There has been a lot of talk in spiritual circles about working with spirit guides, getting “downloads” from them, etc.
But for those who aren’t necessarily fluent in modern spiritualism-speak, there may be some confusion as to who these guides are, exactly, and how their guidance works.
Let’s address some of the frequently asked questions:
What are spirit guides?
Well, this is a very loaded question, since there is no absolute answer to it.
There are many different theories, ranging from the spirits of your ancestors who have stuck around to offer their wisdom, to angelic helpers who have been assigned to ensure your well-being.
One of the best descriptions for spirit guides that I’ve come across is that of the “divine support system”: benevolent, non-corporeal beings who have chosen to help others through times of difficulty, so they can evolve into the amazing people they are capable of becoming.
Are there different types of guides?
Yes, and many of them play very different roles in your life.
Some of them are with you for your entire life, offering you subtle (or intense) guidance as needed, while others come and go depending on where your life journey takes you.
Think of them like extended family members, schoolteachers, and mentors.
Parents are generally in a person’s life for a long time, offering instruction (and protection) that the individual might not even be consciously aware of.
Then there are teachers that may be constants for a year or two – like in grammar school – or teaching just one subject at a time.
Mentors may only pop in every once in a while to offer some advice or teach a lesson here and there, but you know they’re always around for you to reach out to if you need them.
What do spirit guides look like?
This question could use an entire article of its own, but I’ll try to write a condensed version for the time being.
Guides have come in as many different forms as can be envisioned by those experiencing the visitation.
Some are visited and guided by loved ones who have crossed over, or ancestors that come and check on them and offer their wisdom.
Others experience their guides as beams of light that either speak to them in words, or just “download” things directly into them.
What seems to be a common theme is that guides will appear in forms that are comforting to those they’re speaking to.
For example, a devout Christian may be visited by a being they see as “angelic,” or a close family member they loved and trusted.
Similarly, a Pagan might experience their guide as one of the deities they honor, or a nature spirit of some sort.
Those who have a strong affinity with extraterrestrial beings may appreciate a visitation from a being that looks like one of the species they admire.
Quite simply, they’ll appear in as non-threatening and comfortable a manner as possible, so you’re more likely to listen to what they have to say without fear.
Could my guide be an animal?
In fact, many people who have a greater affinity with animals than humans feel far more comfortable with non-human guides.
I know several people with autism whose guides are in animal form, because they are more comfortable and relaxed interacting with those beings.
Many people who follow earth-based spiritual paths or have shamanic leanings have different animal spirit guides they work with, depending on different situations they face.
Those who feel vulnerable and in need of protection might feel comfortable and secure when they have a bear or wolf spirit companion whom they feel is guarding them, for example.
For other people, their animal spirit guide may take the form of a species that embodies attributes they like about themselves.
Someone who takes pride in their intellect may have a wise owl for a guide. Another who has high energy and a bubbly personality may have a squirrel or songbird.
Can anyone connect with a spirit guide? Or do you have to have the right sort of mind for it?
Anyone can, yes, but it’s good to be open to the idea of doing so, and to be in a relaxed, calm state of being when you first attempt to connect.
If the first time you reach out to your guides happens to be when you’re in the throes of a panic attack, it’ll be really hard for them to reach you, and for you to hear them.
Then there’s personal bias. Those who have been raised with a significant amount of fear of what they would call supernatural, or who adhere strictly to an evidence-based scientific reality may have difficulty with the idea of guidance from spiritfolk.
For them, if guidance really needs to be shared, it may come as a sudden flash of intuition, a “gut instinct,” if you will.
As an example, let’s say there’s a parent whose child is in danger.
If that parent is open to the concept of spirit guides, they may have a deceased beloved relative or angelic being speak to them and tell them that they need to go do X thing immediately.
If the parent is closed off from that kind of communication, they might get a sudden wave of panic and the intuition that they need to go to their kid right now.
How many stories have you heard of people who changed their travel plans at the last minute, only to avoid disaster?
