Last November, I was speaking to a dead soul whose grave I had tended to in the past. He was a World War I vet with a sweet wife who would only let his squadron use his nickname. He warned me that a close family member would soon pass away unexpectedly.
I presumed that he meant my grandfather, who had been struggling from brain cancer, but I was wrong. My great aunt passed away that next week. She had died overnight from an undiagnosed medical condition. For me, it was a groundbreaking moment in my spirit work journey.
This year, I spent my November trying to learn spirit work again after six months of no practice.
Spirit work is like a muscle that you consistently need to stretch. If you haven’t practiced it in a while (which happens; that’s life), then you might need to start from the basics. Meanwhile, some people have never tried spirit work and need some beginner tips.
It’s no secret that people learn spirit work differently. I personally began with energy work, but others have never done energy work and prefer to use divination only. Since I first contacted spirits 13 years ago, I have learned that what worked for me may not benefit others. Here, I’ve created a list of techniques for beginner and returning spirit workers. I hope that at least one of these methods can kickstart your journey.
Let’s start with what my magic teacher showed me: energy work. It is the practice of sensing the energies of objects and living beings. If you can feel the energies of stones, pets, and trees, then you will eventually sense the energies of spirits.
Start with a small object. I recommend using one that can fit in the palm of your hand, such as a coin, crystal, or small jar. Place it on a table, and hover your hand a few centimeters above it. Don’t touch it.
Close your eyes. What do you feel underneath your hand? A tingling? A coolness? A burning? Focus on what you feel and write it down.
Next, try this with another object. I personally recommend using a bowl of water because water has a distinct energy that many people can sense. Repeat the exercise.
The more you do this, the better you’ll get. Try it with trees, dirt, or even your bookshelf. Jot down what every object’s energy feels like. Over time, you will learn to distinguish a plant from a crystal, a table from a person, or a living entity from a non-living entity.
In the occult community, there is a lot of debate over whether meditation is necessary. Personally, I believe that meditation is not mandatory, but it can improve one’s practice. Meditation trains people to remove their own thoughts from their head. For spirit work, this can be a game changer.
Many beginners struggle to distinguish their own thoughts and feelings from a spirit. “Was that my thought, or a spirit’s? Did those candle flames really respond to me, or am I just seeing things?” Most of the time, these thoughts result from anxiety. We’re so nervous about getting an accurate reading that overthink and over-doubt.
Meditation trains us to ignore intrusive and anxious thoughts. It also calms the mind and body. The more calm you are during spirit work, the more you’ll be able to trust your instinct.
A few minutes of meditation can enhance your spirit work. If you struggle to relax your mind, try adding music or listening to a guided meditation. I use the app Calm. It has a wide range of guided meditations of varying lengths that help me when I haven’t meditated in a while.
If you meditate for just a few minutes every day, you may find that spirit communication becomes easier.
Divination is the most common method of beginning spirit work. Through divination, you can ask spirits questions about the past, present, or future. Popular divination methods include tarot cards, rune drawings, pendulum swinging, and bone throwing. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
The downside is that it may take a while to find a method that you jive with. When I started, many people in my community recommended tarot cards. I tried it, but I was never interested in it and rarely got results.
Next, I tried using a pendulum. The same happened; I got some results, but they were not detailed enough for my liking. Later, I went from scrying to bone throwing to rune drawing. It took a lot of trial and error to find divination methods that gave me the results I wanted. This may happen to you, too.
Be patient. If your first divination doesn’t work, try another one. If you don’t get results on the first try, attempt it a few more times. Combine it with some other techniques that I list here. I highly recommend keeping a journal about your divination results. That way, you can ask a question, receive an answer, and ask the same question a few days later. See if your answers are consistent.
I will not discuss all divination methods here, but I will write about some in the future. There are plenty of other blogs who have written beginner guides for divination methods, too.
Give the Spirits an Offering
This is one of the easiest yet overlooked methods of starting a dialogue with spirits. I believe that some people underestimate the power of offerings. To demonstrate, I like to use the neighbor analogy.
