Do you have a TOTEM Animal?
Odds are, you do. But how do you know? How can you connect with your TOTEM Animal? Why does this matter? And what does all of this have to do with our upcoming Spring Forward Virtual Event?
TOTEM Animal work is absolutely my favorite thing about shamanism.
TOTEM Animals are vibrant, ancient, and empowering spirit helpers with tremendous potential to transform our lives for the better.
Unfortunately, TOTEM Animal work is woefully misunderstood in our modern world. Social media frequently reduces this rich, cross-cultural and deeply meaningful spiritual practice into a cartoonish, commercialized product, removing the real magic that makes this stuff matter.
So, what is TOTEM Animal work, really? How do we know if we have a TOTEM Animal without a handy, five-minute Instagram quiz? How exactly do we work with our “spirit animal”? What’s the point of this work? How can we use it in everyday life?
And, perhaps most importantly, why should we care?
I think the best way to answer these and other questions is to dig into specific, human-scaled stories that display both the mystical and the pragmatic value of this incredible spiritual practice. In this post, we explore a lifetime of TOTEM Animal work, as well as outline the immersive TOTEM Animal experience we’ve planned for attendees of our upcoming Spring Forward Virtual Retreat.
This really is the realm of high strangeness, quantum magic, fairy tales, inter-dimensional quests and spiritual mischief. But, for however asymmetric or confusing TOTEM Animals may initially seem, you can always expect the experience to come together in a cohesive picture, offering unmatched personal meaning and a palpable connection to the spirit world.
And, believe it or not, TOTEM Animal work is often the key to unlocking real manifestation and abundance energy, anchoring our intentions and desires to the material plane and turning the wheel of fortune in our favor. What’s more: TOTEM Animals frequently correspond to a partner Spirit Guide such as an ancient deity, ancestor, angel or ascended master, assisting us in our personal spiritual practice.
So, let’s begin our TOTEM Animal adventure in classic Alice in Wonderland fashion: following the rabbit down the proverbial rabbit hole…
Mab, the Rabbit and the Cosmic Poop Bag
Ten years ago, I went through a bit of a tough time. I had to abandon a life I had been building with an ex in another state, effectively escaping back to my old life in Chicago without any resources or bandwidth. At the time, work was unusually tense and demanding, and I was traveling and working almost constantly. My dog required emergency surgery, and within a few days I had suffered several TIA’s- aka “mini strokes”. I was hemorrhaging money, working constantly, and not feeling particularly good.
In other words: I really needed a break.
As my dog and I were both recovering, I took him on a short walk around the block of my new, north side apartment. All of my new neighbors were out in their yards, enjoying the beautiful weather. I was waving and meeting new people when it hit me like a lightening bolt: I didn’t have any poop bags with me. And, of course, my dog Henry was getting ready to leave a little “present” on the sidewalk in full view of my new neighborhood.
Out loud, I asked Mab— a deity which whom I had enjoyed recent contact— the following: “I just need a poop bag. That’s all. If you can provide me with a magical poop bag right now, I’ll be more than grateful and happy. It’ll go down as a religious miracle. I really just need a break.”
I said this in almost a half-joking, dark-humor-kind-of-way, certainly not expecting a response.
But just then I saw a rabbit a few feet from me on the sidewalk. Rabbits are Mab’s official TOTEM Animal, linked to her in fairy tales and pagan myths. The connection is so strong that, in Scotland, they still have a saying on the Full Moon: “Don’t eat any rabbit. You just might be eating your grandmother”.
I took this unexpected moment in, looking at the rabbit just calmly sitting on the sidewalk, looking right back at me. And then I noticed what the rabbit was sitting on: an empty, plastic grocery bag.
I actually audibly gasped.
The rabbit calmly hopped away, leaving me a cosmic poop bag to use so that, in the midst of a swirling shitstorm, I had at least one less shit-related problem. Because of this spiritual intervention, my new neighbors wouldn’t immediately think I was an asshole that didn’t respect their property. I felt buoyed by invisible helpers working their magic through the animal kingdom.
It was a small but important gesture, and I never forgot just how awesome Mab was in that particular moment.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been reconnecting with Mab and with rabbit as a TOTEM Animal. Luckily, I have none of the problems I had during our last spiritual “collaboration”, but Mab is still helping me out in her uniquely pragmatic way. I see rabbits everywhere: on neighborhood walks with my dog, on commercials on TV, in ads on social media, and in my very, very lucid dreams.
