How To Take a Shamanic Journey

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In my previous post “The Shamanic Journey – An Overview” I briefly discussed journey work and the some intentions behind taking one.

In this post I’d like to go a bit deeper.

All though I’ve been practicing and guiding people on shamanic journeys for years now, I haven’t found a more concise explanation of how to take a shamanic journey.

I will caution that if you have never done this before to have someone one with, preferably someone experienced in journey work and shamanism.

I’m in to process of releasing a unique version of journey work and the first part should be available by 8-2010.

How To Take a Shamanic Journey

Richard Whitley (author of “The Corporate Shaman”)


For most shamans, the shamanic journey is the primary method used to access the other worlds where the spirit helpers are found. While the specific process for journeying may vary from one shaman to another, the steps outlined below represent those that are practiced by a great many and are very effective.

You do not have to have any special skills or attributes to conduct a journey. This process is not reserved for a select few “tapped in” individuals. While some may find journeying challenging, most will be able to master this relatively simple process if not on the first try, then in one or two attempts thereafter. I remember well my first effort. While a friend drummed the monotonous beat that supports the journey by facilitating a change of one’s state of consciousness, I reviewed once again the steps outlined in Michael Harner‘s classic book, The Way of the Shaman. I donned my blindfold and successfully entered the lower world for what would be the first of thousands of times.

By journeying to the lower world, as Jason Hand did for Mark, you will be able to find your own power animal and in so doing enrich and empower your life. When found and used, this wonderful animal totem will be your guide and advisor for as long as you wish it to be.

I have found that there are many benefits to journeying. For most people three stand out. First is that a 10 minute shamanic journey reinvigorates you. You come back refreshed and rested. It is really an easy and most enjoyable form of deep relaxation. I like to call it “meditating for type A’s” because rather than trying to clear your mind of all thoughts as instructed by the meditation teachers, the shamanic journey is so filled with amazing activities you become a participant in the process and, in so doing, let go the pressures and concerns of your normal day-to-day reality. It is as absorbing as a good movie or engaging book.

The second benefit is that your totem animal will fill you with power. Think of this as being filled with a positive energy that gives you strength to withstand the rigors and stresses of daily life and prevents what shamans call intrusions from finding a way into your being. Intrusions are things like disease, depression, chronic bad luck and the like. Before a challenging meeting with one’s boss, for example, or during a white-knuckle flight on an airplane, you can ask for your power animal to give you strength and protection.

The third benefit is that your power animal will offer guidance regarding problems or dilemmas which you may be facing. This is called divination and means “divining” the answers to important questions. Before I make a speech, for example, I always journey to one of my power animals to learn how I can best serve the audience. And when my son returned from several years working in Chile and was looking for a job, in spite of an excellent job market and a terrific resume, he had trouble finding a position. After journeying to his power animal he was advised to “just be in your nature.” Matthew immediately realized what the advice meant. In his interviews he was trying to be the perfect job candidate…to be what they were looking for. As soon as he let that go and showed up as Matthew he got the offer he was looking for.

Although I have never heard of any negative consequence to any individual who has journeyed, if you are uncomfortable with the process, you have several options. 1. Overcome your discomfort. If you don’t like the idea of searching for a power animal, ask to find a spirit helper. Or ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me if I’m successful?” The answer is usually, “Nothing.” Ask, “Are there any deep seeded beliefs which make this uncomfortable for me?” Of this, Noelle Poncelet, a clinical psychologist who teaches the shamanic ways in Belgium, France and the Russian Republics says, some of us carry “beliefs that we are not allowed to journey or practice shamanism for reasons [offered] by specific groups, be it family, religious or society. Too much freedom? Too much power? Sacrilegious? Power animals are too instinctual, too dangerous, and too base to be spirit helpers. Not my style? Something else? Reexamine that belief. If it still fits your values, then you will know that shamanic journeying is not for you. If not, you will finally be ready to proceed.” 2. Ask one of us to teach and guide you. 3. Attend one of the Circle of the Healing Drum workshops which are regularly scheduled.

Before the Journey

In order to take such a journey you will need several things:

  1. an open mind
  2. a clear intention
  3. a drumming or rattling tape. I prefer the multiple drumming tape but any one will work just fine – see our resources page on how and here to get CD’s and supplies.
  4. a blindfold
  5. a quiet place to do the work, and
  6. a mental picture of an entrance to the earth you have seen at some time in your life.

