Totem Animal Vs. Shadow Animal: What’s The Difference?

Totem and shadow animals played a crucial part of Native American culture and individual consciousness. They were animals that influenced each individual’s life journey. The way we interact with animals and the lessons that they can teach us to remain as relevant for modern society as it did thousands of years ago.

Each of us will find ourselves drawn to or repelled from different animals for reasons that science can’t explain. Evolution teaches us that bears and wolves are dangerous animals yet we are still fascinated by them and compelled to see them. While others that cause us little harm such as mice or most spiders we shrink away from. This is our spirituality showing us those animals which are crucial to our life journey.

But what’s the difference between a totem animal and a shadow animal?

What is a totem animal?


Native American tradition tells us that each and every one of us has up to nine animal totems over the course of our lifetimes. An animal totem is an animal that embodies our personal and spiritual identity.

They can represent a facet of our personalities, act as a guide for our future or highlight an aspect of our past we did not understand.

Each animal totem will teach us a different lesson but collectively they teach us the importance of living in harmony with the natural world and how to adjust our lives to purity of thought and emotion.

Totem animals serve as helpful, inspirational guides on our journey through life. By focussing on understanding the traits and characteristics of our totems we begin to externalize them in order to become better people.

We do not choose our totem animals. They are animals we are drawn to for reasons we cannot explain. Often the desire to see or spend time with them will come from nowhere but that is our spirit telling us which totem animal will teach us our next lesson about our existence.

Three common totem animals:

  • Wolves
  • Bears
  • Killer whales 

What is a shadow animal?


A shadow animal is another important animal in our personal and spiritual development. However, we are not drawn to these animals. They are often the animals that we have nightmares or phobias about.

We will often take the opportunity to kill our shadow animals when we can. Our whole being is deflecting us away from them and that reason is, on the surface, irrational.

Deeper down, however, the phobia isn’t irrational. It is our mind protecting us from a lesson we don’t want to learn. We avoid our shadow animal for as long as possible but its lessons are equally as important as the lessons we learn from our totem animals.

Often, after we have identified our shadow animal, we discover that it has many traits that we despise in ourselves. They are marginalized because they represent that which is marginalized about us. By learning to love and accept our shadow animal we learn to appreciate who we truly are as spiritual beings.

Three common shadow animals:

  • Spiders
  • Snakes
  • Cockroaches


Identify yours

shutterstock_299506937Both totem and shadow animals are hugely significant in our life’s journey. Identifying your own takes patience, time and a desire to understand yourself as a spiritual being.

Next time you find yourself drawn to an animal or repulsed by it ask yourself why. You may never have had such a strong feeling towards that animal before. This is your guide reaching out to you so it is important to listen. Your next spiritual lesson is waiting to be learned.

You may feel the compulsion to see your spirit animal in the wild, so go! Immerse yourself in the majesty of the natural world in order to understand yourself and your role as part of the earth better.

If it is your shadow animal that is calling out to you, it is time to accept that your negative thoughts towards it are telling you about yourself and you must confront your fear. Whether that means handling your shadow animal or simply observing it at a safe distance.

There is no quiz you can take to identify your totem animal or your shadow animal. Just become in tune with your spirit and let it identify your animal guides to your spiritual complete spiritual identity.


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