Developing a Relationship with Spirit Guides
Africans believe that the dead are not dead and that our ancestors are there to help, protect and sustain us. They cannot communicate with us in the normal way since they live in the realm of spirit, but they are there none-the less. Many of us never even knew our grandparents and certainly pay no tribute either to them or to parents long gone. Those of us who have had inattentive children at one time or another know how easy it is to turn away from even a loved child when a relationship is not nourished. The same is true for ancestors. As my teacher said to me, "If your ancestors turn aside, you are defenseless in life, like a paper blowing in the wind."
Many Africans in subSaharan Africa still nurture their connections with the dead, and the favor is returned by the spirits. We have all had a feeling at times that someone up or out there is looking after us. For instance the person who has a flat tire, misses a flight, and finds out later that the plane crashed might feel touched by a benevolent and unseen hand. The sangomas would interpret this as protective work by the ancestors. Africans also believe that if rituals are regularly dedicated to the dead spirits, life becomes much easier and things seem to flow more of their own accord. When we have to make critical decisions we are not alone. The spirits strengthen us with their love and their belief in us and are present for us when we need them. If we are attentive and listen carefully for their messages from the beyond, we will enjoy more health, wealth, and happiness. We need to be reminded constantly that these communications and signs are subtle and usually do not appear like a lightning bolt out of the sky or in neon lights. They come like a whisper on the wind or the nuance of a dream or the appearance of a special animal, but they are there nonetheless to remind us that we have spirit friends and helpers.
Making an Altar to connect to your Guides
Determine as best you can who is it that you were connected to or loved you that you might like to have help guide you in this incarnation. (Anyone whom you had issues with should be forgiven but are best not included.) These can be your ancestors but also deceased teachers, inspirational people and spiritual masters. Remember that there are spirits from past lives who loved you and there is nothing strange in having a Tibetan, Egyptian or any other guide. A grandparent whom you never even knew may love you from the other side and may be assigned to guide. Because we recycle in and out of many lifetimes and frequently back into the same blood line or spiritual tradition guides could well have been your grandparents, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers in past lives. Love is what makes them want to help as well as make it more possible to cross over the veil between worlds in order to do so. How and why one and not another is assigned to help I do not know. It seems they can agree once given permission.
At the end of the day it does not matter whether you know them or not, they know you. Gratitude and good manners are what makes them work best on your behalf. You cannot take them for granted.
Communication with the other side is difficult and best done through the medium of an altar and a dream journal. Our dreams are often scripted by our guides to help us. Free will is the cosmic law so we must ask to receive. Requests and gratitude can be expressed by going to the altar, praying or meditating and when indicated making offerings or rituals to express thanks for good things in your life. Remember that they are not localized in space and time and have access to being in many places in their spirit form. They also know your past incarnations and your karmic life book. Even if they were uneducated when alive they can often understand the variables affecting you better than you can. They can also see a little into your future. The future is limited by free will and the number of variables operating at that time. Also its good to realize that they have usually been "purified" to some extent after going through a reconciliation process for their Higher Selves. They are not usually exactly the same as they were on the earth plane.
Place pictures on the altar if you have them or things that were special to them and can connect you to them such as a ring, bracelet, amulet, walking stick etc. It is good to use or wear these when the need to connect is stronger On special occasions such as thanksgiving put aside a plate of food for them and talk about them at the table to family and even close friends. A meal to welcome them into your life and initiate the practice is a good idea. If something very special happens or is needed, make a meal or do a ritual to ask or say thank you.
Even if you cannot see them you are never alone.
This ancient system of healing through spirit began in Africa and may be as old as humanity itself. Some of the principles are difficult to understand, but they work. They are the roots of connecting to the non local cosmic Field, and they are still practiced to this day. Many sangomas cannot read or write, but they understand how to work practically in the Field for the benefit of others better than most Westerners. We will only benefit from what we can learn from them.