The idea of Spirit Animals is actually one of the oldest traditions on the planet. Stemming from when we were still hunter-gatherers. They are also often seen as spiritual guides.
As you might know, spiritual guides can present themselves to us in whatever way we are willing to see them, and some connect with theirs through the face of one or more familiar animals.
This article explains what spirit animals are, their meaning, and how they can help you. But first, let’s have a look at the history of spirit animals.
The History of Spirit Animals
The core belief system Spirit Animals comes from today – also called Animism – has been traced back to hundreds of thousands of years ago. Some even believe it to be our first step towards religion as a species.
The name Animism comes from the Latin word “animus” which can best be described as meaning “the spirit”. Those who followed Animism saw the world as being united, where both humans and animals have the same spirit or soul flowing within them.
This is very similar to many religions’ conception of God today. An omnipotent being that prevails throughout all things.
Though the idea is potential as ancient as the human race itself, it still carries weight in many cultures today. Some countries do have citizens that still directly call themselves Animists, but most of their traditions have been passed onto other spiritual practices – with modern shamanism carrying it forward the furthest.
One of the earliest European introductions to animist culture comes from the Iroquois peoples of North America around the 18th century. David Cusick, an Iroquois native who had no formal education, taught himself English just so that he could pass on the tradition of his people.
In his book “Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nations” he details the origin story of Animism, how a mighty mother fell from the sky and was caught by a giant turtle, to have two children; one of good and one of evil.
The evil child hunted and killed for his meat, while the good child planted grains and corn for theirs.
Though a crude explanation of a very ancient tale, it gets across the root message; that animals and the earth in tow must be nurtured and respected. Had it not been for the great turtle’s kindness, for example, we humans would never have existed.
It is through this tale and the culture of the North American natives, that we claim the idea of animal guides today.
What’s a Spirit Animal? The Meaning and Symbolisms
In Shamanism, it is believed that Spirit Animals represent the Great Spirit attempting to communicate with us. This is very similar to the notion of Angel Numbers or Synchronicities.
A Spirit Animal is characterized as a teacher or messenger that comes in the form of an animal and is connected through a personal relationship with an individual.
Spirit Animals are also called animal helpers, spirit helpers, spirit allies guides, power animals, or animal guides.
The idea is that the Soul/God/Gaia or any other non-physical entity you chose to believe in does not talk in words. Language is a hyper-specific method of information transfer, where each word details just a single idea, and hence is not efficient enough for beings of such magnitude.
Have you ever heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s from exactly this concept that Spirit Animals are used.
While language is brilliant for day-to-day communication, when attempting to explain something as complex as destiny, it falls somewhat short.
Instead, symbolism is used, and there is no symbol with greater meaning to us Humans than that of Nature herself. Historically we spent a vast amount of time surrounded by animals, and not just as a pretty exhibition like the zoos of today, but as a direct factor of life and death.
Prior to evolving into Homo sapiens, we were not at the top of the food chain. This meant that not only did we eat animals, but animals ate us. These millions of years we spent around (and as) animals have had an enormous effect on our psyche.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we’ve become fantastic at recognizing animalistic images. It’s significantly better to mistake a rock for a bear than to not recognize the bear in the first place. Thanks to this, it’s no wonder they were chosen as one of the primary methods of communication by beings that talk in pictures.
Since these prehistoric times, we’ve gotten significantly better at communicating with these entities. Methods such as Tarot, Numerology, Sacred Geometry, and many more have all been devised devices for spiritual communication. Yet Spirit Animals remain one of the most prevalently used today.
From new age “find your spirit guide” quizzes to ancient Shamanic psychedelic practices, Spirit Animals are held dear to people from all walks of life.
Different Types of Spirit Animals
Spirit Animal meanings can be broken down into four basic types that we’ll explain below.
Totem Animals are what people commonly think of when talking about “Spirit Animals” as a whole. Totem Animals are your personal representations and though you may have many, they will (generally) stay consistent throughout your life.
In Native American tradition, a baby’s name is chosen based on what Spirit Animal their energy represents the most. Once they’re a teenager, this process is repeated once more as part of their coming-of-age ceremonies.
Sometimes it remains the same, but often as the child has grown up their energy has changed and hence so must the animal representing their energy. This can be any animal: bears, butterflies, wolfs, and so on.
Once this ceremony is completed, unless there is a major change in that person, their Totem Animal will stick with them through life.
Although most people will have one animal that speaks to them the loudest, often a person actually has several Totem Animals, each to represent a different facet of their personality. More on this later.
The next type is a Journey Animal, and this is important to be distinguished from your Totem Animal as most misconstrue them as being the same thing. Where Totem Animals are a representative of who you are, Journey Animals are there to guide what you do.
