guardian spirit A personal protective spirit, also called a “tutelary spirit,” or “genius,” believed by some persons and some societies to be present with one from birth, and by others to be acquired through a DREAM or visionary experience. Guardian spirits play an important role in ANIMISM as well as in Spiritualism. They also figure in the Christian concept of guardian angels. The major function of the guardian spirit is, as its name implies, to look out for its possessor, which means keeping him or her out of trouble, and making sure life runs smoothly. Misfortune may be attributed to failure on the part of the guardian spirit, and good fortune to its guardian spirit 211 successful guidance. Messages from the guardian spirit may sometimes be precognitive or clairvoyant. In tribal societies, guardian spirits have varying relationships with the rest of the spirit-soul complex associated with the human being (see SOUL). In some societies they are conceived of as independent spirits, whereas in others they are thought to be surviving ancestors or are connected to an ancestor in some intimate way. For some of the Australian Aborigines, a person’s soul and his or her guardian are united before birth and reunited after death, but during life they have different existences and serve different functions. Guardian spirits are acquired in various ways. If one is not born with a guardian, one may have to seek one. This is the case with many Native American peoples, for whom a part of the traditional “vision quest” for boys and girls at puberty is the finding of their own guardian. Alternatively, one’s guardian is revealed in a dream. In animism, dreams are believed to represent the experiences of the soul at night, including meeting spirits. In the animistic tradition, guardian spirits are related to Shamanism, totemism, and Reincarnation. In many cases shamans, whose business it is to make contact with the spirit world, have more than one guardian or assistant, often in the form of a “power animal.” Totemism is a subclass of animistic beliefs which concerns aspects of the human relationship to animals. People are often associated with particular animals, which may also be their guardians. The connection between guardian spirits and Reincarnation is especially complex. For example, many Aborigines believe in Reincarnation, and thus, by continually reuniting with the soul between lifetimes, the guardian is assured of always being associated with the same soul while it is incarnate. In Spiritualism a person is believed to have a guardian from birth, although one may not always be aware of its existence. In general, however, the guardian performs the same function of looking out for one as it does in tribal societies.
Hultkrantz, Ake. Conceptions of the Soul Among North American Indians. Stockholm: Ethnographic Museum of Sweden, 1953. Radin, Paul. Primitive Religion: Its Nature and Origins. New York: Dover Publications, 1957. Tylor, Edward Burnett. Religion in Primitive Culture. New York: Harper & Row, 1956.