Totemism is a belief system which is traditionally associated with pre-literate societies. Its forms are so varied across the globe that it probably resists a neat or single explanation. Probably the most salient feature however is that of a tribal group associating itself with a particular species of animal, to which clan or tribe members are related by mythical ancestry. In some societies totem animals are associated with ritual, but in North American native culture this is less the case.

Some Australian aboriginal societies believe in a one-on-one relationship between a human and his or her personal totem animal. This relationship sometimes involves a transference of magical powers to the human. It is this sort of individual totemism which is popular amongst furries.

The entire subject of totemism is highly personal and individual, and it is probably best not to offer any definitive account of it. Let's just say that plenty of furries either have, or are in search of their totem animal, for spiritual guidance, or just to help cement their furry identity.

There are many books, seminars, and other things that will claim to find you your totem animal. This is often meant in the sense of a one-on-one relationship between a person and a given totem animal, rather than totems for a family, clan, or tribe. A family totem would not be dissimilar to the Roman idea of a family Genius spirit (check out the writeup by LordOmar there for more information). More often than not, however, people will claim an animal as a personal totem because it is "cool" rather than understanding it or even knowing anything about it. I find a quote from a person who gives seminars on "finding your totem animal" instructive:

They tend to hope they get a 'cool' totem like Bear or Wolf. I ask them why they don't just go for Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Many animals that seem meek are ascribed great power in other realms. One of the Benandanti of Northern Italy was recorded as claiming to take the form of Mouse to defend the crops. Popular animals often have many restrictions -- how many people can meet Wolf's standard for loyalty? What is more important is having a totem that one has a connection with.

Those interested in the area of animal magic could do worse than to check out Animal-Speak : The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small by Ted Andrews. The book contains a discussion of animal magic as well as a fairly comprehensive dictionary of animals, including birds, reptiles, and even insects. While the book is published by New Age publishers Llewellyn Worldwide, it is fairly complete, if a bit dry. Animal-Wise :The Spirit Language and Signs of Nature again by Ted Andrews and Totems : The Transformative Power of Your Animal Totem are newer books that I have heard good things about, but not read.

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