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: Without Tools
So in my last post, I gave a brief rundown of why you might wish to communicate with spirits in the first place, and also offered up some ideas and an exercise for spirit communication using tools like spirit boards, pendulums, scrying tools, and the like. Now I'd like to cover communicating without using tools other than your own mind and spirit.
There's nothing inherently wrong with tools, of course. I have run into people over the years who thought that tools were just training wheels, and that a true practitioner of spiritual arts is someone who can do everything empty-handed. In my experience, it comes down less to how good someone is at what they do, and more about personal preference. For some people, tools are like Dumbo's feather--they train your mind to be able to perform amazing feats, but the tools themselves eventually aren't needed even as a reminder. For others, the tools have a life and spirit all their own, and these spirits become allies in the person's magical and ritual work.
So talking about tool-less spirit communication isn't a value judgement--it's just a stylistic preference, ultimately. Why might a person wish to forgo tools? For some, tools may feel cumbersome and distracting, like "Wait, what do I do with the pentacle again? And I'm not sure why I have a wand, and the incense is making my sinuses hurt..." There are also people who may not have a lot of space or time or money for acquiring an assortment of tools, or who like to do their spirit work in more remote areas where it may be inconvenient to haul along a bunch of magical effects. Whatever the reason you have for not using physical tools, you still have options for communicating with spirits.
Communication can be as straightforward as having a conversation with the spirits. Of course, we can't just dial them up on our phone or send them an email, and others might look askance at us if we appear to be speaking to nobody in particular. So we have to find other ways to get in touch.
Back when I was talking about just being able to sense spirits, I touched on the concept of intuition. This is a way of obtaining information without using reason or inference right away, instead "feeling" or "sensing" in nonphysical ways. When working with your intuition, you may have already started communicating with the spirits you were sensing. If so, what was that like? Did it feel like you were "hearing" words in a nonphysical manner, or did you have feelings and emotions well up inside of you that seemed like they were sent from outside by the spirit?
The conversation goes both ways, of course. You can try speaking to the spirit with physical words. You won't get the same sort of speech back, but you might get that inner voice or other signs of a response from the spirit. Or you might communicating silently; one way I've heard it described is "thinking at" the spirit. Imagine the words or images you want to convey to the spirit, and then imagine sending them out of your head and to the spirit.
If this seems a little too free-form for you and you'd like a little structure, you can try a guided meditation. (Yes, technically a meditation is a tool, but for the purposes of our discussion here let's let "tool" mean only physical items like those discussed in my last post here.) Guided meditations work by striking a careful balance between your intuition's ability to flow freely, and the supportive structure of the meditation's script. (You can read more about how and why they work here.)
Some guided meditations are very strictly scripted, down to putting words in the spirits' mouths. I prefer a less restrictive format. The following is my personal favorite, especially for my totemic work. It's modified from one that appeared in my first book, Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic.
You may either record yourself reading this meditation aloud and play it back or have another person read it to you–preferably someone with a pleasant voice. Nothing ruins a good guided meditation like a deadpan monotone with a cold. As with any other meditation, make sure your setting is quiet and undisturbed and that you can get into a comfortable position that may be held for 30 minutes but won’t cause you to fall asleep in the meantime.
Make your body become completely still. Don’t move any part of your body. Concentrate on being entirely motionless.
Now breathe as deeply and slowly as you possibly can, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Create an even, steady flow of air. Feel the tension leave your body with each breath.
Visualize a natural hole–it may be a burrow in the ground, an open knot in a tree, a space amid branches that leads to the sky above, a hole in the ice over Arctic seas. It may be as large as a stone arch or as small as a single cell. See it before you, and enter into it.
Find yourself led down into a long, dark tunnel. You may be running, floating, flying, swimming or crawling through it.
At the end of the tunnel is another opening. As you pass through this opening, enter into a natural place in which you are very comfortable. It may be a large field, a forest, a snowy plain, a body of water, or the broad sky. Explore this place. Note what the natural flora is, what season and time of day it is and how you move through it.
As you wander this place, you notice one or more spirits that draw your attention. Each spirit may be an animal, or a plant, or fungus, or other denizen of nature. Note what sort of being it is, how it approaches you or beckons you to it, whether it seems to be pleased that you are there or acting aggressively. Pay attention to any specific characteristics such a color, size and sex, and whether it is accompanied by others. Note also if it shifts forms, even into another species entirely.
Converse with a spirit. Ask it why it is there with you in that place. If it has acted aggressively, make sure you inquire as to the reason, if you feel safe doing so. Find out what the spirit has to tell you. Ask how you may strengthen the bond with it, and what you may offer it in return.
It is now time to return to the waking world. Thank the spirit for its time and teachings, and promise that you will continue the conversation at a later time. If you wish, gift the spirit with an offering it likes. Then turn and go back to the tunnel and return back to the upper world.
As you come back out of the tunnel, start to become aware of your body again. Begin to move slowly, starting with your fingers and toes, then working up your limbs, then your torso and finally your neck and head. Save opening your eyes for last. Don’t rush it; give yourself plenty of time to come back to physical reality. Allow as much time as necessary for this; you don’t want to get the mental version of the bends by shocking your system with a quick wake-up.