Imagine that you want your nextdoor neighbor to come over to your house. Would you stand on your porch and scream, “Hey! Come over and talk to me!” Probably not. Instead, you might entice them with something. You might say, “I made brownies; would you like some?” or “Want to come over and play Mario Kart?” If your neighbor accepts your offer, then you have successfully started a relationship.
Offerings work the same way. Many spirits--even some family members--will not talk to you just because you want them to. Giving offerings is a way of saying, “I am a polite host. I respect your company and your time.”
If you perform spirit work at your altar, provide an offering before or during your ritual. To connect to the local land spirits, leave an offering outside or at your local park or graveyard. Common offerings include water, honey, stones, herbs, and flowers. Research folklore to determine which offerings are best.
The downside is that you may attract nasty spirits. I will talk more about protection during spirit work later.
Reach out for Help
Deities, angels, saints, and other spirits may help to enhance your spirit senses. According to many cultures, other entities can grant people “spirit sight,” or a variation of that phrase. In ancient Scotland, the sithean (dead souls from the otherworld) would grant people “second sight” to peer into another world. Meanwhile, other cultures said that anyone could see or communicate with the dead. The ancient Egyptians would write letters to the dead, asking them to intercede if harm should come their way.
Some magicians will conduct spells to strengthen their spirit sight. They may leave an offering to a deity with a request. They may also create an oil or smoking blend or open their spirit senses.
Returning spirit workers: If you have a spirit guide, ask them to connect you with a certain spirit. Many guides will create a link between you and a spirit or deity. They may also transfer messages.
You do not have to contact a deity, saint, goetia, or other spirit to succeed at spirit work. I am simply mentioning this for people who want a bit of extra help.
Connecting to a Taglock
In English, a taglock is a bunch of knotted hair, but that’s not what it means in the metaphysical community. In magic, a taglock is an object that connects you to another being. For example, cunning men and women used to retrieve a lock of hair from a person to cast (or break) a spell on them.
Taglocks also work for spirits. You may think, “But I don’t have anything that a spirit owns.” But you do. You have the blood of your ancestors running through your veins. You have your ancestor’s DNA in your hair and nails. (There are even spells for determining information by gazing into fingernails, but that’s another conversation.) This is why many necromancers recommend starting with ancestor work; it’s easy to connect to your biological ancestors.
Do you need a physical object? Use a family heirloom, old photograph, or graveyard dirt (if collected ethically). Many people create ancestor altars filled with taglocks to contact their family. Connect to the taglock via the energy work exercise I described above. Then try divination or prayer to reach the spirit.
Related: Spirit Guides in Death Magic
Spirit Safety Tips--The Quick Edition
Later, I will write a longer blog post on spirit work safety. But for now, I have devised a quick list of safety procedures to follow for beginners.
There are many ways to strengthen your spirit senses. Practicing divination is one of the most common techniques. If you have trouble sensing spirits, practice energy work or meditation to calm the mind. You can always receive help by using a taglock, giving offerings, and partitioning a deity or other spirit. Study up on spirit work safety before you start; it’s better to go in cautiously.
Did I leave a method out? Which method works best for you? Let me know about your thoughts on spirit work below!
12/7/2020 07:10:07 am
Thank you for the wonderful article! Perfect timing for me as well, I've been wanting to improve my ancestor practice.
12/9/2020 02:07:06 pm
Thank you, Lara! I'm glad you're diving into ancestor practice. It has so many benefits.
8/12/2021 10:04:42 am
I like that you mentioned that meditation can help with spirit work. My friend has been having a really hard time with her spirit work and distinguishing if it is just her own thoughts. I will suggest meditation to her to help her clear her head and be able to listen to the spirits more.
8/1/2022 01:38:09 pm
This is too perfect! I have ADHD so a lot of books and lengthy blogs are hard for me to mentally digest, and this came so clear to me! As a relatively new witch, this means so much. Thank you for being such a kind and helpful being! <3
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