Totem Meanings

Totem Meanings

Buddha is a Sanskrit word meaning "The Awakened One", one awakened to reality, who understands true nature of the mind, the world, & all beings.

The Chrysanthemum represents the unfolding of inner perfection, and the myriad layers of every human being.

 Plum Blossom Branch: This totem represents strength in the face of adversity and the blooming of the true self.  The plum tree is deeply auspicious in Japanese culture, as it blooms with snow still on it’s branches.  This beautiful tree in flower is a quietly powerful totem.

Feathers deal with ascension and spiritual evolution to a higher plane. Feathers symbolize communication with celestial wisdom. Native Americans consider that feathers represent the power of the thunder gods, along with the power of air and wind. In dreams feathers mean travel or the ability to move more freely in life. White feathers in dreams indicate innocence or a fresh start in a spiritual sense.

Wolf: loyalty, perseverance, success.  Wolves have been long regarded by Native Americans as teachers or pathfinders. Wolves are fiercely loyal and have a strong sense of family while maintaining individualism. They are truly free spirits, even though their packs are highly organized. Traditionally, someone with Wolf Medicine has a strong sense of self, and communicates well. They often find new solutions to problems while providing stability and support that one normally associates with a family structure. Wolf's medicine includes dignity and courage, guidance in dreams and meditations, instinct linked with intelligence, social and family values, steadfastness,  and skill in protection of self and family.

Golden Eagle: A totem of great strength, power, and keen vision into far distances, the golden eagle is majestic and fierce.  She has over 2000 pounds per square inch of crushing power in her talons, and has been know to hunt wolves. Of course, as rulers of the sky, eagle meaning is connected with the air element, which symbolizes communication and thought. This totem speaks to us about higher thinking, dreams, and mental liberation. The eagle's message of mental acuity is super-dominant.

Owl: Accompanies Minerva in Roman myths, & seen as a symbol of wisdom because the owl is capable of seeing even in the dark and of vigilance because the owl is awake at night. The owl is accepted as a universal symbol for wisdom and knowledge. The owl was the symbol of Athena, who was not only the goddess of wisdom, but was also the goddess of battle. The owl is not only wise but a fierce fighter. However, owls have also been associated with wisdom and prosperity, frequently being companion animals for other goddesses. In Hindu Mythology, the barn owl is considered to be the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and thus it is considered lucky if an owl resides near a house. 

Raven represents intelligence, creativity, playfulness, and a far-seeing eye. Countless cultures point to the raven as a harbinger of powerful secrets. Moreover, the raven is a messenger too, so its business is in both keeping and communicating deep mysteries.  Raven symbolism of wisdom and knowledge-keeping is connected with the Welsh hero Bran, the Blessed whose name means raven. Bran was the holder of ancestral memories, and his wisdom was legendary. A raven story from the Puget Sound region describes the "Raven" as having originally lived in the land of spirits (literally bird land) that existed before the world of humans. One day the Raven became so bored with bird land that he flew away, carrying a stone in his beak. When the Raven became tired of carrying the stone and dropped it, the stone fell into the ocean and expanded until it formed the firmament on which humans now live.  In the creator role, and in the Raven's role as the totem and ancestor of one of the four northwest clan houses, the Raven is often addressed as Grandfather Raven.

Hawk medicine is in visionary power and guardianship, & teaches us to open our eyes and see that which is there to guide us. This could mean focusing on a talent we don't use, a blessing, or a message from the Spirit realm. The hawk is “a heavenly deity; its wings were the sky, the sun and moon were its eyes”.  Is the messenger.  It is also about visionary power and guardianship.  It teaches us about providing for family and self.   Hawk teaches us to be observant and to pay attention to what we may overlook. This could mean a talent we don't use, a blessing for which we haven't expressed gratitude, or a message from Spirit.  The hawk has keen eyesight, it is about opening our eyes and seeing that which is there to guide us. This particular bird was “a heavenly deity; its wings were the sky, the sun and moon were its eyes”. 

Fox symbolism takes a turn of intelligence in the Celtic realm, as the Celts believed the fox to be a guide, and was honored for its wisdom. The Celts understood the fox knows the woods intimately, and they would rely upon the fox as their guide in the spirit world.

