“Finding Your Animal Totem
1. This exercise is best performed outside, in Nature, for it is there,
after all, that the animals reside. If you can manage it, take your drum
with you and travel deep into the woods. Find an isolated spot to sit.
Bring a blanket or mat to sit on if that makes you more comfortable.
There are many, however, who live in the city and do not have ready
access to the great outdoors. Don’t worry about it; this exercise can
easily be practiced indoors as well. All you really need is some room to
move and a place to sit.
As you sit, you may wonder which way to face. There are, in fact, many
shamanic traditions about the four cardinal directions. The west serves
as the direction of transformation, death and rebirth. The east, as the
opposite direction, represents all the opposite qualities. The north is
commonly regarded as a difficult direction; it is from the north that
the winter snows descend upon humankind to chill the earth. The opposite
direction, south, is symbolic of abundance and fertility.
The answer to our question, then, is to face any direction you please,
though east or south would be preferable.
If you are working outdoors at night, you may wish to focus your gaze
upon the North Star. If you live in the city and are working indoors,
you can simply visualize the North Star shining above your head. The
easiest way to find the North Star is to look for the Big Dipper. You
probably know where it is already, for it is one of the best-known and
most easily identifiable constellations in the heavens. Now focus on the
Dipper’s bowl. Note the end of the bowl farthest from the handle, and
follow its line to the top or rim of the bowl. Then keep following the
same line with your eyes until you reach the next star. This is Polaris,
the North Star. You will know you’ve located it correctly if the star
you’re gazing at forms the top of the handle of yet another dipper–the
2. Indoors or out, begin this exercise with drumming. Drum slowly and
rhythmically at first. If you can work with a partner, so much the
better. Let your partner do the drumming for you, the better to focus
your own concentration.
As you feel yourself become part of the drumbeat, build up your inner
World Tree in your imagination. Breathe in and out with deep and
constant rhythm that harmonizes with the drumbeat. Breathing in, draw
the energy up from the earth to the topmost branches of the tree;
breathing out, circulate the energy back into the earth.
3. When you feel fully empowered with the energy of your own Internal
World Tree, stand up and increase the pace of the drumbeat.
If you are working alone, you may need to get the hang of holding and
beating your drum while moving around. Moving and drumming all at once
may seem awkward at first, but Native American shamans do it all time.
Of course, if you are working with a partner, you won’t have this
problem; and when you stand up you will be signaling your partner than
you are ready to dance, and that the pace of the drumming should
If you genuinely feel that dancing with drum in hand is likely to cramp
your style, and if your powers of imagination and will are sufficient to
keep the drumbeat pounding in your head without the aid of the physical
instrument, then by all means you may set down the drum at this
4. Move around the room, or around the outdoor space you have selected,
in a circular motion. For this kind of work, always move in a clockwise
direction. Walking in the path of the sun symbolizes increase and
beneficence, while moving counter-sun wise produces the opposite effect.
As you move, feel free to use any kind of footsteps you please, but try
to keep your movements more or less in time with the drumming. If
someone else is drumming for you, or if you feel sufficiently confident
to work without the drum, then you can use your hands as well.
As you dance, mentally call upon all the world’s creatures to be with
you in your circle. Send forth a voice from your mind, and see the sound
waves traveling out through the universe. You will soon begin to sense
the presence of the animal powers, to feel wings brush against your
body, to hear the birdsong and the howling of wolves or coyotes, the
neighing of horses, the scream of the jaguar–all the sounds and
sensations of the animal kingdom.
5. As you dance in a circle, surrounded by the animal powers, be aware
of how your footwork changes, and be aware of your hands and arms, if
you’re using them. You will take on a particular gait, a particular
stance, a particular set of motions. These movements are characteristic
of your animal, whose presence you will now begin to feel.
When an animal has fully established itself within you, let it dance in
your spirit for a while. Then, stop dancing. Stand still until your
breathing is slow and rhythmic once again. Welcome your animal into your
Be open minded as to what animal you receive, albeit the biggest or
cutest or trendiest critter, isn’t necessarily the most powerful animal
for you. In European lore, the little mouse was the spirit traveler par
excellence, and hence an animal of great power. Don’t try to bend the
powers of the animal kingdom to your will, just let your animal come to
you. Your animal totem may change over time, anyway, or you may find
yourself hosting more than one.
Don’t intellectualize about the qualities attributed to different
animals-by doing so, you will only end up choosing an animal image of
how you want to be, rather than finding the totem you really need. You
can go read about you animal totem after you’ve found it. You may still
wish to examine some of the relevant Native American animal lore, simply
to acquire a fuller perspective. “