Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
April 28, 2021
Asking yourself “What is my spirit animal?” is actually a form of cultural appropriation.
The idea of a strong connection to certain animals has existed for a very long time in the culture of indeigenous people of North America, or Native Americans. It is important to be aware of the westernization of the term “spirit animal”, and pay proper tribute to the true function that animals served in the cultures of Native American tribes as totems for various purposes.
In Native American traditions, animals are sometimes used to communicate:
Understand that choosing your “spirit animal” to define yourself is a new Western tradition that is appropriated from a centuries-long standing tradition of Native American tribes using animals as symbolism for various spiritual and cultural purposes.
“Unlike what google searches or random websites might tell you”, clarifies We R Natives, an organization dedicated to spreading accurate information about the culture and heritage of Northern American indigenous peoples, “it is impossible and cheapening to take a quiz and determine your Spirit Animal.”
In modern Western culture, however, one’s spirit animal is interpreted far more loosely. It is a reflection of who you are – and can be discovered using some self-analysis.
For the remainder of this article, you should not regard any mention of spirit animals to be representative of those cultures or religions that truly deem them important to spiritual development or cultural identity.
In various forms of therapy (especially with children who might not be able to convey complex feelings) using familiar characters or symbols to communicate how the patient feels about themself or others can be a helpful tactic.
Again, understand that this practice is different from the Native American tradition of spirit animals, or totems, and using that term is cultural appropriation.
If you believe that attaching your identity to a specific animal could be helpful for healing, self-worth, or self-reflection you can talk to your therapist about how to do this in a productive way.
Our partner PlushCare, is a telehealth company that offers secure, affordable online therapy appointments, so you can get access to a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home.
There are many different spirit animal lists online, all which are referring to a Westernized practice of associating animals with our personalities. Some examples of spirit animals you might see on these lists include:
If your spirit animal is a cat, you know you will be both patient and adventurous. Cats are also skillful and curious. It would be best if you took motivation in your spirit animal to master your profession, be independent, daring, and bold.
Tiger is intuitive and relies a lot on its instinct. If this is your animal, you must train your instinct and emotion. It would help if you also learned how to act on your feelings.
A lion is a king in the jungle. If this is your spirit animal, then consider yourself as an authoritative person. Don’t settle for less. You are a leader. A lion is also courageous, so you must be bold and daring. Claim your authority and exercise it.
You are a peace-loving person. Always seek peace with everybody if this is your spirit animal. Dove is also optimistic, so you must be as well. See positivity in everything. Don’t be afraid to start afresh, and be hopeful in all things.
Elephants are known for their intelligence. If this is your spirit animal, then wisdom will be one of your strong points. Therefore, seek knowledge – it will be highly profitable for you. Your search for knowledge must also include spiritual experience. Elephants are big, but they are also gentle. You must adopt gentility and take up a leadership role.
Butterflies are light but can carry themselves. If this is your spirit animal, then take things lightly with ease, and you will see that you will be above all situations. The butterfly also represents transformation. When you see it as your spirit animal, don’t be average about changes in your life. Embrace transformation.
Grasshoppers always go forward, so the message this tiny animal will be bringing to you is that you should progress. Don’t be afraid to take further steps in your life activities. Grasshopper symbolizes success. When you are in doubt about making a big decision and start seeing grasshoppers, then go ahead. You will surely succeed.
By western culture’s definition, you can pretty much make any animal your “spirit animal”. This might extend beyond just having a favorite animal, but feeling a strong connection to a certain other animal due to:
While finding your spirit animal in a westernized sense, and using it to help understand yourself better, or convey yourself to others seems harmless, it can be incredibly offensive to indigenous cultures.
Chelsey Luger, the founder of Well for Culture says, “”It can feel very dehumanizing and disrespectful when something that is as storied and important as our clan systems is misinterpreted as this silly ‘spirit animal’ thing.”
Spirit animal has entered into our vernacular (pop culture vocabulary), but it doesn’t mean that it needs to stay in rotation.
One thing that people who are not of Native American heritage can do is avoid using the term spirit animal. While choosing an animal you strongly associate yourself with might be a harmless mechanism for building out your identity, you can avoid using the term “spirit animal”.
Additionally, avoid appropriation and false-use of this term in pop culture, such as saying a celebrity or a type of food is your spirit animal. In these cases, saying something like “my hero” or “my favorite”, is more accurate and does not belittle or trivialize ancient traditions and beliefs held by a culture that has already had enough taken from it.
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