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Over the years my writing online at 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 for more info on my books, online writings, etc.)

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A Brief Guide to the Spirits Themselves

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

So far I've been spending my time here setting the stage for introductory spirit work. But what about the spirits themselves? Who and what are these incorporeal beings that we're trying to communicate with in the first place? The answers to those questions, in complete, are much longer and more complex than I can cover in one article. So consider this a very brief and incomplete overview of some of the sorts of beings in the spirit world.

Ancestor Spirits: These are the spirits of humans who have passed away. Some people feel the ancestors still exist in this world with us, unseen but around us all the time. Others believe they inhabit their own afterlife-world, but can be called on for advice or help in times of need. Depending on who you talk to, any family member, friend, or other important person in your life can be considered an ancestor—in fact, since we are all of the same species we all share ancestors. Others are more strict, keeping it specifically to one's own immediate family and direct predecessors. Ancestor spirits are generally seen as protective in nature, though they can be angered if not propitiated properly (and, not surprisingly, what is considered “proper” is not universal).

Nature Spirits: This is a fairly broad category, since it includes not just the spirits of animals, plants, and fungi, among other natural things, but also spirits which are more abstract representations of natural forces. For example, one of the main parts of my practice involves working with animal totems. These are not just individual animal spirits, such as a gray wolf or a least tern, but archetypal beings that embody all of the qualities of the species Gray Wolf and Least Tern. Some people also consider faeries and devas (often taken out of their original cultural contexts) to be nature spirits, though the fey are also often thought to have originally been ancestor spirits, and the New Age conception of devas has deviated quite a bit from its Buddhist and Hindu roots. (This, incidentally, is part of why mythology and other cultural materials need to be part of your spiritual research!)

Malignant Spirits: These get the most press in pop culture; “demons” and other “evil” beings are supposedly everywhere, trying to eat our eyeballs or steal our souls or otherwise wreak havoc. In my own experience they're a lot less common than thought, and as I mentioned in my last post there are ways to get them to go away posthaste. Often “evil” spirits are those which feel slighted and are trying to stop whatever's bothering or hurting them; for example, nature spirits whose homes are being destroyed may try to be destructive in turn on those responsible. (Even pop culture picks up on this, given the popularity of the “haunted building on top of an old Native American burial ground and populated by angry ghosts” trope in horror stories.)

Ghosts and Haunts: Opinions vary as to whether these are proper spirits or just the impressions of spirits that have moved on. These are often attached to a particular location, such as a house or road, and often display the same behavior and appearance over and over again. Connecting with these beings can be risky since such haunts are often created through traumatic deaths or those who died with great regrets, so working with them can open you up to a lot of spiritual angst, to say the very least! This is part of why ouija boards get such a bad reputation—a lot people try them out for the first time in a haunted place, and open themselves up to a flood of bad memories and emotions that have been locked into that location for many years. It's not the board that's to blame, though, but what they're being used to contact.

Servitors and Other Created Spirits: Some spirits seem to have come into being as various animals, plants, etc. evolved in this world. Others have elaborate origin myths attached to them, sometimes entwined with human stories. However, human magical practitioners have also been known to create spirits to help them. Known as servitors (among other names) these can be as simple as a spirit to carry out a single task, or as complex as a spirit (egregore) created by an entire working magical group to be a functional mascot or guide. These sometimes have set lifespans; others are essentially immortal and may outlive their creators.

“Unaligned” Spirits: Sometimes people come into contact with spirits that don't seem to be connected to any of the above groups, or to any particular other “flavor” of spirit. Sometimes all you have to go on is a name the spirit gives, and a quality it provides such as protection or healing. Sometimes they end up being servitors that gained enough independence to break free of their creators, or ancestors of families which died out. Other times they simply prefer to remain enigmatic and mostly anonymous, no matter their origins. While there are cases where malignant spirits pretend to be beneficial as a way to cause trouble, unaligned spirits shouldn't automatically be suspect.

Do be aware that opinions also vary widely as to how safe it is to work with various groups of spirits, how best to treat them, how formal one's spirit-related practices should be, etc. Since my specialty is in working with nature spirits, that's where the next few articles will focus, and they will be firmly planted in my own self-create practices. However, feel free to adapt the material in them to work with your own preferred spirits if you like, and do research beyond just my writings here to see how others work with these beings.

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Lupa is a naturalist pagan (neo)shaman living in Portland, OR. She divides her work time between creating sacred artwork from hides and bones and other goodies, writing books and articles on ecospiritual topics, and working as a Masters-level mental health counselor. She may also be found hiding in the Columbia River Gorge, rolling her sleeves up for litter and invasive species removal, or getting dirty in the garden. She may be found online at and and her art is featured at .


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