To anchor and honor this connection with my old/new Spirit Guide, I’ve brought imagery of her TOTEM Animal into the house: gorgeous red envelopes with golden drawings of rabbits on them to honor her and the Year of the Rabbit. Mab’s favorite color is red, so I’ve also been lighting red candles on my home altar alongside fresh-cut garden roses that I’m donating to her instead of converting into more Thug Rose TOTEM Flower Essence.
Rabbit TOTEM Animal, like its higher level Spirit Guide Mab, is associated with abundance, so I’m taking its presence as an affirming, encouraging sign for my small business- particularly the very nature-based TOTEM Flower Essence in our literal backyard.
Rabbits are also associated with the quantum field and other dimensions, a connection perhaps known by Lewis Carol and the reason he started his brilliant work of fiction, Alice in Wonderland, with the main character following a rabbit into another realm. To this end, I try to work with this TOTEM Animal in a less linear way, allowing rabbit to pop in and out as and when it’s relevant…and understanding that some of my spiritual work might be in the temporal realm.
Key TOTEM takeaway: TOTEM Animals are often linked to a higher-level Spirit Guide. For example, Zeus was always associated with his eagle; Odin, his two ravens; the Titan Prometheus, a snake; and so on. Look at your new TOTEM Animal as a potential gateway to a more meaningful connection with a higher-level Spirit Guide, a bit like the layers of an onion.
In this way, connection with your TOTEM Animal could be the first major step in a long-term spiritual scavenger hunt. And, if you feel called to do so, feel free to honor these new spirit helpers in your home- perhaps on your spiritual altar for your personal spiritual practice…and watch as the serendipity explodes.
Grandma Nancy and the Owls of Death
My family has a thing with owls.
When my maternal grandfather was dying in home hospice, he was visited by an owl during the last three nights of his life. This experience paralleled ancient Native American beliefs and, my grandmother (who was part Native American), certainly took note.
Anytime an owl would visit us at our cabin in Wisconsin, she would joke, “Not today, asshole!”, insisting that the owl would not be collecting her soul just yet.
When my grandmother’s health started to take a turn for the worse, she purchased multiple plastic owl decoys from Home Depot. Her thinking? If she could scare the owls away with a kind of owl-specific scarecrow, she would never die. Given my family’s dark humor, we would regularly give her owl-themed gifts or tease her that we could “hear the owl”.
Of course, my grandmother eventually passed away. And, of course, there were weird owl visits and experiences around her death, too. In the years since, I still get regular owl visits when thinking about my grandmother or talking out loud to her. Owls aren’t that rare in most parts of the U.S., but they are rare in downtown Chicago, particularly when one considers that many of my owl visits occurred during the daytime- a very unusual behavior for a strictly nocturnal critter.
When my last dog, Henry VIII, passed away several years ago, I was beside myself with grief. My grandmother and I both shared an intense love for our canine family members, so I started talking to her out loud while doing my first neighborhood walk without my corgi. As I was talking to my dead grandmother, I looked up and saw an owl flying not more than a few feet above my head. This TOTEM Animal visit was proof to me that my grandmother could hear me.
When I started the TOTEM Spiritual Transformation Coaching program last year, almost every one of the participants had an early experience with owl TOTEM Animal appearances in their initial Shamanic Journeying Meditations. I was not yet aware of this when, early in the evening one night, I heard a group of owls hooting outside. Now, at first blush this may not seem that unusual…but when you consider that owls are solitary creatures and do not live in groups, it’s totally nuts to hear them hooting at each other!
What was nuts about this event: I could discern five individuals owls based on the differences in their “hoots”, and there were five women in the coaching program at that time. A message from our collective grandmothers on the other side? Perhaps.
Owl TOTEM Animal is always connected to the “other side”: the realm of our ancestors and deceased loved ones. Along with fox and crow, the owl is one of just a few TOTEM Animals that are said to be able to go back and forth to the land of the dead and the land of the living, making them ideal spiritual messengers and emissaries.
Key TOTEM Takeaway: TOTEM Animals can be associated with loved ones that have passed on, even taking on this meaning across an entire family. I have clients who associate hawks with their deceased loved ones, and one client whose family believes that garden snakes are a sign of their family members coming to say “hi”. As you navigate through your own TOTEM Animal work, try to reflect on potential connections with loved ones and ancestors. You just might open a line of communication with the other side!
My joy guide: an emotionally-disregulated Divorce Dragon
Around the time I was getting divorced from my ex-husband, I had my first kundalini awakening and my first series of contacts with my dragon TOTEM Animal since childhood.
