Knowing Spirits

When I talk about getting to know a spirit, I am usually talking about a lengthy ritual process through which the spirit becomes manifest, divination performed upon it, and a personal connection established. The personal connection part of the process is absolutely essential but difficult to describe. Even after a lengthy ritual manifestation and divination, the nature of the spirit is often opaque. It is only after weeks and months of living with it that the spirit’s place in my broader spiritual court becomes manifest.

The personal connection manifests in dreams, in visions, in synchronicity. Sometimes a usable name will appear in some bit of research, but I’m often cautious about ascribing too much to the name. The fact that a spirit likes a certain name isn’t necessarily a sign that the spirit is identical with other spirits who have used that name, but an expression of sympathy, one that is worth taking seriously but not literally.

When there are many spirits in the mix, I have found it useful to have some form of divination ready to hand that allows one to query after the spirit to which the manifestation belongs. Simple yes-no-not quite oracles can go a long way, but I take care to attend to the limits of my knowledge. When I am reaching, when my questions become tenuous and abstract, oracles become less useful. If the question is not sharp, then even clear yes-no answers are equivocal. Learning to let go of answers to vaguely asked questions became an important part of the work.

One of the most important spirits in my court first manifested quietly, her nature becoming apparent only in the long arc of ritual work with her. Divination about this became clear only in retrospect, as experience with her gave the signs under which she appeared their proper content and context. The way she took up residence among my shrines, the way she began to organize the other spirits around herself, the striking and visceral dreams, visions, and synchronicities she trailed behind her, became the manifest evidence of her primacy.

Some of this no doubt has to do with my relative isolation from other spiritual practitioners, whose own understanding might have expedited elements of this process. However, even if I had been so lucky as to have a well-established nomenclature for the beings that populate my spiritual life, one suited to the intelligences populating it, that would not have allowed me to have bypassed the long process of developing a personal connection with those spirits in the context of my own life.

The ontological questions as to why this is (e.g., whether that is because we all have our own personal holographic doubles of the higher powers or because the spirit names define species while we only ever interact with individuals) matters less than the practical fact that spirit ties are always personal and must be manifested personally. Even as we set to work with others, it is the personal ties that form the basis for communal ties, the personal expressions that provide the ground for communal experience.

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