The spirit spouse is one of the most widespread elements of shamanism, distributed through all continents and at all cultural levels. Often, these spirit husbands/wives are seen as the primary helping spirits of the shaman, who assist them in their work, and help them gain power in the world of spirit. The relationships shamans have with their spirit spouses may be expressed in romantic, sexual, or purely symbolic ways, and may include gender transformation as a part of correctly pairing with their "spouse". Shamans report engaging with their spirit spouses through dreams, trance, and other ritual elements. In some cultures, gaining a spirit spouse is a necessary and expected part of initiation into becoming a shaman. Evidence of spirit spouses may be seen in non-shamanic cultures as well, including dreams about Christ by nuns, who are considered to be "brides of Christ".
K'iche' in Momostenango, Guatemala—Diviners "are recruited in a classical shamanic fashion, including divine election – through ... dreams – and their initiation involves a marriage to a spirit spouse." The "male elders who decide on community leadership roles all possess female personal icons (bara) which commonly manifest themselves in dreams as women." "Quichés openly talk about the bara as a spouse". "Quichés are open and expressive in talking about and playing with their bara, or metaphoric 'spouses,' kissing, fondling, opening, and caressing them".
Tecospa in Mexico – “the enanitos, the dwarf-sized rain deities ... presented him with ... a spirit wife.” <ref>Kalweit 1988, p. 141</ref>
New Zealand – “the Maori's shaman tradition also believes in spirit-wives”<ref>[ http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol10/teuton.htm Asbjørn Jøn : “Shamanism and the Image of the Teutonic Deity, Óðinn”. ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF FOLKLORE, vol. 10 (1999).]</ref>
Kaluli on the northern slope of Mt. Bosavi in Papua—"Mediums are men who have married spirit women in a dream". "The medium is always a man who is married (in a dream) to a woman of the invisible world. When he has a child by her, he is able to go to sleep, leave his body, and walk about in the mama world."
Kodi of Sumba Island in southern Indonesia—A man "dreamed that he had an encounter with two wild spirits who lived in the forest ... The wild spirit takes the form of a seductive woman, asking for ... sexual favors in return for the magical powers she controls." A generation later, this man's son "was seduced by the wild spirit woman he saw and entered into a "spirit marriage" (ole marapu)" with her, she becoming "his "spirit wife" (ariwyei marapu)".
China—"King Xiang (Hsiang; third century B.C.E) is said to have dreamt of a tryst with a goddess on Wu Shan (Witch's Mountain), with the goddess seizing the initiative." In another translation, "Witch's Mountain" is "Shamanka Mountain". This goddess of Wu Shan "transformed into the fungus-like yaocao 媱草", the "edible mushroom" being a metaphor in courtship for marriage. When Song Yu described (to king Xiang of Chu) this goddess as having appeared in his dream as a “host of colors brilliantly displayed” <ref>[ http://books.google.com/books?id=GYJi0OkKFJIC&pg=PA343&lpg=PA343&dq= “Rhapsody on the Goddess”, l. 39. Xiao Tong (transl. by David R. Knechtges) : Wen Xuan. Vol. III. Princeton University Press, 1996. p. 343]</ref>, he may have been alluding to a rainbow (“Clad in rainbow ...,The ladies of the air”<ref>[http://www.humanistictexts.org/LiPo.htm#9 His Dream Of The Skyland: A Farewell Poem Li Po : “His Dream of the Skyland”]</ref>) : cf. the Buriat “rainbow” (Alice Sa`rko:zi : “The Rope”, p. 178. In :- Miha`ly Hoppa`l & Pa`l Pa`ricsy (edd.) : Shamanism and Performing Arts. Ethnographic Institute, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Budapest, 1993. pp. 177-180) “as an emblem of the union between the future shaman and his spirit wife.” (Ibid., p. 177) During the Jia-ping era (Chr.E. 249-253), Xian Chao “dreamt ... of a goddess who followed him and became his wife. She called herself “Jade Maiden of Heaven.””<ref>Richard E. Strassberg (transl.) : Wandering Spirits. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2008. p. 199, (chapter 12,) n. 35</ref>
Buryat of Siberia: In shamanic dreams, "The soul of a Buryat novice travels to the center of the world, where it meets, in an amorous encounter, the nine wives of Tekha, the god of ... dance. Eventually, the soul meets there his future celestial spouse."
The 5th Initiation : “At this stage a Bo# meets his ‘sky-consort’, a spiritual female being from the dimension of the Sky who helps him in his work.”<ref> Dmitry Ermakov : Bo\ and Bo:n. Vajra Publications, Kathmandu, 2008. p. 331</ref>
Shor of Siberia -- “At night, while I was sleeping and it was past midnight, and maiden appeared ... .... A mistress of the mountains catches a man’s soul in order to marry him.”<ref>“S^or Folkloric and Shamanic Texts”, 9. In :- UNIVERSITA` DEGLI STUDI DI NAPOLI “L’ORIENTALE”, Supplemento n. 95 agli ANNALI (Sez. Orientale) – vol. 65 – Ugo Marazzi : From the Literary Heritage of Turkic South-Siberia : 2005. p. 11</ref>
Korea – “The shaman or shamaness will never have a normal life without getting married to god or goddess. The formal wedding to god or goddess is absolutely necessary to reintegrate his or her experience ... . This wedding with god or goddess is called Naerim kut or Gangsin kut ... . ... The Naerim kut is analogous with the formal wedding with god or goddess who has appeared in the shaman’s or shamaness’s initiation dreams.” <ref> Kirsti L. Nevalainen : Marriage with God : Shamanistic Rite of the Unification Church. [Tampere :] Mediapinta, 2009. p. 64</ref>
Burma – “a male shaman in Mandalay, was ... loved by his Nat ... . She announced her love by appearing to him in a dream... . ... he married the Nat.”<ref>Kalweit 1988, p. 135</ref>
A shamaness “was possessed by her Nat husband ... when, at a Nat festival, she fell into a trance while dancing. She agreed to marry this Nat but remained married to her human husband as well”<ref>Kalweit 1988, p. 136</ref>.
