Q: I’ve been going to (reputable websites) to learn about spirit animals. Two of them have told me that my spirit animal is a hare. Don’t tell me the good things about rabbits, it’s just not me. I just know that this isn’t right. Now what?
A: This is one of those long kind of answers, so thank you for hanging in with this. Double thank you for letting me use your topic for the blog. I think it’s true that “the veil thins” near to Halloween. This is a good time of year to begin (respectfully and carefully) working with spirit guides and animal totems. I’m guessing there are quite a few people who feel the way you do.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to extol the virtues of rabbits to you, although it is tempting to do that. We like our backyard bun-buns.
Animal medicine (in the shamanistic sense) is an important topic to me for a variety of personal reasons. My first card deck of any kind was David Carson and Jamie Sams Medicine Cards not long after they were first published. Still, I’m not an expert by any means and this is all just anecdotal experience. First and foremost, keep looking to people who are experts. I’m not familiar with the websites you mentioned, so I can’t really comment one way or the other. I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend the Medicine Cards companion book and Ted Andrews’ book How to Meet and Work With Spirit Guides as an excellent place to start.
Although it was/is an important thing to me as an individual to learn about animal totems, I really don’t think it is a necessary step in spiritual development for everyone. Especially now that we are more aware of cultural appropriation and growing in respect for the culture of indigenous people. That is why I think Mr. Andrews’ How to Meet and Work with Spirit Guides book is an important foundation. He points out that spirit realm interactions are a universal to every culture, animal totems nearly so, but only one chapter is dedicated to animal guides. They are one piece of the puzzle and not necessarily for eeryone. It might be worth asking yourself if your mis-match with rabbit is reflective of a mis-match with animal medicine as a whole. Culturally, personally, ancestrally speaking, is working with animal totems the right path for you? Is this something you deep in your bones feel as a personal relationship, or is it a broader intellectual interest? Both are perfectly fine, by the way. It is OK to learn about animal totems without one choosing you. Or it may just might not be time yet for animal totem work. Maybe human-form guide work needs to come first. Although the totem came first for me, I get the feeling that this is by no means true for everyone.
That being said, I feel you. When I did the quiz on the Harry Potter website that tells you your Patronus, my gut reaction to the result was along the line of “oh HELL no” Then I remembered the old maxim that when we immediately or innately dislike someone or something it is because it/they are some aspect of our own personality. They are mirrors showing us something that we don’t like about ourselves. Reflexive dislike or rejection can be an important teacher. Maybe the animal kingdom’s very first lesson for you is to point out issues that you need to come to terms with about yourself before moving further along the animal guide path. Once we think of the off-putting totem in those terms, suddenly they aren’t so bad after all. If that is why rabbit hopped into your life through those websites, then once you make friends with your rabbity side, then the totem may well fade away and your long term totem might then appear. When I looked at my web quiz patronus that way, it went from “oh hell no” to “oh, OK.”
Rowling’s patronus idea provides another good analogy for spirit animals. Sometimes they change (Tonk’s changed from a hare to a wolf when she married Lupin.) Like human-form spirit guides, animal guides can come and go. Not all of them are lifetime assignments. Hare may be a temporary or harbinger sort of energy. Animal totems seem to echo other guides in that way. I’ve read in a variety of sources that we have a master-guide or lifelong guardian angel sort of entity, but others can come and go. Some guides, be they animal or human, come to us for a particular time or a particular lesson or a phase of growth, then depart when they are no longer needed. Your primary guide is already with you and always has been. When you become aware of them, you’ll recognize them for who they are.
Based on personal experience, encountering a primary animal totem won’t happen through a website or by pulling cards. They are already with you so there is no need to go out and “get” or “find” your totem that way. It is a matter of making a conscious introduction, of wanting to deliberately say hello to that person who has been standing beside you in the elevator. The visual meditations that Ted Andrews gives are excellent for making that connection.
It also brings to mind a scene from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina TV series. It was time for Sabrina the teenage witch to “get her familiar.” Rather than ordering one out of a catalog like everyone else, she decides to do a “summoning” ritual instead. That is exactly the subtle difference that I think is important here. Instead of going and getting, she trusted and attracted. Instead of yang, she was yin. She let her desire and need be known, then waiting trusting the her familiar to come to her. Now, substitute “spirit animal” for “familiar”
Rather than repeatedly going outward to websites, it might help to try sending out your desire to work with an animal guide but then turn quietly inward, wait and watch. This is where Ted Andrew’s other book Animal Speak comes in handy. After reading the foundations in the how-to spirit guide book, read Animal Speak. After you send out your intentions (by whatever means you choose) pay attention to animals that cross your path in ordinary, mundane, organic ways. Of course, the most powerful way for a totem to introduce themselves to you is in a dream. If not a dream, then pay attentions to the little ways that animals present themselves in your ordinary day-to-day routine. Is there a particular bird sitting on your car and giving you the side eye, or were you dive-bombed by a dragonfly on your yard, or does a particular animal suddenly seem everywhere in random advertising or are you given a gift with that animal on it….things like that. When those kinds of coincidences catch your attention, research THAT animal and see how it feels. What is that kind of animal encounter trying to teach you? If it is your primary totem, you’ll know. No one can tell you the right animal is not your guide, any more than anyone can convince you that hare is your guide. You’ll know with the same amount of certainty about the right guide that you feel now for the seemingly wrong one.
Speaking of hare/rabbit: Mr. Andrews suggests looking at relationships among animals for better understanding. Sometimes, because we live in cities and ‘burbs and not out alone in the wilderness, animals that are used to living near humans or even pets can be a messenger for a wild counterpart. For example, a house cat presenting as a totem might be your cue to research wild felines like bobcats or mountain lions, etc.
He also suggests understanding predator/prey relationships. Who does your totem eat, or what eats your totem? There are energies and lessons there, too. Before you give up on rabbit, look at wild western jackrabbits or its usual predators like coyotes or wolves.
Objectivity is important, too.
Animal totems are guides, not personal avatars. JK Rowlings’ patronus characters may embody the characteristics of the witch or wizard in the fictional world of Harry Potter, but in my experience it isn’t like that with actual animal totems. They teach you, not represent you. They feel more like companions or colleagues to me. They help you grow, not tell the world who you are. Think of it this way: Would you reject college professors because they were different from you? You resonate with your life-guide, just like you may have resonated with a favorite academic adviser…but you don’t have to resonate with transient totems any more than you had to be totally sympatico with your math teacher in order to graduate.
I’d be totally interested to know if any of this helps or if you try any of it. Comments are back open on the blog if you want to drop a note there. Maybe other people will leave questions about animal totems or spirit guides too. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find it or at least point you in the direction of someone who might know.
Thanks again for sharing your question!