If you’re seeing one animal repeatedly, be it in a dream or real life, this is likely your animal guide or Journey Animal rather than a representation of self. This can be more thought of as a deity over an extension of self, as they often symbolize a protector watching over you.
To find yours, think about animals you notice repeatedly for seemingly no reason. My Grandmother for example very often sees butterflies in moments where she feels deeply sad. This is her Journey Animal, trying to let her know all is well and that she is loved.
However Journey Animals are relatively consistent and, similar to Totem Animals, will likely stay with you for your entire life. If you’ve suddenly started seeing one type of animal everywhere that you’ve never noticed before, it’s most likely a Messenger Animal.
Messenger Animals are there to convey a specific concept. This can be literally anything, think of these as very similar to synchronicities or Angel Numbers.
They are simply an image being used to relate to an idea. If you’ve suddenly started seeing a lot of deer lately, for example, that could be a sign to get more in touch with your gentle side.
The last type of Spirit Animal is somewhat of an outlier. These are called Shadow Animals and are as cool as the name suggests. A lot of the time Shadow Animals can be represented by animals you’re afraid of, such as spiders or angry bears.
The idea behind Shadow Animals is they are there to challenge you, to present to you an idea you’ve potentially been avoiding, or simply need to see but would never actively seek out. They can be thought of as a bad trip.
Bad trips are unpleasant at the moment, but they only ever bring out things you need – but don’t want – to see. They are always reflections of inner demons, rather than being external malignant forces.
On the positive side, once you’ve overcome them, you’re always going to end up stronger than while they were repressed.
Shadow Animals work with this same concept, they show you a part of yourself you don’t want to see so that you may overcome it. Or sometimes they’ll simply be challenging you so that you prove to yourself how strong you truly are.
Spirit Animal List with their meanings
A Spirit Animal can truly be anything – for example one of mine is a Sea Cucumber. What’s important is not the animal itself but what that animal represents. The symbolism of the image, not the image itself.
They also don’t have to be real animals, another of mine is the Dragon. Like I say, what’s important is the Animal’s representation – their energy if you will.
With the Dragon, some of what it represents are balance, strength, and honor. But you can take this deeper, as all aspects of the animal are important. Say how a Dragon notoriously breathes fire, which can implicate a hot temper or bad mouth.
When it comes to the Sea Cucumber, this animal is humble yet essential. It cleans away excess algae in coral reefs that would damage the coral severely if left unchecked.
They are so simple that most give them little to no thought, but without them, our entire ecosystem would crumble. Though the balance of the Earth isn’t on my shoulders, I do aim to be diligent and humble, hence represented by the Sea Cucumber.
What this hopefully shows you is that it’s not the specific animal that matters most, but the representation and symbolism of said animal. This is why there are certain animals that are very common as Spirit Animals.
These animals represent something all of us can see in ourselves from time to time and are common for this reason. Alternatively, they may hold incredibly broad symbolism, so can be utilized to express many different ideas for a plethora of people.
Often at least one of these will be included in your Totem Animals, for as I say their symbolism can be incredibly broad or commonly applicable.
Wolf Spirit Animal
The Wolf is an Archetypal Spirit Animal. By this I mean it is very closely tied to the human psyche, while also holding broad and useful symbolism. It is the most common Totem Animal on the planet, with very few people not synergizing with the Wolf in some way or another.
Standard symbolism of the Wolf Spirit Animal includes:
- Intelligence and instincts
- Desire for freedom
- The survival aspect of Nature and the wilderness
- Feeling threatened or untrusting
- Loyalty and companionship
As you can see, all of us have had some experience with at least one of these points if not all of them, hence the reason Wolf is such a common Totem Animal.
Bear Spirit Animal
The Spirit Animal of the Bear has been a powerful Animal Totem for many centuries already. With its four paws pressed firmly in the ground, the Bear is very much in touch with the earth and its nature surrounding it.
However, the Bear can also stand on its two back feet, making itself bigger, looking more fierce, and grounding itself strongly.
Symbolism of the Bear Spirit Animal includes:
- Confidence and strength
- Courage and fearlessness
- Stable foundation and strong grounding forces
- Invoking respect and taking leadership
- Solitude, quiet time, and rest
The Bear Spirit Animal inspires those who need the courage to stand up, to be confident, and defend themselves in whatever comes their way.
The Spirit Animal of the Bear is a powerful one to guide and support you through emotional and physical healing. When you invoke the power of the Bear Totem, it is time to reflect on the qualities of inner strength, fearlessness, and confidence.
Deer Spirit Animal
The Deer Spirit Animal is a very feminine animal, so more women are likely to resonate with it, whereas guys tend to vibe more with Stags in their place. Though this makes sense, these two archetypes are specifically masculine and feminine, more-so than with most animals.
While technically they are the same animal, Deer and Stags represent such different energy from each other that they can almost be classed as separate.
