Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Learning about animal totems, allies, and helpers

I was recently working with a student who is learning about animal totems, animal allies and animal helpers. Of course, as Loren Cruden says in Spirit of Place,all beings from the plant, mineral, animal and other realms who have helping and teaching relations with humans can be totems, allies or helpers. So what's the difference?
In my understanding, a totem is a being who is family to us on the other side. This is a long term and wide ranging relationship that also reflects the form we ourselves take on the other side. This Journey Oracle card is what I understand a totem energy to be like. I remember once as a small child seeing a man very far away on a golf course. He was much too distant to recognize any features at all, and yet I instantly knew it was my father because of the particular way he stood due to a childhood injury. A totem is like this; a remembered song that we always know how to sing.

For me, an animal ally is a being that has a relationship with me covering a specific range of purposes; the animal or bird and I have a contract to do work or learning together. An ally relationship for me begins with a formal request for connection and I understand that the being and I have the right to say yes or no to each other, without assumption or obligation.

In my shamanic experience, an animal helper comes unbidden to be a helper, teacher and protector; bringing challenge, confirmation and empowerment. I don't usually recognize an animal helper until the same being has shown up in the same circumstance several times, and I connect its presence to the situation I am in. I remember several times feeling particularly grateful at the success of an oracle card reading and then going for a walk to discover a snake that interacted with me in some significant way. Eventually I understood that Snake was a helper for the Oracle of the cards, and now I look to meet one as confirmation of the Oracle's presence during a session. Everything that is alive has the power to be a helper, and in my shaman's world, everything is alive.