Spirit Guides 101

Got questions about spirit guides? I've got answers.

Spirit Guides 101
Photo by Kerwin Elias / Unsplash

If you've been following my work for a minute, you'll know that, like many practitioners, my interests and disciplines have grown and evolved since the start of my practice.

And if you're new here—hi! 👋 When I started Shadow Femme almost two years ago, I was primarily focused on astrology, shadow work, and human design.

Over the course of these incredibly eventful two years, I've cracked open in a way that's led me to become less and less focused on systems of meaning-making as my sole source of insight (though I still retain my knowledge and love for systems like astrology, and am happy to draw on them whenever the need calls for it), as I've been pulled to work more and more closely & directly with the spirit realm.

As I've been shifting my focus towards spirit stuff in the last several months, I know I've been throwing around the phrase "spirit guides" a lot, and while I'm sure many of you are already familiar with the concept, I wanted to take a minute to actually talk about what “spirit guides” really are.

So. Got questions about spirit guides? Read on for the answers.

What are spirit guides? Who are spirit guides?

While my understanding is still growing and developing, and while I know that there are spiritual concepts that I may go my whole life without fully comprehending (because, you know, the spirit realm is vast and infinite and unbound by linear time and our brains are, well, human), I can most easily sum it up this way:

  • Spirit guides are beings who have agreed to assist you during your time here on Earth.
  • You most likely have lived a past life—or several—with each of your guides.
  • Many guides have experienced previous lifetimes in human form, but some have never incarnated on Earth at all.

How do my spirit guides communicate with me?

Your spirit guides communicate with and help you in various ways, some of which may be more obvious than others.

Their nudges can come through as:

  • thoughts in your brain
  • dreams
  • physical sensations
  • hunches
  • symbols and synchronicities in the outside world
  • hits of intuition when you pull cards

How many spirit guides do I have?

Your spirit team may consist of just a few guides or several. It varies from person to person.

Many people have a “main” or primary guide as well as a "gatekeeper" guide.

What is a gatekeeper guide?

Your gatekeeper guide is like your spiritual bouncer, turning away spirits and entities who might wanna mess with you, while letting through those who you want to connect with.

What do spirit guides look like?

Guides take forms that are hugely diverse: they may appear as humans, goddesses, pure balls of light, fantastical creatures. They may be young or old, big or small, unassuming or striking.

What are my guides' names?

You can learn your guides' names by asking them during meditation and listening closely for the answer.

Once you meet and get to know your guides (consciously and intentionally, that is, since you're already connected whether you know it or not!), you may find that their names shift over time, or that their name is different from what you might expect from their appearance.

For instance, my gatekeeper guide looks like an ancient South American warrior. Big broad chest, bearded, brown, tattoo-ed and shirtless. But his name is…Robert. And both of these identities are true to who he is: He lived life on Earth as, yes, an ancient South American warrior—and also as an English poet in the 1800's named Robert! He has decided to present himself in spirit form with all of these facets combined.

On the other hand, another one of my guides who I officially “met” a handful of months ago (she would like me to give a description of her: she's a badass, practical, loud, beautiful, crack shot, whip-smart revolutionary who wears bold red colors and rounds across her chest)—she introduced herself initially to me as “Rosario," though she has said that I may later help uncover her real name, and that we can find it out together.

You may also find that if you have session with a medium and they talk about one of your guides, they may say a name that is different from the one you know, because they are limited by their own filter of perception and the personal database of names of they have in their head.

As with any information that you and others receive from spirit, we are all limited by the scope of our own experiences and knowledge. That's why the clarity of our spiritual connection can be strengthened simply by having new experiences and learning new things: the more meanings and symbols and stories and bits of knowledge you have to draw on, the more easily your guides can transmit rich and specific messages and ideas to you.

Do spirit guides stay with us for our whole life?

There may be some guides who stick with you your whole lifetime and others who join your spiritual team for certain phases of your life.

Do different spirit guides have different specialties?

Your guides are uniquely talented in different ways, and in fact, as you get to know your guides, you may find that your interests and passions or even undiscovered gifts align with their essence and with their specialties of wisdom.

For instance, if you feel a deep connection with nature, it's possible that you have an earth spirit on your team. If you have a talent or affinity for tarot and oracle cards, you probably have a spirit guide that's experienced with divination.

Your Relationship to Your Spirit Guides: an Analogy

Okay, so this analogy has been rattling around in my brain for a long time now and I wanted to share it with you.

When I first started to learn about and communicate with my spirit guides, I had about a million thoughts, and some of them went like this:

wait, what, they just like…love me unconditionally? for just existing? and they help me? and support me? and talk to me 24/7? don't they get sick of me?? do they ever resent me?? what do they get in return?!

(My inner monologue can skew anxious, in case you can't tell.)

A Mutually Generous Relationship

I know now that answer to that last question—"what do they get in return?"—can be answered in a lot of different ways.

First of all, spirits guides definitely appreciate time & offerings from their humans (a glass of water, a handmade note, focused attention, sweets and treats).

But more broadly than that, when it comes to your lifelong collaboration and companionship with your guides, they are continually growing and getting so much of their relationship with you, just as you are growing and learning from them.

In spiritual spaces, it can be easy to fall into New Age-y buzz words that actually inundate us with hierarchical and extractive concepts.

Your spirit guides aren't simply “genies in a bottle” that you can call upon to grant you wishes (no joke, a top internet search result on spirit guides starts off with “No need to be jealous of Aladdin and his wish-granting genie…”), just as the universe isn't simply a code that you can crack or hack to manifest your way to success.

At the same time, you don't need to feel guilty or anxious about asking for help from your spirit guides. They truly want to help and support you, and they are with you through thick and thin.

Humans are Brave

And while many people refer to guides as beings who have “graduated" from Earth school, “ascended” into their roles, and “mastered” life on Earth, spirit guides are not inherently “better” than you, just as your so-called Higher Self is not any more admirable or aspirational than the You who's here and present in your body.

I've heard that a lot of spirits actually admire souls who have incarnated on Earth, and that they see it as a brave thing to do.

It makes sense, when you take a second to think about all that it entails to actually navigate an existence here.

Symbiotic, Not Hierarchical

All that being said, I've come to think of spirit guides and humans as having not hierarchical but rather distinct yet symbiotic roles, much like…the Flash. And…Team Flash.

You ever watch the Flash? The CW show? It's pretty corny, and devolves after the first season or two, but bear with me.

The Flash is a superhero who can run really fast and he has a team of friends-slash-geniuses who guide him on his missions via a comms set while they follow the action from their consoles back at S.T.A.R. Labs headquarters.

Now…think of you, as a human, zipping around on Earth.

Sometimes you get knocked down.

Sometimes you act rashly and do dumb things.

But your team is always there to cheer you on, and equip you with the right tools, and shout advice at you through your earpiece.

A lot of times, this advice and guidance will be helpful—something you wouldn't have thought of yourself—because your team members just know a lot more than you do, and they also have a birds-eye view of everything, sitting back at headquarters watching everything play out.

But sometimes, since you're the one who's actually on the ground, you may have to take their advice and translate it in a practical way, since the physical world is chaotic and messy, and you're limited by your human meat suit.

Your team members are brilliant and amazing, and while they may know more than you in the big scheme of things, you know what it's like to be you, in your body, in this particular existence.

You're also the one who's in the thick of things, taking the punches, getting knocked down by life, and bravely getting up again.

That's pretty admirable.

And as you navigate in your human body, through this physical plane, on this planet we call Earth, your guides will be here to dust you off and support you at every step of the way.