Necromancy vs. Death Witchcraft
“What’s the difference between necromancy and death witchcraft?” I receive that question often, which is why it’s in the “About Death Witchcraft” section of this website. But I want to expand upon it here.
To start, the term death witchcraft is relatively new. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were only a decade old. I first encountered it on Tumblr and Reddit forums around 2016, and very few people used the term. I actually changed my Tumblr URL to death-witch-envy so that others could find me.
Death witchcraft is a magical practice in which people communicate with and honor the dead. Death witches also work with the energy of death itself. We come to terms with our own mortality and work through spiritual “deaths” in our lives, such as a job loss, divorce, or moving to a new area.
If this sounds vague, it’s because every death witch path is different. Some people work with deceased children; others, only adults. Some work with dead plants and animals. There are religious death witches, secular ones, and ones who work as morticians or death doulas.
In most cases, death witches work to heal the dead. We help the dead through their trauma and pass on. We also honor the dead to keep their memories alive. While other magical paths focus on power, we aim for peace and charity.
It’s important that you understand how complex death witchcraft is, because necromancy is not nearly as varied.
The word necromancy comes from the Greek words nekrós ("dead body") and manteía ("divination by means of"). In short, it means “divination of the dead.”
Necromancers, both modern and ancient, communicate with the dead through divination. Why? Because the dead have wisdom. In almost every folklore and spirituality, the dead know facts about the past, future, and present that necromancers can learn from. The dead can also help with certain spells.
But what about “raising the dead”? What about raising corpses from their graves Lovecraft style? To understand where this idea came from, we need to examine the complex history of necromancy.
An Abridged History of Necromancy
Because necromancy is one of the world’s most ancient magical practices, its history is long and complicated. Necromancy has roots in ancient Babylon, Greece, Rome, and Egypt. It also went by many names; in ancient Greek literature, it was called nekyia.
Contrary to popular belief, the ancients viewed necromancy as taboo even back then. Most cultures believed that disturbing the dead came with spiritual risks. Necromancy was a last resort of sorts–think of Odysseus descending into the Underworld to learn how to sail home after 10 years.
That said, it was still a popular form of divination in some areas, especially Persia. Necromancy was usually conducted by priests or magicians. People contacted the dead to receive protection or prophecies. For example, if one believed that they were being haunted, they might have consulted a necromancer to ask what they should do.
Although the corpse was used in some cases, most forms of necromancy did not use the human body. Some magicians performed rites over the grave. Others used human bones for magical tools. But for the most part, the practice was similar to today: inducing trance states, chanting, discerning visions, calling upon deities, etc.
Necromancy was more taboo in Jewish and Christian religions. Because of this, it rapidly declined in popularity by the Early Middle Ages.
Medieval priests deemed necromancy as maleficium, or evil magic. They believed that, although necromancers could contact the dead, they needed the help of demons to do so. The Church claimed that demons took on the appearance of souls. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia,
“The Church does not deny that, with a special permission of God, the souls of the departed may appear to the living, and even manifest things unknown to the latter. But, understood as the art or science of evoking the dead, necromancy is held by theologians to be due to the agency of evil spirits.”
Despite necromancy being forbidden, classical magicians still performed it. The Middle Ages and early Renaissance periods feature incredibly complex necromantic rituals. This is where you find spells filled with garbled Latin, guttural trance states, seals, sigils, lengthy prayers–all the steps that many now associate with ceremonial magic.
Many ceremonial necromancers put the soul back into the corpse and let it speak. If you’re wondering where the idea of necromancy zombies came from, this is likely the origin. Necromancers would perform rituals in cemeteries and catacombs. Believing that the dead spoke softly, they would press their ears to the corpse’s lips.
But if you were to pick up a book on necromancy from the Late Middle Ages, these rituals would be few and far between. During this time, necromancy was associated with demonaltry and demonic magic. I’ve had a few people ask me why many necromancy books feature demons; this is why.
Obviously, I am generalizing here. Necromancy took on many different forms in different cultures and religions. For example, African necromancy looked nothing like European Christian necromancy. But I’m focusing on European necromancy to explain where the stereotypical “raising the dead” idea came from.
As a side note, “raising the dead” does not always mean “turn a corpse into a zombie.” The word raise, according to the Cambridge dictionary, also means “to cause to exist” or “to communicate with someone.” So this phrase still applies to divination.
But back to the history. Oddly enough, necromancy bounced back into popularity during the Victorian Era, mainly due to the Ouija board. Seances became the most popular method of necromancy during the 20th century. By the time of the New Age Movement, the word necromancy became associated with horror, fantasy, and D&D. Nowadays, most magicians don’t call themselves necromancers due to these connotations.
So What Are the Differences?
To summarize, divination of the dead, in any form, is necromancy. But death witchcraft encompasses much more: healing the dead, working with death energy, shadow work, and more.
You could say that necromancy is an aspect of death witchcraft.
