Friday, September 19, 2014

What is the gift of discerning of spirits?

What is the gift of discerning of spirits?

  • 1 Corinthians 12:10

    10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
  • Doctrine and Covenants 131:7

    7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
My patriarchal blessing says that I have the gift of discernment, but for most of my life I just kind of assumed it meant the same thing as wisdom. Knowing the difference between good and evil. And true, that is a part of the gift. But it seems to me there is more to it than that.
Ignatius of Loyola. Image here

My research has indicated that many believe the "spirits" here are really more like feelings. For example, consider this explanation of the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556):
Discernment of spirits is the interpretation of what St. Ignatius Loyola called the “motions of the soul.” These interior movements consist of thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Spiritual discernment of spirits involves becoming sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, and understanding where they come from and where they lead us. 

In other words, "spirits" are really just thoughts, feelings, inclinations.

But is this an accurate assessment?

Another page I found explains the following:

To discern spirits is a supernatural ability enabled by God's Holy Spirit that allows a person to determine the source of a spiritual manifestation, whether it emanates from God, the Devil, the world, or man. If we have this gift, God will reveal information about the presence or absence of spiritual entities. Usually, people regard this gift as useful to detect evil spiritual forces or influences. It can also detect the presence or absence of angelic intervention or the prompts of God's Holy Spirit working within us. 
The apostle John writes in I John 4:1, "Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test [try] the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." We are commanded to examine thoroughly any spiritual teaching with our critical faculties to see whether the presenter is handling the Word of God accurately. Because evil spirits have the capacity to produce paranormal phenomena, the Scriptures exhort us to prove or test the spirits, proving all things, holding fast only to what is good (I Thessalonians 5:21).

This is more like it. Consider what has to say about it:

To understand or know something through the power of the Spirit. The gift of discernment is one of the gifts of the Spirit. It includes perceiving the true character of people and the source and meaning of spiritual manifestations.
Reading this explanation in the online Bible Dictionary through the Church website totally blew my mind. If part of the gift means being able to perceive the true character, source, and meaning of spiritual manifestations... it means that spiritual manifestations are a thing. A thing you can have.

To me, this means that the ability to see a person's aura, chakras, energy field--it's all part of the gift to "perceive the true character of people," as that Bible Dictionary entry explains.

The ability to look at someone, or even just think about them or hear their name, and intuitively know anything from their overall life situation to what they are thinking at that very moment--part of the gift "to understand or know something through the power of the Spirit."

Man surrounded by angels. EDIT: image HERE.
Art by Kerri Guthrie
The ability to perceive, or "see," or sense the presence of deceased loved ones, angels, evil spirits--in other words, "spiritual manifestations"--and understand what they are and what they mean and who they're from--it's a part of the gift to "perceive the true character" of "spiritual manifestations."

In other words--

The gift of discerning of spirits can actually mean that a person literally "discerns" "spirits." As in, a person with the gift can actually perceive the presence and influence of literal spirits. Whether that is perceiving another mortal's spirit even as it is within the confines of a body, as in the case of perceiving an aura or arcline, or whether it's perceiving the spirit of an ancestor, angel, or devil, it's the same gift.

In other words, the gift of "discernment of spirits" may be interpreted literally, plainly, simply. It may mean exactly what it says.

Variations on the gift of discernment

So you have the gift of discernment. Does this mean you automatically have the ability to see chakras or something?

I don't know that I'm qualified to answer that question, but I will say this: the comparison that always comes up in my mind is that of music. Both I and a friend have the gift of music. I've worked really hard in my life--taking piano lessons, voice lessons, guitar lessons, other lessons, practicing for hours and hours on a regular basis, practicing on a variety of instruments, studying music theory and writing music on my own to more thoroughly understand musical concepts--and now I can play a bunch of different instruments, and sing, and so on.

There are so many ways for musical gifts to manifest!
Image here.
My friend, on the other hand, has not taken a million lessons or practiced for hours a day every day for years. We both have the gift of music, but I'm the ward organist/Primary pianist/ ward choir director, and he has one song he can pick out on the piano.

At the same time, I have very musical friends who only play one instrument. Or musical friends who, for whatever reason, can play an instrument but can't sing. And that is fine. There are many different aspects of the gift of music. A gifted tuba player may not be so great at the piano, but they still have the gift of music, and as they explore and use their tuba gift, it can bless the world.

I suspect discernment is the same way. I have a friend in the church who discerns moods through people's auras. I don't do that. But for her, she can see if a person is lying, if they're happy, if they're sad, if they're suicidal, all by looking at them and discerning the colors temporarily outlining their features. She uses this skill in her callings to help her deal with the people she is called to help. This is an aspect of the gift of discernment--one I don't know that I necessarily have.

I have another friend, also LDS, who discerns spirits all the time. This friend said that when my sick brother was staring out into space, he was really staring at all the spirits around him, family members there to keep him safe. This ability is another aspect of the gift of discernment.

I have a friend who, on her mission, was able to see people's spirits from inside their bodies--so she could see what they were struggling with based on how their spirits looked.
Ezekiel 1 explains that the spirit is in the "wheels," or
chakras. Sensing these energy centers would qualify
as experiencing "spiritual manifestations." Image here.

I have another LDS friend who discerns pranic blocks, as I do--the discolorations in a person's spiritual energy corresponding with physical ailments.

In short, the gift of discernment can involve anything from seeing auras, to seeing arclines, seeing evil spirits, seeing the spirits of angels and the deceased, seeing moods or feelings, seeing injuries from outside a person's body. There are many different aspects of the gift. Just as two people with the gift of music might develop that gift to become two different types of musicians, two people with the gift of discernment may find it manifesting in different ways. Just as some musicians channel their gift into multiple outlets, learning multiple instruments and advanced theory, and as some musicians only learn the one clef their favorite instrument uses, people with the gift of discernment have just as varied possibilities.

It's like the gift of tongues, also. Or the gift of interpretation of tongues. Is everyone with those gifts equally gifted at every language? There are hundreds of languages in the world. Not everyone with the gift of tongues has it manifest in the same way.


I propose that the gift of the discerning of spirits is literally what it actually purports to be--what the actual literal meaning of the words "discerning of spirits" is: the ability to discern, or perceive, spirits and spiritual manifestations. This gift can manifest in many different ways, just as gifts of music, tongues, knowledge, wisdom, or any other spiritual gift can differ person to person as far as manifestation. With practice, one can develop other aspects of a gift and improve one's usage of aspects already discovered.


  1. Thanks for this post. It's provoking interesting thoughts in my head.

  2. I would be interested in info about being a medical intuitive. I am in the medical field and feel that i have a gift that I haven't been able to develop. I had someone tell me that I had potential for healing but that I was being blocked by something. I feel that too but dont understand what could be blocking my development. I have family history of family members having spiritual gifts but I feel a void at this time and don't know what to do about it