How to Recognize Animal Spirit Guides in Everyday Life

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A note on exploring animal spirit guides

The discussion on animal spirit guides is fascinating and ever-evolving. On one hand, animals are recognized as signals from loved ones and spiritual messengers on the other side. For thousands of years and across the globe, we’ve sought to understand this connection. That’s where my experience at the intersection of temporal and spiritual mindset coaching comes in. On the other hand, one can’t not think of Native American culture when hearing the phrase “animal spirit guides”.

Animal spirit guides are an important part of our human journey, should we choose to recognize and engage with them. They’ve been so powerful in my own life and the lives of clients over the years. But I want to be very clear that this article in no way encapsulates Native American beliefs. As a white woman with no indigenous heritage, I’m not positioning myself as an expert on the topic of animal spirit guides.

The amount of cultural appropriation in the animal spirit guide resource realm makes me cringe. Almost all of the commercially successful materials on this topic have been dominated by white people. White people who are, as far as I can tell, basically making it up as they go. 

So read on to learn the types of animal spirit guide encounters one might experience. And how you might interpret messages using your own intuition. Your intuition matters more than a random list of which animals mean which things according to Joe White Guy. And books you can check out by actual indigenous authors if you want to learn more about the incredibly rich and diverse history, culture, experiences and beliefs (beyond animal spirit guides).

Different types of encounters

1. Nature encounters

This is where you may encounter a creature out in nature where you just feel an immediate connection. In that moment you realize it’s one of many animal spirit guides. Maybe the animal is completely unafraid or behaves unusually.

When I was on a hike years ago in an anxiety spiral about an issue at my corporate job, a tiny frog hopped out of the brush next to my foot. I stopped to admire him when he took another little hop and put his tiny front foot (paw?) on my boot. It was so sweet and random and at the same time I felt this instant recognition that my work issue was being taken care of and not to worry. We both stood still for about a minute before he hopped away and I continued my hike with a new, lighter perspective. When I got home, I had an email in my inbox that resolved the issue. I felt like the tiny frog that day was an animal spirit guide intervention.

2. Dreams and altered consciousness

Animal spirit guides might also appear in dreams or altered states of consciousness. Hawks appear in nature for me personally all the time and are one of my primary animal spirit guides. But they’re not the only ones! Some of the most frequent dream animal visitors for me are elephants, foxes and turtles.

If you Google any of these you’ll get a wide range of meanings depending on the website you land on, who wrote it, and what their intentions are. But what if the meaning of the animal is specific and sacred to you alone? Trust your own intuition about these experiences rather than give your power to some supposed internet expert on animal spirit guides.

3. Animal spirit guide imagery

Animal spirit guides might appear in imagery in everyday life if you pay attention. I had a dream years ago that I wanted to buy an amethyst crystal to keep next to a photo of my brother on my mantel (his birth stone). The dream was very vivid where my brother and I discussed the plan, and he went with me all the way to the front door of the crystal shop. As I crossed the threshold to walk inside, I woke up.

Later that day I did go to the crystal shop and a soon as I walked in the door I saw dozens of large amethyst crystals. The one that caught my eye, though, had a very tiny ironwood carving of a turtle placed at its base – the only carving like that in the store. I knew that was the crystal I was supposed to buy, and I got the turtle too. Turtles were the very first sign that my brother and I agreed on after he passed away, and I trust that when I see them I’m getting a message. Pay attention to pictures, words, sculptures and anywhere else that animal spirit guide imagery might repeatedly show up for you. Look for thoughts, physical sensations and intuitive hits that indicate a pattern.

Interpreting messages from animal spirit guides

In all of the instances I’ve described above, I relied on my own intuition about the messages from the animal spirit guides. An inner knowing accompanied each encounter or dream.

Let’s look at it from a cognitive behavioral perspective. Our brains want to expend the least amount of energy possible when faced with a problem we need to solve. So it makes sense that it’s very tempting to just Google the meaning of an animal spirit guide. However, that’s where we risk falling down the rabbit hole of cultural appropriation.

Giving our own power away is never helpful in the long term. The same goes for wondering about the meaning of different animal spirit guides. Seek out indigenous expert resources when you want to truly learn and understand more about a specific lineage. Most importantly, recognize that even within Native American culture, different animal spirit guides will hold totally different significance to different tribes. It’s not a monolith.

Combatting cultural appropriation

Below are some resources I’ve added to my own reading list to more deeply explore Native American cultures and beliefs. Some might cover the topic of animal spirit guides, but all are informative in their own way, and authored by indigenous writers:

  1. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer 
  2. There There by Tommy Orange 
  3. God Is Red by Vine Deloria Jr. 
  4. Spirits of the Earth by Bobby Lake-Thom 
  5. The Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Marmon Silko 
  6. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday 
  7. Our Stories Remember by Joseph Bruchac 
  8. The Sacred Hoop by Paula Gunn Allen 
  9. Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo 
  10. Witness by Josephine Waggoner 

Trust your inner knowing

If you’re wanting to learn to recognize animal spirit guides in your life, it’s a worthy endeavor and one that can guide and support you. Pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings when these encounters happen. Resist the urge to rely on appropriated resources that exploit indigenous cultures.

There are tons of resources available to educate us on different aspects of Native American spiritual life, including animal spirit guides. We just have to make an effort to seek them out. This list of 10 books barely scratches the surface, so if you have others that have made an impact on you, please let me know!

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