If you’re reading this post to decide what to call yourself, know that you don’t have to choose between these terms. You can use both as I do. You could also use a different term, such as death worker, spirit worker, medium, or just witch. The label is not as important as the practice.
Herbs for the Dead
When I was 16, I got my first job at my hometown’s new spice and tea shop. During training, a corporate representative showed us every spice, herb, and tea, and what it is used for. Customers usually came in with cooking or health questions, and we had to know the answers. Although I was trained in magic at the time, I never imagined that this knowledge would benefit my Craft.
This is a long-winded explanation for “I used a lot of herbs in witchcraft.” However, I’m not alone; herbal grimoires and encyclopedias are prominent in the occult community. Today, I’m going to discuss how herbs can aid death witchcraft.
How To Use Herbs in Death Witchcraft
Herbs have been ingredients in necromancy, ancestor work, and other forms of magic for thousands of years. They have multiple uses–I’ll give you an abridged list.
Herbs and Correspondences
Here, I will list herbs that I frequently use in death witchcraft, along with their correspondences. Correspondences stem from a mixture of personal experience, historical use, and folklore. Note that I will not mention trees here; I have already covered trees in another post. I will not mention cooked/baked foods like bread, but I will cover naturally-grown foods like fruits and vegetables.
How Do You Use Magic Herbs?
Have you ever used herbs in death work? Did I miss any noteworthy herbs or plants? Let me know in the comments below!
When most people discuss ancient Greek funeral rites, they often talk about Charon, the river Styx, Hades and Elysium. Many remember that people would put coins in the deceased’s mouth for Charon. But ancient Greek burial was much more complex than that.
For instance, Charon did not appear as a major Greek figure until around 500 BC. Before then, Hermes brought the dead to Hades. The earliest mention of placing coins in the deceased’s mouth was Aristophanes’ The Frog (450 BC). On top of that, Elysium (Paradise) did not rise in popularity until the 5th and 4th centuries BC, and it was only in certain religious groups.
If you pull from ancient Greek sources to work with the dead like I do, you’ll want accurate information. I have spent a long time researching ancient Greek burial rites. To save you some time, I’ve written an abridged version of what their funerals might have looked like. I’ll include sources at the end, too.
Views of the Afterlife That Many Don’t Discuss
Before I jump into ancient Greek funerals, I want to include certain perceptions of the afterlife that many other authors gloss over. According to Robert Garland, a historian and professor of Classics at Colgate University, the Greek view of death was much less uniform than we believe. Ideas of the afterlife varied by culture and city-state, especially during the Classical Era (500 - 323 BC).
According to most sources, when a person died, their spirit (psyche) left the body. Unlike other cultures, the body was no longer important to the spirit. The psyche either left through the mouth or through an open wound, if applicable. Homer mentioned a spirit from the heart (thumos) and viral spirit (aion), but these had no further role and were hardly ever mentioned.
As many know, the Underworld (often just called Hades) was surrounded by rivers. Although the most famous river is Styx, the Underworld actually had five rivers, as per The Odyssey and Aeneid: Acheron (the river of woe), Cocytus (the river of lamentation), Phlegethon (the river of fire), Lethe (the river of forgetfulness), and of course, Styx (river of unbreakable oath by which the Gods took vows.
However, a river was not the only way to get to the Underworld. Other sources mentioned souls going over the edge of Okeanos, the Western Sea. In many myths, people entered Hades through a cave. Oracles governed specific areas that connected to the Underworld. If a soul’s body was not buried, it could not enter Underworld, so the Greeks would even bury their war enemies.
Before Charon came onto the scene, Hermes escorted souls from Thanatos (the God of death) into Hades. Later, some believed that Hermes brought the souls to Charon, who guided them from there.
Souls had a neutral, calm existence in the Underworld. Many believed that they were happy with rites and funerals, but other than that, they had no contact with the living. However, during certain feasts and festivals, the dead were said to join the living and eat designated meals, similar to many modern-day feasts of the dead. When they did speak to the living (such as through necromancy or oracles), they conveyed wisdom relating to the future, past, or present.
With these facts in mind, let’s move onto ancient Greek funerals.
Burial or Cremation?
During Greece’s early history, most corpses were cremated. By 1100 BC, however, most Greeks switched to burial. Athens was the exception.
If corpses were cremated, they were still buried in simple, rectangular pits or placed in urns.
Historians received most information on Greek funerals from Attica, between the 8th and 4th centuries BC. These were rather lavish, and some families could not afford all of these steps. Even so, the ancient Greek funeral was divided into three stages.
Prothesis - The Laying of the Body
Side note: the Greeks considered anything that was in contact with a corpse to be “tainted.” That included the house and its water. A fresh bucket of water was placed outside the door for visitors to “cleanse themselves” after paying respects. I'll expand upon this later.
Ekphora - The Funeral Procession
Afterwards, on the second and third days, the mourners had a feast of the dead called perideipnon. They would return to the house with drinking, merriment, and libations to the Gods.