Exactly like that.
Why do I have guides?
Quite frankly, we all have guides because we all need guidance.
Are you familiar with the quote: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”?
Just like a newborn infant will not thrive without caregivers who can tend to their physical needs, a newborn spiritual being will not thrive without energy beings who will help nurture them and provide guidance as needed.
As spiritual beings, we may have lived thousands of lifetimes, but most (if not all) of those memories are wiped clean when we are reborn into a new body.
We need to be fed, cleaned, taught how to do just about everything, and we have a team of caregivers – corporeal and non – who take care of all of that.
These are beings of light-love that are here to help you and offer you support and guidance on your current life journey, if you allow them to do so.
You’re experiencing existence in this body, in every scenario you encounter, so that you can glean a greater understanding of what it means to be human. To feel, to love, to have compassion and awareness of all things.
There will be times when you’re in unfamiliar circumstances, or deeply troubled by things, and you may not have other people in your life who understand what you’re going through, so they can’t offer you their insights.
This is where spirit guides come in.
Since they have seen it all, experienced it all, and are connected to All, they are perfectly equipped to help you through whatever it is you’re dealing with.
I’ve tried to contact my guides before, and nobody answered me. Why not?
This is a question that many people have asked me, and for 99 percent of them, the answer is: because at some point, you told them not to.
Your response to this might be confusion, since you’re obviously trying to make contact with them and establish a relationship, but that doesn’t mean that your five-year-old self felt the same way.
If your guides spoke to you when you were a child or teenager, and you told them to shut up and leave you alone – possibly because that kind of experience freaks out a lot of people – then that’s exactly what they’re still doing.
Spiritfolk cannot violate your free will. If you have ever told them to shut up, that you didn’t want them to talk to you, then they’re likely hanging around you but are unable to say a thing.
They wish they could say things to help you now and then, but they’re forced to remain silent until you give them permission to speak to you again.
Are these guides dangerous/can they hurt me?
Take a moment to consider that you are an energy being who is currently riding around in a lovely flesh and bone vehicle, experiencing corporeal existence for a while.
Despite what movies about possession and the like have led you to believe, no: these guides are not dangerous, and they cannot hurt you.
Nothing can, really.
You are pure energy residing in a body, and the energy that is you is what fills every cell in your body. Nothing is going to “take you over,” nor damage any part of your body, mind, or soul.
If you connect with spirit guides for a while and then decide that you’re uncomfortable communicating with them, just tell them to be quiet and leave you alone. They have to comply.
Some people are freaked out by the idea that guides may be around when they’re naked in the bath, using the toilet, etc., but that kind of squeamishness is very human: they’re so beyond that, it doesn’t even register with them.
Are you appalled or offended when you see a baby being bathed? Same idea.
How do I communicate with my guides, and what does communication with them feel like? (What should I expect?)
There are many different ways to communicate with your guides, depending on how they appear to you and how you are most comfortable doing so.
As mentioned above, sometimes their guidance can come through as intuition or gut instinct, but those aren’t the only ways they can communicate with you.
Quite often, guides communicate with people through dreams, which we’ll touch upon shortly. Other times they’ll speak to you directly, or show you things in your mind’s eye.
If you’re not familiar with this term, take a moment and visualize a red rose, or the face of someone you love. You can see that in your mind, instead of with your eyes, right? That’s where the images they’ll show you can appear.
How can I tell the difference between my mental chatter, and my guides’ voices?
I can’t answer this one from personal experience, since I don’t have mental chatter.
What I can do is offer advice from those who do have said chatter, and how their guides’ voices sound to them.
One common theme is that mental chatter tends to be in one’s own voice, whereas guides’ voices are quite different.
Pay attention to the blah blah roiling around in your head right now. It likely sounds like you, right? Or, if it’s condemning and argumentative, it may sound like your parent or teacher.
A guide’s voice will be quite different – usually a different gender, or a voice otherwise opposite to your own – so it will cut through that chatter to get your attention.
