In the Book of Luke, an angel appeared before shepherds and said “Do not be afraid.” Logically, there is no reason to be afraid--angels usually bring glad tidings. But they are also intimidating because of their unfathomable knowledge and power.
Pagan Gods are the same way. They are comforting, enlightening, and honest; but They are also overwhelming. Seven years into my faith, I still feel afraid when I contact (or even consider contacting) a deity whom I’ve never worked with before.
If you feel this way, you’re not alone. I often receive questions such as, “What do I say when I pray to Them?” or “What if I do something wrong?”
Recently, I have pondered all of these questions while building a relationship with the Egyptian God Thoth. So I’m going to run through the process with you: choosing a deity, studying, and beginning your relationship.
How to Choose a Deity
“How do I decide which deity to work with?” is probably the most common question in the Pagan realm. The short answer is: Whoever you want. But I’ll address some concerns that many people have.
I have met many people who stress over worshipping a God and Goddess, or “matron and patron.” This stems from a Wiccan tradition--or rather, some peoples’ interpretation of a Wiccan tradition (see: How Do Other Deities Fit into Wicca?). If you do not subscribe to Wicca or this idea, do not feel pressured to work with two deities.
Many are interested in deities that represent an interest or hobby, such as art, sun/moon, education, or the home. This can work for some people; for instance, I first reached out to Thoth for writing advice. But you and your deity do not need to have the same interests.
Some people feel drawn to certain deities, and they don’t know why. I’ve had several people message me saying, “I feel drawn to Hades, but I have no interest in death work!” which is exactly how I felt when Hades reached out to me.
Gods and Goddesses are more complex than They seem on the surface. For instance, Hades is the Lord of the Underworld; but if you research Him further, you’ll find that He governs wealth, seasons, fertility of the land, gems, mourning, and justice. Perhaps those aspects will impact worshippers later on.
Over all, if you feel drawn to a deity, shoot your shot. You don’t need to have a reason to like a certain deity. Try the relationship and see where it goes. If it doesn’t work out, don’t fret; some deities are only in our lives for a short time.
One more thing: I highly recommend working with one new deity at a time, especially for beginners. Tackling a few Gods or an entire pantheon at once can get overwhelming.
What to Study Before Working with the Deity
Before you start giving offerings or setting up an altar, study your chosen deity. After all, you need to know what your deity prefers for Their offerings or altar.
By “study,” I’m not just talking about the myths (although those can be useful). Research how the ancients worshipped that deity. What offerings did that deity receive? Did They pop up during certain holidays? Did certain cults or occupations worship Them? Usually, the ancients did not view the deity as we perceive Them through mythology today.
One of the simplest ways to understand how the ancients worshipped that deity is through epithets. Epithets are a word or phrase that describes a certain quality of that deity. Some of Thoth’s epithets include ”He who drives away evil” and “He who created purification,” which tells me that He governs protection and cleansing.
Another method is through art. In ancient Egypt, ancients painted certain deities in specific colors. All of those colors had different meanings. Often, art also portrayed deities with an animal or object that was sacred to Them.
As you research, you might notice that some things do not translate to the modern age. For instance, Hades worshippers are not sacrificing black goats anymore. If this stumps you, look into modern worship. Pagans often talk about how they worship deities on blogs and social media accounts. You might gain some inspiration there.
One last thing. While researching, you might notice that cultures and countries all worship deities in a certain way. You must ensure that you are working with a deity with regard to Their culture. This is called appropriate worship. For instance, I wouldn’t worship Thoth in the same way I do Hades, because They are from different cultures.
How to Conduct an Introduction Ritual
Deities are like new friends: you need to build a relationship with Them, even if you are just working with Them and not worshipping. Immediately jumping into demands is rude. Because of this, I recommend an introduction ritual.
Although the word “ritual” might sound solemn and serious, it really isn’t. This ritual can be casual and lighthearted; you don’t have to use “thees” and “thous” if you don’t want to.
The introduction ritual has two main components: an offering and a prayer. By now, you should have learned about appropriate offerings through your research. If you need a foolproof offering, consider lighting a candle. It works for almost any deity. If you do not know how to give offerings, see Offerings for Deities: the Basics.
After giving the offering, begin the prayer. You do not need to recite a prewritten prayer (unless you want to). You can say it in your head, write it down, mutter it, or even sing it. Whatever feels the most comfortable.
