10 Facts About Spirit Animals You Should Know

According to some anthropologists, animal deities may have been the intended audience for the Paleolithic cave paintings that were notably found in southwest France. They could be an expression of gratitude to these animal deities or the prayers of prehistoric peoples to aid in the hunt. Still, the idea that prehistoric humans were communicating with animal spirits aligns with what we now call spirit animals or totems.

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For many people, the idea of a spirit animal is only an interesting anthropological concept. However, the appeal of a totem—an animal, bird, reptile, fish, or bug with which a person has a personal connection—has gained traction in a number of communities in recent years.

What is a spirit animal, or totem, exactly?

Despite the lack of evidence supporting the existence of these animal spirit guides, research on the topic has shown archetypes that date back thousands of years. Therefore, considering spirit animals’ historical and anthropological significance may be worthwhile.

These ten insights on spirit animals are drawn from the body of existing literature.

Spirit animals are said to assist humans, whether or not they are aware of it, according to academics who research them.

A person’s Zodiac sign may or may not coincide with their spirit animal.

Metaphysical scholars propose that an individual possesses a primary spirit animal, with additional spirit animal assistants providing support as needed. As an alternative, a person might have more than one spirit animal.

Siberian aboriginal people had the belief that every individual in their tribe has a spirit animal, a reindeer.

The Celtic people had the belief that entire communities were protected by animal deities. These animal spirits, which might support warriors in combat, included griffins, wolves, and deer. To enlist the aid of animal deities, some warriors, for example, would wear animal skins and horns while fighting.

A coat of arms’ animals may have ancestral ties to spirit creatures. Bears might denote protection, lions could stand for bravery, and dogs could signify loyalty. According to some writers, there may be references to historical spirit animal beliefs in the animal mascots of professional sports teams including the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Lions, and Chicago Bears.

Similar to the idea of spirit animals, author Nerissa Russell mentions stories in her book Social Zooarchaeology where animals have children or adopt a husband and wife role. These tales demonstrate comparable animal-human kinship patterns, much like totemic beliefs.

Spirit animal stories spoken by contemporary Estonian storytellers are examined in a case study written by Reet Hiiemäe. The author claims that stories and beliefs concerning spirit animals are an example of modern, vernacular lived religion. Experiencers and narrators may have quite varied socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, but those who have told more detailed accounts typically have a history of spiritual practice or yearning. While many writers have noted that women are drawn to most types of folk belief, there have also been a number of male narrators who have recounted their tales of beliefs pertaining to spirit animals.

Other findings from the previously cited Estonian study showed that storytellers often only depicted a small variety of spirit creatures, such as wolves, deer, bears, horses, and eagles. Furthermore, whereas animal spirit beliefs of Estonian narrators frequently hinted at Native American connection, these beliefs were typically isolated from any other setting.

Hiiemäe observed a “liquidity” of belief systems among narrators beginning in the last ten years, with those attributing the events to the spirit animals displaying stereotypes of animal roles, combining aspects from other cultures, and displaying little historical or cultural understanding of the phenomenon. Stated differently, their endorsement of animal spirits may amount to an act of appropriation.