Sacred Sites

SEEKING TOTEMS, Shamanic Journeying, and Sacred Sites

Seeking totems is one of the most powerful and satisfying experiences that you will have during your initiation into medicine wheel work. Often animals or various geometric patterns will come to you spontaneously. Bears, for example, may begin to become important to you for no apparent reason and everywhere you look you see bear pictures or people start giving you little bear figures. You may be drawn to different colours, scents, books or even people. The important thing is to notice what is drawing your attention, for therein are messages, forming the totem life-pathways. They are a source of medicine for the phase of your life that is under the protection of the totem; your totem takes a supernatural interest in your life.

Each totem has a different set of qualities and these qualities become skills, which you may call upon as you walk your spiritual path. Perhaps you need to be able to cool down quickly from the heat of anger; willow bark would be a totem for this quality (Aspirin comes from the bark of the White Willow). Perhaps stubborn survival ability mixed with a talent for nosing out hidden answers, qualities of mouse, is what you need. Animal totems are the most commonly contacted kind of totem but that is probably because their energy vibrates at a frequency closer to our own and it is therefore easier to resonate with them. The frequency of plant and mineral totems may be harder for some to tune into but they as just as powerful. In fact, the basis for ‘modern’ pharmaceutical medicine came about only because in the very old days, plants spoke to the people and told them their qualities that helped humans! You could find yourself particularly liking the colour, shape or feel of a mineral specimen like pyrite and be drawn to want to buy it and carry it in your pocket. Iron sulfide, ‘Fools Gold’, is a transmitter mineral that sends and relays power. You could need extra strength and that is why you are drawn to that particular mineral.


Often we are called to animals or people that represent aspects of ourselves that we need to develop. For example, if you are a particularly concrete person, you may find yourself with lovers or friends who are particularly spacey or airy. The point to remember in working with and being aware of totems is that they represent energies or aspects that you need to be paying attention to at a particular time. If you have been working for some time on grounding yourself, for example, you may begin to notice that you are increasingly conscious of birds. This ‘shift’ in your perception may be to alert you that it is time for you to take your ‘grounding learning’s’ with you as you explore new and expanded vistas. Winged ones do not spend all of  their time flying and turtles, which are often perceived as being very close to the ground, also ‘fly’ through the water. Is it time for you to fly or to stay close to the Earth? An animal totem may assist you on your way.

One of the best methods for seeking an animal helper or guide is through the Shamanic Journey. Typically, Shamans journeyed to the ‘lower world’ to meet their animal totem. In many practices, a guide was known to be a true guide when they appeared at least three times to the journeyer. Be aware of the animals, colours and forms that you are naturally drawn to or see if a totem appears three times when you do the journey exercise for this week. The next step in staying in deep relationship to your totems, and therefore getting all of the gifts they have to offer, is spending time discovering more about their qualities. Direct observation is the best way but nature films and books can also teach you much. Traditional myths, legends and stories also teach the wonders of their powers. We are very fortunate that at this time so many people are walking an Earth-centered path for many books have been written about the totem qualities of animals, plants and minerals. (Giving Voice to Bear; Native American Myths, Ritual, and Images of the Bear, by David Rockwell and Earth Medicine: A Shamanic Way to Self-discovery by Kenneth Meadows are excellent examples.)

About the author: Barbara Meiklejohn‐Free is a healer, author, teacher and storyteller – all of which she employs in weaving the ancient craft of the Shaman. Drawing on her extensive work with the Native American traditions, as well as those of many other indigenous cultures including her own Pagan heritage, she is a recognized expert in assisting people to explore the Calling, in vision questing, in performing initiations and in hosting ceremonies across the globe. Barbara has been communing with Spirit since the age of 12 and her work today is synonymous with integrity, authenticity and vision. Her no‐nonsense, hands‐on approach has helped thousands to reclaim their natural gifts through her many talks, readings, performances, seminars and residential workshops.

Barbara is the author of the Sacred Sites Oracle Cards, published by Watkins Publishing.

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