If you don’t know what to include in the prayer, here are some ideas:
For more examples, see: If You’re Struggling with Pagan Prayer, Read This.
Many have asked how to end a prayer, or whether to use “Amen” or “Blessed be.” You do not need a sign-off like that if you would feel uncomfortable reciting it. A simple “Thank You for Your time” is good enough. You could also press your hands together, bow, or blow out the candle. These small actions might make the ritual’s ending feel more final.
If you want to conduct divination, feel free to do so. You likely will not receive a grand revelation from the deity, like a vision or voice in your head. Instead, the signs might be more subtle, such as a high candle flame or a meaningful song appearing on your playlist. If you’d like more examples, read Is It a Sign? Interpreting Messages from Deities.
If you are feeling so nervous that you can’t focus, try meditating for a few minutes beforehand. Or, wait until you feel calmer to conduct the ritual.
Also, here is an important tip: do NOT make any oaths, devotions, or swearings yet. You’ll want to make sure that you get along with this deity before becoming a devotee or something similar.
How Do You Know If You Do Something Wrong?
If you’re like me, you might be worried about doing something wrong. Nobody gets worship right on the first try. What if They don’t want to talk to you again? Or what if They end up not liking you?
In my experience, it’s pretty difficult to irritate a deity as long as you’re respectful. I’ve spilled offerings, screwed up a candle so the wick wouldn’t burn, and accidentally caught stuff on fire during rituals before (always keep a water bowl nearby!) None of those incidents broke my relationship with the Gods.
That being said, some Gods might prefer not to work with you. Or more likely, They want to work with you, but They prefer that you do certain things.
If you do something “wrong”--say, you give an offering that They don’t like, or you call Them something They don’t appreciate--you might get this “off” feeling. For example, I call Hades “Lord Hades” quite often. But when I used the title “Lord” with other deities like Zephyrus and Thoth, They didn’t like it.
When this happens, simply correct your behavior. In my case, I said, “oh my bad, I won’t call You that anymore.” Mistakes like these are not make-or-break scenarios. If you continue to act in a way that a God doesn’t appreciate, out of spite or disinterest, then you might have a problem.
If you constantly think “I’ve done something wrong” throughout the ritual, you might be too anxious. Our minds can overtake our spiritual sense when we feel powerful emotions. Take a break, work through your feelings, and try again.
Some Tips to Remember
How do you feel about working with a new deity? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!
As many of my readers know, my grandmother passed away a few weeks ago. Ever since then, I’ve felt like there are two parts of me. The first part is the death witch side of me, which gives myself the same advice that I would give others who mourn. And the second part is me, who, for some reason, doesn’t want to take the advice.
Grieving is an intense group of emotions. When I grieve, I tend to shut down and numb myself. My current goal is to force some of those emotions out so I can make peace with them.
Ancestor altars are not just for death witchcraft; they also help people grieve. You can find versions of ancestor altars or shrines across the world, as they provide a place where one can give offerings and pray to those who have passed. That said, you don’t need to know any of your ancestors to create an altar for them.
Since I recently created an ancestor altar, I decided to share my process. Here's what we'll cover:
For the basics of ancestor worship, check out this post.
Find a Comfortable Spot
“Find a spot for your altar” seems like obvious advice, but the location deserves some thought. Your ancestor altar does not need to be a large table with a complex gallery wall behind it.
Many families place ancestor altars on a shelf. These shelves often include a dish for offerings, pictures, and other religious icons. I’ve also seen tables or shelves next to a bench or chair, so that people who grieve may “sit with” their family.
A spot on your desk, a bookshelf, bedside table--your ancestor altar can fit in any of those spots. It does not need to be big; it just needs the basics, which I will cover later.
I have a large altar table for my practice, but I had to replace one of my altars for the ancestor one. I ended up replacing my Wiccan one (temporarily--the Gods know that this is what I need right now).
While every ancestor altar is different, most contain two basic components: a representation of your ancestors, and an area to give offerings. Let’s dive deeper into these two components.
A Representation of Your Ancestors
There are many ways to represent your ancestors on your altar. The most obvious are pictures. Many necromancers and death workers display pictures of their ancestors, as both a mark of honor and a visualization to aid spirit work.
If you attended that person’s funeral, you might have an order of service (the pamphlet that details the funeral timeline). These often contain a photo or prayer for the deceased. For my ancestor altar, I displayed the order of service for my grandmother’s funeral, which included an Irish prayer.
