Interesting questions often arise during discussions of Animal Spirits, such as Power Animals, and other types of Animal Spirit helpers. People are curious to know whether it’s possible to have plant spirits as spirit helpers too.
Power Animals and other Animal Spirits upon whom shamanic practitioners rely for power and protection in their work, are not nature spirits per se, but transcended spirits of the upper or lower worlds. As such they are unconditionally wise, compassionate and powerful. They are able to do healing and divination, and to bring power to clients in partnership with the shamanic practitioner.
Plant spirits, as people generally use the term, are nature spirits of the middle world. They are conditional, and may be benevolent or harmful, or may simply have agendas of their own. Shamans in many cultures work with the spirits of certain plants, both for healing and to cause harm. They also use entheogenic plants to alter their state of consciousness, as is well known.* Additionally, shamans in many cultures famously have strong relationships with particular trees. They connect with the spirits of those trees for knowledge, and to assist in their journeys to the upper world. These various kinds of plant spirits would not be helping spirits in the same way that Animal Spirits are.
If someone wants to work with a plant spirit of the middle world, they should do so with the understanding that it is not an unconditional spirit. It would be wise to prioritize learning about that spirit first from their Upper or Lower World helping spirits. Bear in mind that in cultures where shamans work with plant spirits as a matter of course, they have thousands of years of culturally specific shamanic knowledge and traditions upon which to draw in their work. They are able to know exactly what they are doing in ways that are not possible outside of that cultural context.
All that said, it’s not impossible that a person who knows how to journey could encounter a plant spirit in the Upper or Lower World, which would be an unconditional spirit in the core shamanic view, and which could be seen as a helping spirit.
Robbie Staufer, MA, MS
* Harner, Michael. The Jívaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls. University of California Press, 1972. Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Michael Harner, ed. Oxford University Press, 1973.
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FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Email email@example.com with “Polestar” in the subject line.