Find a quiet and comfortable location where you will not be interrupted. Avoid distractions like telephones ringing, children yelling, and television blaring. When you become proficient at journeying you will be able to do so in your office while sitting at your desk. If, while you are journeying and a noise or distraction does occur, rather than letting it derail you, simply use it to go deeper into your journey.

Two vital aspects of a successful effort are your starting point and your intention. Your starting point will be an entrance to the earth that is known to you from your own life’s experience. A swimming hole, a well, a cave, a tunnel, a hole in the center of an old stump, an uncovered manhole. I always use a cave I explored in the Philippines. It is very important to have a clear image of this place. You do not have to have entered it (like the well) but the picture in your mind must be vivid. I find that many people have difficulty when they are learning to journey because they don’t have a good departure point.

Once you have your entrance, determine what you want from your journey. Intention is one of the most important and powerful tools used by the shaman. So before each journey, state a single intention for that experience. For your first effort your intention might be: “to experience a journey to the lower world to explore.” When you have done that, on another journey you might ask to find a power animal. And when you have met your power animal, on yet another journey you might ask it, “what advice would you have for me about a current opportunity or dilemma you are facing. It is best to have only one intention per journey.

If you are going to find a power animal, check your ego at the entrance. When you embark on this journey be prepared to fully accept and embrace whatever the spirits offer. I remember well my first effort to retrieve an animal totem. I have always loved cats and was certain I was going down to get a nice big, powerful, sleek, awesome hunter. I was mired in my own ego. Imagine my shock when I saw a cow, then a close-up of a cow’s eye, then a herd, and finally a little calf. I remember saying to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Well, the spirits always give you exactly what you need. Whether you like it or not, your power animal is always perfect for you. As for me, I had that masculine macho thing handled and didn’t need a big cat. A cow is about nurturing. It is a provider of sustenance and clothing…a decidedly feminine energy. And that was perfect for me at that time. As fair warning on this issue, know three things:

  • I have never had anyone yet successfully predict what his/her power animal would be.
  • In addition to retrieving eagles, lions and deer for others, I have also brought back ants, eels, squirrels, snakes, monkeys, and spiders.
  • It is not appropriate to reject a power animal and ask for another one. Trust that what you received is perfect for you. Just spend time with it and you will come to this realization yourself.

In order to learn about your power animal, its history, legend in myth, and meaning, I recommend a book called Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews.  Again, check out our Resources page.

Have the drumming tape cued and ready to play.

The Journey

You are ready to start your journey now but before you do, a couple of words of advice. First, the irony of a successful journey is that you let go of your need to control…you adopt the attitude of a curious child and release yourself into the entrance. But at the same time, you are in complete control because any time you want to end the journey, all you have to do is open your eyes. In a strange way you can have your need-to-control cake and eat it too. You let go of your need to control and at the same time are in complete control.

Release any expectations you may have about what a journey may be like. Since each person’s experience is different and you have not ever done a journey, how would you know what to expect in the first place? Too often people reject what they are legitimately experiencing because it doesn’t fit their picture of what should be happening. The key is to trust that what is happening is exactly what is meant to occur that particular time.

Also, although it is not likely, if, during your journey, you see anything that you don’t like just go around it, retrace your steps back to your entrance or simply open your eyes.