But you don’t need photos to create an ancestor altar. Family heirlooms are also brilliant ways to portray your ancestry. Do you have a book that’s been passed down? A necklace? A card? Any object that has been passed down to you, through your grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, etc. act as family heirlooms.
For my ancestor altar, I had a butterfly pin given by my maternal grandmother and a sliver cup given by my great-grandmother.
But what if you don’t have any family heirlooms? Then look at cultural representations. For example, my grandmother immigrated to America from Ireland, so the Irish blessing acts as a representation of my paternal ancestors. You might have a book in your family’s native language, a doll, a piece of art, or a plate that depicts your cultural heritage.
If you need more ideas, scroll down for several ideas in every category I’ve mentioned.
An Area to Provide Offerings
Offerings are the cornerstone of ancestor work. Even if you’ve never contacted your ancestors before, you can show that you’re thinking about them through offerings. What offerings you give depend on your culture and your practice.
Many death workers provide an area for offerings. For instance, I have a black and white leaf dish for food and herb offerings, and a brown leaf dish for incense. Foods, drinks, and incense are all common offerings for ancestors.
Another idea is to provide a candle. Many people devote a candle to their ancestors and light it whenever they want to honor their family. I have a votive candle to St. Joseph because my Auntie Mary, who was a Catholic nun, was a Sister of St. Joseph. I also have a more general ancestor candle, the one labeled “In Memoriam.”
Here are some ideas for offering areas:
If you need ideas for offerings, consider these:
About Religious Differences
Many people who read my blog have a different faith than their ancestors did. In my case, my ancestors were devoutly Catholic, and I am Wiccan. If this sounds like you, then you might wonder how you can respect both religions during ancestor work.
“Will my ancestors even like me since I practice a different religion?” is one of the most common questions I receive. The short answer is: it depends. Some ancestors will gladly work with you, and others will ignore you until you cater to their religion.
Do not answer this question before your ancestors do. You might assume that they won’t like your craft, and then when you start working with them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Death provides a different perspective for many souls. Although my grandmother was very Catholic, he happily let me take some graveyard dirt. For him, it was like giving me a sweater for Christmas.
So what does this have to do with ancestor altars? You might want to portray your or your ancestor’s faith on your altar. In my case, I did both. I provided a rosary that I used during my grandfather’s funeral and a St. Joseph votive. But I also included a pentagram to represent myself.
Do not feel as if you have to forfeit your religion for your ancestors. If you have an ancestor who forsakes your beliefs, do not work with them. You are not required to work with every ancestor, and you are not required to ignore your own beliefs or make yourself uncomfortable.
If you want to represent religions on your ancestor altar (this is optional), here are some ideas to do so.
Your Ancestor’s Beliefs:
Including Your Practice
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, then you’re probably a death worker or interested in death witchcraft/necromancy. In this case, you might want to add some magic tools on your ancestor altar. Doing so will aid your spirit work and enhance your connection with those passed.
Before you dump every magic tool on your altar, ask yourself: what do you want to achieve with your ancestors? Do you want to just honor and remember them? If so, you might want to provide some offerings, prayers, or paper to write letters to them. Do you want to practice spirit work? If so, include a divination method and smoke blends to boost your psychic abilities.
Here Are Some Death Witch Supplies to Include on Your Altar:
Stumped? Here’s Where to Start
If you’re building an ancestor altar, then you probably want to work with your ancestors. But where do you start? I always recommend beginning with offerings.
Offerings let your ancestors know that you are thinking of them and want them to be well. Light a candle, provide some incense, give some tea or coffee. As you give these offerings, talk to your ancestors. Tell them that you want to work with them and hope that you can get along.
If you are grieving a lost family member, like I am, spend some time sorting through your emotions. Write a letter to your deceased loved one. Tell them everything you wanted to when they were alive, or how much you miss them in death. You can keep them letter or burn it.
If you’re struggling with intense emotions, try journaling. Set a timer for two minutes, and write down your thoughts and feelings. At the end of the two minutes, take an emotional break. Cry, hug a stuffed animal, smell something soothing--do whatever you need to process these emotions. And when you feel up to it, do this again.
Meditating or praying at your ancestor altar can provide some mental and emotional clarity. Imagine that you’re sitting with your ancestors, just enjoying your time together.
Do you have an ancestor altar? Are ancestors a part of your magic practice? If so, let me know what you do to honor your family. And if I missed anything in this post, remind me in the comments below.