Newsgroups: alt.pagan
From: (Rowan Fairgrove)
Subject: Spirits (Pt 1) (was Re: Philosophical discussion of Gaea)
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 1993 23:00:48 +0000

<< How about a discussion about the spirits you work with? How do you determine who the spirits of a place are? >>

First a disclaimer: I wrote this out of my head without any of my books nearby. If I spelled something wrong in your trad, please don’t flame me. This is a first articulation of my practice — I’m not a very introspective person. I work with many levels of the spirit world but I agonize over whether it is “real” ™. It works.

Personal Spirits

Each individual has access to a personal source of guidance, strength and luck. Some call this “the higher self” or guardian angel. The ancient Romans held that every man had his < Genius > and every woman her < Juno >. The Norse called this spirit < hamingja >. I generally just call it my Luck or Guardian. I reinforce my Luck by lighting incense in the temple and opening myself to any messages I might need to hear.

Family Spirits

Many families/clans had spirits that look out for them. The Romans called these the < Lares > and usually saw them as twins. The Celts generally held the hearth to be the family shrine and there is evidence that non-family members were barred from the kitchen since it might sour the luck. Some famous clan spirits include banshees, the Faery Wife who gave Clan McLeod its Faery Flag (which still hangs in Dunvegan Castle), etc. Family spirits often are concerned with women and children and help with birthing and tending children as well as bringing prosperity and safety to the house. I generally work with both a spirit of the house and with ancestral spirits. We renew the house spirit each year at Beltaine by putting in a new coin, flower, salt crystals and other items to symbolize what we want for the year. (Our house spirit lives in an Etruscan figure plaque which has a hollow for offerings.) I remember my ancestors several times a year and my most direct ancestors have an altar in the temple at which I regularly burn a red candle.

Land Spirits

The Romans called these < genii loci >, the Celts depiected them as hooded figures called by the Roman’s . Brownies, Tomtes and other such spirits in folklore are generally of this type. Natural features often have a spirit associated with them. Standing stones, old trees, solitary hills and natural springs are good places to look. Get to know the natural features of your area. Leave offerings at likely spots, do divination, ask for prophetic or helpful dreams. Land spirits often will bring extra prosperity and luck to those they favor. Consider the type of offering for the type of spirit. Flowers and food are always acceptable. Clearing away an obstruction on a spring can win you favor. Remember that wishing wells are a remainder of the practice of leaving offerings in water. Smoke, either incense or tobacco, can be acceptable. Don’t forget that some spirits like alcohol, offer a libation.

You may also want to study the land spirits of the people who lived in this area before you. The spirits may appreciate offerings based on those of their earlier folk.

Some of my local land spirits are those that live in the redwoods; the spirits of Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tamalpais; the spirit of a cave in the Berkeley hills and many others.

Animal Spirits

Many individuals, clans and families have totemic animals associated with them. The Norse word is < fylgja >. You can do divination if you don’t know what kind of animal is your spirit-kin. Most people have some idea though because they feel a special affinity for some animal. You may be able to communicate with your fetch and get insights into future events.

You may have a special ability to communicate with the kin of your fetch. My totem animal is the owl. When I lived on the land there came an owl who was eating one chicken a night. I did a ritual and told the owl that s/he was welcome to have my chickens if s/he was really hungry, but that they were not he/r lawful prey. I asked, by the bond we share, that the unlawful predation stop. It did.

Elemental Spirits

These spirits, rather than being bound to a certain place or family, are the essence of the essential properties of the world. A sylph is not merely a spirit of air, but may be the essence of air, sometimes called Air of Air. When you invoke an elemental you are aligning yourself with that power of nature. Elemental guardians are much used in Paganism today, so I won’t belabor the obvious.

Otherworldly Beings

As there are spirits who have an essential nature of the elements, so are there beings who live on other planes which have certain essential properties and who often play a role in the life of humans. Otherworldly figures often appear at crucial moments in a person’s life to show the path and at death to lead the released soul. Guide and helper, psychopomp and guardian. Some of the family and clan spirits mentioned above are otherworldly beings who have a tie with a particular clan. Otherworldly being are best invoked in the between places, the strand between the sea and the shore, the shadows between the forest and the meadow, etc. Those numinous places where the Otherworld touches and it is easier to pass.

Just as otherworldly guides can come to our world, we can journey to other planes. We can bring back insights into our own actions and glimpses of the future. We can meet and consult otherworlders and sometimes help them with their concerns. Shamanic techniques such as drumming, trance induction such as at a Norse < seidr >, sensory deprivation as in the wattles of knowledge or guided meditation, can bring you into the otherworld.

Culture hero/ines and Ancestors

These are the humans who provide the models for the folk. Culture heros like Cu Chulainn or Erik the Red, Sequoya or Chaka Zulu, Ghandi or Martin Luther King. Those who found clans, forge new ideas, define the culture they live in. They can also be ancestors. Direct ancestors watch over those who come after them, some with more diligence than others. Much of what you are, the configuration of your bones, the color of your eyes, you owe to an ancestor, you carry a pattern down through the ages. It is good to remember that lineage. If you don’t know your own ancestors, or if you follow a different path, choose culture hero/ines whom your admire. We are creatures of time as well as space and it is well to be in harmony with the cycles of time.

And then, of course, we get into deities – cosmogenic deities, tribal deities, deities who control natural forces, deities who turn the seasons, deities of hunt and herds, of tree and herb, of crops and wildlands. But I think I have gone on quite enough for one post. :-)


Rowan Fairgrove
Enchanted Gypsy Tarot