Before the existance of deities in human form among the early tribal communities with shamanic practices, the symbols of power and spiritual guidance were the animals. Each person or a group of people had a totem, that totem could be an animal or a plant, and the individual was bound to the totem and they were in a mutual spiritual relationship. The totem was generaly held to be a guardian or even an ancestor, and one way or another, the totem was effectively a part of the human-self.
This kind of spiritual practice was known worldwide, but when talking about “Totem” we often visualise the American Indian tribes or the peoples from Alaska or the Inuit folk. But all over the world, this was one of the first spiritual practices to be held by many cultures, and seldom does the Norse culture comes into argument when speaking of Totemism.
To the Norse and other Germanic peoples, totemism is manifested in two specific prominent and powerful areas which are, the animal helping spirits, known as Fylgjur, and the patron animals of shamanic military societies who had their own rituals turned to warlike events.
What are the Fylgjur ?
We have all heard about the cats, ravens and other animals associated with witches, and this is something that comes from an ancient past, familiar spirits who are often the companions of witches in European folktales, but in truth, the early shamanic tribes who made their religious and spiritual practices around totems, had these animals to aid them, not just the cat and the raven, but all animals that you can think of, powerful animals that helped each person, and while in trance, these creatures aided shamans and shamans could take the form of those animals to better understand their ways and follow them to whatever quest while in trance, working in the spiritual world. In the Norse old spiritual traditions, these familiar animals were called Fylgjur ( plural ) or Fylgja ( singular )
The Fylgja is an animal spirit, however, a human helping spirit is also called a Fylgja in Old Norse literature sometimes, this shows us that a totem can also be an ancestor. The well-being of the Fylgja is intimately tied to that of its owner, as a result, if the Fylgja dies, its owner dies as well. Its character and form are closely connected to the character of its owner. This helping spirit can be seen as the totem of a single person rather than of an entire group.
It dies you say? A spirit can die?
Well, lets put it like this, “dies”, you see, when the animal spirit is linked to the body of the mortal, it can suffer whatever the mortal body might suffer, and that goes the other way also, because a shaman while in trance, his/her spirit can catch any disease on the othr world, the spirit might not be ready for some trials, and that is even worse than the other way around, because if the spirit suffers anything, it reflects on the body and a shaman can die, that happens to other people that aren’t shamans but are able to have out of the body experiences, and people might lose their mind, go mad, cerebrally paralyzed, or catch a “flu” that the body isn’t able to respond and dies, because the body without the soul/spirit, doesn’t work properly. So you have to take care of your spirit animal as you take care of yourself or your own soul ( which is something most of us have no idea what to do ) because what ever happens to you or to it, it will reflect on the other and the spirit animal might “die” and leave you.
There are many gods and goddesses in the Norse pantheon that have personal totem animals which may or may not be Fylgjur. For example, Odin is particularly associated with wolves, ravens, and horses, while Thor is with goats, and Freya and Freyr with wild boars. It should come as no surprise, then, that their human devotees have personal totems of their own.
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