Many religions throughout history have believed in the concept of spirit guides. Shamanistic religions, in particular, often believe in animal spirit guides. Native American religions are most frequently associated with the idea of animal spirit guides. According to most Native American beliefs, an animal spirit enters each human at the moment of birth and becomes part of who he or she is for his or her lifetime.
Specific Native American religions and beliefs with regard to animal spirit guides may differ somewhat; however, the fundamentals are usually the same. Animal guides may enter a person's life at vary stages to help him or her through a specific task; however, one animal guide remains with each person from birth to death. This animal spirit guide represents characteristics that the person has within him or her, or strengths that he or she has.
The Native American belief system is founded on the principle that the Earth, and everything in and on it, is alive. This includes plants, trees, and water, as well as the smallest insect to the largest animal. Everything, therefore, has a soul and its own characteristics. Native Americans respect the Earth and have traditionally tried to live in harmony with it. As a result, their lives are very intertwined with everything found on the Earth, including animals.
Exactly how animal spirit guides are chosen will vary among tribes or religions; however, it is universally believed that they are chosen before birth to help the individual carry out his or her task for this lifetime. A person's animal spirit guide will show itself at some point in the individual's life — usually during adolescence — through a dream or a waking vision. Many Native American tribes historically used peyote or other hallucinogens during ceremonies to help bring out their spirit guides.
In most cases, a person will embody many of the characteristics associated with his or her animal spirit guide. While well-known animal spirit guides such as the eagle, bear, or tiger are certainly common guides, a person may have any living creature as a guide. Each animal, or insect, has characteristics, abilities and powers that are commonly believed to be associated it.
An elk, for example, symbolizes strength, agility, and power, while an ant lends perseverance and self-discipline to a person. The well-known eagle is a warrior in battle, but the owl brings wisdom and patience. A salmon animal spirit guide offers instinct and determination, while the infamous wolf lends the characteristics of loyalty and stability to his human counterpart.