There seems to be some confusion on the internet about the nature of certain spiritual guides that populate the afro-Caribbean varieties of spiritism. For the record: when I talk about espiritismo on this blog I am always talking about my experience in espiritismo cruzado, because that is what I have worked in over the last few years.
It is important to note that there are quite a few different forms of espiritismo in the Caribbean. Just in Cuba alone there are a variety of forms. We find for instance purer kardecian scientific spiritism; then there is espiritismo de cordon; and then also espiritismo cruzado which functions more closely alongside the African-derived traditions such as palo and santeria. Puerto Rico has its own unique forms of espiritismo, where espiritismo and brujeria are very popular and widespread. That's without even going into spiritism in the Dutch Antilles or Brazil! There has been a lot of exchange in those regions too which makes the topic even more complex.
It's good to be specific and mention which stream of practice I am talking about because when we say 'espiritismo' we could be talking about a variety of creolized Kardecian-derived practices - and while they are part of continuum it certainly cannot be claimed that they are a single thing. There is a great deal of variance in practice even though they tend to follow a similar pattern with similar Kardec-inspired themes.
So to get back to the issue I was mentioning; there seems to be confusion about the role and nature of the madama, gypsie, arab, congo, indian etc spirits. It seems worthwhile to present the explanation as I have been taught it in our line of practice with regard to the nature and role of these spirits in espiritismo cruzado.
Firstly, these spirits are considered to be a class of egun, which is to say, the spirit of someone who used to be alive at one time but now works in the spiritual world as guide for the living by bringing their own unique stream of wisdom to the white table. Elevated dead people. So, when an espiritista is talking about 'their' madama spirit they usually mean that they have a muerto that has certain characteristics that allow it to be categorised in that grouping of spirits. They aren't necessarily talking about a single entity called The Madama.
Similarly, you might have a spirit that was a gypsy in life and therefore an espiritista will talk about 'their' gypsy (or their indian spirit, or their arab spirit and so forth). They are usually referring to individual spirits of the dead that fit into that stereotype with whom they are working. These spirits work in their charge's spiritual framework in order to develop themselves spiritually. It's symbiotic. Each person is understood to have network of spiritual entities that have been chosen to guide and protect the medium. And one can and should develop, elevate and expand that network by working with it in a skilled and dedicated way.
As I have been taught you definitely cannot pick and choose these guides. They choose you. What's more; there is a degree of protocol for identifying which spirits reside in your spiritual framework. This usually takes the form of an 'investigation' which is a special misa focussed around a single medium. The other mediums will then spiritually 'investigate' the medium for whom the service is being held to inform him or her about the constitution of their spiritual framework, thereby identifying which spirits they have and what they need to do for them in terms of spirit dolls, offerings, implements, pots and so forth.
This is to avoid self-delusion and the medium getting tricked by evil spirits that want a free ride. Just because you have strong draw to a certain kind of spirit doesn't mean you have that kind of spirit with you. Just because you find a pretty doll doesn't mean you should stick it on your altar and feed it! This is a distinctly inadvisable course of action.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that espiritistas will say that this is dangerous when considering that espiritismo traces almost all illness, variances of fortune or well-being to the influence of good or bad spirits.
That's why it is called spiritism after all.