Once you’ve recovered, write or sketch what you saw in as much detail as possible while it’s still fresh in your mind. Don’t worry if it isn’t high-quality art or prose; what matters is that it reminds you as vividly as possible of your experience whenever you reflect upon it.
Troubles and Troubleshooting
If you don't get good results the first time, that's okay! Maybe you weren't able to visualize the tunnel well enough to get through, or maybe you kept drifting in and out of the meditation, or when you got to the natural space none of the spirits came forth to talk with you. If focus is your problem, just try some basic meditation practice to get better at being able to hold the tunnel and space in your mind (I'm a big fan of Peter Carroll's Liber MMM for that). Or if the spirits didn't seem to be home, give yourself a few days or couple of weeks off, and then try again. It might be that the spirits didn't feel ready to talk, or you might just have not explored far enough. Practice makes perfect!
If at any point in the meditation you feel you need to return back to the physical world quickly and you can't get back to the tunnel quickly, just look down between your feet and the mouth of the tunnel will be there. You can head back from there.
The Shapeshifting Method
There's another method that I use, but I tend to recommend it for people who have some experience with spirit work and who are good at banishing or otherwise removing spirits and energies as needed. It's a form of shapeshifting in which you absorb a bit of the spirit's energy. This creates a link between you and the spirit. You can then shift your own energetic body so that it resembles that of the spirit; not only can this help you to confirm a spirit's identity, but it also gives you more of an idea of what it's trying to communicate to you; it may even be able to show you things from a first-person perspective, as though you're experiencing it yourself. In order to do this, though, you should be able to break that contact and remove the spirit's energy from yourself quickly and completely as needed, so I don't recommend this method for beginners, or for working with spirits you aren't familiar with.
First, identify a nature spirit you feel comfortable bonding with deeply. Get comfortable again; I recommend not moving around during this exercise, instead simply sitting or lying down and observing your energetic body/spirit. This is not a full shapeshifting ritual, in which the spirit itself becomes one with you, but instead a temporary shift in your energy.
Either silently or out loud, invite the spirit to join you in this rite. You might say something like the following:
[Name of spirit], I wish you sense the world the way you do. You have so many things you can show me, and it is better to show than to tell. I ask you for a bit of your energy, just a touch of who and what you are. Will you give me a glimpse of your world?
If the spirit agrees, you may feel the energy touch your own energetic self/spirit. You might sense it as a color, sensation, or even flavor. Compare that energy to your own. Then slowly begin to shift your own energy to more closely match that of the spirit. Observe how you feel as the energy changes, and whether your perceptions of the world around you shift as well.
Once you feel comfortable in that new energy, you may notice that you feel connected to the spirit as well, which is still outside of you. You may be able to communicate more easily with it, saying or thinking to it and listening or feeling its response. You may even get images or sounds or other sensations from the spirit's point of view. However, it's also worth it just to sit and observe your shifted energy and what makes it unique. Again, don't get up and move around; just observe and communicate and be in that spirit's energy. Take as much time as you both like.
When you feel ready to come back, slowly shift your energy back to your own. Feel the spirit's energy draining back out of you. When you feel like yourself again, thank the spirit for its time and help, and make an offering if you see fit.
Troubles and Troubleshooting
As with the meditation, if you don't get results right away it doesn't mean you screwed up. You may just need to practice sensing the spirit and its energy outside of you first. Or you might need to work with another spirit instead. Give yourself a little time off, then try again when you feel ready.
You can always push the spirit's energy out in case of an emergency, if things don't feel right or if you need to end the exercise unexpectedly (you can apologize later if if was an unavoidable circumstance). If you're having trouble returning your energy to its usual state, or if you feel like the spirit's energy is "stuck" to you, start reciting your name, address, and phone number over and over, or whatever information you feel will ground you back in being you. If you can't seem to shake the spirit's energy, even if the spirit itself has already left, try a cleansing ritual (more about those in my next post).
I've also found that "stuck" energy will more often than not resolve itself over time. Just like our physical selves, our energetic selves also have the capability and means to return to a balanced, homeostatic point. The amount of energy you're taking in is about as drastic as a bruise for an otherwise healthy person; the energetic body will absorb and process the extra energy and remove what isn't needed or welcome on its own.
You can also try grounding yourself more firmly in your physical body to quicken your recovery. Eating good food, especially protein-heavy food, can be helpful in this. Avoid any sort of substance that has a quicker effect on you, such as caffeine or nicotine. Just let your body do what it needs to do at its own pace, to include on an energetic level.
These are just a couple of methods of communicating with spirits without physical tools. You're welcome to explore others, or even develop your own. Some spirits may respond better to one method or another, or you may find one method works better in certain circumstances.
While in my experience most nature spirits are not going to cause you harm if you don't offer them the same, do be aware that opening communication with any spirit carries its risks. I've mentioned the practices of cleansing and banishing as ways to minimize those risks; in the next post I'll go into some more specifics with those.
Additionally, please do let me know if there are any topics I've covered you want to see me elaborate on, or anything else you might like me to write about here. I'm open to suggestions :)
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