Totenism : A Relationship Between Humans and Nature

Totemism, a complex system of ideas, symbols, and practices based on an assumed relationship between an individual or a social group(religion is also a Social Group) and a natural object known as a totem. The totem may be a particular species of bird, animal, or plant, a natural phenomenon, or a feature of the landscape with which a group believes itself linked in some way. The term totem is derived from the language of the Ojibwa, a Native North American tribe.

The totemic relationship is widespread and has been observed in Malaysia, Africa, and Guinea. It is especially strong among some Native Americans and the Australian aborigines. In these societies, the totem is often regarded as a companion and helper with supernatural powers and as such is respected and occasionally venerated. The individuals of a totemic group see themselves as partially identified with or assimilated to the totem, which may be referred to by special names or symbols. Descent may be traced to an original totemic ancestor, which becomes the symbol of the group. With the exception of some totemic rituals, killing, eating, or touching the totem is prohibited. Individual shamans  have been known to cultivate a personal friendship with a particular totemic animal or plant.

Few anthropological concepts have undergone such radical change as that of totemism. Most of the theories about this phenomenon propounded in the 19th and early 20th centuries have been discarded. Totemism is no longer regarded as a religion, much less as an early stage in the religious and cultural history of the human race. It is admitted, however, that a totemic relationship may involve some religious elements, such as the cult of ancestors and the belief in spirits ( Animism). The current skepticism about totemism in anthropological literature is exemplified by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s theory that totemism is an anthropological concept having no objective reality.

The basis of totemism seems to lie in the world view of some societies that assume a specific relationship between human beings and the powers of nature, a relationship that serves as the foundation for a classificatory scheme. Totemism may thus be interpreted as a conceptual device for sorting out social groups by means of natural emblems. Furthermore, some scholars point out that when different social groups within the same society draw their names and identities from plants or animals, these totems serve as symbolic devices showing that society, although divided into many groups, still remains a whole. Totems identify and symbolize a group that shares common interests–particularly an interest in the protection of kin members–in societies that have no other agency or mechanism for performing this function. Recently, some anthropologists have argued that Australian totemism, because of its taboos against killing and eating one’s totem, has acted as a conservation device, helping people adapt to their natural environment. Totemism would, in this interpretation, have an ecological significance and would thus have played an important role in the development and survival of those societies in which it flourished.

Animal Totems

Native American Animal Totems are emblems of tribes or groups of people such as a family or clan. Animal totems or emblems, also reflect the lineage of a tribe, reminding them of their ancestry or their mythical past and creation myths. The word totem is derived from the Ojibwe (Chippewa) word ‘odoodem’ meaning “his kinship group”. Many tribes also hold the belief that each of their people have animal totems that are spirit guides who sometimes appear in dreams or Vision Quests in the form of Power Animals and their dream meanings. These animal totems, or spirit guides walk through life with them, teaching and guiding them and in some instances, protecting them.

Animal Totems – Meanings and Significance
Each one of the animal totems had a special meaning, characteristics and significance. The following chart details the common Animal totems used by Native Indian Tribes across North America. The meanings of each of the Animal Totems are also detailed although there might be some regional and tribal variations to their symbolism and meaning.

Chart of Animal Totems and Meanings

Animal Totems & Meanings


Alligator – Emotional understanding, cleansing & 
Spiritual Healing

Animal Totems & Meanings Badger

Badger – Bold, out-going, good communicator

Animal Totems & Meanings Bat

Bat – Death and Rebirth and Guardian of the Night

Animal Totems & Meanings Beaver

Beaver – Creative and Artistic ability, builder, resourcefulness and determination

Animals Totem & Meaning Bear

Bear – Strength, Solitude, Motherhood, Teaching and to learn Humility Meaning of Bear

Animal Totems & Meanings Bobcat

Bobcat – Independence, Clear Vision and self reliance

Animal Totems & Meanings Bumblebee

Bumblebee – Honesty, Pure Thinking, Willingness and Drive

Animal Totems & Meanings Buffalo

Buffalo – A manifestation of the Great Spirit, Knowledge, Generosity and abundance