After the Burial
Because deaths (and births) were considered “polluted,” the ancient Greeks would cleanse themselves after these events. This act of purification was called lustration.
Since the prothesis occurred in the home, all areas of the home--including the water--were considered polluted. A “clean” bucket of water remained outside for visitors to wash their hands. After the funeral, the home was washed with “new water,” usually from an ocean or spring. In Argos, mourners even put a “new fire” into the hearth.
Other lustrations included: fumigation (often with sulphur or incense), rubbing oneself with clay, or “washing off” with animal blood. These were not exclusive to funerals, however.
Cemeteries were said to be slightly polluted. Ghosts were said to hover near the burial site. If one wanted to communicate with the dead, they would go one of the Underworld entrances mentioned above, or to the ghost's burial site.
What Can Practitioners Take Away from This?
After years of digging into ancient Greek funerals, I’ve pulled together correspondence lists that relate to that culture. If your Craft or faith pulls from ancient Greece, these might be useful to you.
Offerings for the Dead
Libations are usually poured downward into the earth or another container.
Keep in mind that these are not the only offerings for the deceased. They are just options that I took away from the sources in "Recommended Reading."
To Honor or Heal the Dead
For Spiritual Protection
Did I miss anything? Can you recommend other sources to people? If so, let me know in the comments below.
Since I had just moved to a new state, I had no idea where this grave was. I looked up some cemeteries on Google maps, and I spotted a forested cemetery with a review that said it was “supposed to be haunted.” That seemed like a solid choice.
When I drove to the cemetery, I couldn’t see it from the road. It was concealed by an abandoned chapel; I would not have noticed it had I not researched the cemetery. Shaded by trees, covered in moss, the cemetery was palpable. It was the first time I felt spooked by a graveyard.
Then, I found it. The gravestone belonged to Sarah Odell, and the cemetery was called Odell. This was her cemetery; she wanted me to know where it was.
Scrying can have some fantastic results. There are many methods of scrying and a vast array of visions to experience, which I am going to cover here.
What Is Scrying?
Scrying, sometimes called “seeing,” is a form of divination in which someone peers into a vessel and interprets visions that they see. Scrying does not require one to be a medium or clairvoyant. Like other magical practices, it simply requires the right method.
Although scrying is often associated with future predictions, it can reveal many other things. Insights into yourself, messages from spirits or deities, and sights into other realms are all on the table.
There are many ways to scry. Here, I’ll list a few of the most popular methods.
Types of Scrying:
Preparation: The Most Important Step
I know people usually skip over the “prepare” step (and I do too), but if you do not take time to do this, scrying will not go well.
Scrying doesn’t happen every time someone looks into a vessel. If that were true, everyone would have visions whenever they roasted marshmallows. The power does not lie in the vessel; it is in the magician and how they prime themselves.
Most people scry in a self-induced trance state. Author and blogger Katrina Rasbold phrased it as, “Make your mind as blank as possible.” Scrying works best when the mind is not plagued by impatience, anxiety, or expectations.
I like to smoke an herbal blend before scrying (my favorite is mugwort, damiana, and lemongrass). But you don’t have to use hallucinogens. Meditation clears the mind and can enhance spirit work. Others use music, chants, prayers, visualizations, yoga, and even dance.
You might need to experiment with a few of these methods to learn what works best. If you also practice spirit work, the preparation is similar, in my experience.
Tips for Successful Scrying
Scrying sounds simple: You just stare into a vessel and let visions come to you. But if you’ve ever tried it, you know that it’s not so easy. The mind can get distracted by the reflection, impatiences, or doubting whether your visions are real.
The best scrying advice I ever received was from the old tumblr user ofwoodandbones (oh how I miss them). To paraphrase: “You are not looking at the vessel; you are trying to look through it.” The reflections, lights, and shadows are just the surface. Your visions lie beyond it.
Here are some tips for scrying that I’ve gathered over years of experience:
What Will You See?
As with every form of divination, you should not expect to see something while scrying. Your visions could be anything from spirits reaching out to future predictions to answers for your questions.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn describes three levels of scrying, and I believe that these spell out what kind of information you might receive.
The first is “Scrying with the Spirit Vision.” These visions explain something about your inner self. For example, it might be a symbol of a situation you’re struggling with or a message that a deity has for you.
The second is “Traveling in the Spirit Vision.” During this stage, scrying transports you to a different area, whether physical or spiritual. You might see the dead in the afterlife, or you could see a nearby location that you must visit.
The third is “Rising in the Planes.” This is an insight into your spiritual process. Scrying might reveal symbols, spirits, deities, or actions that you should look into to excel in your Craft.
That said, no book or organization can interpret your visions for you. Only you can discern what your divination means and how you can use it.
Scrying requires a “clear mind” and plenty of mental and spiritual preparation. Instead of focusing on the reflection, practitioners must relax their eyes and allow visions to come to them. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
Have you ever scried before? Has any method worked or not worked for you? 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.
