This question is another that I see often in shamanism forums.


The revelation of animal guides has spread far beyond mere shamanic trope. I see it brought up in tarot forums, groups focused on general spirituality, paganism, divination… It truly is the new, “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” It’s not so simple as the mere inquiry, right? Most of the time it’s coming up not because someone hasn’t experimented a little. Rather, it’s because they made an effort to find their animal guide, to no avail.

Why might that be?

My initial response is, “Create room for a Nature Spirit to come, ask, and tend that space until it does. I’m usually met with a blank stare, or crickets, at the least.
If you make such a gesture and get a response, what you do with that response relies on understanding why you were seeking an animal guide to start with. What was the reason? What do you do now that you have affirmation?
If you don’t get a response, consider there are perfectly valid reasons why that might be, all of which require foreknowledge, somewhat related to the answer above. Read up on spiritual colonization, ancestral and intergenerational trauma, deathwalking, and the impact of oppression on animistic spiritual traditions.
What's Your Tree Spirit? S. Kelley harrell, M. Div, Soul Intent ArtsThere are a ton of ways to meet Spirit Allies, the company of which for me runs the gamut of undefined life forces to human-ish, trees, rocks, animals, elements, birds, bugs… It’s not just animals, that’s just the thread that’s become popular–another thing to question. I dropped ‘animal guide speak’ from my vocabulary long ago, and opted more for “Nature Spirits,” and “Home Spirits,” which cover a huge swatch of beings and relationship focuses. And no, I’m not using the word “totem” for a reason. Ask me.
How do we know which Nature Spirits are our allies? Most of us recognize soul kinship with a Nature Spirit through some sense of knowing, and we communicate with it through some similarly undefined sense. We may travel out to engage it, or we may invite it into our sacred space to engage it. Our ability to recognize Spirit Allies rests in having created appropriate space in which to meet them. What does that mean?
Look at it this way: Approaching your Animal Guides without any preparatory dialogue or creation of space is like barging into a group of people who are intently engaged in an ongoing dialogue. Is it very likely that the group is going to flock to you and thank you for interrupting with info they’d sorely missed? Maybe. Are they going to exclaim how long they’ve been waiting for you to join the conversation? Maybe…. Though probably not. Barging into existing communities is rude, selfish, and highly unlikely to get you the reaction you’re looking for–which is longterm engagement. And your spiritual tribe is exactly that–a tribe that’s existed long before you, and probably well after you. Show them that respect by learning how to be part of their world.

How do you do that? By creating sacred space. Some call it opening a circle, calling in the directions. Whatever the wording, it’s an actionable ritual for intending sacred space, for sacred work. It may involve honoring them as part of your space–letting them realize you know they’re there. It can include singing, drumming, dancing. Maybe you say something special that helps your brain know it’s turning off the everyday and moving into spirit space. What you do to invoke that space is original and personal to you. If you don’t know how to do that, I highly recommend you get schooled in it. Again, ask me. I teach it all the time. However you create sacred space, honor, then close it, do it often, and keep doing it.  Within that devotion the relationship builds. When it builds, you feel actual responses back from your Spirit Allies.

Also, consider that you’re standing on someone else’s Ancestors. The land where you live wasn’t yours. The nature Spirits of your land were in direct relationship with a different people for thousands of years long before you came there. This truth often gets overlooked in the simple question of “How Do I Meet My Animal Guide?”

If you haven’t focused on creating rituals around how you create spirit dialogue, start there. We assume we can just go into trance and function, though most of us don’t actually know how to do that without some teaching. You can’t bake a cake with none of the ingredients on hand, or no oven, yet we constantly assume some birthright to knowing how to function in the spirit realms. Further more, we don’t bake a cake until we’ve learned to use an oven. In spiritual arts, learn the mechanic before making demands on it. Get your feet wet in just actively engaging spiritual space before you start asking it to do tricks for your personal benefit. Animism is reciprocity.

What is animism? As I hinted at above in my phrasings of choice, there are many types of spirits that make up your space. In an animistic experience of life, we are constantly surrounded by souls, each of which has agency. We are connected to them and can communicate with them. Are they all “guides?” No. This is a nuance of shamanic work that takes a bit more experience, yet still bears mentioning in this discussion.

Sure, spirit engagement is a natural ability and potential, yet most of us aren’t just born knowing how to do it. Even those of us who are, it doesn’t mean we know how to do it well, that we have ethics or boundaries around it, or that we know how to make use of the information that comes of it in a way that’s healthy and sane.
  • This is why you can’t learn it from a book.
  • This is why you can’t learn it from a single class. It requires direct relationships built over time.
  • This is why learning these skills internalize best in community–with others doing the same.
  • This is why finding a mentor who’s mastered what you want to learn will not only teach you what you want to know, but help you ground it into your life without going crazy.
 It really is worth the effort, time, expense, and humility.
And finally, the also prominent , “Can you find my Spirit Allies for me?” Yes. Maybe. Sort of? I don’t know. For real–someone else can give you an idea, at best. There are many factors that go into the relationships we have to helping spirits. Another person may catch only a nuance of such relationships at best. At the end of the day, only you really know.
For resources on how to create sacred space, connect with Spirit Allies, and the whole ball of wax, refer to the gajillion helpful articles on my site, as well as my books, which cover everything from my personal calling and rejection of it, to how to get started. Check out my podcast, What in the Wyrd, as well as these fantabulous podcasts:

Other books I recommend are anything by Sandra Ingerman, Hillary Webb, Malidoma Some, Ted Andrews, and Felicitas Goodman.  Also, Sacred Hoop, the gold standard shamanism journal edited by Nick Breeze Wood, who also created a free edition solely devoted to answer similar questions about shamanism: “Guide to Shamanism

No, I don’t recommend books by Michael Harner, Mircea Eliade, I.M. Lewis, Carlos Castaneda, or Lynn Andrews, unless you want to more clearly understand what not to do regarding cultural appropriation, to be othered to death, or just want to understand the biases facing modern shamanism.

As always, thank you for the work you do. Thank you for showing up.



S. Kelley Harrell is a modern shaman and author in North Carolina. She is author of Gift of the Dreamtime, and Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism,” and she writes The Weekly Rune. A lifelong intuitive, she has worked with a local and international client base since 2000. Kelley holds a Masters in Religious Studies, and is an ordained interfaith minister. Her work is Nature-based, and is focused through the lenses of animism, Seiðr, and Druidry. She works closely with the Elder Futhark Runes and divine Nature Spirits of eastern North Carolina. Her shamanic practice is Soul Intent Arts, and she is vigorously involved with the worlds in and around her.

Listen to her podcast, What in the Wyrd, on Google Play and iTunes.
Support The Weekly Rune on Patreon.

Originally published on Moon Books.