Lupa's Den: Practices for the Earthy Pagan
Over the years my writing online at Therioshamanism.com and elsewhere has wrapped itself around abstract concepts and theoretical discussions, stories and anecdotes and personal experiences. Here I’d like to have a little spot where I focus more on the how-tos, a sort of casual teaching blog. I’m a naturalist pagan, so look for some ways and means of working with the denizens of nature, spiritual and otherwise! (If you like what you see here, please feel free to visit http://www.thegreenwolf.com for more info on my books, online writings, etc.)
How To Communicate With Nature Spirits: With Tools
In my last post, I talked about how to sense nature spirits. Once you've found a way to sense them that works for you, the next step is to try communicating with them.
Except...why would you want to? And why would they want to talk back?
There are plenty of reasons. For one thing, spirits have insights that we may not have. They exist in a different manner than we do; some of them represent or embody natural forces that we can only observe and interact with in a limited manner. My work with animal, plant, and fungus totems is a good example. These beings are intermediaries between their species and the rest of the world, to include humans. When I work with them, I can find out more about the living beings that I share my world with. For example, I discovered when cleaning up the stretch of the Columbia River I adopted that while the totems of animal species like White Sturgeon and American Robin are concerned with litter that their physical counterparts could accidentally eat or become entangled in, plant totems like Black Cottonwood communicate to me more about water pollution that the trees and other plants can absorb into their roots through the soil.
And that leads me to another big reason to communicate with spirits--instead of just asking them to give us things like help with rituals and spells, we can also forge deeper relationships with them by asking them about their needs. Many of the terms used to describe the spirits in our lives have to do with what they gives us. "Spirit guide" and "guardian spirit" denote roles the spirits take on our behalf, but in my experience it's really a two way street once you get past the initial introductions. Even if you're just asking a spirit for help with one particular problem, it's still good form to do something for them in return.
There are, of course, plenty of other reasons to talk with spirits, but these are just some basic starting points. And you have your choice of several ways to communicate with spirits. They can be roughly divided into two categories: with tools, and without tools. In this post I'll be talking about using tools for spiritual communication, and in the next I'll go into spirit communication without tools.
Tools for communicating with spirits essentially boil down to one task: "translating" between spirit-talk and human-talk. Spirits, especially nature spirits, often don't speak human languages. Tools are a way to take the energy of the spirits' communications and convert them into forms we can understand, whether in words or images or other such things.
Probably the most famous (and infamous!) example is the ouija board. It was invented by a Elijah Bond as a game in 1890, and it wasn't until a couple of decades later that spiritualists latched onto it as a way to contact spirits. It's gotten a pretty bad reputation since then, thanks in part to anti-occult propaganda, and horror movies (like Witchboard) featuring it as a gateway to demonic realms. However, the same sort of smear campaign happened to tarot cards, and they don't get the same bad rap as the ouija. From my own experience, people who expect bad things to happen from using a ouija board are more likely to have bad experiences. There is nothing inherent to the board (as opposed to tarot cards, or a pendulum, or other tools) that makes it more likely to bring about bad spirits; it is we who bring our fears and superstitions with us to the board.
I'll talk more about how to protect yourself further on in this article, but for the moment let me talk a bit about how these tools work. Ouija and other spirit boards have a variety of letters, and the planchette (or pointer) is moved by the spirits from one letter to another to spell out messages. A similar setup can be made with a pendulum, either with a board, or with a piece of paper with all the letters and numbers written on it, often in a circle. It's a bit more challenging to work with more complex symbols like tarot cards, because when a spirit selects a card or cards, you then have to figure out why they chose them.
So what's happening when you use these tools? Some people think the spirits themselves guide your hands. Other theories involve your intuition picking up on the spirits' intentions and then guiding your choice of letters/symbols/etc.
A more free-form sort of tool is the mirror or scrying bowl. This can be anything from a regular old mirror left as-is or painted black on the back, to a bowl of water or the traditional crystal ball. This reflective surface helps you project your sense of the spirits' message onto it in images. Some people take vague physical images like ripples in water and build them up in their mind to get the whole picture, while others simply stare at the blank space and then notice what images come up in their minds. Reflective tools are helpful if you don't want to be stuck with one particular set of images or symbols, but they do require a little more practice with symbol interpretation and being able to focus your intuition.
There are plenty of instructions online about how to use any of the above tools, and furthermore there are countless books on the market on everything from tarot to scrying to spirit boards. Rather than elaborate further on these, I'd like to offer you a very simple method for communicating with nature spirits using a pendulum, just to get you started.