CAUTION: Cemetery water is highly polluted. Do not in baths, salves, smoking blends, or anywhere else that will go into your body.
Since I got that cemetery snow, it has melted. But I have studied and tested cemetery water for its uses in death witchcraft. These are my findings.
What Do We Know About Ghosts and Water?
I’ve read a few posts about cemetery water, and most authors give it the traditional associations with water. For instance, they would say that cemetery water can purify, cleanse, etc.
This is a perfectly valid way to analyze cemetery water. But I want to explore the relationship between ghosts and water in folklore.
In some cultures, ghosts inhabit water. In Slavic folklore, the realm of the dead and realm of the living are divided by water, namely the sea. Navia, or souls of the dead, are said to live in water.
In Thailand, ghosts called Phi Phrai are said to inhabit water. These ghosts are usually women, and they might have died with a child in the womb. If you are familiar with the Ghost Festival, you might have heard something similar. Residents of China, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore call the seventh month of the lunar calendar Ghost Month, when the deceased rise from the lower realm. On Ghost Day, many people will avoid water in fear that a ghost will drag them down. Shui gui, or water ghosts, are said to have died by drowning.
Depending on the culture and religion, water might have connections to the Underworld. I discussed wells, rivers, and caves in this post: Real-Life Locations That Connect to the Underworld.
But in other cultures, ghosts avoid water. In Scotland, spirits of the dead cannot cross bodies of water. When funeral processions carried a coffin to a cemetery, they would cross a bridge or walk on river rocks along the way. They believed that ghosts and malicious spirits could not follow the body that way.
The concept of ghosts avoiding water also exists in the United States. If you’ve ever been to the South, you’ve probably noticed that many porches and houses are a light bluish-green. This color is called haint blue, and it had special significance to the Gullah, African Americans who lived in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Because haint blue resembles water, it is said to protect houses from spirits of the dead.
Depending on your Craft and where you live, water can have different associations in death witchcraft. I’ve narrowed it down to two uses: connecting to the dead and protection.
Connecting to the Dead with Cemetery Water
The first use for cemetery water is to connect with the dead. Because this water is infused with death energy, its function is similar to graveyard dirt.
Put cemetery water into death witch or necromancy-related spells. I used some in my spirit work oil and necromancy ink. Dipping a candle in it (not the wick!) and letting it dry might enhance a candle spell.
To simplify, view cemetery water as a spirit work booster. Anything you add it to should help you connect with the dead.
Another use for cemetery water is lecanomancy, otherwise known as water scrying. Since ancient Rome, necromancers have peered into water to receive messages from the dead.
To practice water scrying, grab a clear bowl (glass is ideal) and pour cemetery water into it. Make sure that the bowl is not too dark; you want to see the water. Light a candle and keep it nearby to illuminate the space. Some people put a bit of olive oil into the water, but that is not necessary. Breathe evenly, clear your mind, and peer into the water. See what the dead wish to show you.
Protection with Cemetery Water
Another potential use for cemetery water is protection. Depending on the folklore, even imitating water can protect you from spirits.
Rub cemetery water onto your windows and doors to ward your home. While leaving a cemetery, toss some water behind you so that spirits don’t follow you home. Painting certain objects in the color of water might dissuade spirits from touching them.
Cemetery water can also consecrate and cleanse. Use it to anoint magical tools and keep them safe from harm. If you feel like spirits are clinging to you or following you, pour a drop onto your clothes.
How to Get Cemetery Water
If you are interested in working with cemetery water, there are several ways you can get it. If it rains at a cemetery, collect some of the drops. You can also collect some water from puddles or sprinklers in a graveyard.
You can also do it how I did: by collecting cemetery snow. Snow and water have similar correspondences, and you can use snow in the same ways as listed above. If it snows in your area, head to a local cemetery and get it there.
While gathering cemetery water or snow, try to avoid specific graves. Water is a common offering for the dead, and you don’t want to disturb the soul that lives there. When I gathered snow, I did it near the front gate. The entrance of the cemetery belongs to the gatekeeper, a deceased soul that guards the graveyard. If you get this spirit’s permission, you can grab snow or water from there.
Can You Do the Same Spells with Regular Water?
In short, you don’t need cemetery water to practice lecanomancy. Plenty of death witchcraft spells require regular water. However, if you want a “spirit work boost,” using cemetery water will only work in your favor.
In short, cemetery water and snow have two main uses: connecting to the dead and protection. Lecanomancy, which is scrying with a bowl of water, is a common necromancy method.
You can get cemetery water from rain, sprinkles, puddles, or snow that is not on a specific grave.
View cemetery water as a spirit work booster; it’s not required for spirit work, but it will increase your chances of connecting with the deceased.
Would you use cemetery water or snow? Have you used either in the past? Let me know in the comments below!
Bones aren’t placed on altars for just aesthetics. Magicians use these bones for spirit work, magic, and divination. One of the most popular uses for bones is osteomancy.
