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Spirits and Animals: Totems, Familiars, and Power Animals

Melissa has been practicing paganism and witchcraft for over 20 years. She currently works with the Egyptian pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.

Read on to learn all about spirits and animals!

Read on to learn all about spirits and animals!

Animals tend to be more in tune with the spirit world than humans. In fact, animals tend to be more in tune with us than we are! This is most likely because they lack our rational minds or because they are more simple-minded than we are and so accept the spirit world more readily. Either way, having an animal in your home can help alert you to any residential spirits.

Osiris, my familiar

Osiris, my familiar

Dogs Are Sensitive to the Spirit World

Dogs can easily see and hear spirits and oftentimes can be seen “chasing” a playful one, but some spirits can also cause them to cower in fear. Most of the time, dogs will cling to the one person in the household they know can protect them psychically.

This is why my dog, Sekhmet, clings to me and listens only to me when she’s in the house. My husband doesn’t have the connection to the spirit world that I do, and Sekhmet senses this. Most animals know when someone has been touched by the spirit world.

Cats Can Cross the Veil Between Worlds

Cats can see, hear, and communicate with spirits. Some cats can actually transgress the veil between worlds. My familiar, Osiris, can cross the veil, both into the spirit realm and into dreams. Honestly, I’m not a cat person. But, since my ability to talk to spirits has grown stronger, I’ve found cats make wonderful companions.

Cat Worship

Cats were worshipped for thousands of years by the Egyptians. In fact, the Egyptians believed the cat had occult and psychic abilities of the great power. Cats could not only see at night, but they could also see into the future and the spirit world.

Bastet, the Cat Goddess

Bastet was the most well-known of the cat goddesses of ancient Egypt, and she was usually depicted anthropomorphically with the head of a cat. She was the protector of motherhood, the goddess of fertility and sexuality, and also a protector of the dead, which most likely led to the belief that cats were guardians of the underworld.

Animal Spirits

Many people believe animals don’t have spirits, but I have to emphatically disagree.

I have two dogs that died recently who refuse to leave my home, and I’m honored that they love our family so much that they want to spend their afterlife with us. I think that’s the greatest compliment I could receive and definitely reassurance that they had a wonderful life with us.

Ways Animal Spirits Can Manifest

There are several different ways animal spirits can manifest. Most commonly, it’s a glimpse of their tail or back end in your peripheral vision. Sometimes it is just a sense that the animal is there. It can also be a sound the animal used to make such as the tapping of paws across the floor, meowing or even barking. My little 8-pound Yorkie would whine in a certain way when she wanted attention, and every now and then I see her tail, and hear a whine.

Another way animal spirits can manifest is by brushing up against you or even curling up next to you in bed or on the couch. This is more common with cat spirits than dogs, but my little Yorkie does it quite a bit.

My older dog (also deceased) would crawl into the bed between my husband and I when she was alive, and I’ll wake to find a spot between the two of us that looks identical to the way she would curl up.

Animal spirits come in several different types, some of which are quite misunderstood. Let’s take a look at the different forms animal spirits can take.

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Totems tend to be misunderstood. They are essentially archetypes of an animal. For example, a dragonfly totem is the embodiment of the characteristics of all dragonflies. It is an archetype.

The lessons learned from a totem are based on both its characteristics and its actions. Totems are usually associated with groups such as covens or tribes (represented by a totem pole), but can also be specific to an individual. Totems also tend to be life-long spiritual partners.

Native Americans believed hawks and falcons were both spirit guides and totems.

Native Americans believed hawks and falcons were both spirit guides and totems.


Familiars are another misunderstood phenomenon. They are most commonly a living creature such as a cat or dog that becomes a spiritual partner. Interestingly, if a witch’s familiar died in ancient times, it was thought the witch would die as well.

Familiars Can Also Be Spiritual Creatures

Familiars can also be spiritual creatures that partner with an earthbound individual. I recently read a book on familiars that stated one must possess a nonphysical familiar spirit by “embracing” it at least once a week. I was appalled when I read that sentence. No spirit is meant to be possessed. They are not things. They are sentient beings that have quite a bit to teach us. Personally, my nonphysical familiar (which also happens to be my spirit guide) would be enraged if I attempted to possess him!

Nonphysical Familiars

Nonphysical familiars can inhabit inanimate objects in order to stay on the physical plane for longer periods of time. My spiritual familiar prefers my car, but any object that holds value to the practitioner will work. The familiar will most likely choose its preferred object, but you can also attempt to select one for it as an offering. The object needs to have significant value or meaning to you, however. That value or meaning is energy, and that energy is what ties the spirit to the physical plane.

Power Animals

Power animals are the spiritual embodiment of a creature that is usually called upon to assist an individual with astral travel or other magical workings. Power animals are there to guide and protect the practitioner and can be temporary or lifelong associations. Some power animals work alone, others work in tandem with other power animals.

Bears are well-known for being power animals in many cultures including Native American, Chinese and Celtic cultures.

Bears are well-known for being power animals in many cultures including Native American, Chinese and Celtic cultures.

Animal Guides

Typically spiritual embodiments of a creature, animal guides arrive in a practitioner’s life with specific lessons to teach, or a specific message to send. They sometimes offer aid in certain situations. They are most commonly temporary spirit guides and leave when the situation resolves.

Any animal can be a spirit guide, including a squirrel.

Any animal can be a spirit guide, including a squirrel.

Working With Animal Spirits

When working with animal spirits, it’s important to remember they are, or once were, animals. They are unpredictable. It is best to observe an animal in nature to gain understanding of it before attempting to work with it spiritually. In the case of mythical animals, such as the dragon, observing it in nature is impossible. In this case, reading about the myths surrounding the animal and learning about its history would be the closest you can get to “observing” it.

Ways to Find Your Animal Spirit

The easiest way to find your totem, familiar or animal guide is by simply asking it to reveal itself. Like the spirit guide, animal spirits will only reveal themselves when the right situation presents itself, which means you may not get a response right away. Don’t become impatient! You may want to repeat the question several times before moving to an alternative method.

Sometimes the Spirit Will Reveal Itself

Sometimes the spirit will reveal itself, but the stress of everyday life has made it impossible for you to see or hear the response. In this case, meditation may be the answer. Simply quieting the mind can make the message loud and clear.

Some People Are Unable to Quiet Their Mind

Some people are unable to quiet their mind enough to meditate making dreams the only option to hear the message. If this is you, when you lay your head on the pillow, but before you fall asleep to know what you are doing, ask your animal guide to reveal itself, or come to you in your dreams. You can also ask it to wake you up after the dream so you can record the images for interpretation when you’re not half asleep.