In the early 5th century, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote a theological essay against Paganism called On the Divination of Demons. In it, he proposed the argument that all Pagan Gods are actually demons in disguise.
If you have not heard of St. Augustine, you should know that he kickstarted many arguments for Christianity. He was born 40 years after Rome officially became Christian, although most of the Empire was still Pagan at this time. Augustine’s mother was Christian and his father was Pagan, so he understood both sides. He wrote many philosophical arguments for Christianity, his largest being The City of God.
In On the Divination of Demons, Augustine fought back against the assertion that a Pagan Oracle predicted the invasion of Serapis's temple. He argued that Gods did not speak to this Oracle; demons did.
[3.7] The demons have also gained, through the long span through which their life is extended, a far greater experience of events than humans can attain, since their lives are brief. Through these capacities, which the nature of an aerial body is allotted, the demons not only predict many things to come, but also do many wonders. Since men cannot say and do these things, some judge them worthy of their service and the bestowal of divine honors, especially under the impulsion of the vice of curiosity, on account of their love of false felicity and of earthly, temporal excellence.
As a side note, Augustine also argued that future predictions were not impressive because circus performers also do things that he couldn’t understand.
[4.8] How many marvelous things have funambulists and the other theatrical specialists done? How many marvelous things have artisans and especially contrivers made? Are they really then better than men who are good and endowed with holy piety?
I’m not trying to undermine St. Augustine’s intelligence, but I laughed so hard when I read that he compared acrobatics to accurately foreseeing an invasion.
Regardless, the idea that Pagan deities are actually demonic pervades through Christian literature. We see it in sermons, theology, Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is no wonder, then, that many people fear that messages from Pagan deities are actually demonic in origin.
Can Spirits Impersonate Deities?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is it depends on your method, experience level, and knowledge of the situation.
If you do not know how to fact-check the messages you are receiving, you are prone to deceit. If you are not used to the deity’s signs or how They speak, you are prone to deceit. And if you do not know which red flags to look out for, you are prone to deceit.
I find that people most often encounter this with divination. Divination is one of the best ways to contact a spirit or deity, and it is easy to fact-check by asking the same questions over and over. But if you do not know how to do that, then a spirit can easily take over your pendulum/cards/whatever divination tool.
That said, not all shocking or disturbing messages stem from malicious spirits. Sometimes, people just misinterpret signs. If a practitioner is stressed, anxious, angry, etc., they can mistake these strong emotions for intuition or divine signals. I’ve seen it happen even in practitioners with 10+ years of experience.
People often ask me if they need protection spells to contact a deity. No, you do not. I always recommend spiritual protection for people who are interested in magic, because it is better to be safe than sorry. But you don’t need a spell to know who you’re talking to; you just need to know the signs.
Red Flags to Watch For
While you are trying to communicate with a deity, watch out for these red flags. Regular readers might recognize some of these from my malicious spirits post. That is not a coincidence.
How to Guarantee That You’re Speaking to a Deity
Depending on your situation, you can try one or more of these techniques to fact-check the concerning message.
Although it is possible for a spirit to pose as a deity, it is not common. If you reach out to a deity, you more likely receive a response from Them. If you want to learn how deities can contact you, check this post.
St. Augustine made an intelligent philosophical argument in On the Divination of Demons. However, I believe that he is wrong. Pagan deities are not demons in disguise, for two reasons:
In 2007, researchers from Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, tested how color influences pain. They set up participants to feel mild electric shocks. Before shocking them, they showed the participants one of six colors. When participants saw the color red, they felt more pain than when they saw green or blue. It makes sense; many people associate red with burning, bleeding, or inflammation.
During a later study in 2016, French scientists found that color has a physiological effect on people. Participants who stared at red had higher testosterone levels, and they tended to feel more dominance and arousal.
It is no secret that color affects us emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Color is important in every system of magic, no matter where or when it comes from. That is why color magic posts are so popular...and why so many of them are wrong.