Symbolism of the Deer Spirit Animal includes:
- Gentleness and kindness
- Connection with mother nature
- Unimpeded by trivial matters
- Sensitivity and Innocence
For the Stag, most of these ideas are present but slightly reworked. For example, where Deer would represent gracefully gliding through challenges, the Stag would gracefully charge through instead. The separations are often subtle, but important nonetheless.
Elephant Spirit Animal
Elephants are very wise animals, and they have deep spiritual meaning in many cultures today. Take Ganesh for example, a God to help intellectuals and provide wisdom when making new beginnings.
Symbolism of the Elephant Spirit Animal includes:
- Family or kinship
- Kindness or Compassion
- Humbly powerful
- Divine Feminine
The Elephant is majestic and proud, and though many would feel a connection to the Elephant, as a result of their immense power and standing, it’s not as common a Totem Animal as you’d expect. Nevertheless, many people around the world still hold the Elephant very close to their hearts.
Hawk Spirit Animal
Hawks are fantastic representations of clarity and spiritual insight. They have been known to be messengers of the gods in ancient times and are great companions in times when you feel lost – spiritually or otherwise.
Symbolism of the Hawk Spirit Animal includes:
- Agility and cunning
- Strong spiritual connection
Hawks can be fantastic for people who can be shy but are looking to become bolder. They can be used to represent spiritual guidance and help you feel both empowered and supported, while simultaneously helping you to find clarity.
Panther Spirit Animal
Panthers can be somewhat outliers. They are more specific in their symbolism than most on this list, but as their representations are felt by all to some extent, they’re still a commonly appearing Spirit Animal. Their main representations are death, and direct connection/communication with the spiritual.
Symbolism of the Panther Spirit Animal includes:
- Death and Rebirth
- Astral Travel
- World of the Spirits/Dead
- Aggression and Power
- Hidden potential
- Great mystic power
Most of their symbolism involves the afterlife or hidden worlds of some variety, so often people who hold this Totem Animal are involved in witchcraft or ancient spiritual practices of some form.
Owl Spirit Animal
The Owl is another wise animal, though unlike the elephant holds less divine prominence. Instead, the Owl is better used to symbolize raw intellect and cognitive inspiration. They can also be useful representations of intuitions of the unseen.
Symbolism of the Owl Spirit Animal includes:
- Intelligence and wisdom
- Announcement of change or death
- Hidden Insights
- Deceit or the ability to see through lies
If you hold the Owl as a Spirit Animal, you may be able to see or understand things missed by most people.
Lion Spirit Animal
The Lion is another Archetypal Spirit Animal – almost anyone can relate to them in some way. We have all felt proud in moments, and all hard that pride hurt. We can all be bashful or arrogant at times, and the Lion is perfect for representing these feelings.
Symbolism of the Lion Spirit Animal includes:
- Pride and Boldness
- Anger or Aggression
- Egotistic ways
- Power and Responsibility
Though the Lion often gets a bad rep, it’s an important symbol. It helps us to be reminded of the usefulness of pride if handled responsibly and nobly, while also ensuring our awareness of the dangers of unkempt ego and aggression.
Turtle Spirit Animal
Finally, the Turtle. This animal is another wise one, though in this case referring far more to deeper wisdom and self-reflection over intelligence. The Turtle is great for representing Mother Earth’s gentle yet beautiful balance. Only when everything is working absolutely perfectly in an ecosystem can turtles reproduce effectively.
Symbolism of the Turtle Spirit Animal includes:
- Deep wisdom
- Connection to mother Nature
- Slow and Practical
- Emotional Understanding and Resilience
Truly, the Turtle is a powerful Spirit Animal and should be respected as such. If you connect with the Turtle then wonderful, always remember to keep humble and stay focussed on what’s important to maintain your life’s balance.
Finding your Spirit Animal
First thing’s first, you need to figure out what your Spirit Animal is before you begin looking for the symbols, meanings, and messages behind it. Chances are you relate with at least one animal on this list, but what if none of them speak to you? And how do you really know what your Spirit Animal is anyway?
Before we start, some words of wisdom from one that’s been on this journey for years. First and foremost, do not force finding your Spirit Animal. It takes time and you need to be strong in feeling into your intuition and seeing the signs.
Secondly, remember that most lists of Spirit Animals only include the most common of animals and not every single Spirit Animal that’s out there (since this can be any animal).
Your Spirit Animal can also change throughout your life, so if at this point in time you feel you are not able to find your Animal, there is no need to worry!
Easy Techniques to find your Spirit Animal
To make your life easier, we have outlined a couple of helpful tips and techniques to discover your personal Spirt Animal more easily:
Notice the (Spirit) Animals around you
Your Spirit Animal may have been your favorite animal from growing up, your first pet insect, or just a wild animal that you always crossed paths with various times throughout your life.
