Spirit & Dream Animals by Richard Webster

Spirit & Dream Animals: Decipher Their Messages, Discover Your Totem
Richard Webster
Llewellyn, 2011
248 pages

While many books on totemism mention dreams as a way of discovering and working with totems, they generally don’t go into much detail about the process, other than “if you keep dreaming about this animal, it might be your totem”. Dream work is not my preferred way for totemic work, but I was impressed by this book, which is more in-depth on the subject than I’ve seen.

It does feel to me like the author is much more familiar with dream work than totemism. Even if you’ve no interest in animal totemism, this book has some excellent information on basic dreamwork, for which it is a valuable text. In just a couple dozen pages Webster imparts some wonderfull practical advice on how to work with your dreams, what they mean, and how to get the most out of that level of consciousness that almost everyone experiences every night.

However, the totemic information is good, if nothing particularly new–it’s pretty solid standard information like signs that may point to what your totem is, ways to work with your totem (like dancing!), and a bunch of historical and cultural information on animals around the world. Again, in not too many pages, he’s done a fine job of pulling together the basic relevant information for someone who may be new to the topic.

And that sort of rounds out the strengths of the book in my eyes. Webster has taken two topics and given great background on them, so someone who hasn’t done dreamwork can understand it, and someone who hasn’t done totemism can understand it, and then put the two together neatly. My complaint is that he didn’t go further with this–the practical material basically stops after “Here’s how to find out what your totem is”, and then the second half of the book is all totem animal dream dictionary. I recognize that the dictionary format is beloved both among dream writers and totem writers, but I lament that there wasn’t more “how to” material from this author. What else, for example, does he do or recommend to bond with your totem besides dancing? How can we work with our totems in dreams once we’ve identified them as more than just symbols? After all, totems are independent beings, not just quick lists of dream keywords and generic concepts. He’s got a good handle on things like lucid dreaming–how do we use it more in conjunction with totems, for example as a form of journeying?

If you’re looking for a basic book on animal dreams and/or totemism, this is good; as I said, the author clearly knows his stuff and conveys it admirably well. But I, greedy thing that I am, am left wanting more, because what was there already was so good.

Four pawprints out of five.

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