Drumming the Totems: A Ritual of Honor

To the Modern Totemist, totems are the essence of the soul.  Common sense would dictate that we treat our own souls with dignity, gentleness, and respect.  But that is not often the case.

Many people seem to believe totems serve only as a resource of power, something to draw from most especially when we are in need. They point us in the right direction in a guided meditation and perhaps they serve as a mascot for our primal energies, in part or in whole, but little more. Rarely do people seem to appreciate that totems can do, and be, so much more, if only we understand them in their true role: the animal faces of our souls. 

In order to have a healthy relationship with our own souls, our relationships with our totems must be reciprocal.  Yes, they provide us with guidance and are a resource of power, but like with any spiritual entity, our relationship with them can be strengthened and broadened through dedicated shared practice and ritual.  They give, but they must also receive.  When the totems are shown respect, honor, and appreciation, it strengthens our bond with them, and in so doing, it strengthens our relationship with ourselves.

The following exercise is designed to honor the nine totems as defined in the tradition of Modern Totemism.  It is appropriate to use when all the totems are known, but it can also serve as a means to honor the totems when they are not yet known and are waiting to be uncovered. 

This is a ritual of gratitude, a means of sharing energy with your totems.  You will drum for each of them, giving them energy, recognizing them, and honoring all they do for you.  And in return, your totems will return the energy and blessings you send them.  Remember, your totems are the essence of your own spirit and what you give to spirit you give to yourself. 

You will require:

a ritual rattle

a ritual hand drum

a blindfold, or other means to cover your eyes to keep out the light 

an audio file of shamanic drumming OR an assistant with their own drum

sacred space in which to sit and work


Sit in your sacred space and prepare yourself for ritual.  Cover your eyes with your blindfold.  Slowly count down from ten, taking deep and peaceful breaths for each number you count.  When you are relaxed and focused on the present moment, begin the audio file of the shamanic drumming (or ask your assistant to begin drumming a simple, steady rhythm).

Call the Spirits

Take your rattle in hand and raise it overhead.  Shake it rapidly for about ten seconds to signal that you will now begin the ritual and so you call the spirit world to attendance.  Continue rattling, and slowly lower your arm to your lap.  Put down the rattle and pick up your hand drum. 

Begin drumming in time to the drumbeat from the shamanic audio file. Let the spirit carry you, and change your own drumming to half-time, double-time, or make it more complex than the shamanic drumming, so long as it is in rhythm.  As you progress, you will feel the pull of the spirit world and perhaps enter a shamanic state of consciousness or trance state, making it difficult to sustain a steady rhythm.  This is why you have the audio file to provide a steady beat you can use to guide you in your drumming in case you lose the beat.  

You will invoke each of your nine totems without words.  This is to honor the animal aspects of yourself, which communicate without human speech.

Call and Drum the First Totem

Begin in the South.  Face that direction if you wish, or simply hold it in your mind.  Without words, imagine, feel, invoke the element of Fire within yourself.  Feel the heat, the power, the potential for transformation.  

If the totem is known, hold in your mind an image of the face of the animal.  Feel its presence growing in strength, feel the energy of the animal.  Invoke and welcome it by making a sound the animal makes— a growl, a grunt, a squawk, a cry—- either out loud or in your head. 

(If the totem is not known, hold an image of the element of Fire in your mind and greet it with a wordless human sound of your choosing.)  

While the spirit of the totem is with you, drum for the totem. Imitate movements of the animal if you feel inclined — sway, wriggle, or move your head. Draw from the earth or the sky or from the world around you and raise energy as you drum.  Feel that the energy is a gift for the totem, that the rhythm of your drumming is an offering, and know deep within yourself that what you offer strengthens and renews the spirit of the totem. 

Call and Drum the Others

When you feel it is appropriate, move on to the next totem. (Though you should have drummed for the Fire totem for at least several minutes). Bow your head toward the Fire totem in appreciation and feel that it stays with you as you move on towards its counterpart, Earth. 

Invoke the element of Earth and the spirit of the Earth totem in the same way as the Fire totem.  First, invoke the element, then invoke the totem by making an animal noise the totem animal makes.  Drum for the totem for several minutes, and move on to the next when you feel the mood is right.  Do this for each of the nine totems in each of the nine sacred directions in turn. 

We are not invoking the elements in a typical Wiccan circular style in this ritual.  Instead, first invoke Fire in the South, then Earth in the North, then Air in the East, Water in the West, Dark Below, Light Above, the Mother to the Left, the Father to the Right, and the Primary right in front of you.   

For those not familiar or who need a reminder: Fire is the essence of one’s passions, Earth is the body, Air the thoughts, Water the Emotions, Light the ideal self, Dark the dark side, the Mother the divine feminine, and the Father the divine masculine found within us all.  

The Primary totem is the animal reflective of the entire soul or essential self and is your closest and most important totem.  Be sure to spend ample time drumming for your Primary totem.  

You may find yourself inclined to change the rhythm of your drumming for each totem, in accordance with the change in energy.  You may also feel pulled to move, sway, get up and dance as you drum (take off your blindfold!), or even imitate the sounds or movements of the totem animals.  Let your spirit guide you and do whatever feels appropriate, so long as you keep in mind that you are creating an offering of energy to honor your totems.  

Thank the Spirits and Close the Ritual

Once you have finished drumming for each of the nine totems to your satisfaction, it is time to close the ritual.   Put down your hand drum and pick up your rattle.  In time to the drumming of the audio recording of shamanic drumming, raise the rattle overhead, hold it for several beats, and then shake it rapidly for at least ten seconds.  Then continue to shake it as you slowly bring it down to the level of your lap.   Stop the audio recording, or signal your assistant to stop drumming on a satisfying note.  Remove your blindfold. 

You may wish to spend a moment sitting in silence or in meditation with your totems.  Speak to them, or communicate with them using the animal sounds and movements of their kind — their animal speak— to let them know you have done this to honor them.  

Unlike spirits in other types of pagan rituals (such as Wicca), there is no need to dismiss or excuse your totems after your ritual is complete— just always remember to thank them.   Your totems are part of you, your soul, and always walk with you.  When the moment feels right, simply stand up and put your sacred tools away.

You may feel energized after this ritual, because remember: as you give energy to your totems, you give it to yourself.   If you feel tired after this ritual, however, it likely means you still view your totems as separate entities from yourself and have not yet accepted them as faces of your soul.   However, this just means there will be a lag in the completion of the ritual:  you may feel tired now, but the energy you sent out to your totems will come back to you.  Within a day or two, you will feel centered, energized, and more awake physically and spiritually. 

Be content with the work you have done and know you have deepened your relationship with your totems.  

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