Animal Totems

Bringing out the animal in you
By Cassandra Eason

It is common enough to say of someone that they have the heart of a lion or the cunning of a fox. But for Native American Indians and Australian Aborigines this is more than just a figure of speech. They believe that we all have kinship with certain animals who can endow us with their qualities.

Modern men and women too can draw upon the universal qualities of various creatures, using them as a 'totem' to help steer a path through life. For example, if you are seeking independence, you may sense affinity with the cat. Or you may find that if you are faced with a difficult dilemma and conflicting opinion, the elephant can offer wisdom and stability. The tiger can offer strength to endure difficulties and the knowledge that, given courage, the future can be changed for the better.

Bears: Protection and Sacrifice. Use the bear when you need to protect those you love or temporarily give up a pleasure for long-term gain. Bear shrines and bear skulls and bones were buried with human remains by Neanderthal Man.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, bears were sacred to the moon goddesses Artemis and Diana. In the cult of Artemis, maidens in yellow robes imitated bears at the festival of Brauronia. The expression licked into shape, comes from the ancient belief that bears were born without form and were licked into shape by their mother.  Traditionally bears are companions of dwarves and guard their treasure, although as in the Fairy Story Snow White and Rose Red, the bear was actually an enchanted prince.

Bees: Clear Communication. Use the bee when it is important to convey your views or feelings or overcome prejudice in others. Bees, like birds, are traditionally messengers of the gods. If you have a bee hive, you should keep the bees informed of the family news. For example, if someone in the family gives birth, marries or dies you are supposed to tell the local bees or they will stop making honey.

On Christmas Eve it is said that if you listen outside a bee hive you will hear the bees humming the 23rd Psalm (see also Christmas Magic). If a bee flies into your house, a stranger will call before nightfall and if it flies straight out again, luck will follow. Therefore it is as well to keep some flowers rich in pollen indoors so that bees will circle them before leaving. Fishermen believe that if a bee is flying in the same direction as their boat it will mean a good catch.

Cats: Independence. Use the cat when you need to assert your own identity and to escape from petty restrictions or possessiveness in others. Cats are the most magical of animals, although traditions vary as to whether they are fortunate or unfortunate omens. They were worshipped in Ancient Egypt and were sacred to Bast, the cat-headed Goddess and protector of pregnant women.

In Ancient Rome, the cat was the symbol of freedom and the Goddess of Liberty was depicted with a cat at her feet. Black cats are said to be the familiar spirits of witches. This association may have come about because Freyja, the Norse fertility Goddess, had a chariot pulled by black cats. When Christianity reached Scandinavia in the Eleventh Century, the female pagan deities were regarded as witches and the cats became their familiars.

It was said that after seven years a cat became a witch.  Black cats are usually regarded as lucky in Britain, especially if seen at weddings or if seen walking towards you. But in North America, it is considered a misfortune, should one cross your path. However, the Japanese believe that a black cat crossing your path will bring good fortune.

Sailors like black cats and their wives keep them to ensure that their husbands return home safely.  It is said that if you keep a black cat, youll never lack for lovers. A restless cat means a storm is coming.

Cows: Caring for Others. Use the cow for patience when family responsibilities seem very heavy or you are concerned with the health of another. The cow is a sacred creature to the Hindus and milk is offered to the gods in temples to represent both the nourishing Earth Mother and the Lunar Goddess.

To the Egyptians, Hathor, Goddess of Women and love, was represented as a cow and later as a goddess with the head of a cow, her horns being the crescent Moon. The link between the cow and the Moon lies in the link between the Moon and fertility and the Earth Mother and fertility. The Moon was also associated with the weather, growth and fruitfulness.

In Scandinavian legend, Audumla the Cow, sprang from the melting ice at the Creation and licked a block of salt to create the first Hero God, Buri. The Zulus believe that mankind was belched up by a cow. Legends abound of the properties of the powers of the milk of magical cows, not least the famous Dun Cow in Shropshire, in England. Said to belong to a giant, she gladly gave milk to all who asked. But one day a greedy woman filled her pail and then demanded that the cow give milk for her sieve as well. Enraged by such ingratitude, the Dun Cow ran amuck until she reached nearby Dunsmore Heath where she was slain by Guy of Warwick. An object said to be her giant horn can be seen at Warwick Castle today.

Dogs: Fidelity and Friendship. Use the dog when friends need your support or your loyalties are divided. Dogs have been mans best friend for thousands of years, certainly from about 7500BC in early Egypt. Hermes/Mercury the messenger of the gods was accompanied by his faithful dog.

