It is tempting when discussing the subject of Spirits to begin with the most basics of questions: Do they exist and how did they come to be?
Those two questions have filled hours upon hours of discussion, and made for literally libraries of books and papers. Its led to arguments, fights and even wars between people with different opinions on these questions.
Are these the important questions though?
I have very little idea of just what “gravity” IS. I’ve read scientific papers and research by many people with much more learning than I. All seem to claim some truth and yet they all differ.
Though I don’t need to understand what gravity is, nor where it comes from to work with its effects and use it to make something happen, do I?
Humans have a long history of practical knowledge of how to use something, while not knowing just what that something is. We sailed the oceans without understanding the atmospheric forces which created those winds. Shamans are like those old seafarers. We watch and learn the ways of our occult oceans, study them when they are calm and when they are angry. Sometimes we pray for their help and sometimes we get it. Sometimes we don’t.
The beings that make up the many spirit realms are like gravity for a shaman. The “why and how” they exist, are less important as the fact that they indeed “do exist”.
Remember my earlier definition of what a shaman is: “Someone who specifically communicates with the Spirits. Who learns what the Spirits want from us, learns how the Spirits wish to interact with us and learns how to placate these Spirits and seek their help.”
There is no “why or how” in that definition. They exist. They have rules and they have preferences. They have ways they want us to behave when asking for their help. They have ways they interact with us and ways they would rather we not do.
A shaman needs to learn to accept that and save the academic questions of how and why, for those barbecues with friends on a warm Summer evening. Get drunk and argue how many Spirits can dance on the head of a pin until the Moon comes up. Then in the morning, wake up and get back to practical matters.
When dealing with Spirits, you will find they will interact in your Life in several different yet familiar roles.
Humans are “social animals” and we form relationships. It is perhaps our defining characteristic. Above our courage and our curiosity. We form relationships with each other and we form them with species beyond our own. Ask a person who shares their life with a pet or raises animals for food.
We also form relationships with the Spirits.
Now, I want to step back for a moment and use a real world example to help illustrate the types of relationships I have with Spirits. The example I will use is my past work experience during my Life.
Like many of my age (I’m in my early 60s) I have spent much of my Life working in manufacturing and industry. I have primarily been a skilled machine operator. Means I made things with my hands.
Such work is less common today. We’ve off shored out ability to make things as a Nations, to our loss I believe. We’ve gone from dreaming that “We” could do anything, to a country who says “Welcome to Walmart”.
Still even in the service industry and casual retail, the relationships I have had with my fellow employees is pretty much the same.
My last employment was with a company which sold metal. We handled everything from coat hanger wire to beams of steel used in bridges. We were one of 60 branches, in a much larger company and had about 50 people working there. My job was as a saw operator. Our company would sell full bars of metal but would also custom cut those bars to a required length if you wanted.
The primary relationship was between me as an employee and someone else who held a supervisory role, who was in a dominate role and whose decisions affected me. I was lucky, especially in my last job, in that I had a friendly relationship with the two people who were my immediate supervisor and his boss, our Plant Manager. We even went out for food and beer as a group sometimes.
That familiarity though didn’t mean I thought we were on the same level of power and interaction. I knew that if either of them told me to do something, then I was supposed to do it. True, I would often disagree and tell them why I thought their command wasn’t going to accomplish what they wanted. Still they had the final word on it.
Then there were other people, fellow employees who I had a inter-connective relationship with. How they worked directly affected my own work. A good example was the other saw operator James. He and I worked third shift together. We would interact and work together in a way that would assist us each and get our commonly required jobs done. We also developed a good solid personal relationship as well.
Beyond James, there were two other people who worked directly with me. One person who ran a forklift to retrieve the material we both would cut, and return it to storage when I was done. A second person was responsible for packaging up our finished product and getting it to the truck area for that night’s loading.
Those two I most directly worked with but we had a more top/down relationship. They serviced my needs. We had another 6-8 people on that shift who would handled the truck loading. My interaction with them was mostly incidental and more along the line of me providing them with things to load.
That was what I would call my “Work Ecology”.
There was a fourth category of people in that ecology, the people who also worked at our branch, but did so on first and second shift, as well as the sales staff and secretaries. They are the ones you barely interact with.
Much like most spirits.
Just as I had people I worked with in various capacities, as a shaman I have a “Spirit Ecology” too.
For our purposes of discussion on this blog going forward, I will categorize the spirits I work with regularly as falling into three main categories; Servants. Allies and Patrons.
There is a fourth, which are the many spirits in the World who I will never interact with and who don’t really want to interact with humans either.
(There is a fifth category, of spirits who interact with me but in a unhealthy way. We’ll talk about that category another time.)
This isn’t meant to imply that the spirits themselves recognize these categories, just that much like my earlier post on “What is Shamanism”, establishing a common framework of concepts between you the reader and I the writer on the categories of occult workers, will make discussing more complicated ideas easier and more clear.