Saora of India – (statement by shamaness :) “Again and again he came to me in dreams, and I always refused. Then one night he took me up in a whirlwind and carried me away to a very high tree where he made me sit on a fragile branch. There he began to sing and as he sang he swung me to and fro. ... I hastily agree to marry him.”<ref>Elwin 1955. p. 153 </ref>
(statement by shaman) “she caught hold of me and took me to the Under World where she shut me up in a stone house ..., and then.. I promised to marry her after all. ... At once I arranged for the wedding” <ref>Elwin 1955, p. 139 </ref>
Norse -- The fylgja ('fetch') is "visible in dreams".<ref>[http://www.blackwellreference.com/public/tocnode?id=g9780631181392_chunk_g97806311813927_ss1-35 article "Fylga" in Hinnells, ''A New Dictionary of Religions'']</ref> "In men the fetch is seen as female, and in women it is male."<ref>[http://home.comcast.net/~livingblade/main.spirit.northern.soul.htm "Fylga" in ''Concepts of the Norse Soul'']</ref> It is able to impart hamingja ('luck).
French—"During the night, in dreams, which he contrives to excite, he takes care to be the principal object of her ideas...'tis her sylph that causes her those pleasing reveries". "Humans long to mate with sylphs, according to the Comte de Gabalis, because they want to live forever".
Ewe of Togo: variant in Haiti (Vodou)—"Wedding ceremonies between Vodou divinities and their devotees take place ... It is also believed that there is sexuality between the conjugal pair, by way of dreams." "mediumship may involve a kind of marriage to the spirits, but ... ‘in these rituals, individuals pledge loyalty, service, and even sexual fidelity for one night each week (sleeping with no human on that night and waiting to receive the spirit in their dreams) in return for the spirit’s increased care and protection’." McCarthy-Brown ‘Mama Lola’ p.228 -- quoted in :- Louise Child : "Possession In Contemporary Cinema: Religious And Psychological Themes". http://www.basr.ac.uk/diskus/diskus9/child.htm
Baule of Côte d'Ivoire: "Baule statuary is dominated by elaborate figures carved to symbolize "spirit spouses". Baule mythology dictates that every adult, male or female, has such a spouse, manifested through dreams." Each woman has a blolo bian ("spirit-husband"), and each man has a blolo bla ("spirit-wife"): these may be encountered in dreams; "Every Baule man and woman living in the world has in the blɔlɔ a "spirit spouse". Women have a blɔlɔ bian ... and men have a blɔlɔ bla ... This dream partner is always described as very beautiful". Figurines representing them made be made for particular reasons. The blolo is able to give "good luck".
Amongst the varied tribes of southern Nigeria such as the Yoruba and the Igbo, Spirit Spouses of the Sea are common features of life due to the geographical closeness of their cultures to the Atlantic Ocean, though attitudes to their supposed existence depend largely on the religious inclinations of the individuals concerned. For example, a Yoruba traditionalist might look at a conjugal visit from a dream-based lover in much the same way as the aforementioned Ewe and Baule do, whereas a Muslim or Christian tribesman in the same situation would most likely look at it as a grave misfortune and seek the mystic aid of a spiritual counsellor to rectify what he would see as a probably dangerous connection to an otherworldly demon.
The controversial, self-proclaimed traditional witch Robin Artisson includes a variation of the Norse fetchconcept in his book The Witching Way of the Hollow Hill. He supports this with the thesis that the questing/rescuing heroes in myths, legends, and fairy tales can be seen as the soul, and rescued maidens as the fetch bride. However, he does not make it clear if this occurs in dreams, shamanic journeys in a trancestate, or both—though trance work is an important part of his theology and recommended practice. Some other Neopagan authors from very different traditions have also hinted at the possibility spiritual-sexual union of some sort with divine or spirit being.
The practice of dream-based spirit-marriage would appear to exclude and be excluded by (i.e., not be practiced by the same practitioners, nor perhaps even ever known in the same ethnic culture, as) the practice of opposite-gender spirit-possession mediumship. The latter practice (of opposite-gender spirit-possession mediumship) is attested in, e.g., Okinawa, Siam, and Burma, in each of which areas it would appear to be mainly (if not entirely) based on non-remembered (putatively non-conscious) trance.
The practice of dream-based spirit-marriage would appear likewise to exclude and be excluded by shallower trances involving some partial degree of control (but permanently and continuously, instead of merely intermittently as was the case in non-remembered trance) of the practitioner by a spirit-entity of opposite gender from that of the practitioner; which is attested not only among the berdache in tribes of the Great Plains of North America, but also among the manang in Borneo, and perhaps also among numerous other persons and geographic regions (including European practitioners of homosexual magick, etc.).
Thai—For a male spirit-medium, "female spirits possess the medium on Saturdays"; for which occasions the male medium is attired in feminine garments—these are events of spirit-possession by the medium's "losing consciousness". However, dreaming is not significant for T'ai spirit-mediumship. (There is, nevertheless, some degree of similarity between this practice of becoming possessed by an opposite-gender spirit regularly on a particular day of the week; and the custom in Haitian spirit-marriage of regularly devoting a particular day of the week to one's marital duty to that spirit.)
Holger Kalweit (transl. from the German by Werner Wu:nsche) : Dreamtime & Inner Space. Shambhala, Boston, 1988.