I see this question not infrequently: can extinct animals be totems? Can creatures from mythology?
Short answer, as I see it, is yes.
Getting into “why” takes a bit more digging.
First, let’s go over the difference between a totem, a guide, and an astral form. These definitions can vary from tradition to tradition; the following is how I see them in my practice:
Totems are spirits who are with you your entire life. They may be inherited, or they may “adopt” someone. Totems tend to reflect the inner reality of a person and “speak their language.” The study of one’s totems is a path to wholeness, self-understanding, and gnosis. They can act as envoys to the spirit realm and the ancestors; they may act as protectors, teachers, or “astral parents.” They reflect truths about one’s self and personal history that may be veiled from the conscious mind. There may be one or several- some traditions claim nine. Personally, I have two.
Guides may come and go, or they may stick around your entire life- but they’re a presence “from without.” Sometimes they may teach you a thing or two and then go on their way; they may put you through a whole curriculum. Sometimes they’ll show up to point the way, and sometimes they simply seem to take a liking for someone and pop in now and again. There may be only a couple, or many. It seems that the more journeying a shaman does, the more “contacts” they make, and so one can accumulate a significant number of “friends on the other side.”
Astral forms are the forms a practitioner may take when journeying in other realms. They come from within and may be adopted for sheer usefulness combined with natural affinity, or they may be a form that is simply intuitive to the practitioner. When journeying, I tend to take the shape of a dragon roughly the size of a German shepherd- a form that came quite naturally to me even as a small child.
(Of course, if you zoom out, it’s all part of one whole- “within,” “without,” these are relative terms–)
These various spirit-forms seem to vary in how specific they are- for example, my primary totem is Spotted hyena or cave hyena, which are simply different subspecies of the same animal. A more generic guide I’ve done work with is Stag, who has shown up as a Red deer (Cervus elaphus), Wapiti (Cervus canadensis), Chital (Axis axis), Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus). These species are only distantly related (aside from the Red deer and Wapiti) but all were undeniably STAG: crowned with antlers and with more than a whiff of testosterone! Some people do have a “class” or genus of animal as their totem- they may click with equines, felines, cetaceans, and so on.
So, then, back to our T-rexes and Unicorns.
Regarding extinct animals, many species who once lived here survive through their descendants and relatives. Even if the living members of the species have died out, or been driven to extinction, the overall essence of the creature lives on. Therefore, someone with an extinct totem may be introduced to them through an extant species, or even honor the extant species alongside the extinct totem. However, even if a species has no living descendants (such as in the case of the Thylacine) its essence is still out there, both in the spirit realm and, in some cases, within human memory. Just because a species no longer wanders this planet doesn’t mean they’re gone from the astral, too.
Sometimes we may not even know the species but get glimpses of it in our subconscious or during journeying. For example, my secondary totem is some sort of birdish dromaeosaurid. I dreamed of this animal for years, and sometimes borrowed its form while journeying, all the while not knowing what it was. It looks like a “raptor” but has feathers (reddish-gold, not unlike a Golden eagle’s in color) and is very active and avian in nature. Skittish- rather like a small wildcat or coyote in mannerisms. This information came to me before it was commonly accepted that dromaeosaurids were feathered, and when dinosaurs were still assumed to be ectothermic and more closely related to crocodiles than birds. I’ve always felt a draw to raptors- birds of prey- and chickens, several of which I had as pets. (They were no less affectionate or responsive than a family cat or dog.) Turns out that chickens are the closest living relatives of dinosaurs .
Could this be coincidence? Absolutely- but when facts align with intuitions, it does tend to lend them a bit more credence, at least in terms of personal practice.
If you suspect you may have an extinct animal totem, research as much as you can about their relatives and, if they have them, living descendants. You never know what your real world allies may show you.
Mythological animals may present a bit more trouble.
One thing to keep in mind regarding the astral is that things exist there- and potentially on other planets or in other realms- that do not exist on Earth.
Furthermore, there are very few mythological creatures which do not have counterparts the world over. Beasts such as dragons hold a place in human consciousness; whether originally chimeric composites of mundane animals or a reflection of beings from the astral realm, they have been acknowledged and honored as powerful spirits in their own right.
These animals have their own energy- even such creatures as the gryphon- which is not simply the sum of their parts. Gryphon teachings are similar to, but different than, lion and eagle teachings. So yes- mythological animals, too, can show up as totems or guides. If you are working with such a creature, perhaps begin by looking at the pieces, lion and eagle for a gryphon, for example. Some of the energy may be different, but it’ll still lead to understanding and inner knowledge if we but listen.