Totems and Spirit Guides

Milfoil

The missunderstanding seems to have come about in the recent past (1970's to 1990s) when spiritual seekers going to the Americas to find a native teacher didn't fully understand

a) the language
b) the full meaning
c) no frame of reference in contemporary western society (we don't have clans or totems)

So the word was used erroneously but probably not with deliberate falsehood.

We simply don't have equivalent, well used and understood, words in modern English which capture what 'totem' or 'shaman' means. So they have been wrongly used as catch-alls.

At least now, we are learning . . .
 

celticnoodle

AJ, thank you for a very informative thread. I am among those who incorrectly used the term totem animal and power animal, etc. I also thought the two terms were one and the same and really had no idea what I was doing. I followed along what others, like myself, were saying and reading. I am happy to know now what exactly a Totem animal is and hopefully will remember to not use that term incorrectly anymore.

I think frac_ture summed it up well in how I feel about this whole thing about the terminology. I also have many books that make it all the more confusing because the seem to also use the terminology incorrectly.

This is a great thread, I think -- I'm the type to get very concerned about using proper terminology, definitional stuff, etc., so I appreciated reading Mi-Shell's post, plus all the thoughts here. This is definitely a specific case that had me all confused, too: "totem" vs. "power animal" vs. "spirit animal" vs. "animal guide"... Which one means what, and where do you go for a final, official ruling?? I even have a couple of books sitting on my shelf right now whose very titles seem to be in violation of what Mi-Shell and WolfyJames have said (ie., one is called "Totems," and one is called "Power Animals," yet I think both are really talking about what WolfyJames has dubbed "animal guides").

I think I might stick with the phrase "animal guides" when talking about myself and my "animals that have spiritual significance to me as an individual," to borrow from HighPriestess (not that I talk about them much anyway, but it's good to have a game-plan should the need for one arise)...
 

Zephyros

Now, here's a heretical question, does it matter? People seem to protect different cultures that are being appropriated and assimilated into the New Age movement, and I'm not saying it is without good reason; suddenly anyone who picks up a Tarot deck is a "shaman" and "totem" means, really, anything anyone wants it to mean (like Humpty Dumpty pays his words extra!).

However, these are ideas, symbols, if you will. Trances traditional medicine men go into, are they that different both in purpose and in method Western Mystery Tradition practitioners go into? I am Jewish (at least in creed, if not in faith) but you will never here me cry out that Kabbalah has been appropriated and taken from us, and it is, indeed, the cultural imperialists who claim that it is universal. I believe it is, but it's Jewish roots seem to mean little to many of those who study it (most ridiculous of all are those like Madonna who "convert" to Kabbalah). At least for me, the study of Kabbalah holds more than just study of mysticism, it is part of my own culture and tradition, and is practically a part of daily life here in Israel, albeit in very subtle ways.

Not to mention that much of the Kabbalah studied in the West is only a small part, a small movement in the overwhelmingly complex whole, one that was developed far later as part of the German Hassidic movement. These, and the original, Kabbalists were not only mystics, dealing with such disparate topics as man's relation to God, sex magick, even black magick (before the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, a Kabbalistic curse known as the Pulsa DeNura was placed on him by certain Rabbis), but were also deeply religious, and put their teachings in the context of their faith (clue: there are no Rosy crosses in traditional Kabbalistic literatue). However, again, I would never tell anyone that they must be Jewish in order to study Kabbalah. It is what it is and stands on it's own.

My point is, is that it is easy to cry out cultural imperialism, but the end result may mean little, as it is the synthesis of many ideas that constitute all of our "symbolic vocabularies" as a whole, and in protecting one culture, we may in fact be looting another
 

Milfoil

My point is, that it is easy to cry out cultural imperialism, but the end result may mean little, as it is the synthesis of many ideas that constitute all of our "symbolic vocabularies" as a whole, and in protecting one culture, we may in fact be looting another

Here I would disagree simply because the synthesis of many ideas tends to loose the subtleties of all. Whether we are learning from (rather than looting) a culture or belief, unless born to and immersed in that culture, we can never know the subtleties of daily life which offer depth of experience and meaning.

Distinction of meaning and understanding of deeper nuances of meaning are necessary if our inner symbolic lexicon is to be fully accurate. In order to do this, we have to learn about the differences, not just the similarities.
 

Milfoil

I think frac_ture summed it up well in how I feel about this whole thing about the terminology. I also have many books that make it all the more confusing because the seem to also use the terminology incorrectly.

Yes, precisely and this is also why books, however interesting, can never give us all the answers. Practical experience and individual inquiry are also necessary. One of the BIG reasons why many of our ancestral cultures, Druids for example, never wrote things down but instead put wisdom in the form of poetry, song and story so that they can be transmitted orally down the ages and all people of all ages and experience can understand them on different levels.
 

BodhiSeed

Distinction of meaning and understanding of deeper nuances of meaning are necessary if our inner symbolic lexicon is to be fully accurate. In order to do this, we have to learn about the differences, not just the similarities.

I completely agree with this statement, which is why I think closrapexa makes a valid point about the Kabbalah.
 

AJ

so many thoughtful posts, and I'm a lazy bum and don't know how to multi-quote...hope I'm not appropriating anything from anyone with that term.

I'm an info junkie and I'm glad to learn the differences.
that said I've Never traveled/been guided/offered assistance, never felt in the grip of any animal power or spirit of any kind.

Yet I feel a deep kinship with owl, salmon, raven, from interactions I've had with the actual creatures. Donno what to call it so I won't.
 

Mi-Shell

Hi guys!
Thank you, AJ, for raising attention about this issue here.
Yes, I find that English / french / Spanish speaking people have to select and use words from their own language to differentiate the spiritual entities they are working with or at least make sure, that a word that gets adopted is used correctly.
I do like the words personal Spirit guide or Animal guide or guardian. :)
I find they are accurate and dignified and we all could benefit from referring to these entities as such.


And yes, I too am dismayed at what we find on wikipedia these days.
Several times a group of Native friends of mine tried to set things right and explain the differences , but each time we looked some other person had again substituted their new age text about having 9 totems in 9 chakras strung up along the spine as accurate information.
When I looooked – just now - I was very relieved, that today this person is not sitting at the computer re-writing wikipedia
 

Bhavana

so many thoughtful posts, and I'm a lazy bum and don't know how to multi-quote...hope I'm not appropriating anything from anyone with that term.

I'm an info junkie and I'm glad to learn the differences.
that said I've Never traveled/been guided/offered assistance, never felt in the grip of any animal power or spirit of any kind.

Yet I feel a deep kinship with owl, salmon, raven, from interactions I've had with the actual creatures. Donno what to call it so I won't.

AJ, all you have to do is click on the little head button on the bottom right corner for each message you want to reply to. Then you just click on the Reply button, and they will all come up in your reply box. I just learned to do this myself a while ago!
 

AJ

amazing. I thought that was some kind of messenger button.

I understand why, but I'm sorry this got moved to subscribers only section, it is a message I was hoping to get to the broadbased membership here.

It has given me a lot of food for thought to chew over.