Written by Conjurer Acheron on August 30th, 2017.
A crash course on one of the most critical parts of being a successful and safe spirit worker – discernment.
Humans have this peculiar habit of seeing what they want to see. You start looking for something, and suddenly you see the thing everywhere – it’s like when you buy a new car, never having recognized that car before, and suddenly it seems like every car on the road is the same model as yours. These ordinary things were there all along, but, now that you’re more aware of them, everything seems magical – and this is even more true when entering a new field of practice where things really are magical, like witchcraft and spirit work. This is why the key skill of discernment is so critical – to be able to separate the mundane from the otherworldly. When it is so easy to trick your brain into seeing the supernatural, how do you know when it’s really happening?
What’s that big word mean?
Discernment: the ability to evaluate information or situations to determine the underlying truth, the “real” from the “fake”, the “right” from the “wrong”. It is centered around an acuteness of judgment and understanding (x, x).
Okay, now you know what it technically means – you’ve got the dictionary definition under your belt. But why is this important for spirit work?
In the context of spirit work, discernment is used to define whether or not your experiences are “real”. It also plays a part in determining whether or not the spirits you are working with are safe or whether or not they are telling the truth. Discernment is also a critical component of vetting – verifying the identity of the spirit over the course of several months.
Though this may seem opposite to the entire point of discerning, I have personally found that strengthening my discernment skills has made it easier to notice when a spirit is attempting to interact with me. Since I have trained myself so heavily into seeking out all worldly explanations first, I have learned how to distinguish a spirit much more clearly – because sometimes there really is no worldly explanation for what happened. By teaching myself how to tell when my brain is just tricking me, I’m much more capable of determining what’s real.
This is something gained through practice and experience and is, in my opinion, a massively undervalued skill. It takes patience, practice, and time. So much time. This is why it can be so difficult to learn, and, more often than not, you end up learning the hard way why it is so important.
How can I tell if the “spirit” is just something ordinary?
- Have you eaten enough? Have you had enough water to drink?
- Did you take your medication, if you have any?
- Did you get enough sleep?
- Do you have any mental or physical illnesses or disorders? Does the “sign” you’re receiving from the spirit correspond to one of your symptoms? Do some personal evaluation!
- Is there any physical explanation outside of yourself for the sign you have received? Ask questions like: Is the radio on in the other room? Is your neighbor outside mowing the lawn? Is this animal that I am “suddenly” seeing a lot of and interpreting as a sign actually just more active this time of year? Did someone just walk by wearing way too much perfume?
- Do things happen when you think of them? If so, it’s possible you might be placebo-ing yourself into believing a spirit is causing this. Spirits act of their own accord.
If your answer to these questions after investigations was a firm “no” across the board, there could really be a spirit around. This is not a guaranteed way to tell, but the first step to spirit work is to remember that not everything is a spirit – sometimes it’s just your grandmother sneezing in the other room. You need to entirely rule out the mundane before assuming the supernatural.
Okay, I proved that it’s not something “normal” – but how do I learn how to sense and discern?
This is a difficult question to address, because sensing and discerning spirits varies so greatly from individual to individual. The only way to really tell if what you are experiencing is a spirit is through a lot of experience and trial-and-error.
Some simple pointers:
- Investigate the “signs” you are receiving. Is there a pattern? If you ask for a specific sign (ex: “Show me three [animal that is not commonly seen in your area] in three days.”), does it show? Write everything down. Signs do not always appear within a few days – they could play out slowly, over a period of months, and you could miss them entirely.
- Are you able to distinguish the difference between your own internal mental chatter and the voice of a spirit? This takes lots of time and practice, but it is a major component of spirit telepathy. Learn your own speech pattern and mannerisms – an actual spirit’s speech patterns and mannerisms are not likely to match up exactly to your own. Try this: listen to what a spirit is supposedly saying to you, and then attempt to repeat it exactly. Does it come out sounding garbled or feeling off? It might have legitimately been a spirit. If you are able to replicate their voice, tone, and words exactly, it may have just been your own brain trying to trick you.