The other aspect that seems almost ubiquitous is that guides are always kinder to people than those people are to themselves.
Where a lot of people’s mental chatter consists of a fair amount of negative self-talk (“wow, that was stupid, what were you thinking?” etc.), guides are almost always gentle, patient, and caring.
I feel like there’s a block preventing my guide from talking to me. What could it be?
Well, take a moment and be honest with yourself about how you feel about the idea of communicating with your spirit guide(s).
Is your immediate response one of disbelief? Or fear? Do you feel mixed responses about contact with guides?
Sometimes, when people reach out to their guides, it’s in moments when their emotions are in overdrive, like during a time of crisis or despair.
In those moments, even if you give your guides permission to speak to you, they might not be able to get through the mental and emotional maelstrom coursing through you.
If this has been the case, try to calm down and then attempt to make contact.
You might also take a moment to consider that your belief system might be a contributing factor to this blockage.
Hollywood in particular has played a major role in conditioning people to believe that the spirit world is inherently dangerous, with evil spirits or demons lurking around every corner, eager to prey upon people who lower their guard.
Sadly, this has made a lot of people very hesitant to lean upon their spiritual support system because they automatically assume the worst will happen.
The same way you ask literally anyone else for advice. Just ask.
Our guides are always around us, so if you ask aloud, they’ll hear you. If you’re self-conscious about asking aloud, and you have an idea of what your spirit guide looks like, set aside a bit of quiet time to reach out to them.
Find a spot where you’re unlikely to be interrupted, and try to quiet your thoughts. Focus on your guide, and envision them as clearly as you possibly can.
Once you have a clear image of them in your mind, think about the situation you’re in, and use your inner voice to ask them for their advice and guidance.
Their response may be immediate, or it may come a little bit later, but it should come within the space of a day or two at the longest.
Is my guide communicating with me through my dreams?
Actually, this is a very common way for guides to communicate with us.
When we’re asleep, our egos have a chance to take a break, which allows our subconscious minds and/or “higher selves” to step forward.
A dream in which a guide is trying to get through to you may feel far more real than a standard dream.
Just about everyone dreams things that incorporate certain insecurities from real life (hello showing up naked at school or work…) as well as images and sensations from their waking world.
This isn’t what a spirit guide dream is like at all.
A spirit guide dream is usually hazy: the surroundings may be fuzzy and in pastel hues, or even glowing, and the only being in focus will be your guide.
It may be in familiar surroundings or somewhere neutral, but the only people there will be you, and either one guide or many, depending on what the communiqué needs to be.
Also, when you wake from this dream, you’ll likely have an overwhelming feeling of love and well-being, and with good cause!
You’ve been in the presence of a being who loves you unconditionally and is devoted to your spiritual growth. That blissed-out feeling usually lasts for a little while after waking.
How do I decipher my guides’ answers?
If their guidance has come in through a dream, the information being given can be very straightforward, or it can be completely convoluted.
After all, having an ancestor you know and recognize show up and tell you to stop eating gluten is pretty clear and concise, as opposed to having a bunch of lights dancing out a pig-shaped pictograph in the sky for you to try and decipher.
Keep a journal by your bedside, and when you wake from a dream, write down everything you can remember.
If the message was clear, you can likely glean what you need to from exactly what was said. If it was more symbolic or metaphoric, it may take a little while for you to decipher it, but at least you’ll have notes jotted down for you to refer back to.
If instead of a dream, the answer has come as a download, it’s usually something very specific to the individual.
A symbol or image might mean something very different to you than it would to me, but your guides understand the connection you have with that image, and would use it in a way that’s meaningful to you.
How do I know these guides are helping me? (How do I know they’re not negative entities trying to mislead me or cause trouble?)
Mostly, you can tell by the advice that you receive from them.
You know how you can generally tell if someone is lying to you or otherwise being insincere or weird? That something just feels “off”? Like that.
When you receive advice or knowledge from a guide, ask yourself whether it resonates with you or not.