Spirals and circles appear in early Megalithic art and as such are the earliest known symbols in human art.  The spiral appears across the globe, on every continent, at burial and other auspicious sites.  Scholars agree the spiral most likely represented the sun.  As the sun was believed to die each night and be reborn each morning, this symbol also represents the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The implications of the circle as symbol are literally inexhaustible.  The circle is universal, sacred, and divine.  It represents the infinite nature of energy, the interconnectedness of all things, the cycles of seasons, life, and death.  

The Lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera, also known as the sacred lotus, is an aquatic perennial.  The oldest recorded germination of the lotus being from seeds 1300 years old recovered from a dry lake bed in northeastern China.  The lotus is a divine symbol in Asian traditions representing purity.  In Hindu iconography deities are often portrayed on, or holding, a lotus blossom.  Its bloom suggests the expansion of the soul.  “From the slime itself, spotless the lotus grows.” 

Buffalo: sacredness, life, abundance.  Buffalo is considered by many tribes as a symbol of abundance: its meat fed the people, skins were used for clothing and covering, bones and sinew were crafted as survival tools, hooves were converted into glue. According to Lakota tradition, White Buffalo Calf Woman gave them the Sacred Pipe, promising abundance as long as they prayed to the Great Spirit and honored All Their Relations, that is, all other creations of nature. Buffalo's Medicine symbolizes an honor, reverence or special love for all the things that Mother Earth offers her children. It is also knowing that abundance is present when all relations are honored as sacred, and when gratitude is expressed to every living part of Creation. Buffalo signals a moment to reconnect with the meaning of life and the value of peace, to praise the gifts you already have, and to recognize and honor the sacredness in all paths, though they may be different than yours.

Tree of life: The concept of a many-branched tree illustrating the idea that all life on earth is related has been used in science, religion, philosophy, mythology and other areas. A tree of life is variously, a mystical concept alluding to the interconnectedness of all life on our planet, a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense, and a motif in various world theologies, mythologies and philosophies. 

 Heart-Leaf Arnica: This gorgeous member of the sunflower family blooms in profusion in early summer, and it’s yellow flowers illuminate the understory of mixed pine and fir forests.  A plant with incredible healing energy, arnica is used commonly today for cardiac patients as well as bruises and traumas.  Represents tremendous healing energy combined with the joy of the sunflower.

Mandalas: The Sanskrit meaning of mandala is circle. The circle is a symbol of perfection, eternity, unity and completeness.  Mandalas are meant to help envisage a sacred space separated and protected from the ever-changing and impure outer world of Samsara.  Spirals & circles appear in early Megalithic art and as such are the earliest known symbols in human art.  Scholars agree the spiral most likely represented the sun. The circle is universal, sacred, and divine.  It represents the infinite nature of energy, the interconnectedness of all things, the cycles of seasons, life, and death.  

Bear teaches introspection; to go within & discover that we contain within ourselves the answers to all of our questions.  We are our own best teacher.  Calm, healing, and regeneration.

Mountain Lion: The elusive, secretive cat represents being comfortable with your self. The cat brings us to wholeness & will ask us to deeply consider the innermost parts of ourselves.

Serpent: The ancient symbol of the serpent & the animal totem itself represents the fundamental life force: birth, death, and rebirth.  Snakes span the symbolic bridge between lunar and solar associations as well as aspects between water and fire.  Coiled within this polarity, we clearly see symbolism of duality and the search for balance. The snake also represents transformation, change and renewal as it sheds it’s skin and is reborn repeatedly. In Eastern Indian myth the Sanskrit word for snake is Naga and these are associated with the element of water. Picking up water's symbolism, nagas are considered to embody nurturing, benevolent, wise qualities. Serpents are however associated with the sky in Mayan wisdom. We see countless depictions of snakes with feathered wings in ancient ruins. With their connection with the sky, serpents are divine. They are also connected with water because rain falls from the skies, and snakes are sky creatures.

