Early on in my studies of magic and related things, a more experienced friend told me something that has always stuck with me: that when you begin to do this Work seriously, you attract the attention of the spirits as if you had lit a match in a dark theater. I was reminded of this reading Sarah Lawless’ wonderful post yesterday, “They’re Watching You.”
As you accumulate spiritual power through repeated practice, you begin to shine in some way that gods and spirits can see, and that They take notice of. And of course if you’re really doing this sort of Work, you’re going to constantly be coming into contact with such entities, aiding and receiving aid, establishing yourself as part of the workings of the otherworlds. The more you pay attention to the messages, instructions, advice and omens you encounter, the more you will find coming to you (after all, who wants to constantly talk at someone who’s not listening?).
Sarah mentions that a good way of learning to to properly interact with gods and spirits is to read fairytales. I concur emphatically. In fact, there was a great webpage once with key points taken from this concept, which I’ve found archived here. Another important learning opportunity is to read about specific cultural fairy types – Celtic gentry, Norse dwarves, Greek nymphs, etc. Not only will you sometimes meet such creatures (or at least, ones indistinguishable even if of different origin), but an overview will get you used to the ways they think and act, and the spectrum of quirks, predilections and rules they might have, and the possible dangers and benefits of interaction.
Though really, I think it usually comes down to a proper exchange. Don’t ever expect to get something for nothing. Now, the payment might be indirect, unexpected, delayed or even undesirable (which is why it’s best to lay down the deal at the beginning), but it will happen.
Nor does this process ever stop or reach some kind of saturation point, at least not as far as I can tell. The further you go along the path, if you keep making efforts to advance, deepen your practice, and devote more of yourself, the more attention you will attract (for good or ill). The spirits can become your constant companions, although it might come at a cost of some of your humanity. (As an aside, not everyone needs, wants, or is able to go that far. There is a place for the spiritworker or witch or devotee who practices regularly but does not drown themselves in the Work, who maintains a “regular” life. There will be things they cannot accomplish, but in trade they are able to negotiate through this world in a way that the more intensive person cannot, and that has its own benefits.)
If you want to see and hear the spirits more, then my first advice is to Look and Listen. Simple, perhaps, but it really is the key (well, that and being willing to acknowledge what you experience as real). My mom, a Buddhist, likes to quote a Zen set of rules for life that state: “Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.” In a way, that works really well for spiritwork too. Show up: do the Work, do it frequently, practice and practice. Pay attention to the signs you receive and act on them. Tell the truth – that’s basic fairy tale logic. Don’t be attached to the results – you’re not always going to have mind-blowing experiences, no matter how much you practice: your magic will fail, your attempts to connect with spirits will fizzle, your worship will feel empty. Keep doing it anyway. As Sarah notes, gods and spirits love to throw obstacles in your path to see how you respond. Nothing comes easy, least of all a life with spirits. Of course, it’s important to evaluate if you may be doing something wrong or need to change your approach or direction, but aside from that, sometimes you just have to push forward. You need to believe that serving the spirits is a worthwhile and valid focus even at the times when you don’t feel like you’re getting much out of the deal. Because it is. It is perhaps even more important in these times when so few people care.
But that metaphor about a light in the darkness should also serve as a warning for those just embarking on the path. You should know what you’re getting into. Personally, I am quite comfortable with the feeling of invisible eyes on me at this point, but it can be unnerving at best, and downright terrifying at times (especially if the eyes belong to some of the scarier sorts). Not only that, but that attention comes with consequences. When you feed Them, They tend to want more. As I said, some people are able to do this at a low level and keep their lives intact, but many aren’t, and often the spirits will take more than you ever meant to give. That just seems to be the way it works (ask any 17th century Scot with “the sight,” or an ancient Greek nympholept living in a cave, or anyone at all who’s ever glimpsed, and followed, a path into Fairyland).
Some people can’t help being a light that shines brightly to the spirits. But I would always advise caution about striking that match.