Morgan's Basic Guide to Dealing with Non-Human Spirits
- Spirits Lie - I'm putting this one first because it seems to be the single biggest sticking point with people. Spirits lie. Even the Fair Folk, who in my experience don't tell verbal lies will still deceive you into believing that day is night by speaking only the truth in ways that lead you to assume all the wrong things. And spirits who aren't the Gentry can and do flat out lie. There is no reason to immediately assume a spirit is telling you the truth, any more than you would assume a strange human you just bumped into was being totally honest with you. And the problem here isn't just that they can lie, its that they will lie if it suits their purposes and you can really screw yourself over if you believe them. Let me tell you a story that happened about 15 years ago when my mother-in-law and several of her friends decided to play around with a ouija board. They believed they had contacted the spirit of a child from the colonial period, and this spirit immediately began giving them a tragic backstory about being orphaned while it was alive, and dying terribly and wandering the spirit world looking for its mother for the last 300+ years. And asked them to invite it in to give it a place to stay because it was sad and lonely and they seemed so nice...this was already a field of red flags to me when I was being told about it later but of course they believed every word and invited it in. And of course the next day when one person was alone in the house this had occured in the spirit began harassing her, telling her to kill herself, and trying to convince her that the other women were out to get her. And since they'd invited it in they found they couldn't get rid of it (which is where I came into the picture). And if you were wondering no it wasn't a human ghost, it was a negative entity that fed on human pain and misery; everything it had said to them was lies designed to worm its way in so it could influence them and feed on their suffering. The moral of the story - don't trust everything a spirit tells you without trying to verify what you've been told.
- Nothing is Free - even free things aren't free. Most spirits work on some kind of barter system, although what they consider a trade may not be what we expect - for example plenty will help us for an exchange of energy that we don't even notice, or for the entertainment value. Others may ask for actual payment in some form, be it a physical offering later, an action done, a task completed, or similar. Some will also help us out on the theory that we then owe them something, a debt that can be called in later. (yes I do deal mostly with the Good Neighbors so I may be jaded) Even the ones who don't work on such an obvious system however, like our ancestors or spirit guides or mentors of different varieties do assume a certain system of obligation or reciprocity is in effect - you can't expect your ancestors to show up and help you out if you consistently ignore them or actively refuse to acknowledge them. Now some people may say that angels and similar spirits operate on a different system, but I'd argue that working with them or calling on them still requires a level of engagement and belief which is, in itself, a kind of payment. Don't underestimate the value of attention as a method of payment and type of coin to spirits - there are theories after all that some types of spirits who require human attention and energy and are lost to human consciousness literally cease to exist, which may be as close to death as previously immortal beings can get (depending again on what kind of spirits we're talking about - some can actually die and be reborn in a new form, others do not seem to die in a sense we understand). As part of this, never assume something - including help or guidance - is free. Ask what the cost is and remember that negotiation is always an option. If you don't ask and just blindly agree then you are accepting whatever terms the spirit wanted, and that's usually not a good idea.
- Just Because It's a Spirit Doesn't Mean It Has Your Best Interests in Mind - Seriously on this one. I know some people believe that anything without a physical body must be some kind of enlightened being or guide that is here to help us evolve or something, but that is just not true in my experience (see story in #1). I'm going to be blunt here and I'm sorry if this offends anyone who believes differently, but humans are just not the center of the spiritual universe around which all other manifest creation circles, eagerly looking for a chance to help us be the best we can be. Just like life with other people and animals, some are nice and helpful because they want to be, some will help if motivated to, some are just jerks, and some will actively try to harm us. Much like assuming spirits won't or can't lie, assuming that spirits are only ever trying to help us can cause real problems for us. Its also important to keep in mind that sometimes they are telling you the truth, and sometimes they are not trying to hurt you - they may even really be trying to help - but that doesn't mean that you won't get hurt. Spirits don't always understand what a person's physical limits are, or emotional limits, and their ideas of what's best for us are not always in line with what is actually healthy for us. So you have to keep your own limits and safety in mind all the time and set boundaries that keep you safe.
- Manners Aren't Just for Visiting your Grandmother - I am often horrified by the books I see suggesting we treat all spirits rudely, with blunt orders and an assumption that they must obey us. I highly recommend not doing that around the Fair Folk if you like living and having your health. Unless you are working in a ceremonial magic tradition (or similar) that explicitly requires you to summon spirits with coercion, bind them, and force them to do your bidding using commanding language and you understand which spirits that's appropriate with, there is no reason in my opinion to go into spiritual interactions acting like you're reading from the Key of Solomon. There are certain times and reasons to command spirits, even Otherworldly ones, but if you are reading this and you don't already know what those times and reasons are then for the love of all that's holy please don't try randomly getting an attitude with the Gentry; even most miscellaneous non-Fey spirits aren't going to take kindly to it. Putting aside the fact that common courtesy is free and easy, looking at a range of any folk stories demonstrates pretty clearly that having good basic manners gets you much, much further with most spirits than acting like a spoiled, entitled child. For but one example you might read the story of Lusmore. I will note that there is a slight exception in not saying thank you, but there are plenty of other ways to express gratitude, and also that prohibition isn't universal. When in doubt silence is usually a safe way to go, but general polite speech is always a good choice when you do speak. Unless and until you are in a situation where things have already gone sideways and you need to stand up for yourself, that is, and then, as they say, take no crap and enforce your boundaries.