Especially during difficult times in your life, your Spirit Animals will try to make themselves known in order to guide you in the right direction, similar to Mythical creatures or Archangels.
Once you start noticing your connection to certain animals or when you start noticing them appearing constantly, it is because your Spirit Animal is sending you a message.
This can be in the form of songs, conversations, images you see every day, books, animals you encounter during your walks, or even movies. Just being aware of them being present, is the first step to finding your spirit animals.
Notice the (recurring) Animals in your dreams
Dreams, specifically, are intimately connected to our waking lives, so every time you see an animal in yours, it is important to notice it happening.
For some, it might be difficult to comprehend that a Spirit Animal can reach out to you while you are conscious, making it often easier, to begin with noticing them in your unconscious dreams first.
Just when you awaken, try to remember which animals were present in your dreams and immediately write them down.
Writing down the Spirit Animals from your dreams the next morning is the best way to remember, and to start noticing that it is happening more than once.
Journal about your Spirit Animals
Always, take the time for contemplation. Whether this is via journaling or just by sitting under a tree and thinking (or not thinking), it is important to increase awareness towards your Spirit Animal.
Sitting down, preferably daily, to think and write about your Spirit Animal will significantly increase the clarity of the messages you receive. To give you some examples, these are some of the questions you can use before journaling about your Spirit Animals:
- Which animals did I notice in my life today?
- What animals do reoccurring multiple times in the past weeks or months?
- What message(s) did this animal try to send me?
- How does this animal connect with my deeper inner strength?
- What lessons is my Spirit Animal trying to teach me?
Through this journaling exercise, over time, you have created your own personal shortlist of animals which can help you to identify your Guardian Animal to learn the lessons it is trying to teach you.
Seeing Animals through Meditation
Meditation is by far the most used technique to figure out what their Spirit Animal is, and the best way to contact yours. It will train your mind to be clear and receptive. Here is a short meditation you can use to find your Spirit Animal:
Spirit Animal Meditation
Step 1: Prepare your meditation
Meditate around the same time each day to train your subconscious mind to be more relaxed. Sit in a calm and peaceful environment with no distractions.
Step 2: Set a clear intention
It helps to set clear intentions before you start to meditate and reach out to the universe that you want to connect with your Spirit Animal. Slowly start guiding your mind towards your animal totem almost like your summoning it to appear.
STEP 3: USE A MANTRA
A good way to do this more easily is by repeating a mantra before your mediation. You can make one up or use one of my favorite Animal Spirit mantra’s:
‘This moment, my animal spirit flies.
This moment, I receive animal sight.
Reveal what my animal totem should be
This moment, let it connect with me.’
STEP 4: TURN YOUR THOUGHTS INSIDE
Notice your thoughts coming and going and try to turn them towards your inner animal. Be patient and keep trying to connect with your Spirit animal until it’ll approach you in some sort of form or shape.
Step 5: Write it down
Once you have finished your Spirit Animal meditation, just like mentioned earlier, it is important to write down your experiences so that you won’t forget which animal has appeared in your meditations. A good record of the animals that are appearing is not only good for interpreting your messages, it will also bring greater clarity.
Interpreting your Spirit Animal
Remember a Spirit Animal is simply an animal that can be utilized to represent parts of yourself. You aren’t literally a turtle because you enjoy snorkeling, but you can represent this love of nature through the turtle.
So long as the idea of the animal is solid, it doesn’t even have to be real (as indicated by my Dragon). What’s important is how you feel about an Animal. If there’s a specific animal you’ve always found really cool, it’s almost certainly a spirit animal of yours in some variety.
How you feel about the animal is super important, you’re never going to hate your spirit animal. Even Shadow Animals often end up loved once the trauma or trial has been dealt with. Remember how Batman used to hate bats?
The point is, just go with the flow. Research and articles like these can be great, but at the end of the day – unless you’re attending a special Shamanic ceremony – nobody can tell you who your Spirit Animal is better than you can.
The Importance of Spirit Animals
Don’t look for a Spirit Animal quiz to tell you what’s important to you. Just think about animals you like or ones that stick out to you. Chances are they’ll relate to you in some way, and if you can use these representations to learn something about yourself – then fantastic.
At the end of the day, it’s about using external representations to find out more about what’s going on Inside. If you like the animal, let it teach you, don’t try to force anything out of it, simply think about it for a while. If it’s right you’ll already know, it’s just about knowing you know.
If you want to learn more about animals and their spiritual meaning, also check out our articles about the spiritual meaning of a ladybug and the spiritual meaning of a butterfly.
Excellent 101 article. It is always the Knowing. Trusting one’s self can be the hardest part. Much Love to you.
Hi Mick, thank you for your feedback! ????