There is a school of thought on the origins of Heraldry that believe totemism to be at the root of heraldic symbols. Totemism is the belief that people are descended from animals, plants , and other natural objects. Symbols of these natural ancestors, known as totems are often associated with clans or other groups tracing common descent. By representing desirable individual qualities ( such as the swiftness of a deer )and helping to explain the mythical origin of the clan, totems reinforce clan identity and solidarity. The totem system of the Native Americans shows this belief in full force. The guardian spirit of the tribe is envisaged as in the form of an animal.
In Australia, totemism plays a central part in Aboriginal beliefs. The totems are seen as an embodiment of each individual in his or her primordial state. Each person is presented with a wooden totem by their paternal grandfather at birth. This wooden totem serves as a reminder to the child of the spirit he or she will identify with. Once the divine origin is acknowledged by way of the totem it remains with the person for their life. He is a sea eagle, a fast wind, or a crocodile even as he is a man. The Ainu tribes, the aboriginals of Japan kep,t a bear to which they paid great homage and addressed as a father, but which in the end they ceremoniously slaughtered. The theory is that, among the primitive symbols used by man, there were found totems from which Heraldry derived, because in their infancy many peoples of the world believed they were descended from animals which are seen today in the coats of arms as eagles, bulls, lions, leopards, serpents, dogs, horses and many others. In addition there are countless examples of figures of mythical creatures on coats of arms, such as griffins, wyverns, and dragons. By using such symbols on their shields, early grantees of coats of arms showed themselves proud of the totemic symbol of their ancestors whose qualities of valor, tenacity and wisdom they sought to emulate.