The influence of the Native American Indian wisdom continues to have an enormous influence on the spiritual community, and therefore, many of us use the Native Indian word, totem, to refer to our spirit animal keepers.
The word Totem is a Cree word and it means friend or ally.
I often smile to myself when people refer to "my" totem because this runs contrary to the genuine Native American Indian vision or use of the word, because a "totem" cannot be "owned" or personalized the way we tend to in the west, simply because if there is any ownership at all, it is simply and yet profoundly the fact that "you" are "owned" or controlled or guided by the totem.
Traditionally, a young person would go on a Vision Quest (Please see my book: Ghost Mountain for deeper insights into the Vision Quest procedure) and a totem would come forward and often bite or scratch that person. My elders would say they had been "marked" by the bear, wolf etc.
For those with snake medicine, for example, the whole marking process is pretty dangerous. Therefore only those who genuinely want to work with the medicine of the snake, they literally took their lives in their hands as they connected with their totem.
However, once they had done so, they had amazing personal powers....not for themselves... only for others. Again, in the west we have a tendency to write all this down on a resume and "brag" about our totems, along with our skills as a healer, medicine person, ceremonial leader, etc. This is so contrary to the traditions that I would need a book to explain it all. It is hardly wonder that so many traditional people cringe when they see or hear of such blatant abuse of the traditions. Luckily, most of the elders I knew were philosophical about the whole situation and recognise that it was not because of disrespect so much as ignorance that made non-traditional people do this kind of thing.
We have around us, trying to guide us and give us wisdom, nine totem spirits. Naturally some are more "proactive" than others. The power totem, the one most people can see or feel is usually above or around the crown chakra area or sometimes dropping down to the third eye area. However, totems work with each of the chakras because, as you know, chakras are tiny mini-computers which are always processing energy.
Various totems work in various ways to help you understand your inner powers. They are not "spirit guides" in the usual fashion and usually do not offer verbal advice. They instead offer you skills and wisdom to help you help others. This is why we might say that someone has "bear" medicine and yet another has "eagle medicine." In both cases these two people interact with the world very differently, and have unique skills or talents to share.
Because we have more than one totem, we might find ourselves morphing energetically from one totem to another. For example, a shy and quiet bear, might suddenly morph into a more socially interactive Humming bird. Another example might be for someone who works with Butterfly energy (transformation) who at times seems to be a sleepy caterpillar and at other times, cannot keep still. This simply indicates that the various stages of the totem are working all at the same time. Something that is not uncommon.
This is why I offer one or three totems in each of my Spirit Guide portraits. The totems assist the guide to guide you into your natural talents and inner wisdom. However, I also offer a more intense "totems only" drawing.. you will see several illustrated here. These special totem portraits help you get a grip on your totems and therefore a deeper insight into life purpose and karmic debts or pathways. I draw the totems together, near the chakras that they govern. You can place the picture on the wall and most people might not realize how personal it is to you because there is no "human" face staring back. This portrait helps you open yourself to their unique and very illuminating guidance.
I know it certainly helps me to connect to my totems when I feel a little unsure of what direction to walk.. perhaps you will too!
For deeper insights into Totem spirits, please see my book section, particular the Shaman's Door series where I explore all aspects of Totems and their placement on the Medicine Wheel!