If you’ve been reading witchcraft and occult books for a long time, you may have noticed that most spells and folklore trace back to ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the British Isles. Why do you think that is? Well, part of it is English colonialism. It’s no secret that the Brits preferred some cultures over others.
Another reason is that these cultures spent a lot of time writing things down. Other communities, such as African tribes, hardly wrote anything down. Their traditions are primarily oral, and for centuries, historians didn’t bother to record oral history.
Fortunately, this is changing. Many historians are taking the time to write down oral stories and traditions so they don’t become lost. But much of history--especially magic--has already become lost due to the lack of recording oral history.
Don’t believe me? I’ll list some examples below.
I’m writing these down because (a) they fascinate me, and (b) I want to remind people that we don’t know everything. In the occult community, some people believe that written spells survived because they work. But that’s not entirely true. Many other spells existed--and likely worked--but were never written down or saved.
What do you think about these lost spells? Do you think that we will ever figure out what they were used for? Let me know below.
The Dolls in Miniature Coffins
In 1836, three boys were hunting for rabbit burrows near a rocky formation in Edinburgh called Arthur’s Seat. One of the boys spotted a slate, and he moved it to discover a tiny cave. After digging further, the boys found some objects. They were miniature coffins, only four inches in length.
Although the boys uncovered eight coffins, but only five of them survived after the boys hurled them at each other. Yes, really. They threw around historical artifacts.
Eventually, one of the boys brought the surviving coffins to his father. After opening each coffin, the father discovered eight tiny dolls. Each one has a unique face and clothes, and some don’t have arms, likely to fit inside the coffin. At least two were pink or red, and they were carved from white wood. They date back to the 1780s.
Throughout the centuries, many people have come up with theories about the purpose of these miniature coffins. Some claim that these figures represent the victims of the nearby West Port murders, but there is little evidence to support this.
In 2018, historian Jeff Nisbet claimed to “crack” the miniature coffin mystery. He claimed that these dolls represent people who lost their lives during a political revolution. However, his theory is no more “proven” than others.
Many believe that these dolls were ingredients in a spell. Perhaps sailors carried these dolls to ward off death on their journey. Newspapers from 1836 credited “demonology and witchcraft.” What do you think the coffin dolls were used for?
The Bronze Age Bird Skull Headdress
In January 2019, archaeologists dug up several skeletons in Siberia’s Novosibirsk region. While the fully-preserved skeletons were an amazing find, the archaeologists uncovered a peculiar find. One skeleton wore a headdress of bird skulls.
Between 30 and 50 bird skulls and beaks were tied together to create the headdress, which was likely worn on the neck or collar. The bones belonged to large shore birds, including herons and cranes.
Historians nicknamed the skeleton “the Birdman of Siberia,” and they suspect that he was a priest or a shaman. According to carbon dating, the skeletons date back 5,000 years. He was likely a member of the Odinov, a culture that dominated Siberia during the Bronze Age.
Siberian researcher Lidia Kobeleva believes that the headdress had a ritualistic purpose. But what exactly was it? Was it protective? Did it connect the shaman to spirits? Was it dedicated to a deity? Perhaps all of the above.
What do you think was the purpose of the bird skull headdress?
Babies Buried with Skull Helmets
This is a strange one. In 2014, archaeologists unearthed an ancient burial site in Salango, Ecuador. The funerary mound, which dates back 2,100 years, revealed many interesting finds. But the most unusual were two infant skeletons wearing bone “helmets.”
These helmets were made from the skull fragments of older children who had died before the infants. The infants were younger than 18 months, while their skull helmets came from children between ages four and 12. Archaeologists called it “using juvenile crania as mortuary headgear.”
The children were members of Guangala, a civilization that lived on Ecuador’s coast around 100 B.C. But despite knowing when the infants lived, historians still have no idea what the skull helmets mean.
Archaeologists have many theories. One is that these helmets represent the infants’ ancestors quite literally protecting them. Others believe that the helmets protect infants in the afterlife, or that they symbolize conquering another nation. We still have no idea what these skull helmets mean.