- Always Use Protection and Have Good (Spiritual) Hygiene - not just good advice in certain real life situations, its also good advice when dealing with spirits. You don't need to drape yourself in talismans but its a good idea if you are into a spirituality where you will be actively engaging in spirit work - that is intentionally interacting with spirits - to make sure are you cleansing yourself and your space, warding it, and also have some kind of protections. Actively dealing with spirits, whether its playing around with ouija boards, making offerings to house or local spirits, or trying to connect to Otherworldly spirits will attract both things you want and things you don't want. Kind of like putting out a dish to feed local stray cats is going to get you both cats and skunks, raccoons, and possums. You can and should try to be selective in your advertising but no matter how careful and clear you are in what you are willing to allow in and deal with you're still going to occasionally get other things showing up. Maybe they're curious. Maybe they're bored. Maybe you just look tasty and they're hungry. So common sense: cleanse out the space regularly of stagnant energy (just like you'd physically clean it), ward it to keep out what you don't want (just like you'd close your doors and windows to keep out animals and weird people from your house), and have protections (just like you'd lock your doors). For example on the Fire Festivals it was a common tradition in Ireland and Scotland to burn juniper or a similar cleansing herb in the house and barn. This way at least every three months the space was being blessed and cleansed; you can of course burn a blessing herb more often and you can also use other methods like ringing bells to cleanse a space. Space can be warded by walking the boundary with fire or sprinkling blessed water or salt along the border. An individual might bathe in salt water. Hag stones might be worn or hung up for protection, as can iron (although don't use this if you are actively trying to connect to the Fair Folk), and twigs of rowan. Many religious symbols are also worn for protection.
- If it Seems too Good to Be True, Be Cautious - to quote Tolkien entirely out of context, "all that glitters isn't gold". Plenty of things look too good to be true precisely because they are, and the more beautiful and tempting a spirit seems the more careful you should be. If it reminds you strongly of someone you have strong feelings for, or of yourself, or in any way hits on emotional triggers for you those should all be big red flags for you to stop and take stock before proceeding. The spirit world is full of tempting things that are, in effect, baited traps. Remember points #1 and #3 and understand that many spirits can change their appearance and that they can and will use this ability to manipulate you. Its also worth keeping in mind that just because something doesn't look attractive is not a reason to assume that it is bad or dangerous. Spirits are not a matter of the inside matching the outside, and I honestly don't know why people assume they will be. Also bear in mind that human beauty standards are not actually a universal measure, so what we happen to find attractive might mean nothing at all to certain spirits (I'm fairly sure Brownies for example don't see their lack of noses as a blemish). Just because you think its ugly doesn't mean it's bad or evil - and just because it's gorgeous doesn't make it good. Most fairies in folklore that seduce and harm mortals show up in darn nice packaging to do so. If something is going out of its way to appear, well, appealing to you then at the least you need to ask yourself why. It might be harmless, a way to establish a connection with you, or it might be hiding a trap. This is not the sort of thing you want to figure out after you've already engaged with the spirit.
- Always, Always, ALWAYS, Trust your Own Instincts - again this one should seem obvious but so often I see people not listening to their own gut, to their grief. By all means don't throw common sense out the window and look without leaping - always think things through before acting because we can be influenced without realizing it. some spirits specialize in getting us to do just that, so learning to act slowly and deliberately is a good thing. But generally speaking if something feels bad or makes you uneasy, don't do it or deal with it. At the very least it means its not something you're ready for and at worst its something that is dangerous to you. If your gut is saying bad idea, your gut probably knows something you don't. Don't let your head talk you into doing something stupid, and it doesn't matter if all the cool kids are doing it, or if you've done it before, or if someone told you that you have to do it to unlock the next level of spiritual awesomeness or win a gold star. If it feels wrong trust that it is wrong and try to figure out why. Its not like there's some video game time limit where you have to Do The Thing right now or start over at level 1 again. Take your time and be sure its safe before you do it, agree to it, or go into it. This applies triple when oaths or promises are involved. Because if you do something wrong with a spirit the consequences can be profound and very, very real in the 'real' world. And some mistakes can't be fixed.
To summarize - treat spirits the same way you would treat strange humans (or animals), with the same politeness and healthy mistrust, apply Wheaton's Law to everything, always read the fine print before signing the contract, and don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Do all that and you have a much better chance of successfully dealing with spirits.
"May the odds be ever in your favor"
"May the odds be ever in your favor"