Does it feel like Truth to you?
When you have heeded their advice in the past, have things worked out well?
Does what they say make sense? (Would you offer similar advice to people you love?)
You’ll know that their advice is good and true if you feel a sense of protectiveness and warmth from them.
Additionally, if you’ve made it clear that only high-vibrational, positive entities have permission to speak to you, then that’s generally the type that will do so.
That said, just like any other type of relationship, sometimes it takes a while to determine what your affinity is like with a particular guide, and what kind of influence you really want them to have in your life.
A high-vibrational guide (Guardian types, angelic beings, etc.) are incredibly patient, nurturing, and kind.
They’re the ones who will give you gentle guidance and encouragement, but won’t tell you what to do. They won’t put you down, but will help you work through your stumbling blocks.
If there’s a low-vibrational spirit being who has been drawn to you, your own intuition will kick in to let you know that their presence isn’t beneficial.
You might also feel uncomfortable with their presence, like a distant relative you dislike because they give off negative energy or make you feel “ugh” when they’re around.
They might try to puff up your ego by putting other people down, or give you “orders” about what you should or should not be doing.
Quite often, they’re doing this because they weren’t able to work through their own negative issues when they were alive, so they’re living vicariously through you and trying to get you to do the things they couldn’t.
If I come across a low-vibration/negative entity, how do I get rid of them?
Honestly, love really is the answer, always.
Tell them firmly that they need to leave, and remind them of the light they carry within themselves.
Some may have forgotten that they are light energy beings, shrouded as they are in the pain and misery they carried with them when their bodies died.
Think of them like petulant teenagers, if you will. They’re self-absorbed, wholly engrossed in their own muck, but prefer to lash out at and manipulate other people than sort themselves out.
Really, they’re hurting inside, and try to feed off others’ positive energy because that’s a lot easier than facing their own issues.
Just to reiterate, these entities are not out to hurt you. They’re likely spirits that didn’t cross over when they died, and are trying to establish a connection with a person who can hear/see them because they’re sad, lonely, scared, etc.
If you’re being troubled by one of these types, try to deal with them the same way you’d deal with a troubled teen. Firmly, but with compassion.
Asking them to look within and see the light spark within them forces them to pull their attention away from you. They might be resistant to it at first, but they generally do so eventually.
Once they have seen that light spark, tell them to use it to go into the light and rejoin the Light of Source (or God, or the All, or whatever term you are most comfortable with).
Just make it very clear that they do not have permission to speak to you or connect with you anymore, and send them into the light, with loving kindness and compassion.
When should I actually listen to my guides’ advice/take action based on what they say?
Well, that really depends on you… but personally, if I get an urgent message from my guides telling me to avoid a situation RIGHT NOW because there’s danger ahead, I’ll listen to that immediately.
There have been cases where I’ve dismissed their warnings as my own silly, neurotic imaginings, and the results have been less than pleasant.
It’s often the case that guides will bring forth Truth about things that you’re already aware of, but choosing to ignore for one reason or another.
Like if you’re in a relationship with a person and they talk about getting married, and you know deep down that you don’t love them and don’t want to be with them anymore, but don’t want to hurt them by breaking up.
A lot of people suppress these feelings and try to convince themselves that they’re just getting cold feet or have commitment phobia, instead of listening to their own intuition and living their truth.
Your guides will prod at you (gently) to be true to yourself and get back on the path that you’re meant to follow, instead of being dragged around to places you don’t truly want to go, for another’s benefit and/or wants.
My spirit guide gave me bad advice! What do I do now?
First and foremost, take some time to analyze the entire situation, preferably from a position of emotional detachment.
This may be difficult to do when you’re in the throes of despair or panic, but once you’ve calmed down, try to center yourself and take a really good look at the situation.
Did the advice you followed cause a romantic relationship to fall apart?
Ask yourself if you were dating that person because of an authentic, soul-deep connection, or because you were just physically attracted to them, or knew they could help you achieve a particular goal.