The Fault of Color Correspondence Lists
If you look up almost any witchcraft website or book, you will find correspondence lists. These lists are meant to be easy resources for people to glance at when they need it. As a result, most of these associate colors with single nouns. For example, you might see the color “red” with correspondences such as “fire,” “sex,” “passion,” and so on.
But these lists only scratch the surface of what colors mean and how they affect us. I’m willing to bet that the two studies I cited earlier told you more about red than any of the correspondence words in the previous paragraph.
To be clear, I’m not trying to start beef with people who create color correspondence lists. These lists can be great starting points to inspire people and get them thinking about color. But what I am saying is that, in magic, color has so many associations that further research is imperative.
Colors Have Contradictory Meanings
Pop quiz: what is the most common wedding dress color?
If you live in the U.S. or Europe, you probably answered white. If you hail from China or India, you probably said red. And if you’re familiar with wedding culture, you probably said that dresses came in a variety of colors until Queen Victoria popularized white in 1840.
But this question isn’t about the wedding industry. I’m trying to point out that every culture has a different association with colors. And depending on the culture you reference, you might find that a color means more than you think it does.
Let’s return to white. Many people who grew up in a Christian household end up associating white with purity. But if you lived in China, you would find that white is commonly associated with death. White chrysanthemums frequently appear on caskets, and some people even wear white to funerals (not often, but it does happen). Meanwhile, Finnish folklore says that seeing a white animal--especially albino--is an omen of death.
You might say, “But isn’t black the color of death?” In many cultures, yes. If you’ve seen ancient Egyptian art, you’ve probably noticed that chthonic deities (including Anubis and Thoth) are portrayed with black bodies. But in the same culture, black is associated with fertility because the Nile banks turned black when they became moist. In fact, one of Egypt’s nicknames was Kemet, meaning “the black land.” That’s two seemingly contradictory meanings within the same civilization.
When I look at color correspondence lists, few take culture or religion into account. You have no idea which culture the author is from. You can only assume that, wherever they’re from, red means “passion.”
Even Emotionally, Colors Have Different Meanings
When I look up color correspondences, I often see people cite emotional implications of colors. For example, many people will say that the color blue is calming because of its associations with water. Several psychology studies have reported on color’s emotional associations, and even they have come across mixed results.
Remember that 2007 study I mentioned where seeing red resulted in more pain? You might be surprised to learn that a different study recorded the healing powers of red. In 1996, researchers gave participants placebo painkiller pills of different colors. Warm-colored pills ended up working better than cool-colored pills.
On top of that, each color created a different effect. When participants took a blue or green placebo pill, they felt more calm and tired. But red, orange, and yellow pills were more stimulating.
The contradictory meanings of colors do not work against magic; they work for it. Depending on the spell, a red candle can heal someone, seduce a partner, or curse an enemy. The power stems from the practitioner and how they use it.
Create Your Own Correspondence List
.Before I continue, I want to shout out my friend Lumi who gave me the advice that I’m about to tell you (and for just being fantastic). If you want to learn more about color or art magic, visit her Instagram @artbylumi or her Tumblr @artwitchpath.
To kickstart your color magic journey, create your own correspondence list. With paint, pens, or whatever medium you prefer, jot down every color of the rainbow. I recommend doing different shades too, as light green and dark green could mean different things to you.
Do not worry about folklore or magic yet. Just write down what you think of when you see that color. Is it calming? Scary? Do you associate colors with certain deities or seasons? Approach this as an intuitive writing exercise.
If you need help starting, check out this Instagram poll that I put on my story this week (@death.witch.envy). This is what my followers had to say about certain color associations.
Do you agree with these results? Do you disagree? Can you think of another color that is more calming, happy, negative, or healing?
At the end of this post, I’ll show you my working color correspondence list. I used paint swatches and wrote all associations I could come up with. Hopefully, it will inspire you.
As You Research, Add to Your List
As you study your Craft, you’ll likely find colors along the way. Update your correspondences as you learn. The more you work with color in magic, the deeper of an understanding you’ll get.
