In my own Native American culture, some tribes revere the owl, saying that it represents deep wisdom, yet other tribes consider it the harbinger of death and darkness. The meaning for each ally can vary dramatically; therefore, it’s crucial that you find the meaning of your ally for yourself.
Another way to discover what your totem represents is to read wildlife books, nature magazines and encyclopedias. Research the habits and habitat of the animals with which you feel a special kinship. For example, if you feel that the wolf is your ally, by researching its habits in the wild you’ll discover that they have a strong sense of family. Thus, having a wolf for your ally may increase your connection to your family.