What do you think about the skull helmets? Do you think they were a spell, or purely symbolic?
Archaeologists are skill unearthing facts about ancient civilizations. Some could have been spells, but we will never know if they actually were.
Do you think that you can use this knowledge for your Craft? Do you believe that these were even spells at all? Leave your theories below!
As many of you know, I’m getting married in October 2020. So far, our date has not been postponed, and we are planning as if nothing has changed.
From the beginning, my fiance and I knew we would have an interfaith wedding. Both of our families are Christian. Mine is Catholic, and his family leans more towards Baptist. My fiance is still Christian, and I am Wiccan. How could we create a spiritual ceremony that won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable?
Here is the process that I’ve been struggling with. This is a personal post to convey my ideas and request more ideas for our future day.
We Want Something Universal, Not Two Specific Rituals
When I first looked into Pagan weddings, I bought the book Handfasting and Wedding Rituals by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein. This book has many perks, such as flower meanings, color correspondences, and ritual examples. I’d recommend it. But one thing I don’t like is that all the interfaith ceremony examples are “separate,” for lack of a better term. They all include two priests or priestesses, one for each faith, conducting two ceremonies back-to-back. We don’t want that.
We want one ceremony that reflects both of us, not two rituals that separate us. Instead of saying “here’s him, and then here’s me,” we want our ceremony to say, “here is us.” We’re aiming for a universal ceremony, one that is vague enough to convene our faiths and the faiths of our ancestors.
Related: Offerings to Deities: the Basics
To Make Matters Worse, We Have No Officiate to Guide Us
If you look up Pagan or interfaith weddings online, you’ll likely see mentions of priests and priestesses. We don’t have either--at least, no one we know and trust to conduct our ceremony. I’m not part of a coven, and we don’t go to a church.
Although many couples seek out priests that they don’t know, we didn’t want to do that. We wanted someone who knew us to lead the ceremony. We could work on the rituals with them, and the ceremony will feel far more special with a loved one than a stranger.
After much deliberation, we decided to have my grandmother officiate. She was a psychology professor who focused on family and religion. She has observed many religions both here and in India, and she has written books and articles about karma. She describes herself as “undenominational,” which is exactly what we’re looking for. We know she’ll be well-spoken and open to both of our opinions on the ceremony.
On top of that, my grandfather (her husband) died earlier this year. He was sick for a long time, and he was upset that he wouldn’t survive until the wedding. This is our way of involving both of my grandparents. Honoring ancestors is one of my values, after all.
Plus, There’s Little to No Information Online
If you try to research Pagan interfaith weddings, you won’t find much. There are plenty of articles about Pagan weddings--handfasting, jumping the broom, etc.--but few about combining your faith with your spouse’s.
The best sites I could find were couples’ wedding photos that they uploaded onto sites like Rock n Roll Bride. Seeing real couples’ weddings gave me ideas of what we could do. But many blogs lacked the information I needed. Many scheduled weddings as “here’s the Pagan part, and here’s the Christian part.” Again, that’s not what we want.
So Here Is What We’re Doing (So Far)
First, we decided on one spiritual ritual that we both want: the handfasting. This ritual is perfect because it combines my Wiccan faith with our ancestral histories. Handfastings date back to the 16th century (at least) in the British Isles. It is also the origin of the phrase “tie the knot.” Even for family members who aren’t Pagan, this ritual has some ancestral significance.
We’re going to remove the segments that are too “Wiccan-y,” for lack of a better term. For instance, we won’t cast a circle and call upon the four elements. That is a bit too explicitly Wiccan for our interfaith wedding. Instead, I can make four handfasting cords that represent the elements.
My grandmother/officiate recommended that she call upon “the Universe” in place of specific deities. We like this idea. It shortens the ceremony because she won’t have to list every deity that we worship. Plus, both my fiance and I believe in a higher power. Calling upon the Universe is enough to invoke that.
