We have several different types of guides depending on the culture you come from.
Metaphysically speaking there are 4 basic categories or types of guides:
The Relative Guide.This is usually a person who knew you in this lifetime. They are the relative who helps you through day to day situations. They are the soul who greets you at the door when your time comes from 'transition' from life to death.
The Spirit Guide.
This is usually a person you knew in a past life. Or it might be a Power Animal. Someone who is on the same spiritual level as yourself. This soul helps you with your higher purpose or mission in this embodiment. The karmic issues, the spiritual lessons, the gifts and talents you brought from the past into this life and so on. Their main purpose is to help you evolve your soul during this incarnation and to learn and grow.
Everyone has a Guardian Angel watching over them, protecting them and providing a connection to the higher Divine Force. Angels are rarely incarnated beings. They are 'of the stars' and are the messengers of the Divine.
The Master Teacher.
Our Master Guide joins with us at birth, and stays by our side right through our lives until we pass on. This Guide gives us direction or emphasis. At different times in our lives, depending on the situation and lesson(s) we have to learn, we have new guides join us to provide guidance and insight into the situation. If there is a change in life direction or emphasis, the Master Guide will step back and these other guides will come forward. These guides can come in unexpected forms. You will also have with you, at the appropriate time, a Master Teacher. This soul is someone who is on a higher spiritual plane than yourself. They help you with the responsibility of 'development', the dissemination, the higher more advanced spiritual evolutionary issues that a person will need to be aware of.
Within this life exists different dimensions of reality, different vibrational dimensions which we can reach through raising our own vibrations through meditation, hypnosis, ritual, and other energy raising actions such as drumming, chanting, dancing... etc.
Spirit guides, among many other beings, reside in such dimensions and come to us from this world of spirit to help us in our evolution. Spirit guides generally don't have a physical form; therefore they tend to reside on higher vibrational planes (dimensions) because they are not hindered by the physical lower-vibration body. They work from these planes (the world of spirit) and move into our reality (3rd dimension) occasionally to offer guidance, assistance and insight. We can reach them through the above mentioned methods such as meditation, hypnosis and by "tapping in" to our life-force and raising our vibrations that way.
Spirit Guides will stay with us even if we choose to ignore them, and they will continue to love and honour us throughout our life. These guides are here to help us with our Lesson or Lessons, and it is often true that their own Lessons may run in tandem with ours.They can be teachers or protectors as well as helping to direct our paths and to release old past life karma.
Spirit guides can be many things and have usually lived in a physical body, on a physical plane like Earth, and have usually had some connection to us from a past life of ours. They can be souls of people who we knew in past lives and to whom we have a karmic link. They could also be ancestors of our present life or perhaps souls who have decided to stay in the spiritual realms for a while and not reincarnate to the physical plane and therefore volunteered with our approval to be a guide for us.
They are essentially, like us, energy-vibration which manifests in whatever form they choose...or which is acceptable to us. However, they do retain an identity because they are also souls, and have usually led lives in the physical plane also, just like we are doing now. They have their own personalities, their own goals, their own perspective and their own styles of communication.
Spirit guides will usually approach us in a form that is most comfortable and acceptable to us. For most people this is probably in the human form, though some of us might choose to see an animal, a crystal, colours, shapes or stars etc.
These guides can come in unexpected forms, such as a stranger coming out of nowhere and giving us a helping hand. These guides can stay with us for a long period of time, or a very brief period... depending on what the lesson(s) is, and whether or not we're learning it.
There is always a guide of ours nearby... whether it's our spirit guide, animal guide or angel, someone will always hear what we say/think. So in effect we can talk to them any time we choose.
Just don't always expect an answer straight away.
There are many ways of meeting your guides. Most children know their guides from birth, and can easily open up the channels to talking to them (remember those imaginary play friends? Were they really imaginary?), but as we grow older we get negative messages from our parents and other adults around us, "time to stop playing with imaginary friends Darling" "Don`t be silly" "No they don't really exist." "That's nice dear, but shouldn't you be playing with some REAL friends?" and messages like this, so children learn to break their connection to their guides and forget about these wonderful beings.