Osteomancy, also called bone throwing, is a form of divination that is interpreted from a tossed bone set. It can provide detailed answers to complex questions, from careers to hobbies to relationships. This attention to detail makes bone throwing my preferred form of divination.
If this interests you, here’s how you can gather a bone set and start divining.
What Is Bone Throwing?
Bone divination has existed for thousands of years. In ancient China, diviners examined shoulder blades, a practice called scapulimancy. During the Shang Dynasty, people burned an ox shoulder blade and divined the cracks in it. Today, people call this pyro-osteomancy.
Evidence of bone divination also stems from Japan, Korea, Northern Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Serbia, and Greece. The form of osteomancy that people know today--which involves tossing sets of bones, shells, rocks, and other materials--likely came from American Hoodoo. In Africa and Asia, diviners would put those materials in a basket, shake them, and then toss them onto a mat or circle.
Gathering Your Bone Set
Gathering bones can be a daunting task. Some people find them in nature, and others buy them from ethically-sourced shops. If you want to gather bones, know that certain countries and U.S. states have laws and regulations against collecting bones. Even some bird feathers are illegal to take. Research your local laws before exploring.
You can also purchase bones from Etsy sellers, antique shops, or taxidermy stores. Most taxidermy stores get their bones from research or university donations as well as personal collections. Some butcher shops sell meat with bones inside. I got my set from a cattle spine that I cut and cleaned.
Along with bones, osteomancy sets also feature other materials. Shells (bones of the sea) and bark (bones of the earth) are common.
Here are some other examples of objects that many diviners include in their sets:
Diviners often include objects that they feel drawn to or have some symbolic meaning in their faith or culture. For simplicity, I’m going to call all the items in an osteomancy set “bones” from now on.
Because osteomancy sets are so varied and personal, it takes a while to curate one. Although there is no limit to the amount of items you can have, I recommend having between four and seven to start. These will give you enough variation to begin practicing.
Assigning Your Bones
Once you have a set of bones and other objects, you will need to assign each a meaning. These meanings vary by set and practitioner. Some diviners draw runes on their bones; some give label each object as a person (woman, man, nonbinary, child); and others give more broad meanings.
As an example, I’ll tell you my bones’ meanings: malice, creativity, career, passion, love, money. I also have seashells that stand for people (male, female, adult, child, etc.). The longer bones in my collection are separators that show which part of your life has a “block.” And finally, the key points to the answer.
Here is a brief list of example meanings, including ones I did not use:
These are just ideas; get creative!
You’re probably wondering, “How do I assign my bones?” This will require a bit of intuition and spirit work. Connect with the bones’s spirits to determine which one means what. The more time you spend “bonding” with the bones, the easier this will be. As a funny example, one of my bones cut me when I was cleaning it. I labeled it as the malice bone.
If you would like help speaking to your bones, check out this post: How to Conduct Spirit Communication with Bones.
How to Cast
Once you’ve assigned your bone set, it’s time to cast. Here are the basics:
How you interpret it depends on your set, the question, and how you cast.
The Many Ways to Interpret Bone
Generally speaking, people interpret the bones by how close they are to each other. For example, if they luck bone and money bone land close to each other, they might be related. Some diviners look at the shape that the bones make and determine an answer from that.
Some people set rules. For instance, I focus on the bones that land within my cloth; the ones outside are not as important to the answer. Others divide their cloth into quadrants and read it that way. I know one diviner whose cloth had butterflies, and the bones near the butterflies have significance to the meaning.
How do you set up these rules? By practicing, of course.
To the average person, a bone throwing reading will look like a pile of junk. The diviner must rely on their intuition and spiritual connection with the set to determine an answer.
Practice and More Practice
As with any form of divination, osteomancy becomes more straightforward the more you practice. The more you cast, the more you’ll have to rely on intuition.
For example, I said earlier that the key in my set points to the answer. But what happens if the key lands outside of the cloth or points at nothing? In that case, I found that the answer might not lie with the question. In other words, the asker might be asking the wrong question or need to think outside of the box.
Performing readings on yourself can be great practice. You can also perform readings for friends or loved ones.
If you have trouble connecting with your bones, spend time with them. Meditate with the bones or keep them nearby while you’re working or studying. Sometimes, spirits attached to bones take a while to open up to a practitioner. Be patient with your set, and you’ll receive helpful answers in return.
Here’s the short version of what you need to do to practice osteomancy:
Do you practice osteomancy, or another form of bone divination? What is your experience? Let me know in the comments below!
Making Magical Inks
In the Middle Ages, many grimoires and religious texts were written by monks. Their apprentices would make the inks, and it was a tedious process. Magicians have been creating inks for centuries.
I’ve always been interested in making my own inks, whether it be for my Book of Shadows or protection symbols or prayers. Recently, I finally tried making my own inks, with varying results. I made two: one for spirit work and another for necromancy.
This post is less instructional and more about my own journey. My recipe is not perfect, but it worked well enough in the end. If you are interested in making magical inks, read on.