How We Incorporate the Christian Aspect
If you don’t know, traditional Catholic weddings basically do an entire mass before the ceremony even starts. There’s no way in hell that our ceremony will be that long. My parents did that, and they emphasized that we don’t have to.
Instead, I want to incorporate some Christian aspects into our spiritually vague wedding. Many handfasting cords have charms on the ends. I would like to include a cross or two on the cords.
I also want to erect a table for our ancestors who couldn’t make it to the wedding. Many of my family members died before this day. I would like to give them an open chair and table for them to be present. I may include a Christian candle and rosary on the table, too.
How I Sneak in the Pagan Aspect
Because I am one of the only Pagans at my wedding, I don’t want to shove the Wiccan aspect into peoples’ faces. So I prefer to incorporate my religious views into my jewelry, handfasting cords, and some decorations.
I bought a hair comb in the symbol of the Goddess. In Wicca, the Goddess rules over weddings because it represents the transition from maiden to womanhood. This beautiful design is from Etsy seller Ayreeworks.
I have already bought two necklaces from the Etsy jeweler Sheekydoodle who makes formal Pagan jewelry. I’ll see which ones work with my dress during the fitting. Representing my religion in my jewelry is very important to me.
Recently, I asked a Hellenic polytheist discord how I can sneak more Pagan aspects into my wedding. A few people brought up the bouquet. If the florist makes the bouquet green and purple, those colors signify Hera, the Goddess of marriage. I also want an artichoke in my bouquet. Oddly enough, artichokes are an aphrodisiac--Aphrodite, much?
Do you have any ideas for incorporating Pagan symbolism?
I considered naming the tables after deities, too. Perhaps there’s a way I can bring Hades into the ceremony too? If you have any ideas, please hit me up. We’re still planning the ceremony and could use more brainstorming.
Please comment below!
On my post about decorating altars, a few readers commented that they’d love to set up an altar if they weren’t closeted. I remember feeling that way for the first seven years of my Craft. Growing up in a Catholic family, I never openly displayed my interest. Whenever I mentioned it (like when I discovered Hellenic Polytheism in middle school), I’d receive a lecture about Jesus and one God, which shut down the conversation.
So, yes, I understand the struggle. Even in college, I couldn’t set up altars in the dorm room. I had to hide all of my materials until my environment became safe, around age 20 or so.
If you’re “in the broom closet,” this post is for you. I’m going to discuss some methods I used to keep my Craft private. If you have any other ideas, please share. This is more of a brainstorming post than a “guide.” Your ideas will help people who are struggling with their environment.
Get “Non-Witchy” Containers
The easiest way to hide your supplies is to put everything in a box. It’s annoying, but effective. When it comes to deciding which box can hold your witchcraft/Pagan supplies, I recommend something that looks like another container.
In high school, my parents bought me some fancy “London” and “Paris” boxes as a set. Since they make pretty decorations, I put many of my art supplies in my Paris box. That means my London box held more painting tools, right? Nope. It disguised my witchcraft stuff.
For me, a really good way to hide supplies wasn’t just by using a random box. It was an intentionally disguised box. By stacking the Paris and London boxes, my parents assumed that both held art supplies for school. Whenever a Sabbat came around, I unloaded my London box and set up an altar on the floor. This box holds my extra witchcraft supplies to this day.
Or, Your Box Becomes Your Altar
When I practiced in secret, I shoved all of my supplies haphazardly into a box. While alone, I’d take it all out and set it up. If I were active in the witchcraft internet community at the time, I would have discovered a much more convenient solution: make an altar box.
Essentially, your altar is the tiny container. Your meditation crystals, prayer beads, and candles are already in there. Many bloggers pitch this idea for travel altars, but they can become at-home altars if you’re struggling for space or have to hide your Craft.
Those wooden boxes from Michael’s work well, and you can paint them. Otherwise, a shoe box or disguised box that I mentioned earlier would work. Hell, you can even use a desk drawer if you want.
