Working within the 13 month cycle gives us 39 Totemic Spirits with which to bond on a personal level. We won't have deep connections with all of them, but we certainly will with some of them. Making personal connections with spirits who are already looking out for us is, I believe, part of the natural work of the Witch.
These spirit animals and trees absolutely have ties to traditional approaches to totemic and shamanic animal work. Our personal totems reveal a great deal about who we are, and it can take several years to uncover your full set of totem animals. I have heard it said that many Native American religions see a person as having seven totems -- one for each of the cardinal directions on the Medicine Wheel, and one each for the Center, Above, and Below (the three Realms). Whether this is accurate or not, I can't say. However, it does resonate with me. Glaux and I have each come into contact with four of our personal totems.
Also referring to shamanic practice, these spirits can act as guides, guardians, and teachers in our vision questing and spiritual development. Some lead us into the Upper Realm of thought and hope. Others lead us into the Underworld of emotion and the subconscious. Still others lead us out to explore the realities and wisdoms of This World.
The Totemic Cycle is also is its very own system for framing the Wheel of the Year. It can be used separately from everything else, if you wanted to. Personally, I adore how the trees and animals are so intricately tied into the mythos of the rest of the Wheel. But it can be used as its own system. Indeed, it may be a study worth pursuing to some of you to do an intense AFW Totemic Year at some point along your path.
The totems are also guides and teachers to better understanding the Deities and Gates/Castles they sit with. And the 4 sets that are not Sabbat-related, share their own Mysteries. (Those are the totems in January, April, July, November.) We can try to share some of that wisdom at some point, but we've only touched the tip of the iceberg ourselves, in that arena. Telling you there are Mysteries to explore in the non-Sabbat months is a key for us all. (I'll also share that the Moon names are woven pretty niftily into this tapestry, too. In this sense, the Moon may shed some light on these Mysteries for us all.)
These animals and trees have become so intricately tied to seasonal tides for me that I find them very useful and willing helpers in spellcrafting during their respective months, as well. I try to time certain magic to be in line with their skills or areas of interest/power -- the way most magic-workers (myself included) take moon phase and sign or planetary hour into consideration. When you, too, have treaded this particular Mill for a number of years, you will probably have set that particular clock into your core, too. For some, it may already resonate really strongly. For others, it may grow into a pattern with practice. For others, maybe it'll never really fit well or have incredibly deep meaning.
Here's another little nugget of information that is not canon in the tradition but holds Mystery, or leads to greater understanding. There is perhaps a totemic set for the center of the compass, the crossroads, as well. The stang, the spiral castle itself, is the world tree. It is the tree that is not a tree. The north star (pole star, Old Tubelo's Iron nail) is the point above that tree that the great Bear ambles around, visiting each of the other totems. And Spider, too, sits in Caer Arionrhod (the spiral castle) weaving her webs between all place and all time. They are nowhere and everywhere.