Spirit GuideAccording to the tenets of the Western Spiritualist Church, a spirit guide is a disincarnate entity that assists a living human being in some way. Spirit guides are often thought to appear during times of spiritual seeking, religious ceremonies or rituals, mystical experiences, and of course dreams. While the Spiritualist Church may have popularized the concept of a spirit guide, the idea can be found in many other spiritual practices: in Native American spirituality, the concept of an individual spirit animal runs alongside the totem animal, which represents entire clans or family lines. In its broadest sense, a spirit guide can be either an animal, human, or some totally different entity; practitioners of astral projection and guided dreaming often assert that you recognize your spirit guide intuitively if it visits you in a dream or similar state.

Historically, the Spiritualist Church has probably done the most to bring the idea of spirit guides into mainstream consciousness. An American church loosely based on Christian tenets, the main beliefs of Western spiritualism is that of the universe as Creator, and that some part of the living person persists after death (the mind or soul). A core part of Spiritualist Church practice is the use of skilled mediums who can contact people who have passed on and present such “survival evidence” to families of the deceased. Spiritualist mediums are often thought to be aided by a spirit guide in contacting those who have passed on.

In decades past, spirit guides were often ethnically typed: spirits of Native American, Egyptian, or Chinese origin were highly sought after because of the ancient wisdom they were said to possess. However, spirit guides can come in almost any form, from enlightened human beings such as saints and Bodhisattvas to animal spirits, totems, guardian angels and nature spirits. No matter their origin, the common thread linking all spirit guides is that they are incorporeal entities who have already lived one or many lives in the physical realm, and have perhaps repaid their karmic debt and gotten beyond the need to reincarnate. Yet instead of moving on, spirit guides have chosen to remain connected to the physical world for a time to help humans along their spiritual path, sort of like Bodhisattvas in the Buddhist tradition.

If you’re curious about what your spirit guide might be like (or, alternatively, skeptical about the whole concept), you can always try contacting your spirit guide in a lucid dream or guided visualization. Much like achieving any other lucid dreaming goal (such as flying or dreaming about a specific place), you can set an intention to meet your spirit guide in a lucid dream. Spiritualist practitioners often believe that our spirit guides have been with us since birth, and that when we meet them through dreams, deep meditation, or astral projection, we’ll recognize them instantly because of this unconscious connection. Have you ever met someone or something in a dream and felt like you’d known them all your life? According this concept, it’s likely that you met your spirit guide.

The simplest way to increase your chances of drawing your spirit guide out in a dream or meditation session is to set an intention before you go to sleep or begin the session by repeating a mantra to yourself such as, “I will meet my spirit guide.” You can also imagine a protective white light around yourself, a technique similar to that used in astral projection to shield y from malevolent entities. If you’re trying to contact your spirit guide through guided visualization, imagine yourself in a pleasant environment like a wooded glen or sunny beach; somewhere you feel content and secure. Once you’ve got the right-feeling environment, you can call on one of your spirit guides to visit you.

As in astral projection, it’s important that you use shielding measures like the white light to protect yourself from other spirits that might be tempted to make mischief with you or trick you. Shield yourself with white light, or any other color that gives you “good vibes”. Lucid dreaming practitioners state that you’ll often get a certain feeling from the entities you do encounter, and you can often use that to judge their intentions toward you: helpful entities will often seem friendly, while less helpful ones might seem suspicious or menacing. You can also reportedly verify the intentions of any being that appears to you by asking it if it “serves the light”, or a similar phrase. Incorporeal beings are frequently bound by a kind of “cosmic covenant” that requires them to answer this question honestly.

However, just because a spirit guide is friendly doesn’t always mean it will go easy on you. Spirit guides often appear to people in dreams or meditation sessions during challenging periods in their lives— times when they may be questioning their life path and the actions that brought them there. In fact, calling on a spirit guide can be a much-needed source of help when you’re struggling or in crisis mode: are you questioning your life path, interests or passions? Stuck in a job or life situation you’re not happy with out of convenience or a perception that making a change would be too hard? A spirit guide can remind you—sometimes forcefully, through a powerful dream or revelation—of the things and people that truly make you happy.

Your spirit guide may shower you with tough love, challenging you to learn a lesson or confront a problem you’ve been avoiding, but that you need to face in order to grow as a person. However, it may be helpful to remember that ultimately, your spirit guide is there to help you learn whatever you need to know to get to the next step on your life path.