Online Altars And Grimoires
This is another tip that I would have used if I had learned it earlier. Where I grew up, the magic community was secretive. You wouldn’t mention your Craft unless the person you were talking to also had a psychic ability. So I never thought to use the internet, or my computer, to my advantage.
Online altars are a thing. Many people use Tumblr accounts or Pinterest boards to save images, prayers, and facts that relate to their practice. Some save information they find in folders or on Google Docs.
These are great because (a) you can create an online alias so others don’t find you; (b) you can save information easily; and (c) you can engage with an online community. But if you’re reading this blog post, you probably know this already.
Take advantage of the resources you have. Can’t write down a grimoire? Copy and paste facts in your Notes app. Can’t build an altar? Make one on Animal Crossing. (I’m particularly proud of the Hades shrine on my island.) Remember that this is all temporary. Eventually, you’ll have your own place and can transition to a physical altar.
Can Your Supplies Disguise As Decor?
A lot of witchcraft supplies seem like everyday items to most people. Consider how many people place a Himalayan salt lamp on their bedside table or shelf. I know quite a few Christians who own those, and nobody thinks anything of it. But when you place a Himalayan salt lamp on an altar, with a pentagram and a jar of mugwort, then people will think it’s witchy.
If you have supplies that look like everyday items, display them. Why? Because when you’re practicing out of boxes, you’ll need as much storage space as you can get. As your collection grows, you may struggle to store EVERY witchcraft tool into one or two boxes.
Crystals make common decorative items and bookends. In my practice, family heirlooms contribute to ancestor work, so I display the teacups and incense burner that my grandmother gave me.
I’ll also set out some statues. Yes, even Pagan statues can seem discreet in some families. For years, my (Catholic) parents displayed a statue of Bast on their desk. We got it from a museum, and they loved the fact that Bast guarded the home in ancient Egypt. I had to bargain with them to get it back, and I eventually gave them a Bast statue of their own.
Another tip that I wish I knew: If you own witchcraft books, shelve them with their pages facing outwards. Believe it or not interior designers use this technique with some books. If the spine color doesn’t make the palette, they’ll flip it around so that you see the pages instead. I do this a lot with thin books, and nobody notices.
There are many convenient (and even fun) ways to hide your craft.
You know your living situation more than anyone. If any of these moves seem too risky, don’t do them. Stay safe. That is always your first priority.
Have you ever had to practice in secret? If you have, which tricks did you use? Comment below to help others who come across this post.
Answering Asks: Osteomancy, Motivation in Spirit Work, and Tips for Beginning Hades Worship
On the first Saturday of every month, I asked my subscribers what questions they have about death witchcraft, magic, or Paganism. They submitted many amazing and intelligent questions. Here, I've answered five of them.
I was wondering if you know how to get started with osteomancy? I’ve found no resources that explain what to use, how to read them, or anything. Thank you!
There are many different techniques of bone divination. Osteomancy, also called throwing bones, is by far the most popular method in America that likely derived from Hoodoo. It’s also my favorite form of divination.
Osteomancy can be performed in a couple of different ways. One method is to assign a meaning to each bone. While choosing your bones, tap into their spirit and decide what each one will represent. Love, money, creativity, malevolence, luck, and career are common ideas. After you throw the bones, decide what they mean based on where they land.
Another method is to divine based on the shape that the bones make. This is similar to scrying, except that you throw the bones and decide their meaning based on where they land.
When I’ve spoken to osteomancers, most combined both techniques. For instance, some people throw bones onto a blanket and discard ones that land outside of it. Others include long bones or sticks as “blockers.” For example, if a blocker lands between creativity and career, that may mean that one’s career is hindering their creativity.
Keep in mind that bone-throwing sets aren’t only bones. Keys, dice, coins, and sticks are also common ingredients. Sea shells (bones of the sea) and snail shells (bones of the land) can also be included. Everyone’s osteomancy set is unique, and witches often gather their sets over time.
I talk about this more in Death Witchcraft: Volume 2. I’m also happy to write a post about it. If you’d like one, common below.
What is the difference between a book of shadows and a grimoire? I sometimes see them being used interchangeably.
