A Howl of Introduction

Welcome to The Totemist.

My name is Paleolith (or Paleo, if you prefer).  I am an animist and pagan who has been practicing totemism for a decade and a half.  One of the main goals of this site is to advocate the idea that totemism can stand on its own as a spiritual path for pagans and followers of other earth-centered spiritualities.  Of course, if you are interested in totemism as one part of a larger spiritual path, or are just starting to explore the idea, you are welcome as well.

The idea of totemism was first introduced to Western culture by anthropologists studying the beliefs of tribal societies during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The term is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodum (meaning something one has kinship to), but the term ended up becoming an umbrella term for loosely similar beliefs and practices.  The totems of tribal peoples are beings and objects which have spiritual or symbolic meaning for specific families or groups in a tribe.  In general a totem is shared by these groups rather than “belonging” to just one person.  Totems often had deep spiritual ties to these groups, sometimes being seen as a mythic ancestor or an important teacher of knowledge and skills.  In some cases totems were more symbolic in nature being more akin to the heraldic beasts of medieval Europe or even the mascots of today’s sports teams.

The idea of totemism became popular among neopagans, New Agers, and other earth-centered people during the later decades of the last century.  The newer incarnation of totemism that developed tended to be more personal with totems working with individuals rather than whole groups.  Some of these new totemists viewed totems as literal spiritual beings while others took a more psychological approach.  Many of the first attempts at adapting totemism to modern Western societies were ill-informed, if sometimes well-meaning, attempts to cobble together bits and pieces of spiritual practices from various Native American tribes which often led to the creation of stereotypical adaptations that bore very little resemblance to the beliefs of the peoples that inspired them.

However, many people still felt called to contact, learn from, and learn about totems in a way that was more grounded in our own cultures.  Because totems, who are often seen as the spiritual representatives of a species of animal (or plant, fungi, even bacteria), are found everywhere in the world, and because modern totemists themselves live in a multitude of countries, many started seeing a need to form a more universal system of totemism.  In recent years totemists have been developing ways to work with totems outside of North America.  Many have chosen to seek out teachers from the totems of species that share the lands local to them.  Another exciting development has been an increasing interest in lesser-known totems.  While totems like Raven and Wolf are still popular, it is no longer surprising to find people who are also learning from totems like Red-Spotted Newt or Speckled Warbler.

While I’m sure this blog will touch a wide variety of topics, the expansion of modern totemism is my goal and passion.  Again, welcome, and I hope you find some helpful and useful things in my ramblings.


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