Animal Totems & Meanings Butterfly

Butterfly – Represents transformation and the ability to accept change

Animal Totems & Meanings Cougar

Cougar – Power, leadership, humility and encourages responsibility for life

Animals Totem & Meaning Cow

Cow – Represents Motherhood, contentment, fertility and nourishment

Animal Totems & Meanings Crocodile

Crocodile – Strong will, Emotional understanding, cleansing and healing

Animal Totems & Meanings Coyote

Coyote – Helps you recognize your own mistakes, Stealth, Clowning and Humor

Animal Totems & Meanings Crow

Crow – Find balance living in present, release past beliefs, Skill and Cunning

Animal Totems & Meanings Deer

Deer – Healing, Gentleness, kindness & compassion

Animal Totems & Meanings Dolphin

Dolphin – Interpreting dreams, Change, Wisdom, Communication,

Animals Totem & Meaning Dog

Dog – Guidance, Loyalty and trust

Animal Totems & Meanings Dogfish

Dogfish – Persistence and Strength A Born Leader

Animal Totems & Meanings Dove

Dove – Love, Gentleness and Kindness

Animal Totems & Meanings Dragonfly

Dragonfly – Dreams, Illusions, Ever-changing Life

Animal Totems & Meanings Eagle

Eagle – Great Strength, courage Leadership and Prestige

Animals Totem & Meaning Elk

Elk – Bravery, agility and independence

Animal Totems & Meanings Falcon

The Falcon – Soul Healing, Speed and Movement

Animal Totems & Meanings Fox

The Fox – Cunning, Stealth and Feminine Courage

Animal Totems & Meanings Frog

Frog – Spring & New Life, Sensitivity, Communicator, Stability

Animal Totems & Meanings Grizzly Bear

The Grizzly Bear – Strength and Ferocity

Animal Totems & Meanings Halibut

The Halibut – Life protector, Strength and Stability

Animal Totems & Meanings Hawk

The Hawk – Guardianship, Strength, Far Sighted

Animals Totem & Meaning Heron

The Heron – Patience, Graceful and Easy Going

Animal Totems & Meanings Horse

Horse – Energy, Power, Message carrier, communicates with other realms

Animal Totems & Meanings Hummingbird

Hummingbird – Love, Beauty, Intelligence, Spirit Messenger and Stopper of Time

Animal Totems & Meanings Killer Whale

The Killer Whale – Seas and the Underworld, Traveler & Guardian and Symbol of Good

Animals Totem & Meaning Kingfisher

The Kingfisher – Luck, Patience, Speed and Agility

Animal Totems & Meanings Lizard

The Lizard – Awareness, Conservation, subconscious hopes and fears

Animal Totems & Meanings Moose

The Moose – Headstrong, Balance and Longevity

Animal Totems & Meanings Mouse

Mouse – Observant qualities and diligence

Animal Totems & Meanings Otter

The Otter – Feminine Power, Playful, Trusting, Inquisitive, Bright, Loyal and speedy

Animals Totem & Meaning Owl

The Owl – Wisdom, silent and swift, ability to see things normally, a creature of the night

Animal Totems & Meanings Raccoon

Raccoon – Curiosity, Creativity, Dexterity, Disguise

Animal Totems & Meanings Raven

Raven – Creation & Knowledge – Bringer of the Light

Animal Totems & Meanings Porcupine

Porcupine – Safety and Protection

Animal Totems & Meanings Salmon

Salmon – Persistence, Dependability and Renewal – A Provider

Animal Totems & Meanings Seal

The Seal – Bright, Inquisitive, Organized

Animal Totems & Meanings Shark

The Shark – Remorselessness, Survival, Adaptability

Animals Totem & Meaning Snake

The Snake – Rebirth, Resurrection, Initiation and Transformation

Animal Totems & Meanings Spider

The Spider – Creativity, weaving the web of fate

Animal Totems & Meanings Squirrel

Squirrel – Planning and Preparation

Animals Totem & Meaning Turtle

The Turtle – Self-Reliance, Tenacity, Slow Progress

Animal Totems & Meanings Weasel

The Weasel – Encourages you to develop your sense of inner hearing and to pay attention to your inner voice

Animal Totems & Meanings Whale

The Whale – Ancient Knowledge, Awareness

Animals Totem & Meaning Wolf

The Wolf – Intelligence & Leadership – Strong Sense of Family



Totenism in Native American culture


About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
This entry was posted in earth. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.