My Universal Ink Recipe
When I researched ink recipes online, I found a variety of different recipes with different ingredients and methods. But after trying a few and tinkering with them, I came up with this:
Before you start, here are some other tools that you’ll need:
What Is Gum Arabic, and Do I Need It?
I made my inks for dip pens. These are pens that I dip into ink and draw with. Because of this, I needed thicker ink, hence the four teaspoons of gum arabic. If you are making ink for fountain pens, you should use less gum arabic, around ½ to one teaspoon. Use too much, and your pen could clog.
Also--If you can find liquid gum arabic, get it! I bought it powdered, and it’s hard to stir in. The powder immediately starts thickening the second it touches liquid, and it takes a while to dissolve it. I have not tried the resin, but I imagine that it is not much easier.
It took a few tries for me to find a suitable gum arabic ratio for my ink. The same might happen for you. If you find a different recipe, let me know in the comments below!
Which Ingredients Color the Ink?
Finding the right ingredients to color your ink could be a challenge. As a general rule, if a food, flower, herb, or liquid stains your fingers when you pick it up, it’s good for ink. Here are some examples that I did not include in the recipes below:
If you steep a certain herb or flower, and it creates a specific color, it will also work for ink. Examples include chamomile, peonies, hibiscus, rose, lavender, lily of the valley, and daffodils.
But what about magical associations? After all, the entire point of making magical inks is to make them magical. Here is how I made my own ink recipes:
If you cannot decide which color to choose, check out this post about color magic and correspondence lists.
If you want your ink to have more magic, consider adding incense, graveyard dirt, moon water, tea bags, or herbs. I’ll provide some examples of how I made my own magical inks below.
Red Ink for Spirit Work
My first ink was designed to enhance spirit work. I want to use it to draw protection symbols and summoning circles, and I made it red.
First, I wrote down a list of ingredients that could make ink red: raspberries, turmeric, marigolds, red onion skins, and rooibos tea were some contenders. In the end, I settled on these ingredients:
Specifically, I added one cup of chopped beets, two tablespoons of dried rose petals, and two cones of dragon’s blood incense.
To say that this mixture smelled weird while simmering was an understatement. But it made a deep, purplish red color close to blood, which is what I wanted. After following the recipe I detailed above, here is how it turned out.
It is a light, purplish red color. I have to shake it before using, similar to other inks. If you want to make it more red, perhaps you can add more rose petals than I did.
Black Ink for Necromancy
My next ink was black, and I wanted to gear it toward death witchcraft, specifically. I’m going to use it for necromancy symbols, decorating bones, and writing prayers to my ancestors.
Although there are many ingredients that can create black ink, I settled on charcoal. It is essentially ash and appears dark enough (or so I thought).
After examining many different ingredients, I came up with this list:
As soon as the charcoal blocks hit the water, they disintegrated. Charcoal does not dissolve, but it does “melt” into the water. I only had myrrh incense sticks, so I scraped off the incense into the water. I added two tablespoons of coffee and a tiny bit of graveyard dirt.
The mixture smelled like myrrh, moreso than coffee. To remove most of the charcoal powder, I had to strain the ink a few times. The coffee seemed to dissolve right into the water.
Unfortunately, this ink turned out more brown than black. If I were to do this again, I would use more charcoal. I only used two blocks for this recipe, so in the future, I’ll use four or five. Like the previous ink, I also need to shake it before using.
Would You Create Magical Ink?
What do you think about these magical ink recipes? Do you want to make your own, and if so, for what purpose? Do you have a better recipe than me? This was my first time making inks, and I have a long way to go. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
I talk a lot about healing the dead in death witchcraft, and today, we’re going to cover some spells that help people do that. These three spells are specifically designed for honoring and emotionally assuaging the dead.
As regular readers know, I tend to pull my magic from ancient sources -- the Greek Magical Papyri, ancient Egyptian Coffin Spells, and first-hand accounts of Irish folklore from the University of Dublin, among others. I take (what we know of) these sources and reconstruct them into a modern spell. Here, I’m going to do the same thing while detailing my process.
For some of these ingredients, I listed potential substitutions. The correspondence list is at the end of the post. If you’re wondering why certain substitutions work, or why I used these ingredients, check the bottom of the post.
Offerings Made From Graveyard Dirt And Honey
Essentially, you are going to take graveyard dirt and dried herbs and bind them into tiny balls with honey. You can place these offerings in cemeteries or on graves.
First, grind all of your ingredients with a mortar and pestle. Lay them out on a paper towel, and use the honey to glue them into tiny balls. Your hands will get sticky.
Leave then on a paper towel to dry. I recommend keeping them in a plastic bag with little air so they won’t fall apart. These make convenient, subtle offerings for cemetery spirits.
Spirit Work Oil For Necromancy
Oil blends have been used in magic and funerary practices for centuries. From embalming corpses in ancient Egypt to applying flying ointments in medieval witchcraft, oils have a long list of uses. Many are also used for spirit work.
