Familiars, Totems and Spirit Guides: An Introduction

If you talk to the animals
they will talk with you
and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them,
you will not know them,
And what you do not know you will fear.
What one fears one destroys.
 ~Chief Dan George

Familiars, Totems and Spirit Guides are all basically the same thing, although when most people think of the witch's familiar they are usually imagining the evil Disney-esque witch with her black cat going out at midnight to harm others. However, this type of story has become so much a part of human consciousness that few people understand and recognize the reality behind a familiar. They are surprised to learn that any animal can be a familiar, and even more so that a familiar need not be on the physical Earth plane, but can live in the astral.


Some people will tell you they absolutely don't believe in familiars and would never consider having one if they could. You don't have to be a witch or believe in familiars to have one. You don't have to believe in or do magick to have a familiar. If you have any kind of pet in your home, one with whom you feel close, you already have a familiar. Even if you don't have a pet, but are drawn to a certain kind of animal, it may well be a sign you have an astral familiar or as some people say, a 'Totem.'

There are great benefits to having a familiar, whether you recognize it, as such or not. The health profession has now acknowledged that people who form attachments with pets live healthier and longer lives. They are less likely to suffer depression, are happier, and recover quicker from illnesses. These health professionals state that it is the presence of the animal and the human's taking care of it that creates these wonderful side-effects. Even more to the point, it may be that the animal is in actuality sending healing energy. When their human is ill, dogs and cats, for example, realize this and will ordinarily stay near, often touching or lying right against you. This compassion is not just animal instinct. Just try to get an animal that doesn't think of itself as YOURS, to spend time with you when you are ill; it is not going to happen. There is no spiritual bond between you and the animal in question, and that bond is necessary for animal-to-human healing. The only way someone else's familiar will aid you is if their human asks them to do so.

Familiars make excellent companions because they have chosen you, not the other way around. If you think back on your choices of "pets'" you will probably realize that the choice was made for you in a very subtle way. Familiars can also be something other than the ordinary type of pets we humans like to have about us. Sometimes they are wild creatures who make brief appearances at important times in our lives, and always with uncharacteristic behavior. Or they may be animals we feel connected to an animal it would be impossible to have in their lives because they are either wild or mythological animals such as bears, leopards, wolves, eagles, dragons, etc. These are the animals most often referred to as totems. Quite often these animals will come to a person in dreams or during meditation, usually to forewarn. They often make themselves known when our lives are about to take a dramatic turn. If you pay close attention you can prepare yourself, as much as is possible, to handle upcoming problems.

Opening yourself up to a familiar, either on the physical or astral plane, opens up all areas of your life as a human. These delightful creatures help develop your potentials and grow spiritually. They teach you to be tolerant, loving, patient, and receptive to the psychic world. It's a known fact that animals can sense the coming of a storm or earthquake. Familiars are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power and are welcomed partners inside the magic circle. They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it is an unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic. Remember, "anima" (from the Latin) means soul or 'breath of life.'


The hidden qualities and forces of nature were given characteristics of the animals that shared the environment by our Shaman ancestors. Called Totems, the animals express the spirit nature of that species rather than the individual animal. They work with the subconscious mind, tapping into the energy that is present in all things.

Some people say that each of us is born with nine animal totems, which bring teachings and messages for greater understanding and insights for our benefit throughout our lifetime. Two of those animals are permanent and never leave us. They are our primary totems and sometimes called Power Animals. They are not necessarily exotic animals and we usually know them by instinct because we are especially attracted to them throughout our lives - sometimes even dreaming about them.

One walks on the left to guard and guide the feminine side of our energies while the other walks on our right to guard and guide the masculine characteristics. Those with a female totem on the right and a male totem on the left are born with a special kind of energy balance and usually have very important Spirit work to do in their lifetime.

To discover the remaining seven totems, we would read and learn as much about animals and their physical characteristics as we can. One excellent book for this is Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews. Psychics, people who do healing and special work with animals, and others who have a good understanding of animal energies, should also be able to help. Those who meditate can ask for the animals to show themselves during meditations and identify themselves as totems.

Animal totems are animals we tend to have an attraction to. They have qualities and behaviors that we admire and would like to emulate. They give us comfort and peace. Learning of your animal totem(s) will give you a greater sense of appreciation of your own connections to all life. By recognizing and acknowledging your totem as you see them, the energy working in your life will increase. You will notice your animal everywhere you go, in books, magazines and postcards, in nature, in dreams and visions. Your awareness will increase.