For those people that work to connect with their guides or naturally do so - often hear their guides speak, others get distant visual images, and yet others just get a sense of what their guide is trying to communicate, the important thing is to begin to develop trust that will allow us to be aware of the communications that we are being given.
Each person's experience will be different.
Saying that, some people do have difficulty connecting with their Spirit Guides and have trouble visualising them possibly because they are a sentient person and have trouble "seeing" things that are not in the 3rd dimension. However, they can usually "sense".
They may get flashing images, but `sense` more. So, don't be disappointed if you can't see, or sense, or hear perfectly in meditation or through some of the above methods. Not everyone is that gifted.
We must trust that whatever messages we get, however we get them, are right... and what we need to know just at that point in time and learn to trust ourselves. My personal advice is to go with the technique that is the simplest and most comfortable, easy and relaxing for you.
Guides may also approach us in dreams or daydreams, imparting messages and giving guidance from there, where we are in a more open state and less critical in receiving these messages.
A guide can arrive as a feeling, a smell, a light, a sound, or even just a `knowing` that it is present.
Spirit Guides are not the same as Angels. They are of the same "energy", being that of a higher vibrational force, but I don't agree they function in the same manner. Yes, we do have an angel who also stays with us throughout our lives too, but this is not our spirit guide. Angels rarely incarnate on the physical plane, preferring to do their work from the angelic realms (higher energy realms).
Spirit guides, though they can take on any form they choose, usually take a "gender". i.e. they appear as male or female; this is based mainly on the person/being they are presenting to us. Angels on the other hand are without gender. They may appear to us as more masculine or feminine if they appear to us, but they are in essence genderless, androgynous... it's their energy, which supplies them their more masculine or feminine attributes.
An encounter with an angel in it's full glory could very well scare someone more than assist or sustain them. Angels are such beautiful beings with such love that their energy itself can bring too much truth to the person and as humans we are capricious creatures. They are the essence of purity. Too much truth can be scary or even terrifying, that is why angels will usually take on a form of lower stature when we encounter them, someone on our level so we can interact with them without the head-on, possibly overwhelming experience of an angel.
They are excellent conveyors of universal love, they are not always equipped to deal with earthy problems.
Spirit guides on the other hand have a lower energy and aren't nearly as intimidating in their full form.
To put it simply - Angels are of the stars and guides are of the earth.
Animal totems, animal guides or Power Animals can be a little of both. Spirit guides can and do take the form of animals and may always appear to us as an animal but I also believe that animal totems in the strict sense are different. They are the essence of the animal with it's message which appears in our life through various means such as divination, dreams, physical appearance of the animal etc when we need to receive this message, similar to spirit guides who come in and out of our life. By `sharing` with one particular totem we gain access to its qualities.
In the past animal totems functioned as spirit guides for those in native cultures, and they often appear in meditations and past life regressions as guides for those who have had past lives in native cultures.
However, anyone from any culture can benefit from accessing his or her totem animal.
According to some Native American beliefs, we have two animal spirits who walk with us, one on our left and one on our right. These animals appear to us in dreams and visions to guide and protect us along the path of life.
We also have a guide within us, which envelops and surrounds our very being. It is through these guides we derive our personal strengths, and it is with this animal's Medicine that we can shape our path in life.
I personally believe that we have several animal totems we learn about as we progress through life... these animals and their essence protect different aspects of ourselves and guide us in that area.
In contrast, the spirit guides tend to look after our whole wellbeing.
It is true that some people view guides not as spiritual entities with consciousness outside of ourselves, but as part of ourselves. These people view and feel that guides are our 'higher self' personified that hasn't yet been 'owned' or integrated into our personalities. In the world of 'Spirit', this could well be part of the picture, part of our Divinity or WHOLE but the picture is 'huge' and it hasn't been completed yet.
In conclusion, it is largely due to ego that people have not really been able or willing to perceive or interact with their Spirit Guides, as the ego is a barrier against recognising the Whole, and to understanding one's own place within the Whole. Ego, in this context, is the belief-system which says that Humanity is the most important aspect of Life, and that I, as the individual, am greater than the Whole. Many people are sadly not even consciously aware of their own egoistic outlook; yet they reflect this philosophy in their isolation, sadness, scepticism and general imbalance through life.