I don't consider this to be magic, and some people incorporate this into their spiritual or religious beliefs, so that's why I placed this here.
I've been studying this for a little under a year and made a major breakthrough in understanding this a couple months ago, so I'm still very new and learning. I've noticed others here and in other forums showing an interest in totems, so I figured a thread on this would make an nice discussion. So far this is what I've learned about basic totemism:
It's the belief (often cultural) that human groups have a special mystical relationship with natural objects and beings such as animals, plants, and sometimes nonliving things like rocks. It was most obviously used in the past as clan images to prevent inbreeding, but nowadays these take a much more personal and individual level.
Totems and guides are two completely different concepts. A totem, at least the way I first learned it, reflects you and is your mentor and helper. It sticks with you for life and is usually the one who guides you through journeying, astral projection, and the like. Guides are temporary, showing a lesson you need to learn at this point in time. I hear different explanations all over for these two, but it seems to be a general agreement that totems and guides are different.
While I'm probably too new to this to make any decent assumptions, there's still a few things that don't sit right with me the way a few others teach it. For instance, it makes more sense to me that one could have several totems throughout one's life, since most people do not stay exactly the same as they grow and age. I also think the lines between totems, guides, and omens/signs can be blurred and crossed, since labels probably don't matter very much to them. All animals, plants, spirits, etc., should be treated with an equal amount of respect anyway, regardless of what type one thinks they may be. I also think that living creatures, such as a very special pet, can be guides as well. I don't see a reason why they can't.
I look forward to reading other people's opinions and experiences with this.