For the rest of this post I will talk about the roles each category has and how a shaman interacts with each.
At the most casual level, there are spirits who a shaman will interact with who do things for you, like my forklift operator or packager. I call these spirits “Servants”.
When talking about magical servants, probably the most well known spirit that comes to mind are the Djinn.
From Barbara Eden’s character in “I Dream of Genie” to the recent movie “Aladdin”, the Djinn have become synonymous with spiritual servants capable of giving people their fondest desires and wishes. The real story about this spirit and its kind is much more complicated than that.
Notice I use the word servant and not slave.
Slaves don’t get paid, but Servants do. And have an attitude to boot. Anyone who has watched the BBC drama “Downton Abbey” knows you piss off the servants at your peril. Unhappy servants may just up and leave at the worse moment. Angry servants can do much worse. They know your secrets.
Spirits, while they can be compelled and even forced to do things by someone skilled and powerful enough, have a long memory. Don’t ever get on the bad side of a spirit if you can possibly avoid it. Its much better to establish a cordial relationship with the spirits you work with.
(We will though discuss what to do if you do end up pissing off a spirit in another blog post. Its ugly and dangerous but can be handled if you keep your head.)
A better example for this type of relationship would be the Spirit of Squirrel as Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova talk about in their book “Neolithic Shamanism”, which I highly recommend for your library and the way that a shaman may interact with spirits.
In Norse mythology, the Great World Tree Yggdrasil is managed by three animal spirits, Eagle at the top, a Dragon at the bottom and in the middle a Squirrel named Ratatosk, whose job it was to take messages back and forth between the two and among the other residents of the Nine Worlds. Ratatosk in his journeys has learned the nooks and crannies, the paths both obvious and hidden among the branches. He knows and he notices.
So a shaman who needs to find something hidden might then petition Ratakosk with offerings of nuts and fruit, to see if he would lend his skill.
(The methods of petitioning spirits is a subject for a whole series of post.)
Other spirits are known for different skills and abilities. Knowing which ones to approach is important. Also, remember even a minor spirit, if their dominion fits your needs can become very important. And a powerful spirit once worshiped as a god, might be needed rarely and treated as a servant but with huge respect.
I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Judika Illes’ “Encyclopedia of Spirits” and adding it to your library. Its a huge volume of over 1000 pages and covers many of the spirits that are open to interacting with humans, their history and lineage, as well as things they like and ways to approach them.
An active shaman may have many spirits which they interact with on the occasional basis. That relationship will probably be very transactional. You have a job and need their help just for that job. That’s fine with spirits. They are old and wise and have seen us humans come and go. As long as we treat them with respect, they are fine with that.
Though if you find yourself returning to a certain spirit, developing a relationship beyond the one night stand, then you may want to take it further.
Just as I had a interdependent relationship with James, the other saw operator at my previous employer, which was both work related as well as personal, I have several spirits who I have similar relationships with.
I call these spirits my “Allies”.
The interaction I have with these spirits goes beyond the mere transactional nature that I have with spirits like Squirrel, into a more deeper and meaningful relationship. At times, I ask for favors unable to pay. At others, I make offerings while having not asked for anything in the recent past.
It reminds me of a good friend and our monthly lunches. We may pretend to keep track of whose turn it is to pay but not with any seriousness.
I have two spirits who have been with me from my first journey into shamanism in the late 80s. I have a third Ally I have recently approached and who I’m just beginning to work with. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t. That is the way of such things.
The first of my Allies is Bear. He is the protector of my Male side, carrying my courage and warrior spirit.
Now for a long while Bear was in the background of my life as I neglected my shamanism studies but a few years back as I began to re-look at them, he returned in the form of a small stuffed animal found laying in a store parking lot. He seemed to know I was again in need of guidance. Now he sits on the dash board of my car and protects me when I’m out and in the World.
(Yes, Spirits can come into your Life in very strange ways.)
Bear is there to teach the power of Introspection. How to take all the knowledge and experiences you have gotten this past year and then seek the quiet of the Sacred Cave to learn from it. To accomplish the goals and dreams we have, you have to learn to be quiet.
The Sacred Cave is the entrance to the Dream Lodge and the Vision Quest. It is there that the shaman journeys to Realms of the Spirits, the Lower World and the Upper World as well as to the many others states of consciousness.
Remember though, Viking Berserkers looked to Bear as an ally. Bear can be fierce and fight without worrying about the consequences to themselves or their enemies. A good ally, a dangerous enemy.
My second old Ally is Owl.
Now don’t think the order I post them implies one is more important than the other. Both spirits are of equal respect and utility.
Unlike Bear’s recent humorous return, Owl came into my life in a more traditional way, with the gift of her body and her feathers. During a trip to Texas in the mid 80s, I came across an dead owl on the side of the road. Birds, especially night birds like owls, can confuse the glare of on coming headlights for prey, swoop down and then be hit and killed.