9 Steps

  1. Lie down and relax. The floor is probably better than your bed because you are less likely to fall asleep. Take at least three deep breaths, hold each at the end of your inhale for a few seconds and then exhale until there is absolutely no breath left. Make each inhale-exhale cycle longer and deeper than the previous one.
  2. Put on your blindfold. (It will also help if the room is darkened).
  3. State your intention. Do this in a relaxed manner. You are signaling to yourself and the spirit helpers what you want. Think of it as a respectful request rather than a goal to be pursued and achieved.
  4. Start the drumming either start the tape or signal your drummer to begin.
  5. Visualize your entrance to the earth and restate your intention several times.
  6. Enter the entrance. When you feel ready go into the entrance, you can go head first, feet first or any way you like. Again, it doesn’t matter if you have actually been in it in your life or not. Also the entrance does not have to be bigger than you. For example I have entered through a small opening in a tree which would never accommodate me in real life.
  7. Enjoy the journey. Be prepared to experience the journey with any of your senses. For some it will be visual. Others will hear things. Others might smell or feel what is happening. Whatever sensory channel opens to you is the one to use for that particular journey. If you see something you don’t like, go around it or simply return by retracing your steps or opening your eyes. If you are journeying to find a power animal, look for an animal that shows itself to you four times. When that happens it is saying, “I am your power animal and am ready to return with you.” It doesn’t have to be the exact animal that shows itself four times. For example when Jason found Wolf, he saw a real wolf but also saw a wolf emblazoned on a patch. If you are not certain you can ask it if it is your power animal. But if you see it in four clear and different forms, you do not need any more proof. Trust that it is your power animal.
  8. Return from your journey. It is a good idea to have a specified amount of time for each journey. Eight to 10 minutes is what I usually recommend to begin with and up to fifteen minutes thereafter. Some drumming tapes are set to signal the “recall” for various times of duration. If someone is drumming for you, the recall is four sets of seven beats each (at a slightly slower interval than your journey drumming), followed by 30 seconds of very rapid drumming, followed by another four sets of seven beats. If you are journeying alone you can set a watch alarm or a timer for the prescribed time. If you do this make sure the alarm is not so loud as to jar you out of your journey. When the recall sounds it is time to return. To achieve this simply do your journey in reverse. There is no need to rush and it is not critical that you retrace your steps precisely. The reason for retracing your steps is to “groove” the journey so in subsequent trips you will be able to arrive and return from the lower world with greater ease and efficiency.
  9. Reflect on your journey. When you have returned relax for a moment. Don’t try to get up right away. Notice how you feel. Reflect on what experiences you had and what you learned.

After the Journey

When the journey is complete you might want to thank the spirits for supporting you in this effort and record it in a journal.

General Guidelines

  • Except for a power animal and, for more advanced journeying, a soul part, never bring anything back from the lower world with you.
  • Power animals and teachers (often in human form) will frequently communicate metaphorically. That is, they may behave in a certain way and it is your job to interpret the behavior. For example, I recently journeyed for an audience before a speech and my power animal first stretched his arms very wide and then did a little jig. To me that meant stretch or challenge them and play with them a bit. I did this and the feedback from the group was very good. It is your job and no one else’s to get comfortable with this translating of behaviors. The first action of your power animal or teacher is always the most significant message. On some occasions your spirit helper might speak to you directly, particularly if your learn best through hearing.
  • Inevitably a newcomer will be in the middle of a journey and wonder, “Am I making this up?” The experience of those who journey regularly is that very rarely is this so. And since there is no way to answer that question, why not decide that you are not creating it. If you say, “Yes, I am making it up”, you end the experience. If you say, “No”, you deepen it.
  • Be light and have fun with your journeying. It is an enjoyable experience so enjoy it.
  • A journey is different than a dream. Dream interpretation is not what a journey is about.
  • Many people (not all) experience going through a tunnel at the beginning of a journey. If you feel yourself slowing down or not progressing, simply push on. If this doesn’t work, you can return to your place of departure and then start again. Sometimes it takes several journeys to negotiate the tunnel. Because everything is part of your journey, use being in the tunnel for extended time as a teaching. What is the message to you? What can you learn from it?
  • Be an observer during your journey, not a judge. Leave your critical mind when you start the journey and just enjoy the proceedings. And if you drift, gently bring yourself back to the voyage you have undertaken.
  • Allow the experience to unfold rather than rushing it or trying to force it. Michael Harner says that you are in charge of you on a train which is taking you to your chosen destination, but you are not in charge of the scenery or the inhabitants.
  • As strange as this may sound, take care of your power animal. It likes to visit our world as much as we enjoy a journey to its world. Study it, read about it, dance or move like it. Several times a week invite it to join you in some activity. And most importantly, use it to empower you and give you advice. That is why it showed up and you honor it when you allow it to achieve its purpose by helping you. You can journey to it and ask it what it needs from you for its well-being. If you choose not to use it, over time it will leave and, no doubt, seek someone who will use it well. This is simply a natural consequence of it not being honored or used.
  • “Do I tell other people what my power animal is?” Shamans differ on answering this question. Some will never divulge theirs while others will. The response I have gotten is that if it is in the service of healing work or with those close to me like my family, I can divulge my power animal(s). If it is frivolous (like at a cocktail party saying “I’m a lion, what are you?”) it is inappropriate. The best thing to do is to journey to your power animal and find the answer directly.
  • “Can you have more than one power animal?” Yes. I have seven and each is a specialist in a different aspect of shamanic work. The number of power animals you have has no relation to your effectiveness or ranking as a shamanic practitioner. In this case more has nothing to do with better.