First, you need a pendulum, of course. If you already have one, great! If you don't yet, you have a few options. Most New Age and pagan stores carry at least a small selection of pendulums. However, these are often made with stones or metals that are mined and processed in very eco-unfriendly ways. You may wish to find one made from recycled or sustainably harvested wood, or get a secondhand one and cleanse it. You can even make one yourself from a stone or piece of wood you happen to find.
Next, you need a large piece of paper or posterboard to make your pendulum board. Write all the letters of your alphabet and all the numbers 0 through 9 on it in a large semicircle. Make sure they all make one single line, rather than one big semicircle of letters and then a smaller one inside of it with numbers. You want to be exactly sure what letter or number the pendulum is swinging toward.
Now, go to a place where you know there's a spirit you feel comfortable contacting; it might be one of the trees from the exercise in my last post, or another nature spirit. Sit close to where it lives and set your board down in front of you. Spend a few moments relaxing and focusing on your breathing, and then sense the spirit you want to communicate with.
Hold the end of the pendulum's cord in your dominant hand. Let the pendulum dangle at the center of the open edge of the semicircle--the place that would be in the very center if it were a full circle. Let it go still. Then greet the spirit; you can do so either out loud or in your mind.
Watch the pendulum, and try very, very carefully to not move your hand or arm at all. See if it moves, and if so, notice what letters or numbers it moves toward. If you get a garbled message, ask again. Once you have a clear message, try thanking the spirit for being willing to talk with you--politeness counts! After that, feel free to ask questions about the spirit, what it likes about the place it lives, if it likes having you there, etc. It's sort of like the spiritual version of small talk.
Keep up the conversation as long as you both are willing to; you may find it wears you out if you aren't used to it. If you need to stop, thank the spirit for its time and let it know that you'd like to visit again. Then give yourself at least a few days to rest and reflect before trying again.
Troubles and Troubleshooting
So one of the things that people often make a fuss about in spirit work is safety (I'll be covering this more after my next post, just FYI). Yes, it's true that there are spirits out there that can harm you, though mostly on an energetic or otherwise nonphysical level. In my experience, any physical effects are usually psychosomatic--meaning that they're more a product of your own stress and worry than any spiritual influence. Remember in the last post where I talked about getting rid of spirits by not giving them anything to feed on? If you go into working with spirits with fear, then you're going to be more likely to attract the sorts of spirits that feed on that. You can mitigate this by doing a cleansing ritual before you try contacting a spirit to "chase away" any bad energies, and another when you're done; or if you already have a spirit or other being that watches over you, ask it to keep an eye on you when you contact a new spirit.
You also have the right to shut down communication at any time, as does the spirit you're working with. You may find that the spirit you're communicating with is hostile, or rude, or that you otherwise need to break contact immediately. With tools, you can simply put the tool down and walk away for a while, or wrap it in silk and put it away. (You may also wish to cleanse it with an herbal smoke smudge like sage or cedar.) Additionally, as mentioned in my last post, letting go of your fear of the spirit gives it much less to latch on to, and you can also do a banishing ritual if you like, or call on any spirit allies you may have to help protect you.
Do keep in mind that this sort of abrupt ending is only for if you feel unsafe; otherwise, be polite when you end the conversation, just like you would with anyone else. If you decide to reopen contact with a spirit that you had to stop talking with immediately, you can try explaining what happened and go from there.
What if the messages in my head and on board are different?
You may find that while you're getting one message through the tool you're using, you may sense something entirely different in your intuition. There are a couple possibilities. You may be in conversation with more than one spirit at once, each using a different means of communication. One could be talking to you through the tool, and the other connecting directly via your intuition. In this case you can ask that only one speak at a time.
On the other hand, it may be that you're only working with one spirit, but that one method works better for you than the other. Try ignoring what's going on in your head and see how the results go with just the tool; then try using only your intuition without any tools (more about that in the next post). It's okay if only one works for you, or one's better than the other for you, or for that particular spirit.
What if the messages aren't clear?
Maybe you're just getting a bunch of gibberish, or the tool doesn't seem to be working. Just try again in a few days. It may take you an entire session just to get one clear message, and that's okay.
You may want to try a bit of meditation or mindfulness before trying this sort of work, just to clear your mind. You can also take a cleansing bath or smudge yourself, or wear one particular outfit or article of clothing or jewelry. Do what you need to do to get yourself in the right headspace for spiritual workings.
Can I try another method?
Of course! Feel free to experiment with as many types of tools as you like. You might try recording your results with each so you can look back and see which worked best for you. You might even come up with your own particular invention to speak with and listen to the spirits!
This is just a brief introduction to using tools for spirit communication; there's plenty more out there if this interests you, including tools I didn't mention, working with groups of people in this sort of work, etc. Next time around, I'll talk more about how to communicate with spirits without physical tools.
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