Like astrological zodiac signs, spirit animals have become a popular topic. Many people will pick spirit animals based on personality and behavioral traits. For example, sloths are a common one because they seem happy, easy-going, and lounge around. Protective mothers call themselves “mama bear” and those who long to fly might choose a majestic bird. An attractive outfit might bring out the powerhouse in a women transforming her into a fierce feline. Lot’s of people pick unicorns to represent themselves, or even claim celebrities are “spirit animals.”
Animal guides, as I will call them here, actually have greater purpose and meaning. Each animal symbolizes a distinct energy, and their energy can guide you in life in some way. There are multiple terms that are often used interchangeably, spirit animals, power animals, and totem animals.
Spirit animals are representatives of what we might need from time to time. I dream of seemingly “random” animals frequently. To me, these animals appear as a symbol or temporary guide. Some show themselves to me more often like bears, while others have visited once, like a mongoose. Occasionally I can’t quite seem to identify the animal and have to search its features to find the closest match. What I once identified as a skunk in a dream, a voice/dream figure clarified as a honey badger; so they are spoken as well. As with other dreams, it’s important for me to pay attention to my feelings and reactions toward the animal for greater insight. Spirit animals change.
Power animals are the ones we seek out. Certain animal energies work well with specific life obstacles. If I’m looking to move with more grace in my life, I might call upon the energy of a gazelle or flamingo. If you’re visual like I am, put up pictures of the animal whose energy you wish to invite into your life. Go by whatever the animal means to you, but know that you might be surprised by animal symbolism. Bees are great for hardworking energy (“worker bee”) but also for establishing community.
Totem animals tend to be what people refer to as spirit animals. Totems are the animal spirits we have a special connection to. We don’t necessarily hand-pick our animals either. It’s not always as obvious as “I like turtles so they’re my animal guide.” Some people from when they were a child feel a bond to a particular animal. To find out your animal, before you go to sleep ask/intend that they appear in your dreams. Animal spirits are important to shamanism, and journeys to the “lower world” is where you can find your animal guide. A simple meditation can inform you of your animal guide too.
Some people who expect or hope for a horse or an owl because of what they represent in society might have a pig or a mouse. Just because you don’t have a predatory animal doesn’t mean you are the equivalent to prey. Each animal, like people, have their respectable and desirable qualities as well as their unremarkable ones. Animal guides can occasionally be mythical creatures like dragons and unicorns or extinct animals like wooly mammoths. You may even have more than one!
Try not to have too many expectations in your search. I know someone who discovered in a journey that her guide is not any dog but her dog! I had a special connection to sheep when I was little, but it turned out to not be my animal guide.
How to utilize the guidance of your animal:
Once you discover your animal guide, strengthen your connection to it. Understand the meaning it has for you and how it applies to your life. I like to understand animal symbolism from the perspectives of other cultures for a more complete picture. Invite your animal to guide you through the challenges and changes of your life. Invite them to celebrate with you!
Aside from the symbolism, learn about how your animal lives. Make sure you distinguish your animal. Alligators and crocodiles are easily confused. Sometimes a different shaped spot indicates different animals that actually live on opposites corners of the Earth. Where is their habitat? Do they migrate or camouflage? Are they nocturnal, solitary? Know what they use for resources, how they care for their young, and how they attract a mate.
However, tuning into their instincts does not mean taking them literally into your life. A praying mantis practices sexual cannibalism. Obviously if this were your guide you wouldn’t take this as a reason to be violent to your partner. Maybe instead it inspires you to explore your sexuality. Use what makes these animals unique to explore more about yourself, your strengths and points for growth.
Literal visits from your animal
A spiritual connection to an animal does not mean it’s safe to approach or make physical contact with it. With that said, admire their physical presence from a distance. If your animal isn’t one you typically encounter, go to their region! You may not see your Bengal tiger or mountain goat, but experiencing their environment is still pretty special.
My animal guide is jaguar. I have a few other frequent visiting guides, but jaguar is the dominant one. When I visited the Amazon Jungle I was curious whether I would encounter a jaguar in her natural habitat. Certainly I wasn’t going to go out and find her, but I wondered if she’d make herself known.
Our individual hotel rooms were fully enclosed and raised on stilts. Outside my door was the raised hallway and a tightly woven roof, but all open. My first night I slept surprisingly well considering the symphony of otherworldly wild animal calls. But I woke up at 5am to a distinct sound. It rumbled up the center of my body over and over until I was fully alert. I laid there very still and had the sense that something was demanding my attention. I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if it were a jaguar?
The next day one of my teachers walked by and mid-greeting she stopped. She told me I had non-human prints under my room. Big paws. Sharp claws. I came out to see that there were lots of them in meandering loops. The big cat was pacing. Later, our local shaman and local translator confirmed those were big cat prints. They suggested close relatives to the jaguar, either a jaguarundi or ocelot.
I wondered if she would return and she did once more at the same time. This time I woke to one long rumble and that was it. I got up and peaked outside to see if I could spot her, but I didn’t. It felt like such a miracle. The hotel also said that some animals were found residing in the deserted rooms during the months it was locked down for Covid. I saw and heard lots of animals in the jungle. This was different.
At home I looked up the different sounds of jaguarundis, ocelots, and jaguars and compared them. I came across a video of jaguar purring and it was precisely the sound I heard and felt those nights!
Go discover and connect to your animal guide! If you like this page, please share it.