The shamanic journey in perspective:

There are five conditions that will help you become a successful journeyer. They are:

  • Let go of your need to control: My experience is that this is difficult for most people to do in life, yet alone in preparation for a meditative process like journeying. If you are trying to orchestrate your own journey you will be paying too much attention to the details and not be able to get into the flow required to really experience the lower world.
  • Detach from outcomes: This is also challenging for many of us. There is no way we can predict the outcome of a particular journey, yet so often we try. While we may have a mental image of what will happen the experience never matches our picture. Release the image and enjoy the experience.
  • Trust the spirit helpers: A big help in letting go of your need to control and detaching from outcomes is to trust the spirit helpers. They will always orchestrate the perfect result for you. Whether you have an amazing experience in Technicolor, get held up in the tunnel, or don’t experience any part of the journey at all, it is perfect for you at that time. As hard as it can be sometimes, trust that the spirits are giving you what you most need at that particular time.
  • Lighten up and enjoy the experience: My experience is that when you take all this too seriously, the spirit helpers will find a way to lighten things up. They are notorious tricksters and will always help you find the humor of your own seriousness.
  • Leave your ego at the entrance: As mentioned earlier in my cow story, when you think you are the center of the action, you are likely to miss the very important signals being given to you by the spirit helpers.

Let’s see, let go of controls, detach from outcomes, trust, lighten up and get out of your ego. This represents a life’s journey for many of us. And what do you imagine would happen if we could create organizations that could engender these traits. Wouldn’t going to work be so much more pleasurable? The beauty of the process is that by learning how to journey and practicing what I have learned routinely I am continually training and conditioning myself to abandon the dysfunctional mind chatter and approach life with both trust and lightness. The discipline of the shamanic journey has enabled me to be much more present in the company of another and a much more objective and capable observer of my own life. I hope you will benefit as well.

Happy journeying!

Summary: The 9 Steps

  1. Lie down and relax
  2. Blindfold on
  3. State intention
  4. Start drumming
  5. Visualize racing and restate intention
  6. Enter the entrance
  7. Enjoy
  8. Return
  9. Reflect

After you have journeyed, please come back and share your experience in the comments below.

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  8. Thanks for sharing again Chris!

  9. Dear Gregg,
    (I am the same chris from before)It has been a long time since I journeyed and I recently started again( in the last week) and I met two spirits one similar to a crab with no eyes and a small white rabbit and we have grown quite fond of each other and I am starting to get worried last night I journeyed and a lethargic white rabbit with black legs met me at my entrance and took me to a room similar to a glass hospital room and in a bed was the little rabbit spirit but it was bigger and had black and rust colored stripes on it and it looked sick so I got on the bed and it appeared in my lap I petted it and tried to make it feel better and I cried and the rabbit began whitening and it looked normal again just bigger not much but still bigger and I told him I would come back today and when I did there was a weird mark on its forehead a diamond with a dot inside and I asked if anything was wrong and it shook its head but as we progressed in the journey his four legs began to turn black and at one point I fell of a ladder and he had grown wings and gotten huge and caught me but when we touched down he was normal size again but still had the black on him and the crab spirit could speak and when we first met he said “man” and “dude” a lot and now he speaks like a wise old man and they’re both different and I’m worried for them please help me. (Sorry for this being so long)

  10. Hi Dan, thanks for the comment and great question! The short answer is trust 🙂 A more complete answer is, before you journey you set your intention to find your Power Animal, you then release this to your Soul (unconscious mind). As you are exploring your lower world your soul (unconscious mind) will present you with a symbol that is unmistakable. In addition, this is the reason you are to see your Power Animal three times. And really, there is nothing like experience to answer any questions. My suggestion is to go for it with an open heart and open mind…and trust 🙂

  11. I just read your guide here and it seems to be the best I’ve found online. I know it’s ages after you posted this but if you could just answer my question.
    When I dream or visualise things in my mind I can control them easily, so my only concern about going on a journey is I wont know if it’s real or not. What if I make up my spirit animal and my conversation with it?

