In the shamans world view, all existence is spirit, and there is nothing that exists that is not a spirit. So the statement that you are what you eat had some meaning even to them. Thus you had to be very careful about eating herbs that you didn’t understand or make peace with, and even drinking water from a place that hadn’t welcomed you was to be avoided.
Even bacteria and viruses have spirits? Yes. Recent scientific research seems to be bearing that out as they have discovered that viral infections can change people’s personality even if they haven’t really done much damage, like being spirit possessed. If you showed signs of this, the shaman would take you into their hut and try to restore you by giving you the medicine of your own totems, as this was believed to defend you from the spirit you had angered. So if your totem was a deer, you might be given venison to eat.
Restored you spiritually? Yes, but the discovery of totems was a vital first step to giving the shaman the power to heal or strengthen you. They saw dreams as the person’s spirit traveling for a time into the spirit world, and the people of their tribes would routinely dream of animals they had seen, as well as natural landmarks and natural events. Some of their spirits were actually the living intelligence, not of a flesh and blood animal, but of a natural event like a storm. As happens in dreams, complex concepts appear in metaphor, and thus the spirit of a storm was thunder bird. So totems were not limited to what we would consider literal animals.
Does a totem want to be obvious or will it be just in the background? Both. They behaved differently depending on the personality of the totem, and some of the quieter totems were actually seen as more powerful than the loud ones.
Now the sharing of spirit was pretty much the same as the sharing of genetics. So in many cases, you didn’t have just a single totem, you had a set. Sort of like not having a single grandparent but four and go back further and you have even more. So you might not show the attributes of your totems all equally. Besides discovering a totem in dreams, you could discover one in your experiences, and the shaman could see one in your behavior.
Would you manifest the different totems at different times? You would, and you would relate to the totem differently than another member of your family would. Rabbit might be a messenger for you, but a trickster for another member of your tribe, and how you related to the totem was discovered by experience.
Did growth factor in? Oh, it did, and one could discover new totems later. They were also called spirit helpers or allies.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.