Also, do not feel pressured to write down the meaning of blue in every single culture or religion. Try to focus on what you are practicing. I mentioned some Chinese associations earlier, but my religion and ethnicity are not Chinese, so I do not use those in my practice. Instead, I focus on ancient Greek, Irish, Sumerian, or Egyptian correspondences, depending on the spell or deity I’m working with.
Whenever you perform a spell or ritual, write it down. Include which colors you used in candles, pen ink, flowers, etc. Did the spell succeed? Did it not? This is why I always recommend writing down rituals; it’s the best way to learn what works and what does not.
For more examples, check out my color correspondence lists below.
In October 2020, a study measured peoples’ heart rates while they watched horror movies. They aimed to see which movie caused the most consistent rapid heart rate, not just leaps from jump scares. The five scariest movies--Sinister, Insidious, The Conjuring, Hereditary, and Paranormal Activity--all featured malicious demons or ghosts.
Two years earlier, research from Chapman University determined that 57.7% of Americans believe in spirits or hauntings. Although many participants claimed that they were not scared of spirits, the current horror movie market says otherwise.
Spirit workers might look at these studies and wonder, are all spirits really malicious? Do evil spirits really possess people like in the movies? And how do we, as magicians, keep ourselves safe?
In this post, I’m going to talk about malicious spirits and how to detect them. Much of this post stems from my personal experience and UPG (unverified personal gnosis). However, I will also reference information from folklore.
Do Evil Spirits Exist?
In an effort to make spirit work appear more safe and accessible, some online practitioners have claimed that evil spirits do not exist. Personally, I find this claim to not only be incorrect, but potentially dangerous.
Some of the world’s earliest magical texts include spells that protect people from spirits. The Maqlû, a collection of incantations from Mesopotamia, lists spells that guard people against witchcraft and spirits. Some of the ancient Greeks practiced apotropaic magic, in which they summoned chthonic deities or heroes to protect them against spirits. Some of these charms can be found in the Greek Magical Papyri, known in the occult community as the PGM (Papyri Graecae Magicae).
But if you were to base your entire spiritual knowledge on horror movies, you might think that all spirits are evil. This is not the case. Religions and folklore tell us that there are far more spirits than just ghosts, poltergeists, and demons. Hell, even if a ghost is in your house, that doesn’t mean that it wants to harm you.
Approach spiritual morality in the same way that most people view human morality. Some are good and helpful, while others and evil, and many are somewhere in the middle. It’s not uncommon for a spirit to act kind until they feel slighted.
How Can Spirits Harm Us?
Depending on the religion and culture, malicious spirits can harm people in any number of ways. According to Mesopotamian religious texts, angry ghosts can inflict illness and bad luck onto people. In certain Muslim traditions, malicious djinn were similar; they could even steal food or other items. Irish folklore tells of faeries who kidnapped humans to work for them before returning them to the human realm.
For simplicity’s sake, I put together a list of the ways that spirits might harm people. These are based on both UPG and folklore I’ve read.
How to Quickly Detect Malicious Spirits
When I first practiced spirit work around 13 years ago, I ran into quite a few malicious spirits. I was naive, arrogant, and lacked supervision, so I fell for a lot of their tricks. Now, I know how to detect when spirits might have an ulterior motive. Based on my experiences, plus the experiences that other practitioners have shared with me, I’ve put together a list of red flags.
Spirits Who Disguise As Deities
I’ve had many people ask me if spirits can pretend to be deities. In short, yes, they can. Learning to distinguish between a deity and spirit requires certain skills and experience, and I plan to write an entire post about this topic.
Here’s all I will say for now: If your deity suddenly sounds different--if They say something that’s entirely out of character or contradictory--be suspicious.
What to Do When You Encounter a Malicious Spirit
Because this post is already so long, I can’t go into detail about every single spell you should perform. But I put together a short list of what you should do if you believe that you encounter a malicious spirit. If you want a separate post about this topic, comment or message me.
Not all spirits act like they do in horror movies. Some are far more subtle, and others work to flatter you instead of scare you. If you know how malicious spirits act, you can detect them early. Then it’s just a matter of cutting contact, banishing, and protecting.