    Is there anywhere to re-assure or help this?

  12. Sounds like you’re all set! Have a great journey 🙂

  13. Hi Gregg,
    so. I have a shamanic drum. Hand made by Attilla Heffner. Wonderful sounding and all that. I knew i can journey but i had no knowledge of what to do. I knew a few meditation and relaxation techniques and that i require a monotonous beat. So i’ve put on a blindfold(i was happy to see you recommend it too) and started pounding away for about half an hour with my mind as clear as it can be. I ran into a wall of strong purple light with increasing brightness. It happened many times now. Also i was doing something(meditation of some sort can’t remeber what it was) and i saw a lot people watching me. My face was a beautiful black mask and everything else was also black. A creepy experience. I am about to try and do it the way you explained. I will be drumming myself. Wish me luck 🙂

  14. Glad you liked it Hunter. Although the article makes it sound easy, as you progress I would recommended assistance for the “deeper” issues. Best of success!

  15. I’ve never journeyed before but I’ve wanted to for a while now and your article explained it pretty well before I had a whole other perspective on it and was a bit scared to journey because one article said you could get stuck in the other worl

  16. Thanks Shane for the comment. I would do a search in Amazon to find more info.

  17. Hello , nice article,
    i found it because i have tried many times to journey but i think without real success. I do not visualise well and although i have seen animals it is only very quick glimpses and often only the eyes of animals ( birds) i think owl or other bird of prey. people say they speak with power animals and that they know their name etc . but i never see them for long and they do not speak to me. i think i am spiritual and i have experianced visuals etc with trance postures but only in a class. it seems i can pick up on other spiritual people and experiance with them, but when alone its very different
    can you offer advice?
    thank you

  18. Hi Stephanie! Glad the article helped. Journey Work is quite amazing and I personally perform journey work for my clients. Keep up the great progress.

  19. Hey there, just found this article and I do really like it, For a few months I’ve really felt a pull towards shamanism but journeying seemed like a scary thing. Your article really soothed my fears and I decided to do a journey and as my nature I jumped right into it and decided to find my animal. I believe Mine is deer. It presented itself too me a few times but I just wasn’t sure, so I checked out the book link you posted and decided to have a look inside and Bam first image on the page was a deer. So I’m pretty certain it’s a deer.

  20. Thanks for the nice comment and I do accept guest post. Please use the “contact me” form and I’ll get back to you personally.

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  32. Hi Cody, Sounds like you’ve been on this path for sometime. No one can tell you what your power animal or spirit guide is…only you “know” this. I have a sense that if you sit in quite contemplation it will be revealed. If the mantel of the shaman is one that feel compelled to take up I strongly suggest looking for a teacher. This is probably the best place to start – If you’d like “confirmation” on this path you can contact me off-line and we can discuss how you can achieve this. Oh yea…one more good teacher is Alberto Villoldo at The Four Winds – Best of success with your journey.

  33. Hi Chris, Nice job! With these type of things it’s difficult to give any advice or suggestions without getting more information verbally. If you really want to explore this deeper I suggest looking into a local shaman that can assist you, look into coaching with me, or there are several great books on this. I wish you all the best with your future journey’s.

