Discerning Spirits

The Western world is in a revival. New religions are springing up, many of them reaching towards the Ancestors to recreate, revive or reconstruct the ancient ways as some might call it. In this process, shamanism has also returned to the Western world. Where lineaged traditions have access to information and spirits handed down to them by generations and generations, it leaves people such as myself in a very interesting predicament. That is, how do you know that the spirits you are working with are truly helping spirits?

Is shamanism safe?

To be quite honest, it’s something I have difficulties answering. Because nothing in this world is safe. You could walk across the road and just as easily get hit by a car. So how can I say “Yes! Shamanism is safe! You have nothing to fear!” I cannot do that. The reality in life is that there is good and there is bad, and yes it falls into a spectrum but we as shamanic practitioners in particular must be discerning.

We are in the same position that our ancestors were thousands of years ago. Like untrained mediums we must learn to discern what is appropriate and not appropriate spirits to be dealing with. Where lineage traditions have access to elders, specific traditions, ceremonies and rituals. As well as specific initiations that prepare individuals for what they will experience. We are just now discovering the power of spirits again, and yes we have facilitators who teach shamanism whether it’s through books, online programs or even workshops it will never be the same as a lineage traditions that have been working with specific spirits for thousands of years.

A good analogy is walking across the street again. In lineage traditions the elder helps to hold the hand, teaching the right way to cross a street, the dos and donts. Eventually that child grows up with an understanding of how to safely cross the street, knowing that there is no guarantee that they won’t get hit by a car but at least they’ve taken safe precautions. Compared to what we are doing we are essentially crossing the street (journeying to the Spirit World) without being guided on how to. Instead we are given general information and we are expected to cross the street. Some facilitators are better than others at preparing people for what they will experience and help pave a way for new practitioners to engage shamanism. Others throw you into water expecting you to swim. Crossing that street without prior knowledge you can end up getting hurt.

So how can I say that shamanism is safe when the reality is we can encounter various forces and beings that can be potentially harmful.

The purpose of this blog post is to help highlight how you can use core shamanism to have those safeguards and to develop those safeguards so that when you’re journeying between the worlds you are better equipped at dealing with what you encounter.

The first thing I want to address is guardian spirits. Guardian spirits are the ones who protect our power. From a spiritual standpoint if you’re filled with power there is nothing from the spiritual world that can hurt you. It’s like putting up a force field and preventing these things from entering. This also includes earthbound spirits, malevolent spirits and trickster spirits who might intend to latch unto you or try to possess you. The danger really, is if you are engaging shamanism when you don’t have power. You’re more likely to run into a spirit who simply wants to inhabit a vessel. It happens more than you think. This is why I encourage people to attend weekend workshops if they want to explore shamanism because the facilitator is there to help regulate which spirits come to the space and which ones cannot.

Guardian spirits because of their nature, they reside within us even though they may move outside of us from time to time. They return to us filling us with power, they whisper information of guidance and help, they bring healing and vitality. Generally speaking because of their particular nature they are almost always going to be the first spirit you will encounter in a shamanic journey.

Which leads me to the next part, the spirit world itself.

We as humans compartmentalize everything and categorize everything. We divide and we define. In core shamanism we’ve done the same, we’ve divided the spirit world into three loose worlds that we explore. These are the Upperworld and the Lowerworld and the Middleworld. Belief and intention are powerful tools in our shamanic kit, believe it or not. Intention is what guides a journey, it’s the purpose, and through that purpose the spirit world unfolds before you and the helping spirits help to guide the journey and regulate the journey so that you can experience the things you need to experience to retrieve the information. Having a strong and clear intention makes sure that your journey will not be fragmented but instead be cohesive and discernible.

Belief comes into play because really belief and trust go hand in hand. We trust our elders who teach us that what they are teaching us is accurate and authentic, and from that trust comes the belief that “If I do this, I get this” sort of thing. In core shamanism the trust comes in the material that you are reading from, and hopefully you are reading reputable authors and sources (some of them can be found in my resource section). And from that trust you learn the basic components and practices of core shamanism which helps fuel your belief that the spirit world is this or that.

In this case, the belief I am talking about is the belief in transcendent realms. What that means is that the Upperworld and Lowerworld specific are what we refer to as transcendent realms. Found within transcendent realms are the actual helping spirits. These helping spirits are elevated spirits, spirits of light, spirits who do not have ego, they are all compassionate and all loving (do not confuse that with them not going kick you in the butt!). It is in these worlds that we form and build relationships with specific spirits, and it is here that we are introduced to our first helping spirit–normally a power animal, a guardian spirit.

It is hard to trust something you don’t really have experience with. You should look at your spirits critically, you should test your spirits to be sure and you should ask discerning questions. But this is the hardest part of shamanism, trust. Trusting your experience and honoring that experience. It is unique to you. And it’s not easy to do. Like people, we should never trust something that has not earned it. The first spirit you meet, that power animal (often times), you should test it. Ask it discerning questions. Ask it why it’s here. Ask if it’s for your highest good. You should also trust your instincts and your intuition, if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t right.

Generally speaking once you have access to your guardian spirits you can start using them to help discern what are and are not helping spirits. Generally speaking, the Middleworld in core shamanism is where we find spirits that are potentially dangerous. They can attach themselves to people, drain them of their energy, take their essence and block power from entering if they become possessing spirits. But the trust of the Upperworld and Lowerworld and the helping spirits you find there is something you need to experience for yourself.

Shamanism is a path of direct revelation, and sometimes in that revelation we are hurt–unfortunately. But once you do have a spirit you can trust, one who fills you with power, they become protecting spirits too. We learn, through them, the best ways to utilize their power for healing, for protection, for journeying, in ceremony and calling them to our side.

