A Guide to Spirit Animals

In certain cultures and spiritual systems, there is a belief that we each travel with a cadre of spirit guides, which also includes animals. Shamanic healer and intuitive, Colleen McCann, explains below what spirit animals are, how to find your spirit animal, and how they can be harnessed for help in life, whether through meditation or totem form. In regards to the latter, we collaborated with the exceptionally talented jeweler, Kim Dunham, on a small collection of hand-engraved spirit animal signet rings, which can be customized with inscriptions inside to make them extra-special.

A Q&A with Colleen McCann


What is a spirit animal?


A spirit animal is characterized as a teacher or messenger that comes in the form of an animal and has a personal relationship to an individual. Other names might be animal guides, spirit helpers, spirit allies, power animals, or animal helpers. It is believed that you do not choose the animal, rather it chooses, or has already chosen you. The animal is there to provide “medicine” to the recipient in the form of guidance, lessons, protection, power, or wisdom. Shamans worldwide have relied on the guidance, wisdom, and symbolism of spirit animals for thousands of years.

Here are the things to know:

1. You can have one or several spirit animals throughout your lifetime. They can come in and out of our lives to give us guidance, teach us about ourselves, and help us maintain balance. The timing and direction we are headed on our path, a specific occasion that may arise, phases of life, or tasks that need to be completed along our journey will dictate what animal steps forward to help.

2. An animal can bring us a message in several ways. We can physically cross paths with the animal, we can dream about it, it can visit us in our meditations, or we might have it as a pet.

3. Your spirit animal often represents qualities and attributes that you may see in yourself. On a base level, you want to understand the general vibe of the animal and look at it as an archetypal figure in your life; a symbolic representation of you. You may never personally interact with your animal, like a tiger or whale. But pay attention to the details like specific behaviors, character traits, habitat, diet, social status. Are you group oriented, a loner, nomadic, sedentary, etc.?


How do you figure out what your spirit animal is?


Quite simply, ask the animal to show itself to you.

Notice repetitive encounters with an animal within a physical interaction or in a symbolic form. Typically an animal might appear to you over and over again in an obvious way. For example, perhaps you almost hit three deer on three different encounters over the course of the week. Then, you turn on the TV, and the Discovery Channel is featuring migration patterns of caribou. You walk into a store and there are antlers decorating the wall. Someone compliments you on your “doe-eyes”. Disney re-releases Bambi and you see advertisements for it everywhere. The medicine of deer is trying to speak to you.

Let your spirit animal choose you or come to you during meditation, dream time, or other altered states of consciousness. Set the intention or ask the animal to show itself to you. You can also do it through tarot, like this deck, or a book, like this one. You can also work with a shaman or other licensed energy healer to give you some guidance.

Meanwhile, are there animals that have resonated with you since childhood without any familial attachment? Are there animals you feel drawn to without any logical explanation?


Are there spirit guides for zodiac signs?


Yes, you can call this your “birth animal.” Depending on what astrology system you follow (Native American, Chinese, Western, or Celtic) your birth animal will vary. Google it!


What is an “animal totem”?


An animal totem is a symbolic representation of your animal guide. It can be represented in the form of a totem pole, talisman, emblem, crest, statue, or jewelry. A totem can symbolically represent a whole group of like-minded people, a family lineage, or an individual. Totem animals are believed to be the animals that we feel a very strong connection with and can influence us throughout our lives.

In shamanism, an animal totem is meant to be a representation of the traits and skills that you are supposed to learn, acquire, or embody. Totems have been used in shamanistic practice throughout human history. Hunters and warriors from ancient civilizations would depict their prey on walls during ceremonies to bless and ensure a plentiful hunt and to acknowledge, bless, and thank the spirit of the animal being sacrificed. Ancient tribes, religions, and spiritual traditions have all in some form embedded animal symbolism into their practices.

Many traditions believe that a totem animal is one who stays with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Though people may identify with different animal guides throughout their lifetimes, it is this one totem animal that acts as the main guardian spirit. The animal at the top of the totem is believed to guide you in all aspects of your life: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Although you will most likely identify with different animals throughout your life, the totem animal acts as the main guardian spirit, in other words, your “ride or die” spirit animal.


Shortcuts for learning more?


There are two great apps, Indie Goes and Earth Magic. And there are many quizzes: Spirit Animal, Brainfall, What Is My Spirit Animal?, Spirit Hoods, Jeri Smith.

Colleen McCann, fashion stylist turned energy practitioner, has traveled the world in her studies of deeply rooted spiritual traditions and rituals, and beauty in many forms. She is a certified shamanic energy medicine practitioner and now lives and practices bi-coastally, with posts in LA and NYC. Her work with clients focuses on achieving a sense of balance, wellness, and fullness, and utilizes a combination of crystals, color theory, chakra systems, astrology, naturopathy, and Feng Shui principles.