Spirit Guides, Power Animals, and Spirit Helpers: Allies of the Shaman
by Roel Crabbé
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust
Shamanic traditions are based on an Animistic view on the world: the perception that everything is alive and has a soul. Not only animals, but the stones, wind, and trees are alive and animated. The shaman is one who talks with nature, to help live a balanced life that honors the deep interconnectedness that is the foundation of the planet.
Apart from a deep connection to nature and the elements, the shaman also has a living relationship with the forces of the dream world and the 3 shamanic worlds that he or she enters through the trance journey. These forces are usually called the “spirits.”
This living, powerful soul dimension of existence is the field in which the shaman operates. They listen with the ears of the heart to the dimensions of the soul and learn to work together with these unseen forces.
The core component of shamanism is this spiritual communication that makes it possible for the shaman to work together with the spirit helpers to gain power, guidance and bring healing to the community. The shamanic journey, shamanic healing, and rituals are all founded upon the personal relationship of the shaman with the spirit world. It is this cooperation between people and the reality of the “helping spirits” that define shamanism.
When the shamanic practitioner, through their work, begins to tune into shamanic reality, also called Non-Ordinary Reality (NOR), they become increasingly aware of this reality of the soul. The openness leads them to a personal and direct experience of this soul dimension in which they can experience the presence of the spiritual beings who offer guidance.
The helping spirits are essential within shamanic work and it is often said: ‘No spirits, no shaman’. All traditions recognize spiritual forces that play a helping role and support people. We have the forces of nature that are honored worldwide, but also Christianity and the other major religions speak of angels and other unseen beings who communicate with people.
The term spirit helpers, very generally describes the beings that the shaman cooperates with. They can present themselves to the shaman in any form imaginable. As ancestral beings in human or other form, power-animals, nature beings, but also more formless beings as the wind or ‘light beings’. In essence, spirits do not have a form, but communicate with the shaman through these forms. The essence is not so much in the outer form but in the relationship with the practitioner.
Spirit helpers can help the shaman in many ways, as guides, teachers or healers. The shamanic practitioner has a long-term relationship with some, but sometimes a spirit helper only comes once to offer guidance or support. They guide through the landscape of the 3 shamanic worlds and often also have the function of counselor or teacher.
For example, someone who works with shamanic healing will usually have healing teachers in the other worlds who support and guide him on the path of healing.
Power Animals & Ancestral spirits
Power animals are non-physical entities that show themselves to the shaman or Western practitioner during the shamanic trance. Certainly, in the shamanic journey to the Lowerworld, power animals usually occupy a central place as a guide for the shamanic journeyer, but they are also active in the middle and upper world. The relationship with a power animal is always one of support and guidance for the shaman.
Every power animal has its qualities. For example, Bear will have a different role in shamanic work compared to Snake or Squirrel. But two different practitioners with the same power animal can also have their own and different contact with this power animal. After all, it is always the relationship between the practitioner and the power animal that determines the bond and cooperation between them. This bond is always direct, personal, and unique.
The connection with animals as protectors and guides is inherently part of human history. Think of the endless myths in which animals guide and help the hero, or come to teach. Many traditions worldwide see animals as wise teachers with whom we have a strong bond in spirit.
Depending on different traditions, and the landscape in which shamanic cultures live, the shaman will work with the spirits of the land, the elements or power animals.
Many traditions also have a stong relationship with Ancestral helpers and teachers. This can be ancestors from the bloodline, the shamanic lineage, or ancestors in general. Depending on the tradition, ancestral beings can also be the elements, nature spirits, animals or the formless.
They can work with the shaman, or, in some traditions, work through the shaman’s body. But whatever form the helping spirits may take on, they are the helpers for the shaman, bringing guidance, healing, teachings, and power to the community.
When we start reconnecting with our spirithelpers, we get access to direct empowerment, guidance and healing. For most people, this reconnection feels like a deep homecoming to a soul-filled reality that is so powerful, and yet deeply familiar.
I believe that these times we are living in, are an invitation to step back into that power.
© Roel Crabbé – 2012 – 2022