Did you lose a job by following the advice given?
Okay, was that job fulfilling to you? Were you working in service to others, or were you working your arse off at a job that deep down, you know you loathed and resented, but the pay was amazing and the title was prestigious?
Remember that bit about how we forget things when we’re born into a new body? One of the key things that people forget is that we have spiritual “contracts” that we agreed upon before incarnating here.
Before being born, we accepted certain assignments, decided on what it was we wanted to experience during this lifetime, determined what we wanted our family lives to look like, and where we should live in order to carry out all of these terms.
Since the vast majority of us don’t actively remember these agreements, we can veer off course and find ourselves in situations we weren’t meant to experience.
This could result in romantic relationships with those who should have just been temporary visitors in our lives, in jobs that don’t fuel our souls (usually taken just because they pay well), etc.
When this happens, people often feel a sense of being “trapped.”
They may suffer severe anxiety, depression*, and/or other health issues quite simply because every fiber of their being knows that they’re not supposed to be where they are, doing what they’re doing.
In cases where you’re in danger of seriously screwing up your soul agreement, your spirit guides may step in and veer you away from situations. Sometimes with force, if needed.
That advice they gave you might break up a relationship with a person you thought you loved, but would end up being abusive, possessive, or otherwise negative toward you sometime in the future.
That job you lost? Well, the building might have caught fire, or you may have been injured on the job, or any other number of things that would have harmed you – either physically or emotionally – if you had stayed there.
As difficult as it may seem, try not to get attached to what it is you think you want, as you move through this life.
Those temporary desires can cloud your purpose, and result in you being locked into situations you should have passed through a long time ago.
*(Obviously, this isn’t the case for those who have chemical imbalances, PTSD and the like. Not all those who suffer from anxiety and depression do so because of spiritual malaise, and not all who suffer from spiritual malaise experience these issues. These are just symptoms that may possibly occur due to certain situations.)
Why can’t my spirit guide give me winning lottery numbers?
Probably because you weren’t meant to win the lottery this time around.
If you’re struggling financially, try asking your guide for advice on how to earn more money, or put a call out to your spiritual support team, letting them know that you’re in a tight spot, and you’d really appreciate their help.
You may be pleasantly surprised at what unfolds, usually more quickly than you’d have imagined.
Are spirit guides even real? Or is this just fluffy New Age drivel?
Every culture on earth, every spiritual path, talks about spirit guides and intelligent non-corporeal beings.
The Vedas, Hindu religious texts that are over 3,000 years old, make mention of spirit guides.
They are also mentioned in the Jewish Kabbalah, in Sufism, in Tibetan Buddhism (as Yidams), and in countless indigenous cultures worldwide.
Basically, most civilizations aside from small pockets of Western culture, not only recognize the existence of spirit guides, but also have great stories about those who drew upon the guidance these beings have offered.
It’s only in the past century or so, with greater scientific breakthrough, that spirituality has taken a back seat in favor of what consensual Western thought has determined to be “real,” according to evidence-based scientific testing.
Additionally, some religions have put forth the idea that anything outside of their specific teachings are somehow evil, malicious, and dangerous.
They, along with other schools of thought, would have people believe that any being that contacts them must have nefarious purposes in mind.
Ask yourself why you think these ideas have been enforced, and then make up your own mind about what you believe.
Ultimately, whether you connect with spirit guides and accept the guidance they have to offer is entirely your choice.
If you do choose to make contact with them, feel free to share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
Blessings to you.
You are Life passing through your body, passing through your mind, passing through your soul. Once you find that out, not with logic, not with the intellect, but because you can feel that Life – you find out that you are the force that makes the flowers open and close, that makes the hummingbird fly from flower to flower. You find out that you are in every tree, and you are in every animal, vegetable, and rock. You are that force that moves the wind and breathes through your body. The whole universe is a living being that is moved by that force, and that is what you are. You are Life.– Don Miguel Ruiz
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.