Author: Paul Yih (---.dsl.milwwi.ameritech.net)
Date: 03-29-07 15:16
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This article is about totemism. For the Totem media player, see Totem (media player). For Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer Totem Acoustic, see Totem Acoustic.
A totem is any entity which watches over or assists a group of people, such as a family, clan or tribe (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary  and Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition).
Totems support larger groups than the individual person. In kinship and descent, if the apical ancestor of a clan is nonhuman, it is called a totem. Normally this belief is accompanied by a totemic myth.
Although the term is of Ojibwa origin, totemistic beliefs are not limited to Native American Indians. Similar totemism-like beliefs have been historically found throughout much of the world, including Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, Australia and the Arctic polar region. The bald eagle could be considered the totem of the people of the United States, though it carries no spiritual mythology amongst those people.
In modern times, some individuals, not otherwise involved in the practice of a tribal religion, have chosen to adopt a personal spirit animal helper which has some kind of special meaning to them and incorrectly call this a totem. (As noted above, a totem is applicable to a group larger than one.) This practice is prevalent in, but not limited to, the New Age movement. Beliefs regarding these animal helpers can vary, from merely adopting one as a whim, to adopting an animal that a person sees representing favorable traits reflected in their own behavior or appearance, called a power animal by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies . A few believe their animal helper acts as a literal spirit guide. Some Native Americans and other followers of tribal religions take a dim view of New Agers' and others' adoption of totem animals, arguing that a non-adherent cannot truly understand totemism apart from the cultural context, and that at worst, it represents a commercialization of their religious beliefs.