- Focus on learning how to differentiate energy signatures. A spirit may be able to change their physical appearance, but it is incredibly unlikely they will be able to change their entire energy signature – these are as unique as a fingerprint and equally as difficult to cover up. Check out this energy work FAQ, and read up on energy signatures – try out this worksheet, too. Here’s another post about how to read energy (and some expectations when you do it). Here’s some ways that energy can be sensed. Look up some exercises. Practice this as much as possible.
- Attempt to communicate. This will also take lots of practice – keep going!
- Use different methods of communication (telepathy, tarot, pendulum, scrying, astral travel, the list goes on…) to verify what the spirit is saying. One method is not enough. Cross-reference the spirit’s answers across the different methods used and see if everything lines up. If it does, you’ve got a real spirit on your hands. If everything seems jumbled and reads almost like gibberish, the spirit may not be present, but they also may not be communicating.
How do I determine if a spirit is telling the truth?
This is something that comes mainly through experience. No matter the species, energy alignment, or affiliation, spirits can and will lie to you.
Any spirit who is interested in working with you (or with any human) should be patient and understanding about the fact that you might have a little trouble believing if you are really hearing them – communicating to a physical being while you’re on a non-physical plane can be tricky, after all. If they really want to work with you, they’ll be willing to wait through the vetting and discernment process for you to properly detect them, get to know them, and determine if they are safe and honest about who they are and what they are capable of.
In addition, even if they are telling the truth, they may not have the best intentions. Evaluate what they want out of the working relationship. Does it make you uncomfortable? Does it seem realistic and achievable? Are they attempting to use you as a way to advance themselves or get out of a bad personal situation?
In the words of grumpylokeanelder:
“Educate yourself on manipulation tactics. There are a lot of techniques out there. Gaslighting is very common. People write and publish books on the art of influencing and manipulating people for all sorts of purposes. Social engineering and mindhacks are very real. The more educated you are on the techniques used, the more you’ll know what to watch for, and the more likely it is that you’ll avoid toxic people or groups.”
If a spirit came to you and claimed that they’ve known you your entire life and had secretly been guarding and guiding you, would you believe them? Would you immediately trust a spirit who randomly appeared and started claiming to have been your best friend, partner, or mentor in a past life? The answer should be no – every single time, without fail. It’s very important to remember that spirits are not all-knowing, all-powerful beings. Do not trust blindly. Do not just “take [their] word for it”. Consider: why is the spirit coming to you, and why now? They could be telling the truth, but you do not want to rush things and assume. If they are truthful, they’ll be patient. Spirits could mislead you, and they could use your blind belief and trust in them to manipulate you. If a spirit shows up in your house and acts like you are destined to be friends and you enthusiastically accept their offer, you could be setting yourself up for much more danger than you know. Malicious spirits are not always outright malicious.
Take. Your. Time. Do not rush this. Jumping to conclusions and rushing the vetting process – which discernment is a major part of – can give a spirit the opportunity to trick you. It’s easy to put on a disguise and pretend to be someone else for a few weeks; it’s much harder to keep that act going for several months. When communicating with a spirit, it is also very important to avoid having a god or hero complex, thinking you will be the “best” for the spirit and by working with them you are “saving” them – and it’s important to not allow them to have that same mentality about you.
Doubt is healthy. Doubt can prevent a potentially traumatic spirit-related experience. Don’t be afraid to have a normal amount of doubt.
How does this apply to vetting and conjuring?
Are you a conjurer and/or a spirit companion shop owner? Great! This section is for you.
You, the conjurer, the shop owner – you are responsible for the safety of everyone who works through you, both human and spirit. This is very important to know before you even open your conjuring service. You need to be willing to put in the work – and this does not mean giving it the bare minimum. Your discernment skills need to be sharp, and your vetting needs to be intense. Any spirit who is truly willing to pursue companionship will be willing to go through this process – but you need to be insistent on making them go through the extent of it. If someone is meeting their future companion through your service, it is entirely on your end to do all of the discernment before they even leave you. Do not rush a spirit out – this could take months, or even years. It will be worth it. Take your time.