By “dropping her robe” as she did, Owl said quite loudly “I am going to be in your Life now.”
Owl teaches how to see the unseen and the truths people wish to keep hidden. With her as an Ally, its hard for you to be deceived. You can seem to have a special ability to know a person better than they do themselves.
Those who walk in the night and along the out of the way places, like witches and shamans are often protected by Owl. Remember she is a mighty predator and travels the places others won’t. She can see clearly even in the darkest night as her feathers silently carry her to her prey.
One of those feathers is on the bush hat I wear sometimes, in a place of honor and respect. I am reminded of her power every time I see it.
She is the “Night Eagle”.
Quick Note: Yes, many spirits are usually either male or female. While all spirits are shape shifters, they do tend to have preferences in the way they present themselves to humans. And the more well known ones, have a long history and lineage. If you have a spirit come to you out of the blue, still be prepared to spend a lot of time learning about them.
If you are trying to establish a relationship with a spirit on your own uninvited, be doubly prepared to spend the time and effort to learn their ways.
When first starting out, people often focus just on the animal spirits or the higher ones, which were worshiped in the past as gods. They shouldn’t. Spirits are in everything. The mountains and the rivers, the forests and the lakes. And especially plants and trees.
One of the oldest of plants is Grandmother Mugwort.
(You will often find that shamans add honorifics, like grandfather or grandmother to especially old spirits. Very important ones, like the Sun and the Moon, will be addressed as Father or Mother. Spirits are our family and you should treat them as such.)
Mugwort is of the family Artemisia, which includes a wide variety of perennial (they grow back next year) plants, who are aromatic (smells highly) and who have a wide variety of uses for humans, from culinary to medicinal. Her relationship with humans is ancient.
Shamans on every continent have learned that plants of this family, when burned will clear away negative energy. They bless a space and make it sacred. They are often used as incense and smudges.
The honorific Grandmother is not out of place for this spirit. She is lunar, of feminine nature but one of immense age. Imagine an old fashion housefrau, armed with her formidable broom, sweeping out the bad energy from the space you want to work in. And like that grandmother, not one you would want to cross but having seen it all, she will often let you make your own mistakes.
Useful for shamans, teas made from this herb can bring about vivid and prophetic dreams.
Mugwort seems to be a spirit which is open to relationships, though rare of really personal ones. As a protective spirits, she’s one that I thought would be better as a Ally and so I’m working at that.
Those are the three I have at the moment.
Entering into a relationship with a spirit who becomes your Patron is perhaps one of the most intimate and personal things you will do as a shaman. Beyond the kind you will have with a life partner or spouse. You can always keep secrets from a wife or husband. With the Spirits there are no secrets. They will know you like no other.
Most of the time, you do not seek out a spirit to be a patron. They find you and claim you for their own.
For those of us not chosen this way, its on us. I liken it to a seduction but that wouldn’t describe the true courtship that happens. Those of us not chosen, can develop deep relationships with spirits but it takes time and hard work.
My only current Patron and one I love dearly is Grandmother Spider.
Native Americans say that she taught humans writing and letters with her web. She was there at the beginning. As a writer of many decades, when I reach a point I can’t write, I pray to her for inspiration. She is behind me when I type and whispers in my ear as I fall asleep.
She is my constant Companion.
Grandmother Spider gave humans weaving as well. Before that our ancestors wore furs and skins. Clothing perhaps in a way made our civilization happen. We do like getting dressed up, lol.
When I sew, infrequently now, her hands guide mine.
On a bigger picture, her body represents the concept of Infinity, the hourglass of Time and Space.
As my Patron, Grandmother Spider reappeared to me this Summer. I noticed while taking my morning shower, a small spider had taken up residence in a nook of my bathroom window. I offered her insects.
She grew bigger.
As best as I can tell, she is a variety of the North American yellow sack spider. A common household spider which feeds on small insects and doesn’t harm humans unless we accidentally intrude on her space and even then her bite doesn’t do much more than a tiny bit of pain. They have evolved to live among us.
In the Fall, when it began to get colder, I bought a small habitat at a pet store, a plastic aquarium tree and black pebbles for the floor. With respect I asked her to move to a new home.
Several times a night I offer her small insects I find in my home. Often they fall right through her web. Sometimes they stick but then get loose. Sometimes she ignores them entirely. About once every 5-6 days she accepts my offerings and eats.
She is my Patron and gives me her protection and her wisdom.
I have two other spirits, old and wise which I’ve begun approaching recently.
One is Bast, the Egyptian goddess of cats. I’ve had a cat companion before and recently after her death, began volunteering at a local pet shelter. At the moment I have three foster cats, and am praying to Bast for all the help I can get to help them find their forever home.
The second is Hecate and she deserves a blog post just on her alone.
Whether these two will end up being a Patron or just Allies will be seen.