A lot of people use the terms interchangeably, and many debate over what they mean. Based on my 12 years in this community, here’s my understanding.
The term “Book of Shadows” originated from Wicca, but it is not solely used in that religion. A Book of Shadows is one’s personal journey through the Craft. It not only contains spell information, but also personal beliefs, journals, dreams, and records of your successes and failures. In traditional Wicca, a Book of Shadows would include one’s initiation into the religion and coven.
A grimoire is far less personal. It is a book of spells, magical theory, and folklore. Think of a grimoire like a textbook, while a Book of Shadows is closer to a personal journal. Both store information about one’s Craft.
Hello! I feel really called towards Spirit Work, but it’s just so hard to stay motivated to train and practice when your senses aren’t developed at all, I become overwhelmed by doubt and even skepticism. Do you have any tips?
I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling, but know that these feelings are normal. Especially now, when we’re all stuck at home and anxious about the pandemic, it’s hard to remain motivated. (See: Quarantine Witchcraft.)
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be born with psychic abilities to practice spirit work. I’ve seen people go from hearing and seeing nothing to seeing other peoples’ experiences through visions. I was one of them.
The key is finding the right technique to practice. This is easier said than done, especially when older magicians recommend what you “should” start with. When I first started out, a lot of people said that anyone could do dream work. I struggled to work with dreams for years only to learn that I can’t. I wasted so much time doing that.
If you’re not seeing results from your current Craft, you may need to switch things up. Pause energy work and start practicing divination. Look into a different path, such as chaos magic or traditional witchcraft. Try a different divination tool. You may be surprised by the results.
Also, are you writing down your progress? I suggest writing down your results after each divination session or spirit work practice. Even if your results are, “I saw nothing in the water this time,” or “I might’ve seen a coyote, but I’m not sure,” write it down. Keeping a journal will remind you that you are making progress, even if it is small. Even if a sign, vision, emotion, or impression seems like nothing, it may come up later.
If your issue is practicing consistently, I will direct you to my previous blog post, How to Practice Magic or Paganism Every Day Consistently. I hope this helps.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just begun worshipping Hades?
Congrats on your new divine relationship! My advice will stem from what I struggled with during my early days of worshipping Hades.
First, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who worry that, if they do something wrong, their deity will be mad at them. In my experience, Gods are far more forgiving than that. They will give you a chance to correct yourself and improve in the future.
Years ago, I gave an offering to Hades and promised to bury it later. I forgot. The next time I approached the altar, I felt that Hades was annoyed (understandably). I buried the offering outside, and everything was fine. I didn’t “ruin” my relationship; I made a mistake, and that’s okay. It’s how we learn.
Another piece of advice is to not take anyone else’s word as law. On social media, many people claim to be the mouthpiece of a deity. The word “godphone” gets thrown around as a symbol of authority. Never consider anyone’s opinion of a deity as law--not even mine.
Talk to Hades yourself. Learn what He’s like. Discover which offerings He enjoys and how He prefers to communicate with you. This is YOUR relationship. Don’t worry about what anyone else is saying or doing.
For more info on worshiping Hades, check out the blog post On Worshiping Hades.
What does it mean to you to practice death witchcraft?
For me, death witchcraft is an act of religious devotion. I began as a way to worship Hades. As a Wiccan, I’m used to combining witchcraft with religion, and I wanted a way to honor Hades through magic. Caring for the dead is and sharing what I know is how I worship Him.
On a personal level, death witchcraft gives my life significance. Right now, I am alive and can work with the dead. But soon, I will be dead. By caring for the deceased now--and sharing my knowledge about the craft--I guarantee that future magicians will communicate with me when I’m gone. Forgotten souls will no longer be forgotten. The dead will continue living in our hearts and minds.
One of my greatest fears is dying without impacting the world in any way. Death witchcraft is how I make my impact.
Thank you all for your questions! I apologize for those whose questions I did not answer. If you have any further questions, comment below, or stay tuned for next month's Answering Asks!