Phurba or Medicine Dagger: The Phurba is triple sided Tibetan ritual - Phurba refers to a peg used for securing a tent. The segments and the triple blade can represent the three spirit worlds, while the Phurba as a whole symbolizes bringing all three worlds together. They can also represent, respectively, the blade's power to transform negative energy. The phurba can be used for shamanic healing, harmonizing, and energy work.  They often have two snakes or dragons entwined on the blade. The top end of the phurba is used for blessings.  This ritual dagger ultimately symbolizes the slaying of obstructions, violence, hatred, and aggression by tying them to the blade of the phurba and then vanquishing them with its tip. Phurba is not a physical weapon, but a spiritual implement, and should be regarded as such.  Similar to traditional Native American medicine dagger in use and purpose.

Moose: The moose is often associated with the feminine energies, the maternal forces of the world; those with Moose totem will find these forces awakened.   Part of this is due to the association of moose with water as it is the primal symbol of the feminine forces of the universe.  Water is the symbol of creativity and dynamic forms of intuition and illumination.  The sea is the point from which all life comes and to which all life returns.  It is the great womb of the universe.  The moose is often seen in marshy areas and standing in lakes – moose is comfortable in these areas.  Additionally, the female moose is extremely protective of its young.  Its cycle of power is late fall and early winter – the time of Approaching Shadows. It is one of the most ancient and most unique of the power totems.  For anyone who aligns with the Moose, a unique and sacred energy is opened.

Ammonite: From high in the Teton range near Cody Peak, I brought this fossil home about twenty years ago.  From the days more than 250 million years ago when JH was under a shallow sea, this ammonite represents powerful spiral sea energy yet also the power of the high mountains.

Weasels: Ingenuity, energy, intellect, stealth and extreme curiosity combine with a fearlessness unrivalled in the mammal kingdom.

Interwoven Spring Grass:  The joy of renewal, acceptance of change and transformation.  Welcoming of personal growth and an opening of the heart.

Bodhi Tree:  A large and very old Sacred Fig tree, Ficus religiosa, located in Bodh Gaya under which Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism (later known as Gautama Buddha), achieved enlightenment, or Bodhi.  In religious iconography, the Bodhi tree is recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves, which are usually prominently displayed. It takes 100 - 3,000 years for a bodhi tree to fully grow.

The Horse represents loyalty, trust & honor, & is by far one of the largest contributors to the enhancement of human civilization.  

Bats are highly auspicious symbols of luck, success, health, long life, & happiness.  If a bat has flown into your life it is time to face your fears and prepare for change.  Native Americans consider the bat a symbol of intuition, dreaming and vision. 

Bees represent communication, joy, love, and sweetness. Dream bees ask us if we are communicating effectively and keeping in touch with our loved ones.

White Crowned SparrowEnergetic and incredibly musical, this beautiful and bold sparrow (my favorite) is assertive with it’s territory and adventurous in it’s habits.  It can be found nesting up to 10,000 feet high in the mountains in summer and lays gorgeous eggs.  The trilling melody of it’s song will accompany you on high altitude hikes. The Sparrow is ever vigilant in her goals. She is always bustling for her food, foraging for her nests, and gathering for her young. Fastidious and productive, the Sparrow is a reminder that idle hands (and idle minds) should be avoided in order to live a full, healthy life. 

Woodpecker: The woodpecker points to a need for sense of place and grounded earth energy. The symbolic meaning of woodpecker indicates a return to our roots.  The woodpecker’s hole nest is symbolic of a womb; earthy, grounded, sturdy and secure. When this bird comes pecking, it is a call for us to return to our roots and use our intellect and discernment to follow through with our plans.  This analogy is doubly profound in the case of red-headed woodpeckers as the color red is associated with the root chakra; prime, protective energy. Woodpecker is a sign to be aware of our core impulses, and our basic beliefs.  Native American’s considered the drumming of the woodpecker to resonate with the beating of the human heart.

Hummingbird: It is not commonly known that the fluttering wings of the hummingbird move in the pattern of an infinity symbol - further solidifying their symbolism of eternity & continuity. By observing the hummingbird, we see they are seemingly tireless. Always actively seeking the sweetest nectar, they remind us to forever seek out the good in life and the beauty in each day.  Amazing migrators, some hummingbirds are known to wing their way as far as 2000 miles to reach their destination. This quality reminds us to be persistent in the pursuit of our dreams, and adopt the tenacity and assertiveness of the hummingbird in our lives.  The hummingbird animal totem is a messenger of hope and jubilation.