I began Shaman School in earnest just after my divorce was finalized, and the first guide that emerged in our initial practice session was a giant black water dragon. As someone that was raised Catholic, I will tell you the the image of a giant yellow dragon eye unnerved me, leaving me concerned that the type of TOTEM Animal I had said some unflattering things about me.
To the contrary, this water dragon turned out to be quite a doll and had nothing to do with any aspects of evil, darkness or biblical villainy.
As per the guidance we received in Shaman School, I made an effort to reconnect with this TOTEM Animal when I went back into a meditative state the following week. I was armed with three basic questions to ask my dragon:
Who are you? What is your name?
What are you here to teach me?
What am I here to work on?
When I asked this big black dragon it’s name, I heard a total Valley girl voice bubble up, responding, “Esmerelda!” Surprised by the high-pitched, funny lady voice, I asked the second question, to which Esmerelda said, “I’m here to teach you how to have fun!” and started giggling like the cast of Vanderpump Rules while drinking on a Mexican catamaran.
In the meditation, I rode on Esmerelda’s back up to the moon, with her encouraging me to let go and enjoy the ride.
I shared this experience with our teacher, who suggested that my dragon could be a Joy Guide, a particular kind of TOTEM Animal that works with us in cultivating happiness and enjoyment.
In the years that followed, other practitioners would regularly encounter my dragon, describing her in perfect detail to me. Yes, it was the same Esmerelda (down to the tiniest detail), but she had started to increase her scope with us here at TOTEM Readings.
Once, I had requested a remote Akashic Record Reading with a practitioner based in California. The reiki practitioner called me, stunned and concerned that she could not access my Akashic Records. When I asked “why"?” I got the BEST response ever: “Well, um, it appears that there is a large black dragon. It’s a female, and she identifies herself as your TOTEM Animal. She’s sitting on your Akashic Records and won’t let me access or open them. She told me that I don’t have the security clearance to access your information.”
I mean, I wanted to be polite and sensitive. This reiki healer was a very sweet person that had very good, sincere intentions with her work. But it was just way too f*cking funny to not laugh.
Turns out, Esmerelda was kind of a bitch!
A few months later, I was facilitating a Shamanic Journeying Meditation Workshop and a friend, who was reiki-certified, apparently thought it was a good idea to send me remote reiki during the workshop without my knowledge or consent. While well-intentioned, her efforts were apparently met with the image of a giant, growling dragon that told her she didn’t have permission to access my energy body. While drinking a glass of wine with the yoga studio afterwards, I got a text message from this friend, asking me if I was angry with her.
I was confused, answering back, “No- of course not! Why would you think that?”. She answered by telling me that she though she could just send me some reiki energy while I was teaching, and heard a large growl and saw a big, scary black dragon. She was concerned this was a manifestation of my feelings towards her more broadly, which was absolutely not the case. I let her know about my TOTEM Animal Esmerelda, and my theory that she “guards” me and my energy field without my conscious effort.
I also politely reminded her that consent is kind of the first rule in energy healing and psychic work, and that maybe it’s not a good idea to enter people’s energy bodies without their consent moving forward…
Key TOTEM takeaway: TOTEM Animals will work with us on specific focus areas, such as cultivating joy. This purpose may evolve as we evolve and our spiritual practice grows and changes, and a Joy Guide can quickly become an Energetic Protection Guide, as was the case for me and my “divorce dragon”. This evolution is noteworthy, and can offer a substantive way to measure our spiritual development and progress along our personal practice.
Resource: Animal Speak by Ted Andrews
Want to learn more about TOTEM Animals? I always recommend Ted Andrews’ books for clients wanting to deepen their TOTEM Animal studies. Not only was Ted a medicine man and Native American, but he was also a wildlife biologist, arming him with superior insights that you just can’t get with a simple Google search. Check out his books Animal Speak and Animal Wise if you want to learn more or deepen your studies of TOTEM Animal work!
TOTEM Animal Workshop @ Spring Forward Virtual Retreat
For our coming Spring Forward Virtual Retreat— scheduled for the weekend of April 15th and 16th— I’m joining four other incredible practitioners to help attendees strengthen and heal their mind + body connection, achieving deeper communion with the natural world and its rhythms, and managing the stress and anxiety that permeates modern life (and our bodies).
As a part of this overall effort, I’ll be facilitating a guided Shamanic Journeying meditation focused on educating and empowering attendees to identify, connect and work with their own, unique TOTEM Animals. This meditation technique works by inducing a very unique trance state called Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC).
Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC)
Shamanic Journeying is unique among meditative techniques, putting the individual into a theta wave brain state similar to that of a lucid dream. Michael Harner, shaman and researcher, dubbed this unique brain wave state the Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC), and credited the specific, monotonous rhythms of the shamanic drumming music we leverage with facilitating this neurological shift.
When in SSC, a journeyer will enjoy relaxed breathing, a lowered heart rate, and a very stimulated pineal gland, releasing endogenous DMT into the system. DMT is the stuff that’s in toad venom that makes you trip balls.
Yep: you read that right. We’ve got DMT right here in our bodies- courtesy of our pineal gland- and when we undertake a Shamanic Journeying Meditation we can access unique states of consciousness that stimulate its release, effectively giving us a psychedelic trip without consuming any substances.
While in this SSC, journeyers can meet and work with TOTEM Animals in three basic realms, referred to as the Lower World, Middle World and Upper World:
The Lower World generally comes with a sense of compression and is marked with images of dark forests, caves and intensely verdant natures capes.
The Lower World is the realm of our ancestors, TOTEM Animals, nature spirits and fairies, as well as healing plants and animals. When one travels to the Lower World, the senses are enhanced and exaggerated: smells, sights, sensations, noises and feelings are all turned up to 10/10, and this can often be experienced in what’s called bi-location shifting.
Bi-location shifting is a form of shapeshifting, connecting the journeyer to their TOTEM Animal through a fully immersive sensory experience, giving them the ability to experience reality through the perception of an animal.
Lower World journeys are comforting, healing, grounding and recalibrating, and are an excellent addition to any stress reduction or anxiety management protocol. I like to journey to the Lower World under my weighted blanket, in a dark room with hinoki cypress incense and other soothing aromatherapy elements.
The Middle World is effectively the Astral Plane: the demimonde template that exists behind and within our own normal experience of mundane reality.
The Middle World is full of buildings and roads and trains and people just like our world- except that the magical versions of places we visit in the Middle World don’t actually exist in our waking reality.
While TOTEM Animals are a rare sight in the Middle World, nature spirits and elementals are quite common in this realm. If you’re studying herbalism or trying to connect with tree spirits, for instance, the Middle World just might be a valuable detour.
The Upper World is the home of higher level Spirit Guides that include: ancient gods, pagan deities, angels, mythical creatures and “high fairies”.
The Upper World is usually experienced as an expansive realm of bright blue skies and fluffy clouds and, frankly speaking, vignettes of heavenly bodies. There is an expansion of the heart chakra, leaving journeyers feeling like they can breathe deeply and relax into the experience.
The Upper World can be hard to access in conventional means, so I always encourage clients that want to vacation there to disregard standard directions. Instead, I guide them to release and surrender, the most successful means of suddenly finding yourself in a realm of gods and clouds.
Clients that journey to the Upper World are usually focused on big spiritual work, trying to align their careers and lives with their life’s purpose. It’s a more common destination for empath, energy healers and high-level psychics, putting them in touch with new resources that can support their spiritual practice.
TOTEM Orange Glow Flower Essence
For this Spring Forward Virtual Retreat, we’re sending out very high end Gift Bags containing items the attendees can leverage to sustain what they’ve learned long into the future.
For my part, I’m going to be including a full-sized bottle of our Orange Glow TOTEM Flower Essence, made of magical nasturtium flowers. Orange Glow is the performance enhancing drug for TOTEM Animal work, putting us in a state of greater connection with our physical bodies, the earth grid, the natural world, and our own spirit animals.
Nasturtium flowers contain the energy of the Lower World, supporting our sacral chakras and enabling a more embodied human experience- an ongoing challenge for any spiritual practitioner!
The Gift Bags are also going to contain a bunch of other cool stuff, including:
A recalibrating, energizing Lifewave Patch from Dana Frost of Vitally You
A bewitched ceremonial candle for your journeys from Britt Sandkulla-Sinclair of Golden Thread Alchemy
A proprietary herbal blend and aromatherapy roller made just for attendees by Brooke Lancaster of Nourish the Sacred
A special offer from Buddhist and trauma recovery specialist Holly Brodt of POWER Resiliency practice
Learn more about this Spring Forward Virtual Retreat HERE and secure your spot to receive your very own Gift Bag. And use code “TOTEM” to honor your TOTEM Animal- all while saving $50 on the price of the event!
And, if you ever want to work with me on your own TOTEM Animal practice, reach out anytime: email@example.com
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