One of the most famous dogs was Odysseuss faithful hound, Argos, described in Homers Odyssey. Argos waited faithfully for his master to return and was the only one to recognize his heavily disguised master after many years absence. But the joy was too much for his old heart and he died.  Dogs are said to sense evil or death approaching and to howl a warning. This is an Ancient Greek belief but prevails throughout the world.

Elephants: Wisdom and Stability. Use the elephant when others are offering conflicting advice or trying to force you down a path that you feel unwise. It was once believed that the elephant had no joints in its legs and so had to sleep standing up.

Pliny believed that the elephant had religious feelings and worshipped the ancient deities of the moon and stars. Aristotle credited the elephant with great wisdom and intelligence, a trait echoed in Hinduism where elephant-headed Ganesh is God of Wisdom and is always invoked at the beginning of any journey or before any important enterprise.

White Elephants are sacred to Buddha since one announced his birth to his mother, Queen Maya. Because of this and their rarity, they are not allowed to work. A white elephant came to represent an expensive unwanted gift because a certain King of Siam would present a white elephant to courtiers he wished to ruin financially. The unlucky recipient would have to feed, house and cherish this costly and useless gift.

Horses: Swift Action. Use the horse when you must respond to a sudden challenge or crisis or need to make a swift decision. The horse, which was first domesticated in about 1750BC, is a magical symbol of swiftness and power who can bear heroes and gods not only across the earth at incredible speeds but can also carry them through the skies, across the waves and even through the Underworld in safety.

According to Classical myth, Poseidon (Neptune in Roman myth) first created the horse Arion (meaning war-like) by striking the earth with his trident. Its right feet were those of a man, it had a human voice and ran as fast as the wind. At first it was given to Adrastus, King of Argos, who led the Seven heroes against Thebes. The horse eventually passed to Hercules.

Pegasus, the winged horse of classical myth, was ridden by the hero Bellerophon who performed many hazardous task with its help, including slaying the Chimera, a hideous monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and a dragons tail. When a horse dies, it is said to be lucky to keep its hoof. An ass's right forefoot is said to be good for easing the pains of childbirth.

If you find the back tooth of a horse, carry it always and you will never lack money. The charm works only if the tooth is found by chance. Nine hairs plucked from a stallions tail will cure warts. But you must not say thank you nor pay for them. Plait them and wear them in a bag near the afflicted spot. If two lovers encounter a white horse, they are promised eternal happiness.

You should always take off your hat to a donkey. A pregnant woman who meets a donkey will have a very clever and good baby, because the donkey is associated with Jesus.

Lions: Courage and Nobility. Use the lion when principles are at stake or you are cornered by those who have no scruples. In Western mythology, the lion is the King of the Beasts. He represents the power of the sun and was associated with the sun gods and later with Kings. The lioness is also a symbol of the Moon Goddesses and often pulled their chariots. Juno, wife of Jupiter, had a chariot drawn by lions.

The lion was sacred to the Egyptians who decorated their doors with gaping lions mouths because the Nile, source of water and prosperity, began to rise when the sun was in Leo. A lion guarded the tunnel through which Ra the Sun God passed at night. In China, stone lions protected the courts of justice and were believed to come to life at night.

It was originally thought that lion cubs were born dead and that after three days the lion breathed life into them and the lioness howled over them to call down power into their limbs. Lions were said to sleep with their eyes open and, when moving, destroy their tracks with their tail.

The story best known as Androcles and the lion, in which a lion is helped by a human and later repays its helper, takes many forms. The mediaeval version recounts how the gallant Crusader Sir Geoffrey de Latour saved a lion from serpents. Months later, battle was raging and Sir Geoffrey was knocked from his horse. As he lay waiting for the death blow, he heard a roar. It was his friend the lion who tossed aside the enemy and saved Sir Geoffrey.

Thereafter man and lion fought side by side. Once the battles were over, the lion tried to board the ship carrying his master Sir Geoffrey back to England. But it fell into the water and drowned.

Tigers: Strength and Permanence. Use the tiger when faced with a long-standing problem or when making a permanent commitment, to maintain your resolve. The tiger is the King of Beasts in Eastern mythology. In China, it is given the title of Lord of the Land Animals. Coloured tigers are used to represent the seasons and different directions.

The White Tiger represents the Earth, the West, the Autumn and is the region of death, because this is the direction of the setting sun. The Blue Tiger is the East, Spring and Plant Life. The Red Tiger is the South, Summer and Fire. The Black Tiger is the North, Winter and Water. The Yellow tiger in the centre is the Sun. In Japan, the tiger is believed to live for a thousand years. Malaysian legend tells that tigers contain the souls of sorcerers and therefore their name must be used with care for fear of attracting bad magic.

This is an extract from Bring out the Animal in You by Cassandra Easson - Visit her web site at

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