Frog: When the frog jumps into your life it may indicate now is a time to find opportunities in transition. We see animal symbolism of transition with the frog in its unique growth cycle. The frog undergoes incredible transformations to reach the destination of full adulthood, and so do we as humans.  In many cultures the primary symbolic meaning of frogs deals with fertility. This is largely because these cultures observed Frogs laying enormous quantities of eggs, therefore making it a fertility symbol as well as a symbol of abundance. It is a symbol of recognizing one's own power, of adaptation and using sound and nature to make changes in our life.

Octopus is a water totem & is symbolic of flexibility, adaptability and creativity. Water perfectly illustrates this balance. The octopus moves skillfully in a realm that is in constant motion, ever changing & shifting.

Turtle: Because of its seemingly wide-eyed, long-lived, carefree attitude the turtle is often thought to be the wisest of souls among the animal kingdom. We would all do well to take this as a lesson and move at our own pace as the turtle does.  Furthermore, the turtle takes its wisdom one day at a time - not reacting, simply accepting and moving on in its natural methods. Again, this is a powerful analogy for humankind, and we would benefit from adopting the same behavior pattern. Turtles share an association with water, which lends meanings of motion, intuition and emotion to the myriad of more symbolic meanings of the turtle.

Elephant: In Thailand it is believed that a white elephant may contain the soul of a dead person, perhaps a Buddha. When one is taken the capturer is rewarded and the animal brought to the king to be kept ever afterwards. It cannot be bought or sold. It is baptized and fêted and mourned for like a human being at its death. In some parts of Indonesia the belief is that the soul of the elephant may injure people after death; it is therefore fêted by a whole village. The Hindu God Ganesha has the head of an elephant and a torso of a human.

Dragonfly lets us see past the illusion.   When we've tricked ourselves into believing that the limitations of physical existence prevent us from changing and growing.  Dragonfly medicine teaches us to pierce our self-created illusions.

Cats: (Mountain Lion, Lynx) Bring us to wholeness and acts as a spiritual link between humans and the universe.   It is about magic, mystery and being independent.   The cat, a creature which combines a high degree of sensuality with a deeply psychic and spiritual nature, teaches us that the physical and spiritual worlds are not separate, but one. 

Dragon: Teaches us about transformation of the elements of earth, fire, water, and air.  Dragon's power is that of shedding its skin and emerging as a new, transformed being.  Dragon is also about magic, using the magic within to transform your life. A mythological animal of Chinese origin, Dragons are ultimate symbols of cosmic Chi (energy). It is said to be the most potent symbol of good fortune in the Chinese pantheon of symbols. As one of the four creatures of the world's directions, the Dragon stands for new beginnings. The Dragon also has the power to release water to parched lands, and which in turn stands for abundance and relief.Images of the dragon are found throughout Asia, and the pictorial form widely recognized today was already prevalent in Chinese ink paintings in the Tang period (9th century AD).  Asian dragons are rarely depicted as malevolent. Although fearsome and powerful, dragons are equally considered just, benevolent, and the bringers of wealth and good fortune. 

Spider medicine tells us to remember that we are the creators of our lives.  When spider appears in your life think about writing down your thoughts, telling your story.

Zodiac and Constellations in astronomy: the zodiac is the ring of constellations that lines the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the Sun across the sky over the course of the year. The Moon and planets also lie within the ecliptic, and so are also within the constellations of the zodiac. In astrology, the zodiac denotes the signs which divide the ecliptic into twelve equal zones of celestial longitude. As such, the zodiac is a celestial coordinate system. The term zodiac derives from Latin zodiacus, in turn from the Greek "circle of animals".  The history of astrology encompasses a great span of human history and many cultures. The belief in a connection between the cosmos and terrestrial matters has also played an important part in human history.

Swords: The sword is a symbol of purification; the metaphorical sword cleanly pierces the spiritual soul of man. This symbolic action sacrifices physical bondage to release a path to ethereal (enlightened) freedom. In Buddhism the sword symbolism deals with discrimination of thought. In this light, swords cut away ignorance.  As a Celtic symbol, the sword is reputed to be associated with Nuada, the first king of Tuatha Dé Danann. Nuada’s great sword is considered one of the four treasures (sword, stone, spear, cauldron) & was associated with the supernatural forces of the underwater realm.

