My friend John and I had regular late night talks about spirituality and what each of us believed- what worked in the never ending quest to quench the thirst for our understanding of God and spirituality. John was more of spiritual explorer than I in those days. He was into all manner of Eastern Religion, especially meditation, and frankly he had the financial resources to study with whomever he wanted and was readily accepted as a student because of his station in society. I, on the other hand, was still firmly connected to a mainstream Christian religion, but had branched out into Jungian psychology and the study of aspects, individuation and shadow work. My own individual form of 'nature' religion filled in the many crevices and empty spaces left by too many unanswered questions. My personal form of meditation consisted of opening myself wide to the Universe, unlike the 'going within' that was made popular by the many well known yogis/teachers of the day. Neither one method or the other was more effective than the other, and I believe that for the time and place each of us were in in our spiritual journey, what either of us were practicing was most perfect for he and I.
We eagerly continued our exploration through dozens of disciplines that employed specific techniques; both of us studied Native American religions for spiritual and historical purposes, and to satiate our desire to be connected to the area and culture where he lived and I frequently worked.
At one point, when I was shedding most of the vestiges of my Christian practice, John began studying Theosophy in earnest. He delved deeply into the writings of Madam Helena Blavatsky through the New Thought Movement; I scanned Blavatsky's spirituality superficially, choosing instead to study what I considered a much more suitable author- Aleister Crowley. (Although Crowley admired Blavatsky personally, he mostly eschewed the Theosophical movement.) Both disciplines engaged us in the subject of Spirit Guides; that melded with what we'd come to know about Native American Totem Animals, so it was a happy marriage of mystical traditions.
Blavatsky's work included the employment of Ascended Masters, a type of guide often incorporated by people who do energy work. The basic definition for my purpose here is that an ascended master is the spiritual manifestation of someone who were once a living being but has moved on to a higher spiritual plane after their incarnation in the present physical realm-Buddha, Krishna, St. Germain, Joan of Arc, etc. They work with groups of seekers rather than exclusively with an individual, because their primary focus is on the betterment of humanity. This has come to include certain elements of the newer "Christ Consciousness" movement practiced by those who practice a blend of Christianity and Spiritualism. Ascended Masters are sometimes refereed to as Teachers, or simply, Masters.
Ascended Masters can be confused with Spirit Guides ( which are also at times called Teachers). Despite the similarity of wording, the two are quite different, in that typically a Spirit Guide is symbolic and archetypal. Being they represent something to the individual on a particular path and appear as a series of archetypes, they contribute to the clarification of a situation or to assist in fulfilling a purpose. Many Spirit Guides appear to help with specific problem-solving in a symbolic manner and individual guides may keep giving way to others as the journey of the individual progresses. The form of the manifestation of Spirit Guides often depends on the religious upbringing of the person they are assisting; guardian angels, archangels and saints fall into this category.
Animal Guides, or more commonly referred to as Totem Animals in shamanic traditions. They usually appear in dreams to a seeker, but are sometimes chosen and enticed by the seeker him/herself. The Animal Guide is usually chosen for traits the individual seeks or needs in his/her life, through dreams or the assignment of a shaman. The Totem Animal is given for the task of protection and /or teaching, as the embodiment of characteristics the individual desires or needs. Some form of Animal Guides are commonly the spirit of deceased pets who refuse to leave their owners, continuing their role of companion from beyond The Veil.( My own beloved feline familiar Tinker continues to accompany and teach me today, a full decade after her death.)
Ancestral Guides are a unique entity, because they had some sort of actual connection to the individual. They can be anyone from a recent blood-relative to a long-dead ancestor; a dear friend who crossed The Veil after a long illness, or unexpectedly from an accident. The point is that you are acquainted with this entity in some way. Celtic spiritual traditions identify them as Kindreds.
How do you know what you have contacted is truly a Guide-and not something else? My experience is that if the presence of that entity makes you feel as if you have made a positive connection and holistic, I'd encourage you to continue cautiously exploring that avenue of communication. However, if you have even an inkling of something being negative or 'off', if your internal bells and whistles are sounding, then what you have contacted should be considered suspect-whether through a method of divination, meditation or something else- may indeed be something other than a desirable entity. It is not unusual for an individual to attempt to seek out a guide through the use of a Ouija or other talking board ( aka spirit boards), or through an event such as a seance. [ If you'd like to go the seance route, here's an excellent video of Pagan author Konstontinos directing a seance: http://youtu.be/QDbXqf1HPws ].
There is a metaphysical theory to which I subscribe that says whenever someone has entered the astral plane to do any sort of energy work, that individual gives off (for lack of a better description) a unique signal or energy imprint. The individual's signal is a sort of beacon which will draw any curious entities to them...including those from the lower realms, which may not be so nice or have your welfare at the forefront of their thinking. The following tips can help you define who it is you've actually contacted, if they are beneficial, and what to do if you find yourself with an unwanted spiritual entity attached to you.
However you choose to attempt contact with spirits of any type, my advise to you is to take the time and make the effort to properly shield and protect yourself. This can be done in various ways, and the choice of how to do this is totally up to you because while there are methods which are universally effective, the strength of those techniques actually depends on individual preference. In other words, what works for me may not work as well for you. As always, spiritual practice is personal.
Question information you receive that goes against logic, metaphysical or scientific laws, common sense- or common decency. Does this entity seem to have your highest good in mind, or is it making promises that sound too good to be true? Be absolutely certain who and what you are dealing with. Remember the well worn wisdom quote: "Don't call up what you can't put down." Acquaint yourself with several forms of banishing before you attempt contact with spirits as it may become necessary to end the link with them quickly.
In general, although your relationship with a spirit guide will be personal, it is by no means unique. Most spirit guides do not work with individuals one-on-one, they work with many individuals at once to disseminate information. You will not be the only person the spirit is working with because you are specially metaphysically gifted; lower entities are masters at flattery and ego stroking and know just how to work their way into the good graces of an unsuspecting human. You and I are not unique enough to be privy to information which would open any portals or gates no one has every explored before your new spirit friend shows you the first time out of the gate. Beware any entity which identifies you as being especially enlightened. If the information you are being given is of no particular use to you, then you have not contacted a benevolent spirit.
I also caution you about any entity that immediately tries to enlist your help to assist it in doing things like channeling. Allowing the entity to voluntarily manifest through you in this way is possession, and you should take heed. There is a reason ceremonial magicians create a containment area outside of the protective circle they are standing in -and I cannot stress the wisdom of this practice enough. Sometimes the entity isn't who you thought it was; do not hesitate to send this spirit away. For the most part, all you simply need to do is to verbally send the spirit away ( "Leave now, you are not wanted here"). Occasionally an entity is a bit more difficult to shake off, and that's when you need to become assertive. Use purification methods and an unshakable demand that the entity leave. If cleansing, smudging , aspurging the area with salt water, etc. doesn't eliminate the attachment, or the entity is hostile toward you, it would be wise to enlist the assistance of other Pagans or occultists who are more experienced or at least willing to help you break the attachment. Here's a good starting point: http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/magicandspellwork/ss/SelfDefense.htm There are also good, solid reference books available by various Pagan authors such as Christian Day, Dorothy Morrison and Christopher Penczak. The latter author has an excellent book, The Witch's Shield: Protection Magick and Psychic Self-Defense which is one of my personal favorites.You may also want to consult the website of popular Hoodoo practitioner Carolina Dean at carolinaconjure.com for more information.
Discovering and working with a spirit guide is a rewarding and beneficial experience if the basic rules are applied to this relationship. Good Luck to you!