Here follows a basic guideline to finding your special animal.
  Which animals have always fascinated you, especially in childhood?
  Which animals have you always felt connected to?
  What animals do you see frequently in the wild?
  Which quality of animal best describes your personality?
  Which animals do you have around you in pictures, T-shirts or figurines?

Here are some of the most common Totems:
  BEAR - Healing, Inner knowing Sub/Unconscious mind, strength, grounding, inner energy of soul to find answers, judgments, are you too critical or not critical enough, inner power to taste the honey of life.
  COUGAR- Strength, elusiveness: Assertion of growth, take charge, be strong, come unto your own power, leap into opportunities, helps balance when to be gentle and when to assert your energy more forcefully.
  DEER - physical pacing, body awareness, Gentleness, love, alertness, camouflage, attention to subtler outside influences, connections to children and people for best interests of all, vision, hearing, smell, helps discern what actions to be done.
  DOLPHIN - Psychic abilities, initiators: Open new creative dimensions, curiosity, playfulness, breath and water needed for life, needs balancing, shows proper use of sounds and prayers, may need some fresh air to release tensions, newness.
  EAGLE - High ideals, spiritual philosophy Creation, healing, illumination of spirit, stronger and quicker in actions, responsibility.
  FOX - Elusiveness, agility, cleverness, Skilled and ingenious, cunning, a new world and creative process opening up, look in between yourself and others (physically, mentally, spiritually), shift awareness to feminine energies for balance.
  HAWK - Perception, Focus, protection, Visionary power, guardianship, swiftness, leadership, sees more in life, observant, strength.
  HERON - Intuition, organization, Determination, balance, follow your own path, helps look deeper into aspects of life, innate wisdom.
  HORSE - Stability, courage, Travel, freedom, persuasiveness, increase clairvoyance, time to move on if you feel stuck, teaches how to go in new directions with freedom and the power to face life.
  MOUSE - Innocence, faith, trust, Attention to details, fastidious, may be getting too locked into details or may need to see them more closely now, need to focus on where your attention is.
  OWL - symbolic wisdom, shadow work, Mystery of silent wisdom, vision, hearing, ability to pinpoint subtleties of motives, actions and people.
  PANTHER- Symbol for ferocity, valor, time to put to use psychic, mental, physical, spiritual muscles. Strong hearing of other realms, may become sensitive to touch, past suffering will return to transform and confront.
  RABBIT - faith, nurturance, movement in life, fertility, sensitive, artistic, plan for possibilities, check what is in motion now, move carefully in work or play, allows for taking advantage of brief chances available.
  RAVEN- Creation, magic, rebirth, omens, playful aspects, stir life without fear, brings in the light.
  WOLF - Earth wisdom, protection, Royalty, spirit, strength, friendly, sociable, intelligent, ritualistic in nature (applies to all of life), balances flexibility to establish harmony and order in life, new paths and journeys, freedom to move within the realms of insights and attachments. Epitome of the wild spirit.

There are a few things to note: Animals usually choose the person, not the other way around. Lifelong power totems are usually wild in nature, not domesticated. Great respect/honor must be paid to the animal for a relationship to happen. Read, learn and surround yourself with pictures of the animal. By doing this you connect with the animal and the energy and wisdom it imparts.

Nature communicates, if we only listen. Through the appearance of animals we can then determine what the underlying situation is in our lives. For instance, the direction we should take in dilemmas, what the best course of action is, and how we should behave in given circumstances. The Universe has linked us all together in order to learn and grow in our own Spirit. It gives us the chance to learn or perhaps relearn the language of the animals.

When you come across an animal that is not normally seen around you. Take notice. If a bird is constantly vocal outside your window, listen and watch. After a while you will know and understand what the animals are trying to tell you. It is understood that there may be a variety of animals around you everyday. However, it is the subtle awareness, the nuances, which allow you to listen what is being said.

Spirit Guides
Spirit guides are not much different from what I've already said, except that they are more often thought of in humanoid terms. They may be Angels, Fairy Folk, Ancestors or the spirits of any soul who has crossed over. There are also some who speculate that not all Alien encounters are actually beings from another planet but beings from another dimension or plane.

~copyright 2005, 2016, Lisa Mc Sherry

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