Dream Catcher: The Ojibwe people say their mothers & grandmothers weaved magical webs for their children, using willow hoops & sinew or cordage. The dreamcatchers would filter out all bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to enter the mind. 

Trishul: The Trishul is a trident carried by Durga, the goddess who represents the divine power of the feminine.  It symbolizes the balance of the three forces: preservation, creation and destruction.

Celtic Cross: The symbolism of the Celtic cross (especially the equal-armed cross in which each protrusion is equidistant from the center) is indicative of the human desire to know and experience the unfoldingThe cross is also a symbol representing the meeting place of the Divine energies. At the center of the cross-section is the energetic touchstone where a concentration of cosmic power resides,  Celtic cross serves as a meditative focal point.

Willow : A Beautiful native wetland shrubs, willows represent Strength in flexibility, Beauty, change, fluidity.  Also embodies a deep spirit of light and happiness.

Aspen : A Beautiful native deciduous tree, aspens represent Strength in flexibility, Beauty, change, fluidity.  Also embodies a deep spirit of light and happiness.

Cascade Mountain Ash: Abundance and vibrant color, ability to transition with grace

Thimbleberry Leaf:  Powerful life force energy, joie de vivre, the element of appreciating the moment, the present.

Douglas Fir:  Strength, rootedness, power and fidelity

Eagle: Divine Spirit.  Eagle feathers are used all over the world as ceremonial instruments and are considered to be the most sacred healing tools. They are a symbol of power, healing and wisdom. Eagle represents a state of grace that is reached through inner work, understanding and passing the initiation tests that result from reclaiming our personal power. Eagle Medicine is the Power of the Great Spirit. It is the spirit of tenacity. It is the gift of clear vision with which one can truly see the things one sees. It is the patience to wait for the appropriate moment. It is to live in balance with heaven and Earth. Eagle reminds you of your connection with the Great Spirit. It tells you that the universe is giving you the opportunity to fly above your life's worldly levels, or above the shadow of past realities. Eagle teaches you to look above in order to touch Grandfather Sun with your heart, to love the Shadow as much as the Light. Eagle asks you to grant yourself permission to be free in order to reach the joy that your heart desires.

Northern Goshawk:  A powerful symbol of fearlessness, assertiveness and focus, this agile hawk haunts northern forests and stuns with its ruby red eyes.

Sand: Change, fluidity, transformation

Crane:  Symbol of peace and harmony, represents the quietness of self knowledge and calm wisdom.  Of only 15 crane species, our sandhill crane is the most ancient of them all.

Chrysanthemum:  Represents the unfolding of inner perfection, of inner harmony and self knowledge.

Arrowhead: Blackfeet, Crow, Gros Ventre and Shoshone tribes made Jackson Hole their home, and at our house we had Shoshones camping for thousands of years.  This arrowhead honors the families who lived on our home site and respected the animals and the land.  We regularly find arrowheads, knives, spear points and other tools, some dating as much as 11,000 years old.

Sticky Geranium:  The powerful life force of the spring bloom in the Tetons.

Peacock: represents immortality in some cultures, and self-confidence without vanity.

Chicadee represents the acceptance of hardship and work with grace and song in your heart.

Elk and Deer represent stamina, alert awareness, agility, and conservation of energy.  This totem is a calming influence & can help reduce stress.

Ram is a totem of inner strength.  This totem brings power, agility, & energy for new endeavors.  Yet within that energy and strength is great balance. 

 Sharks represents fierce attention, focus, and the strength of the predator.  Highly assertive, the shark is a great model of power.

Bees represent communication, joy, love, and sweetness. Dream bees ask us if we are communicating effectively and keeping in touch with our loved ones.

Butterfly is about the ability to go through important changes with grace and lightness.

Skulls of all kinds, including the Memento Mori, pare the essence of a being down to their elemental truth.  They remind us to live fully in every moment as all things pass, and inspire deeper connection to the spirit realm.

Buddha is a Sanskrit word meaning "The Awakened One", one awakened to reality, & understands true nature of the mind, the world, & all beings. 

The Crescent Moon is a symbol of power that has been recurring in art & spiritual thought for over 30,000 years.  It represents the Goddess Isis & the Sacred Bull among many meanings.  

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