Totem pole is massive carvings from big trees, mostly Western Red Cedar, from cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. The meanings of the figures on totem poles are as different as the cultures that build them. Totem poles may narrate familiar legends, clan lineages, or famous events.
Many poles celebrate cultural beliefs, just others is mostly artistic introductions. Certain types of totem poles are part of mortuary structures, and incorporate grave boxes with carved supporting poles, or recessed backs for grave boxes. Poles illustrate stories that commemorate historic persons, represent shamanic powers, or provide objects of public ridicule.
Totem poles were never targets of worship. Very early European explorers thought they were worshipped, but later explorers noted that totem poles were never treated reverently; they seemed only occasionally to generate allusions or illustrate stories, and were usually left to rot in place when people abandoned a village.
The association with “idol worship” was an idea from local Christian missionaries of the nineteenth century, who considered their association with Shamanism as an occult practice.
Each culture typically has complex rules and customs regarding designs represented on poles. The designs are generally considered the property of a particular clan or family group, and this ownership may not be transferred to the owner of a pole.