Native American Spirit Animals

Sally Painter
Native American giving blessing

According to traditional Native American beliefs, an animal spirit or spirit guide can travel through life with an individual, assisting and guiding that person much the same way a guardian angel does in the Christian belief system. Different animal spirits may come to a person just to assist with a specific crisis or problem and then leave, never to return to that person.

Exploring the Meaning of Spirit Animal Symbols

Native Americans believe that humans were created to serve as caretakers of Mother Earth. This role bestows insight that all living things are connected and each has a spirit, none lesser than any other. Nature is viewed as a benevolent friend and ally. This brotherhood with all things is reflected by the respect and reverence they give to animals, including these common spirit animals.


Grizzly bear

Myths and stories about bears are very common throughout Native American tribes. These include bear gods and menacing bear spirits. For these tribes, hunting and eating bears is forbidden. The bear is just and punishes anyone who acts disrespectfully or improperly. Some tribes view the bear as a violent predator, while others revere the mother bear's protectiveness.

The bear is believed to possess magical powers. He teaches the joy of solitude. The bear spirit animal brings courage, confidence and a grounding energy. It can guide you in healing or stand behind you to face an enemy. When bear appears to you, the spirit message is to stand up for what you believe in and fight for the truth.


Shaman in wolf skin cloak

Another prominent animal spirit is the wolf. Just like the bear, wolf clans are common. Wolves are credited with being early ancestors of some tribes, while others see them as protectors. Many tribes honor the wolf with dances and totems.

Wolf spirit is intelligent, social, relies on instincts and loves freedom. If you feel threatened or distrustful, the wolf can help you overcome these obstacles. Whenever a wolf appears to you, the message is to pay closer attention to your instincts and intuition.


Cooper's hawk in tree

The hawk is another clan and totem animal. It's a symbol of great strength and courage. The hawk protects the clans from enemies and appears in dreams to forewarn of danger.

The hawk spirit animal appears to remind you to use your intuition in daily life. The hawk is an observer from a higher perspective and grants the power of observation to assess situations before acting. If hawk comes to you, he encourages you to pay closer attention to the spirit world and spirit messages.


Resting turtle

The Native American creation story of North America (Turtle Island) describes how the Great Spirit created the East Coast tribes' homeland on the back of a giant turtle. The shape of North America is believed to resemble the shell and legs of a turtle. It's not surprising that turtle clans are very common as well as a traditional turtle dance.

Turtles are associated with healing, wisdom, protection, fertility, longevity and spirituality. Turtles are also the peace-makers. When turtle spirit appears to you, the message is to remain determined yet serene. The turtle also alerts you to slow down and take time to examine your surroundings and find a path of peace, be it for the mind, environment or life in general. It also reminds you to stay grounded, especially when you're upset or life becomes unsettling.


American bison

Buffalo is another clan animal and was vital to the survival of Native Americans. It provided meat, fur for clothing and tipis (teepees) and bone for making tools. Many rituals, prayers and dances were created around the hunt for the buffalo.

In Sioux stories, the White Buffalo Calf Woman taught the people many survival skills, educated them about civilization and spiritual rituals and ceremonies. Most importantly, she bestowed the "scared peace pipe" to the Lakota people.

The buffalo spirit animal brings medicine knowledge that's considered sacred. If you are in a battle, the buffalo may appear to you as a reminder that the true path is one of peace. You may be required to show great strength and stamina to achieve this ideal.

How to Find Your Spirit Animals

Native American totem poles

You can find your spirit animal(s) by either meditating, day dreaming, sleep dreaming or observing nature. If you have a heartfelt deep affinity with a particular animal, chances are it's one of your spirit animal guides. Pay attention to:

  • Animals appearing in your dreams
  • Feeling a deep connection to any animal
  • Connecting with or thoughts of a certain animal during meditation or any relaxed state
  • Physically seeing or interacting with a particular animal on numerous occasions over a short period of time

The most important thing to remember is that you can't choose your spirit animal(s). They choose you.

Communicating With Spirit Animals

Shamans possess ancient knowledge that allows them easier communication with the spirit world and the tribe typically depends on them to assist in the interpretation of signs, omens and even delivering direct messages. That's not to say you can't bypass the shaman, but not everyone is able to achieve this kind of spirit connection on their own.

The Manataka American Indian Council website explains, "Communicating with animal spirit guides is not easy. Animals have a different consciousness and perceive things differently than humans." Since animals are "sentient beings" it would be a mistake to treat them the same way you would a human. This is why shamans or medicine men and women are often the ones who assist in communicating with the spirit world.

Be Open to Animal Spirits

Having your spirit animal reveal itself to you could be as simple as the animal appearing in your yard, in a park while you sit or walk and many other ways. Pay attention and you will soon discover that spirit animals are trying to connect with your spirit. Read the Native American spiritual attributes that spirit animals bring and then be open to receiving those messages.

Native American Spirit Animals