Spirit animals are often associated with Native American tribes, and such totems were an important part of that culture. The larger concept of an animal representation of ourselves, however, is universal to all cultures. Even today, many of our sports teams are identified with animal mascots. Or you might be a member of the Lions Club or the Loyal Order of the Moose. Even Christians often identify themselves with a fish symbol.
In cultures that embraced spirit animals, there were different levels of totems, or spirit animals. There was a tribal totem, identifying a person as a member of a specific group. There was also a clan totem, specific to the family that a person was born into. These are what are still preserved in a fashion in team mascots and club names. But the spirit animal that most people are interested in is their personal spirit animal.
Indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, Arabia, Australia, Europe, and the Arctic all had some form of totemistic belief. Many contemporary New Age movements do not follow the religious systems of these tribes, but they have adopted the language of totems to refer to a spiritual guide. As with these tribes, this spirit guide often takes the form of an animal and is specific for each person.
The best documented totemistic religion is that of the Native American tribes. Totem actually comes from the Ojibwa word dodaem and means “brother/sister kin.” Your spirit animal was seen as a relative and it was taboo to kill your spirit animal. Similarly, anyone who shared the same spirit animal with you was considered a brother or a sister and you had kinship obligations with them.
There is some debate among scholars as to how totemistic beliefs spread. Some argue that it arose in ancient Asia and then spread out to the rest of the world. Totems discovered in China have been radiocarbon dated to 1200 BCE. On the other hand, others argue that totemistic religions sprang up independently around the world, based on estimates that Native American totemistic beliefs may go back 10,000 years.
The one thing that all scholars agree on is that spirit animals are an ancient part of almost every culture in the world. Even though they were dismissed by “civilized” people for many centuries, new interest has been arising in them among various New Age movements. Download your copy of How to Find Your Spirit Animal to learn more about this fascinating subject! Also check out the Spirit Animal Quiz!
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