Here, I took influence from Abramelin Oil. This ceremonial anointing oil has a long magic history, from ancient Judaism to the Golden Dawn to Aleistor Crowley’s Thelema. Since I am not a part of any of those traditions, I changed the recipe to better suit death work.
I kept the base of olive oil, myrrh, and cinnamon, because all of these ingredients have strong connections to necromancy (see the correspondence list at the end of this post). Instead of cassia and galanga, I compiled some other herbs commonly used in death witchcraft. I also added some graveyard dirt, since I found that it boosts the power of any spirit work oil I make.
Here's what you'll need:
I ground the dried herbs in a mortar and pestle before adding them to the container. After, I included the graveyard dirt, cinnamon oil, and olive oil. As I made it, I gave a substantial offering to the dead (mainly the soul who offered the dirt) through candle light and burnt herbs.
Then, I placed the oil on Hades’s altar for blessing. I kept it there for three days, giving Him an offering each night. You don’t have to do this, but I found that divine blessing empowers my oils so much more.
This oil can be added to water for scrying, consecrate tools, applied topically for spirit sense (in small doses), or given as an offering. In the next spell, I’m going to use the oil to anoint a candle.
Some have asked whether you need to strain the oil. Since we’re not using this oil for cooking or hygiene products like soap, you don’t need to strain it. However, you should seal it in an airtight container and watch for any mold, just like any other infused oil.
Healing Candle Spell for the Dead
I don’t think that I need to provide any historical reference for this spell. Candles have been used to honor the dead for a millennia.
Here, think of a specific soul that you want to heal or honor in some way. I recommend getting an item that links to that person, such as their graveyard dirt, a photo, or a belonging. If all else fails, carve their name onto the candle before anointing it.
Grind the dried herbs with a mortar and pestle, and lay them out on a paper towel. Anoint your candle with the oil; I used a Q-tip for this. After the candle is covered in oil, roll it on the dried herbs. They should stick to the candle. Place the candle near the soul’s object and light it.
As with any candle spell, watch the flame! This spell tends to create a very high flame (which is good; that means it’s effective). If the dried herbs catch fire, it might grow too big to blow out. Keep some water around just in case.
Why I Chose These Ingredients
** These herbs can be toxic in large amounts. Do not use while pregnant or if you have seizures.
These Related Posts That Might Help
Do you have spells to heal the deceased? Would you have used a different ingredient or method? Let me know in the comments below.
Pluto’s Gate was a cave that led deep underground, surrounded by bubbling hot springs. Priests would lead animals into the cave as offerings. Onlookers heard the animals panic before a loud thud, and the priest would drag out a dead cow, goat, or lamb. Birds that landed on the cave would eventually suffocate and die. Only priests could enter, and when they did, they experienced visions of the Underworld and the dead.
It’s no wonder why people assumed that this cave led to the Underworld. But in 2013, Italian archaeologists found another explanation. The nearby hot springs emitted toxic gases, specifically CO₂, which made up 91% of the air in the cave. This much CO₂ is deadly and causes vivid hallucinations.
Although Pluto’s Gate has a scientific explanation, it still portrays a universal trope in folklore: real-life locations that lead to the land of the dead. Some cultures call this the Otherworld, Heaven, Hell, or afterlife; I’m going to use the term “Underworld” for simplicity.
There are many other locations that are said to connect to the Underworld, where witches and magicians can more easily speak to the dead. I am going to cover many of these locations here, and how you can use them.
Crossroads are commonly known as a “thin place” where ghosts, faeries, witches, the Devil, and other spirits appear. You can find stories of the crossroads in Denmark, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Greece, Brazil, and the Kingdom of Kongo. In spirit work, crossroads are so prevalent that the ancient Greeks dedicated a Goddess to them--Hecate.
Some rituals require people to visit the crossroads at certain times, such as at night or on All Hallow’s Eve. Whenever the magician arrived, they usually performed divination. Crossroads were said to connect people to ghosts and tell magicians when people will die.
According to Welsh folklore, if you stand in a crossroads and listen to the wind in the trees, you will hear the names of people who will die. People in the Scottish Highlands would sit on a three-legged stool and wait for ghosts to whisper these names into their ears. In Denmark, practitioners made a triangle with their horse cart and called a ghost by name. They could then ask the ghost three questions.
Because of its associations with the afterlife, crossroads often appeared in funeral processions. In Finland and Wales, the deceased was carried across crossroads during the funeral to protect it against witchcraft and prevent the spirit from haunting the living.
Nowadays, many people visit crossroads to practice spirit work, especially in traditional witchcraft and Hoodoo. Many leave offerings for spirits at crossroads, while others go there to practice divination. Some say that you can dispose of spell ingredients at crossroads, while others go there to perform certain spells, such as hedgecrossing and traveling to the Underworld.
Cemeteries and Graveyards
We all knew that cemeteries and graveyards would be on the list, but I have to mention them. Many, many cultures speak of ghosts that walk around in cemeteries. In ancient cemeteries, everything from the iron gates to the type of trees planted were meant to prevent the dead from haunting the living (see: Trees in Cemeteries).
