What’s with all the different names?
There are many different names for animal guides and it depends on what tradition or pathway you follow and a lot of them seem to be interchangeable.
Totem appears to be one of the more commonly used terms although it is often associated with Native American and Aboriginal tribes, then there is animal spirit guide, messenger, companion, kindred animal, counsellor, fetch, medicine, ally and power animal to name but a few.
Interestingly enough when I looked up the word ‘totem’ to find the original meaning it says “a totem is a spirit being, sacred object or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people such as a family, clan, lineage or tribe”. So actually it seems that in modern paganism we have completely misappropriated the term to mean ‘power animal or guide’.
Spirit guide seems to be the term used mostly in shamanic practices and that makes sense to me because the animal guides are met whilst journeying in the spirit realm/Otherworld. But a lot of cultures believe that animals have a spirit and the term has been used all over the world.
Messengers and counsellors is a general term applied to those animals that pop in and literally give messages or deliver counsel.
Fetch is an Irish folklore term that means a spirit guide which can be in the form of a person or an animal. There are varying beliefs about the fetch some say that it is the true spirit of a person and appears in three forms; the fetch beast, which equates to our ideas of a totem animal, the fetch wyf, a contra sexual spirit of the person whom it guides and the fetch god which is the divine face of our own fetch. The fetch in this case would be your true or lifelong familiar/totem.
Fetch can also mean a spirit doppelganger spirit that takes on the appearance of someone who has just died or is about to die. It isn’t actually the ghost of a person but an imitation of someone who is still alive. Although folklore states that seeing a fetch is a sign that the person it portrays is about to die.
Similarly the word fylgja is from the Norse tradition and means the same as a fetch - a spirit (person or animal) who accompanies a person in connection to their fate or fortune. A Norse vitki (sorcerer) would not only draw power from his fylgia but could also project his conscious will into it in order for it to carry out magical workings. The fylgia brought huge responsibilities and power but could also throw hardships and challenges into the mix too. The fylgia would mould itself to the personality of the person it was attached to and the well being of the human would depend on the well being of the animal fylgia. Many Norse believed that the fylgia was in fact part of the hugr or soul and that it was capable of leaving the body and projecting itself elsewhere.
Animal medicine is another Native American term which describes the power and spirit that the animal carries within. Just as you would work with plant medicine for magical purpose animal medicine is the same, it is the essence and characteristics of the animal that can be tapped into.
Power animal is another shamanic term that refers to the idea that the spirit of animals can physically and psychologically empower us, hence the term ‘power’.
So what term do I use?
When I first started working with animals and their magic I used the name totem purely because it was the most common term but I have to admit it never really sat quite right with me. But…this is your journey not mine so I would say go with whatever term you find more comfortable and in fact your animal may even be able to guide you with the right name for you to use. Trust your intuition, trust your animal advice. As a ‘general’ term I work with the phrase ’animal spirit guide’.
What is animal magic?
Animal magic is the art of recognising and working with familiars and animal spirit guides. Animal magic shows you how to work with animals for your spiritual growth and increased magical power. Not only will an animal spirit guide give you support, wisdom and guidance you can also draw on the power of animals to use in spell working. Mother Nature has so much to share with us through her many guises whether it is through plants, trees and herbs, the weather or via her animal kingdom – all we have to do is watch and listen. Each animal will have its own very unique characteristics, personalities and traits but it will also have particular habitats, how it feeds, what it eats and how it raises its young, all of these things are important and can tell us something. By looking into an animal in all aspects and understanding how it fits into the scale of things and by that I mean into the world and the eco system as a whole we can begin to understand more about the magic that an animal spirit guide can provide us with. They can also be a reflection of our own selves or the events that are happening within our lives.
Working with animal magic can help you find your life long spirit guide and all that they have to offer in the form of wisdom, insight, guidance and support but also help you to understand your own true nature, often the spirit guide that finds you is a reflection of your inner soul. Animal magic can also help you deal with the big ole outside world if you fancy a bit of shape shifting to take on the traits of a particular animal. And it can help add extra energy and power to your spell working.
Never dismiss an animal guide if it comes to you, not everyone will have tigers, lions or wolves some will work very happily with an ant or a sparrow – each one has energies and messages that are right for you. Hey…I have a pigeon for goodness sake! Don’t forget that the animal chooses the person…not the other way round.
Animal Sprit Guides
And now to the world of animal spirits…
Animal spirit guides are those animals that you have had an affinity for or have seemed to have walked with you for a very long period of time. They may have walked with you for many lifetimes, many years or just have recently came into focus as you have had need of them. Your spirit guide animal need not be limited to animals on this planet at this time as mythical creatures and extinct ones are useful guides too.
There are several types of animal spirit guides that you may encounter, these are the main ones:
Lifelong: This is the animal spirit guide that you will have throughout your entire life. It may appear to you at any time during your life span but once it is with you it will stay for the rest of your existence. This animal may be one you have had an affinity with or have appeared at various points. This creature may have in fact been with you for many lifetimes.
Journey: This animal walks with you for a length of time which could be weeks or years or any period of time within. It is a guide that keeps you on your pathway. These animals can come around quickly as you need their help during certain times in your life and then leave just as quickly. They may linger as long as the blink of an eye or for many months. These usually appear when you have a journey to start and will stay with you until that particular life experience is completed.
Message: This animal sporadically just pops into your life on a moment by moment basis. It may show up one day as a “wait a minute” moment, to let you know something is going on. Take note of the animal and what message it is trying to impart to you.
Shadow: This is your side that you may fear the most. Once you conquer the fear of this animal it becomes one of your greatest strengths. This spirit guide reflects the part within yourself which you are least confident about or the bit of your personality which you dislike the most.
Purpose: This guide will show up for particular events, rituals or journeys. I have a black panther animal spirit guide that only comes to me when I am hedge riding (journeying) to the underworld, my wild boar guide refuses to travel to the underworld so the panther arrives to accompany me instead. The same happens with my frog spirit guide, he is only with me when I am drumming.
The roles of a spirit animal guide
Counsellor and Messenger – In this role your spirit animal helps you to understand situations and offers answers and guidance, it can give you options to help with decisions or choices. Your animal spirit guide can give an indication on which pathway should be taken and what behaviour to adopt.
Protector – In this role your spirit animal guide can lend you the strength, courage and energy to face anything that is thrown at you. It can also warn when danger is approaching or when a situation is about to turn sour. Each animal will react differently to scenarios so it is important to listen very carefully to what they are trying to tell you. Different animals will have specific reactions to danger.
Teacher – Your animal spirit guide can be a great teacher and show you how to use your own energy and inner spirit to its full potential throughout your life. The animals that appear regularly can give us important messages and they will continue to appear until we have learnt and acted upon the lesson.
Healer – Animal spirit guides are excellent healers and can show us not only how to heal our own emotional, physical and spiritual ailments but also how to heal others. Your animal spirit guide will lend you healing energy. It can also show you the best treatment or technique to use and help speed up the healing process.
Guide – Your animal spirit guide is all the above roles in one neat package, your lifelong guide will be all of these things and more. Once you have found your guide your life will change forever, for the better and you will wonder how you ever got along without it.
To watch a replay of my video, click the link
For a guided meditation to meet your animal spirit guide:
And on the Kitchen Witch blog:
Information from Pagan Portals Animal Magic by Rachel Patterson