The Spirit Animal
One’s personal animal guide is called the spirit animal or medicine animal. In shamanism, the spirit animal is the psychopomp: the escort of souls to the spirit world. It is the embodiment of the collective animal consciousness of a particular species, the essence of an earthly animal, as opposed to a mythological beast or exclusively astral creature. The number of animals a person has varies for everyone. A spirit animal walks alongside someone from birth, though they may leave the person or go into the background later in life. They are typically animals who are local to the place a person is born, for example, bison in North America, koalas in Australia, and dolphins in Jamaica.
The Power Animal
Power animals are also astral helpers whose energy becomes attached to the person for one reason or another. They differ from the spirit animal in that they are only either given by another person (like a tribal or Craft Elder) or invoked by practitioners themselves for their medicine. They are similar to the spirit animal in that the animal appearing is actually a piece of the fullness of the animal’s group consciousness. By that, I mean that they are an embodiment of the specific animal’s singular essence: a falcon is a splinter of the collective Great Falcon energy; the badger is an embodiment of the Great Badger energy and so forth.
The Totem Animal
Totem animals are actually quite different than the previous two. They are often seen as guardians of a particular tribe, clan, or family and/or an area of land. The latter are called Land Spirits or Genus Loci, and are similar to the Devas, which East Indians speak about. It is imperative for the magickal person to connect with Land Spirits of the area they reside in, visit or move to, as they will remain part of the area regardless of physical changes on the property. They will also influence any magick the Witch performs, patterning the energy in part to its own vibrational essence. Land Spirits may be created by human intention or simply appear as manifestations the energy of a particular area. Either way, they are very real, both sending and receiving similar energy while remaining in one spot.
Totem animals are projective manifestations of personal intention and in that sense are created, not unlike a gollum (golem) or thoughtform elemental in high magickal traditions. They represent the collective consciousness of a group mind. Totem animals are often incorporated in a tribe’s mythology and cosmology, and are ascribed specific traits. Several cultures in the world do use amalgamated animal forms, including Persian and Scythian tribes who create new mythological species that are combinations of a number of animals, one of which is the gryphon. Along similar lines there exist animal spirit guardians who are the embodiment of an animal species’ consciousness. For example, the Great Elk Spirit is the unification of all aspects (including personalities) of Elk consciousness put to a singular form, acting as the oversoul: the entirety of that animal’s consciousness put into one body as an emanation thereof. These are the guides most often called forth in ritual when working with foreign animal medicine. The power animal, on the other hand, is a piece of the great oversoul.