Quoted from hecaatia’s excellent post:
“And the thing is, you shouldn’t be rushing spirits out. If you’re so impatient to throw up the listing of a spirit that you can’t fathom taking the time to get to know them for three months then I have to question how much you actually care. It might seem mean, but a shopkeeper should be willing to wait months and even years to match the spirit with the perfect person. By the time you post the listing of the spirit, you should be close friends with the spirit yourself. How else are you going to know what would truly be best for the spirit if you barely even know them past superficial friendships? And how else are you going to ensure that the spirit is safe if you barely took the time to get to know them?[…]But we also need to talk about an excuse that’s cropped up before in opposition to intensive vetting methods and that is how intensive vetting “hurts the spirit’s feelings”. If a spirit objects to undergoing a long vetting process then that should be taken as a red flag, not as you hurting their feelings. The intensive vetting is a necessity in assuring that the spirit is safe and when a spirit won’t agree to that then it’s easy to assume that the spirit wouldn’t be safe. Also, as mean as it sounds, the spirit’s feelings on whether or not they’re vetted shouldn’t matter. You have a responsibility to your customers to make sure that the spirit is fit for companionship, shirk that responsibility for any reason and you could very well be putting someone’s life in danger. […]You are putting a spirit in someone’s inner wards, usually a beginner’s inner wards, and they’re someone who trusts you when you say that the spirit is safe. Don’t take advantage of someone’s trust in you just because you don’t want to put in the effort for an intensive vetting process when you chose to be a spirit shopkeeper.
(Read this post. Incorporate this into your practice. You should be settling for nothing less. If something happens that should have been discovered during the vetting process, it is your fault and is a sign that your process and practice has failed your client.)”
Spirit work takes time. Vetting and discernment take a lot of time. If you are willing to learn and build a relationship with a spirit, and if you want to stay safe and avoid being someone’s lunch, you will need to be willing to put in the time and effort. Do not trust without questioning, even several months down the road of vetting. Take notes, and check everything the spirit says against those notes. Are there any discrepancies, or does their story just not make sense?
Leave no gaps. Take no shortcuts. By the time the vetting and discernment process ends, you should know the spirit well enough to call them a close friend.
Some of these are not specific to spirits, but these techniques, mindsets, and practices can also be applied to general spirit work.
- Quickie Discernment Checklist
- Things To Consider in a Tarot Reading (if using divination with a spirit)
- grumpylokeanelder’s discernment tag
- lokeanwelcomingcommittee’s discernment tag
- thetwistedrope’s discernment resources tag
- my discernment tag
- Discernment – Is It A Sign?
- Evaluating Mystical Experiences And Messages From Beyond
- How can you know an entity you are interacting with is who or what they say they are?
- The Very Long Post About Verification: Part I, Part II
- Setting Standards in Vetting Spirits
- Tiny, Rambly Rant
- How can I tell I’m really communicating?
- Not Every Spirit Needs To Be A Companion
- Another Note On Discernment
- Discernment Pro Tips
- How can I improve discernment when experiencing maladaptive daydreaming?
- More on Discernment
- Suggestibility, Peer Pressure, and Groupthink
- Discernment (+Others)
A Final Note
This post is one of many out there about discernment. I heavily recommend, as I always do, to read more than just this post and the ones linked. I tried to branch out while researching, but I do have several favored blogs that I referenced – you should look for sources outside of these. My experiences, opinions, and views are not the only way that discernment is defined and my methods are not the only way to do it. Take everything I say and read further to form your own opinions. This post is not comprehensive and does not cover every possible method and definition of discernment. Remember, the posts linked above (and this post, too!) are people’s personal experiences and individual research, and, while there is major benefit to reading other people’s own original posts about the subject, you can never learn better than by learning on your own.
It is important to remember that all the information provided in our Encyclopedia is based on our own studies, experiences, and UPG – “unverified personal gnosis”. None of this information can be proven to be factual, but we do extensive studies and cross-checking with multiple spirit workers and different members of the species in question to verify that our information is as correct as it can be. Our goal is not to “prove” our UPG, as this is impossible, but we do seek to give a better insight on certain topics based off our own experiences.