Animal spirits: How they can guide your life and your craft

Animal spirits: How they can guide your life

According to some Native American traditions, each person is connected with nine animal spirits or totem animals throughout their life. These animal spirits guide your path when you most need it. One of them is your main totem animal, and is with you always. The others flow in and out of your consciousness, as you need them.

Although I’m not typically given to “new age” beliefs, the concept of animal spirits has had a positive impact in my life. I think it could help anybody. If you are an artist, a writer, or a dreamer pursuing challenging goals, animal spirits could also reinforce your commitment to your craft or your vision.

3 benefits of animal spirits
Sometimes an animal shows up in my mind or my life with surprising frequency. Other times it appears in a dream, during a meditation or in a sudden intuition. When this happens, I research what this animal means. I have always found that it teaches me something that helps me overcome the challenges I’m facing.

A totem animal’s meaning focuses my mind, clarifies my goals, and strengthens my intention to pursue them.

An animal spirit for each stage
The butterfly, the snake, the elephant, the turtle, and the hummingbird are five animal spirits that have supported me in my journey so far (read below what they symbolize.) Each has become present in a different stage of my life, when I needed it most. Once I have achieved the goal an animal spirit supports, it recedes to the back of my mind, until I need it again.

A year ago I was facing some challenges as a writer and as a small business owner. I yearned for a spirit animal that could guide me trough the thicket, but none became apparent for a few months. One day I was meditating outdoors, when I heard a buzz. I opened my eyes slightly and I saw a hummingbird. I continued meditating, and the little bird kept flying around me for twenty minutes. Could it be my spirit animal?

After I finished meditating, I researched the hummingbird’s symbolism. It was exactly what I needed for that particular moment in time. Here is why.

Hummingbird: What it Means
Even though the hummingbird is the smallest bird of all, it performs great feats. It flies more than 3,000 km to escape the cold and look for food. It’s the only bird that can fly in every direction, including backwards. Since it moves its wings constantly, it requires lots of energy. A hummingbird consumes up to three times its body weight in a day, mostly flowers’ nectar, so it contributes to the process of pollination.

The hummingbird symbolizes joy, tireless energy, and adaptability. It reminds us to focus on the positive, and enjoy each moment’s sweetness, as this tiny bird enjoys the flowers’ nectar all day long. Its ability to fly backwards reminds us that we can remember our past, but shouldn’t get stuck in it (an essential learning for me, since I write memoir.)

The hummingbird invites us to remember that the sweetest nectar is inside us. Like the hummingbird, which flies long distances to get its food, we can enjoy the fruits of our labor if we dedicate ourselves to our craft and our goals with persistence and resilience. The hummingbird’s contribution to pollination reminds us that we shouldn’t work in isolation. Sharing our process with others will breed more creativity.

The hummingbird also symbolizes healing. As a memoir writer, I believe in the power of words and stories to heal myself, and others, so I strongly identify with this meaning.

Find your animal spirit
I encourage you to find your animal spirit and let it guide you and support you. When I choose or, better said, I am chosen by an animal spirit, I read books written by traditional Native American healers, shamans and psychologists, as well as several websites dedicated to the topic. You can access information in the library or the Internet (see below three recommended books).

Once you discover your animal spirit, try to keep it in mind and in sight, so you can often remind yourself of its messages. You can buy an art piece or a fridge magnet, make it your computer screen saver or even get a tattoo.

Here is a summary of what another four of my spirit animals symbolize.

Butterfly: What it means
Animal spirits: How they can guide your life and your craft

Its basic quality is transformation. Its metamorphosis symbolizes emerging from darkness to light to offer the world the beauty we are destined to create. The butterfly can help you gather the courage to break with situations that are restricting you like the cocoon restricts the caterpillar, and share your beauty with the world.

For you: Break the prison of your self-imposed limitations and become the magnificent being that is already in you.

Elephant: What it means
Animal spirits: How they can guide your life and your craft

Its basic qualities are strength and determination. The elephant can help you overcome challenges that seem insurmountable. These challenges can be mental (negative beliefs), emotional (fear, self-doubt or shame), or physical (imposed by other people or situations.) The elephant shows that persevering will help you achieve your goals. It also symbolizes an affinity for learning and helping others.

For you: Be persistent and go after your dreams. Read, learn and connect with people who are a positive influence. Let your inner wisdom guide you.

Snake: What it means
Animal spirits: How they can guide your life and your craft

Its basic qualities are rebirth and healing. The snake helps you free yourself from any negative circumstance present in your life so you can start on a new path. It transforms poison into an element of healing. It increases your primary and sexual vitality.

For you: Are you immersed in a toxic relationship or situation? Use your primary survival instinct to get rid of it and be reborn stronger. Leave behind the poison that doesn’t allow you to grow and open the door to your creative vitality.

Turtle: What it means
Animal spirits: How they can guide your life and your craft

Its quality is Mother Earth. The turtle shows us how to grow at our own and deliberate rhythm. We can swim in the depth of our subconscious to give birth to the inspiration and creativity we carry inside. We respect the earth and other beings.

For you: Don’t be impatient if it takes longer than expected to achieve your goals. Important work requires time and stability to come to fruition. Keep moving forward, slowly but surely.

Information based on:

– Farmer, Steven D. Power Animals. How to Connect with your animal spirit guide.
– Harmer, Lucy. Discovering your animal spirit.
– Lake-Thom, Bobby. Medicine Grizzly Bear. Spirits of the Earth. A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories and Ceremonies.

Photos: Bill WilliamsBoris Smokrovic (butterfly and snake), Chris Christensen  (elephant), Wexor Tmg (turtle), via Unsplash.