In traditional necromancy, otherwise known as reanimation necromancy, practitioners aimed to put a person’s soul back into their body. According to authors such as Ebenezer Sibly, necromancers needed a fresh body to do this, usually no older than three days. The necromancers would approach the corpse at sunset, midnight, or on a full moon. They would cast a circle, light (usually poisonous) incense, and perform rituals to reanimate the body and speak to it.
Most people do not practice this anymore because (1) digging into a grave is illegal, (2) entering cemeteries at night is usually illegal, and (3) it’s just flat-out disrespectful to the deceased.
Instead of performing necromancy at cemeteries, modern-day practitioners go there to collect graveyard dirt, speak with local spirits, clean graves, and give offerings. I’ve covered these topics already in these posts: Magical Uses for Graveyard Dirt and How to Commune with Spirits While in a Graveyard.
As you could probably tell by the Pluto’s Gate story, caves are often linked to the Underworld. After all, many of the ancients believed that the Underworld was literally right under their feet. Necropoles, graves, and burial sites were all underground--as are caves.
Stories of caves leading to the afterlife date back to ancient Babylon. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh entered a cave on Mount Mashu to cross the Sea of Death and enter Paradise. Across the world, the Mayans performed religious rituals in caves along the Yucatan Peninsula, believing that they connected to the Underworld. When a person was born, they emerged from the Underworld; when they died, they returned to it.
One thing to note is that, in most cultures, caves are perceived as dangerous, not just physically but spiritually. People who entered the Underworld were unlikely to return. In Ireland, caves were not only houses for ghosts, but for fae. The ancients warned children not to go near caves, or else they could get kidnapped by the fae. In England, people carved “anti-witch” marks into caves to prevent witchcraft, many of which still exist today. Because these spiritual sites were so risky, the only people who inhabited them were shamans, priests, or oracles.
Although records upon records of folklore associate caves with the Underworld, modern practitioners do not use caves as much. Certain caves see practitioners arrive for a ritual, but other than that, not many people use caves for magic.
In Germany, Russia, France, Italy, and many other countries, bridges are viewed as a “thin place” that ghosts frequent. Most often, the bridges that attracted practitioners were called Devil’s Bridges. These stone arch bridges had an unusual shape, and the ancients claimed that the Devil himself built it.
Some believed that witches and other magical practitioners would cross bridges during the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt was a procession of spirits from ghosts to fae that occurred many times throughout the year, usually around Yule. Because bridges are seen as routes to the Otherworld, many people use them for hedgecrossing or astral projection.
If you’re familiar with Greek mythology, then you know about the river Styx carrying souls into the Underworld. But the Greeks were not the only culture who associated rivers with the afterlife. In Japanese Buddhism, souls have to cross the Sanzu River to reach the afterlife. The ancient Egyptian Underworld, Duat, included rivers similar to real-life Egypt. In some traditions, Mesopotamian Underworld, Kur, also had a river.
Now, rivers leading to the Underworld (like Styx) and rivers in the Underworld (like the other four rivers in Hades) are two very different things. Nonetheless, a lot of people associate rivers with the realm of the dead. Many who have hedgecrossed to the afterlife describe rivers, and I knew one death witch who used her bath to travel to the afterlife.
Unlike other locations on this list, Underworld rivers were not usually equated with real-life locations, like the Nile. They were deemed to be entirely different rivers, possibly similar or identical to the physical world, but in another realm.
That has not stopped people from experiencing hauntings around rivers, especially in the U.S., where many rivers were sites of Civil War battles. You might have some luck connecting to ghosts by rivers; at the very least, you will meet local land spirits there.
In many cultures, rainbows connect the living to the dead. From Germany to Hawai’i to Australia, many cultures viewed rainbows as a way to connect humans to spirits and Gods.
In terms of deceased souls, folklore from Austria and Germany said that children’s souls ascended to Heaven through the rainbow. Unborn children also reached the afterlife through a rainbow serpent, according to Australian Aboriginal mythology.
Nowadays, the rainbow holds many other meanings, from gay rights to miracles to God’s promise after the flood. Some practitioners perform certain religious and spiritual rituals during rainbows, or use the symbol of the rainbow in their work. Others gather rainwater when a rainbow appears, believing that deceased loved ones send them a rainbow to let them know that they’re okay.
Other Notable Locations
While I was researching, I came across some other locations that are associated with ghosts, mainly through urban legends. There is not enough information for these to have a full section, but I want to include them because they’re interesting.
Many ancient civilizations perceived real-life locations as connecting to the Underworld, including caves, rivers, rainbows, and bridges. These places were known as a “thin place” where people can more easily sense ghosts.
Modern practitioners can use this to their advantage by performing divination there, giving offerings to local spirits, or gathering tools from there such as graveyard dirt.
Is there any location that you associate with the dead? Or do you go somewhere to practice your Craft? Let me know in the comments below!