Shamanism is not a complicate system. What makes it complicated is the various layers that we weave when we gain better understanding of what shamanism is to us.

It takes a critical eye to know when a spirit is not particularly helpful. They often times cause misfortune, they often tell lies, you feel drained, you feel sick, you are more prone to misfortune and sickness. Going to reputable practitioners is also something I strongly recommend as they will have the knowledge and understanding to help you along your journey and able to gauge it. It’s why I’m personally quite careful on who I teach shamanism too beyond my blog. You’ll notice that I don’t teach how journey between worlds here, I may give ceremony or my opinons on certain things but I prefer sitting one-on-one with an individual and monitoring their progress.

The good part is, the FSS is a foundation where reputable shamanic practitioners are found. They go through a series of learning and also initiations. Saving the money to go to one of these workshops can be incredibly beneficial.

We talked abit about guardian spirits and transcendent realms, but what about the physical world around us? How can we spiritually protect ourselves?

In shamanism we do it by maintain a healthy relationship with our guardian spirits, in reality that’s all we really need to do. We utilize power practice to maintain that relationship, from calling them into sacred space to shapeshifting and merging with our helping spirits. By maintaining that relationship we don’t have anything really to fear when it comes to spiritual forces because we have spiritual friends that are there to guide and protect us.

In core shamanism we also have the luxury of opening our eyes. As simple as that sounds, that ability to control our experience in a journey can be a remarkably powerful tool. If we are experiencing something that is frightening or potentially dangerous, we can just open our eyes and the experience is done. In those situations, even though something might be scary often times a spirit is trying to teach you a lesson. You can always call to your helping spirits (those you know who genuinely are) to your side to help protect you. To remove that spirit from your presence, or to move that spirit to a transcendent realm.

What I mean by this is that often times malevolent spirits in the Middleworld (I have yet to personally encounter one in the Upperworld or Lowerworld if that makes you feel any better) act as helping spirits in the same way as people you meet act and pretend to be your friend. They do that for the same reason people often abuse us, because through sweetness our guards begin to fall. But, if the spirit is unable to be called or brought into the Upperworld or Lowerworld that spirit is perhaps a spirit you should not associate with. Your helping spirits as well will help guide you other spirits that will potentially be useful or helpful to you as well.

With that said we can do other things to protect ourselves, if you have current helping spirits you can go to them ask them what they are. General things that help ward and protect space, and yourself, are various herbs (such as rosemary or basil) either burned as an incense or put into a bag can be used to ward and protect spaces from malevolent spirits. Various crystals and stones can also do this especially when they’re strategically placed around the room or the corners of the room (amethyst is particularly good at this!).

Ultimately, when it comes to discerning spirits it comes with experience. We should not call these spirits to ourselves, for example journeying and we keep thinking we will run into an malevolent spirit (chances are we will). Building and maintaining relationships with your already discerned helping spirits is going to be a powerful advantage for you, and the only way you can know that is by experience, learning to trust those you feel are helping spirits, building that relationship and testing those spirits.

Helping spirits uplift us, they give us power, they empower us to make better choices in our lives, shamanism and by default the spirits we work with should have tangible results. Your life should improve because you’re engaging helping spirits. Your life should be better because of shamanism. If you’re not seeing results, or you’re getting the exact opposite results, chances are one of two things. One, shamanism just isn’t for you, and that’s fine. Or perhaps that type of shamanism isn’t for you. Or, you’re working with a spirit that is not actually potentially helpful.

Now you’ll noticed that I’ve refrained from referring some spirits as ‘evil.’ Nothing, at least in my eyes, is evil in this world. We choose to label things evil and in particular when those things have negative effects on our lives. I tend to use the term malevolent because sometimes when a spirit we work with isn’t a truly helping spirit they are spirits that sometimes are trying to genuinely help us. But in that process of helping they end up causing more harm than good. Their intention is pure but because they are egoic beings (like we are) in that process of helping they just make things worse.

Spirits, like people, have characteristics of good and bad. They fall into a spectrum. And like people when we start to make friends we look at our compatibility. Is this person, or in this case a spirit, compatible with your life. Are you benefiting from that particular person/spirit. Are they contributing to your life and are they progressing it forward? If the answer to these questions are no then that spirit is probably not a spirit you want around.

Discerning spirits is a difficult task and one that comes with experience. And unfortunately, especially those of us who are coming to these practices through core shamanism, that first step comes with trust. Trusting your experience, honoring that unique experience, but also trusting the sources and material you are drawing from. It is much simpler to go lineage traditions, finding reputable practitioners and learning from an established tradition that have inherit safeguards.

Core shamanism, by its very nature, is one of exploration. You are given the skeleton but the meat and substance is for you to build. I strongly recommend that if you fear you’re going to encounter malevolent spirits that you attend a workshop. Going to a workshop and in the presence of an experienced practitioner means the safeguards of a system are in place because the spirits called to the space or workshop are helping and compassionate spirits. They have the experience, ability to discern and also the spiritual technology to properly call these spirits to the space.

I’m sure I’ll have further thoughts later on this particular subject, there is so much here that can be explored. For now, however, I hope that the information provided here has been helpful and beneficial. I hope that it helped put some of your worries at ease and that you have better tools equipped in discerning helping spirits. The spirit world is a world to discover we don’t need to be afraid of it, or in fear of those who inhabit it, but we should be discerning and we should apply common sense. We should always look both ways before crossing the road, and don’t be afraid to hold the hand of your helping spirits. They’re here to guide you, protect you and show you a world filled with so much wonder you cannot even put it into words.

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