  34. So…i have had much practice meditating, but this journey was very different. Usually in my meditations, i’ll see, hear, taste, and smell…but that takes about an hour for me to get into deep meditation.
    I read this, after much examination over the course of my life, and reading a few shaman articles…i realized that, maybe the calling i’ve had felt so strongly as a child, was the call of the shaman. I knew tha I myself am not important, that the urge to help the world was so strong to just be me wanting to. Especially when i was 4 years old, and crying because i had VERY strong feelings about my beliefs, and i had no idea why.
    Throughout my life, i have had many strange animal run ins…sad ones…i still hurt thinking about them today. The most vivid, was a squirrel getting ran over by a car, then running up to me, litterally at my feet, looked up at me and begged for me to help, while it died. Others are a little more, detailed so i wont get into them.
    Anyways….when i asked what my spirit guide was, and began on the journey, i visualized a cave. A cave i saw in utah, it had an old red door on it. I never went inside so i figured this would be perfect for visualization. Well, i stepped into the cave, and instantly the vivid pictures of the cave was replaced by the eyes of a bird all to familiar. An Owl. I was also over come by a very warm feeling and my hair stood on end. I tried to get back to visualizing the cave, but the owls eyes were sharp and strong. I just couldnt get it out of my mind, so i opened my eyes. And started over. This time clearing my mind first with a technique i usually use before meditation. I stepped through the cave, and began to walk down the small narrow corridors od the open earth, and almost as soon as i began, an owl flew towards me then landed at my feet. Looked up st me with those same eyes, and began to turn its head like an owl does.
    So…i have a feeling on the answer…but this owl would be my spirit guide? If so your right about not being able to predict it. I figured it would be a dog or a cat. Because ive had many strange run ins with those kinds of animals.
    Sorry for the long post…im usually a big typer.

  35. Dear Gregg I just tried a shamanic journey and was wondering if it was an actual journey
    I entered through my entrance by running and I was in a round tunnel that was pitch black and suddenly the walls turned into a blue crystaly shiny color and it split into three different pathsand I ran into one and this kept happening until my vision zoomed out and I had a birds eye view of the whole maze and it was shaped like a tree then I ran into one of the walls and fell through it. Then I fell down into blackness and landed in a field and a treasure chest fell next to me and opened spilling gold and jewels and I put my hand in the treasure to examine it and it turned into oil and then into water and then the water turned that blue crystaly color and shaped into a women on the top halve and a whirlpool on the bottom and screamed “why did you come here” and pushed me back up through the sky into the tunnel wall and back to the entrance.

    Why did it do that? Did I anger it by touching the treasure? Is that thing my power animal?was that a spirit helper? Please answer my questions. Ps my intention was to view lower world.

  36. Hi Jr. Thanks for the note. This is something that takes time. For most people this is brand new experience and often “think” about it too much. My suggestion is keep doing it once a day for a week. Set your intention before begin and think of a cave, a hole in a tree or even a pond you have been to in real life and use this as your entrance. Be patient and trust…it will happen. Good journeying to you 🙂

  37. Hi Greg I read your guide and was interested in trying to have a spritual journey. I don’t know if I messed up while trying to do it I couldn’t find an entrance but it did feel like I was having an out body experience. When I started I thought of my intention, started the drumming, had my blind folds on, looked for an entrance, then restated my intention. But doesn’t seem as though I found my power animal is there any suggestion you may have

  38. Hi Diana, glad you enjoyed the material. The best thing to do is either find someone who can take you on a journey or there are several great books that go into a lot more detail on this. Any book by Michael Harner or Sandra Ingerman will work.

  39. I really enjoyed your discussion of shamanic journey.

    One thing that wasn’t clear was how to find out what your power animal is. Can you please explain this?


  40. Hi Lezlee! Glad you like the post and yes, you can reconnect at anytime. My suggestion is get a drumming audio, put on headphones and journey back to were you met your power animals. Let them know you want to reconnect and that you’ll stay “in touch” more often. Ask if there is a message for you and then return “home.”

    Hope this helped.

  41. Hi Gregg,

    Not sure if you will get this after such a long time span from you posting…! However, I will relate my journey and also I have questions to ask.

    In 1998 I participated in a journey to find my power animal(s). The Shaman led us into the journey with drumming and I quickly found myself in a wood following a squirrel. As the squirrel ran up a tree I followed and then ‘became’ the squirrel. On reaching the top, I, the squirrel, jumped off and was instantly an eagle soaring above a most beautiful canyon. Looking back it seemed to happen so quick and soon I was being brought back to reality; I’m sure at the time it wasn’t that long although it took longer than my interpretation! It was a most amazing experience and one I hope never to forget, in fact I would love to build on it and do more journeying.

    My questions are: although I have never forgotten the experience and like to think I have an affinity with squirrel and eagles, I have never really maintained contact with either in a conscious spiritual way. Is it possible to re-engage with these spirit totems? If not, can I journey and see if I have others that want to be in touch with me? And also, do our power animals change over a life time?

    Thank you for your articles; I am new to your site although envisage reading a lot more of your work on here!



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