Symbolism of the Animals on Totem Poles

Written by michael brent
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Symbolism of the Animals on Totem Poles
Animals on a Native American totem pole have specific meanings. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Native American traditions and customs are typically communicated with symbols that are handed down from generation to generation. One of the ways these symbols are communicated is with totem poles, which can represent a tribe, family or individual. A wood-carved totem pole generally features the images of animals, all of which are symbolic. The combination of these symbols communicate a message, belief or story.

Animals on Totem Poles

According to Native American beliefs, each person is connected to an animal that serves as spiritual guide to assist on the journey through life. Different animal guides can enter or exit your life depending upon circumstances. Images of these animals can be carved into a totem pole. Animals are commonly found on totem poles, and an animal's presence on a totem pole denotes a specific meaning.


Bears are typically found at the base of a totem pole, and represent strength and good health. The bear can also symbolise courage and vitality, and is a respected animal guide.


Many tribes consider the buffalo to symbolise abundance and prosperity, as buffaloes were traditionally a significant source of survival for many Native American tribes.


The eagle is a symbol of power and prestige, and also symbolises healing and wisdom. The eagle offers protection, both spiritually and physically, and represents health and spiritual wholeness.


An owl has great awareness of all that is around it at all times, and is an important symbol in Native American tradition. The owl represents a connection to the afterlife, and can symbolise the spirits of the deceased.


The frog represents the bounty of both the physical and spiritual worlds, and conveys the message that a person should not be prideful or boastful about his abundance, as these gifts can easily disappear. In this way, the frog symbolises modesty and virtue, and can bring good luck.


Native Americans traditionally view wolves as teachers or pathfinders, and these animals can also symbolise nurturing. The wolf typically represents lessons to be learnt through life experience, and may signify a willingness to lead and also allow yourself to be led. The wolf is a powerful totem that symbolises strength.

Killer Whale

For tribes on the West Coast, killer whales are often seen on totem poles. Killer whales symbolise strength and bravery, and represent the mythological belief that a killer whale will bring food or aid to a chief who is wounded or incapacitated.

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