What is the difference between spirits and ghosts? Let me explain this from two terms used in Mandarin, which I believe can shed some light (pun intended). 'Shen' refers to spirit, which is not only the essence, the soul, but is also the multi-dimensional, energetic expression unbound by 3D physicality. This means that everything has spirit: Animals, plants, goddesses and gods, creatures of mythology, the elements, ancestors and the living, and so forth.
'Kuei' (‘Guei’), or ghosts, refer to the distinct spirits of the human dead, especially ones who are considered homeless, that is, between this world we call reality, and the realms where spirits dwell. Many times ghosts are not ven aware of the fact that they have passed on, or are lingering because they have not received the closure they are seeking before they leave this plane.
There are many different types of shamans/shamanesses, sorceresses, medicine people, and spirit folk. My work involves interacting with spirits, but not with ghosts. I sense spirits when they visit the living; they know they are only saying hello, bringing comfort or some other message. Much of my work is also working with plant spirits when I make skin + aura care. And of course, I travel to spirit worlds when I serve clients via Remote Shamanic Readings, and can channel their wisdom when I write extensively about the journeys afterwards.
Another thing - as I continue to study shamanism in human history, what I find fascinating is that there are synchronicities that defy culture and time.
The female shamaness / priestess came first. She is the Holy Mother. The proportion of the female healer to male was overwhelming.
Drums, rattles, bells were (and still) used to call spirits and induce trance states.
Possession is not seen as possession; it is seen as ecstasy, communion with Spirit, and this is why sex is often used as a metaphor in ritual.
Climbing the Universal Tree / Ladder or flight is the preferred mode of transportation to the Sky / Upper Worlds. Winged or wingless horses and birds are often the allies of choice.
The Bridge (sometimes a Rainbow) was often another common symbol for shamans to cross in the course of their journey to the Otherworlds.
The shaman’s relationship with Fire and Stone. Fire not only provides light, but is also a transformative agent. It can warm and heat, but can also burn and destroy. Soot, often used to dress a shaman's faces and body, can only be produced by fire. Fire has power over metal (stone), and it was through the merging of these two elements, that metalsmithing and alchemy was first discovered.
So what does this all mean, at least on a personal level? For me, I am reminded of how truly awe-some this connection to Spirit, our shamanic ancestors, and Earth really is. I am also immensely appreciative that I am a woman in general, but also in this practice. Lastly, I am prompted repeat what I have said on many Instagram posts that the ability to spiritually sense and heal is not available to ‘the chosen few’. These powers are very human, and are accessible for each and everyone of us. My personal believe on how to be tapped into this flow of powers is to start with the understanding of where we come from. To go inward and downward; to reconnect to the Earth and ourselves.
founder, shamanic medicine teacher + ritualist
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Image credit: Iulia Agnew for Ceremonie