- Often confused with the exceptionally close or “spiritual” relationship of a shaman with a particular animal or plant, totem derives from an Algonquian term for “clan.” Many indigenous cultures understand that clans are not merely kinship groups larger than families, but groups of persons related across species boundaries. That is, a clan includes both human and other-than-human persons and may be known by the priority it gives to a particular type of such person, for example, the “bear clan.” Totemism expresses the understanding that all beings share responsibility for the well-being of every person who lives in an area. It is a particular form of sociality emerging from a broader animism. This provides the larger context in which shamans form intimate relationships with other-thanhumans within and beyond their clans; those relationships are better indicated by terms like power animal or helper plant. The use of totems among neo-shamans in this more individualized sense derives from anthropological debates that found the notion of interspecies clans difficult and conceived of totemism as a peculiar way of thinking about animals, humans, and the cosmos. Both forms of totemism indicate something about the “true self” of the individual as construed by animist and modernist cultures.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.