by S. Alexander Alich

The subject of power animals and spirit guides might be the most intriguing and least understood area from the shaman’s world. Much has been written and still little is known. Is there more than first meets the eye? The role of the spirit realm in our lives, although ever changing, has been a constant source of inspiration and fascination throughout history. We have sought guidance from it and have yearned to access its secrets and its support. In this article we will explore the framework of this complex subject as well as how to work with and learn from these mysteries.

Moving into trance – the door to other realms: The three most common trance-inducing techniques are music (drumming), chanting and dance. These repetitious techniques can move you out of the consciousness that you hold in your daily life and into a different way of seeing. This other awareness can be a door to journey through if you work with it properly. The two things that you need are a guide and intent.

Why spirit guides? I get this question a lot. Consider that when you visit a foreign country, where the rules and language are different, you need a guide or helper who can teach you what you need to know and keep you safe while you are learning. Guides can also take us to the information that we are seeking.

What is your intent? Without it there is no reason to go further. How will you know where to go if you don’t know what you are looking for? If you go into trance just to see what happens, you will get lost or confused. Your intent can be simple or complex. The clearer your question is the more likely you are to find an answer.

The layers of trance: All trance states are not the same. Each state has different benefits as well as limitations. Meditation is the most common light trance state. We can break it into two categories – stilling and insight. Stilling practices calm us, so we notice things in subtler ways, and quiet our minds. Breath practices are a common example of this. Insight practices include making a journey inward with your question and meeting an animal or person who gives you an answer. These are good ways to work for yourself. You should master both before moving on, so later you will be able to discern what belongs to you and what doesn’t.

The shaman’s realm: One traditional role of the shaman has been to journey to the spirit realm to seek answers benefiting their patients or community. This highly technical realm, sometimes referred to as the dreamtime, has its own rules that are independent of the human realm. People rarely reach it due to the large amount of energy it takes to go there and return. It exists without human influence and outside of what we know and understand with our minds. To reach this level of trance state, you must have a grounded and solid foundation so you can withstand going there and bringing information back. Throughout Western history, artists, mystics and physicians have tapped into this realm, needing their art form to express what they have seen.

Lessons from my students:

Big things come in small boxes! Always value what you find no matter how little it may seem at the time. Record your experiences because they may not make sense now; consider them pieces of a puzzle. Make to sure to review your journals periodically to see if there are patterns emerging.

I don’t always remember what I saw in my journey. Sometimes we are not ready to hear the answer. Timing is important – don’t give up. You may also be too tired. It takes a lot to move into a different state and remember what happened. Try working sitting or standing and when your energy is high instead of before you go to bed.

Is there a meaning to the animal I saw? If a spirit guide comes to work with you, the form it takes can be a lesson in itself. If it is an animal, for example, you can learn about the habits and medicine of that animal. Their medicine is what makes them special or different from other animals. It is their gift. Look at what you can learn from this gift and how you can apply this lesson to your life.

Hazards on the way: Use discernment! If it doesn’t sound right, it’s probably not, even if it came from the spirit realm. Journeys are not meant to become a crutch. Don’t journey for what to eat for dinner. This is mixing up daily life and spiritual work. Validate things just as you would if a friend gave you advice. If a spirit guide tells you something and you do it, you are responsible for your actions. Most importantly, if you are working with trance techniques and having trouble discerning what belongs in the human and spirit realm, increase your grounding work, find a good human teacher you can trust and slow down. Sometimes experiences like this show us that we have not taken enough time for integration.