What is an Animal Totem?

The word “totem” is an anglicization of an Ojibwe word “doodem'.”

As I’ve made clear earlier, I do not practice, teach, appropriate or perform Native American spiritual or religious practices. I write this blog post merely because I have had students confused by the word. Totems are not the same thing at all as power animals. It’s important to me to draw a distinction.

While I am not an expert in Native American cultures, I will attempt to shed a tiny bit of light. A totem, in Ojibwe culture, is a spirit or animal being that represents a clan, or extended family.

The words “totem” and “totemism” were later applied to many indigenous cultures by early anthropologists. For example: you might be familiar with the totem poles of the American Pacific Northwest. The actual names for these poles vary according to the culture.

As a practitioner of Core Shamanism, totem animals have nothing to do with my practice. Again, these are specific to Native American traditions.

I do, however, conduct power animal retrievals for many clients, and teach my students how to do the same.

The words we use are important, powerful, magical symbols. It’s important to me that I teach my students and clients to use the correct terminology. This is not simple pedantry, the distinction is an important one.