In October 2020, a study measured peoples’ heart rates while they watched horror movies. They aimed to see which movie caused the most consistent rapid heart rate, not just leaps from jump scares. The five scariest movies--Sinister, Insidious, The Conjuring, Hereditary, and Paranormal Activity--all featured malicious demons or ghosts.
Two years earlier, research from Chapman University determined that 57.7% of Americans believe in spirits or hauntings. Although many participants claimed that they were not scared of spirits, the current horror movie market says otherwise.
Spirit workers might look at these studies and wonder, are all spirits really malicious? Do evil spirits really possess people like in the movies? And how do we, as magicians, keep ourselves safe?
In this post, I’m going to talk about malicious spirits and how to detect them. Much of this post stems from my personal experience and UPG (unverified personal gnosis). However, I will also reference information from folklore.
Do Evil Spirits Exist?
In an effort to make spirit work appear more safe and accessible, some online practitioners have claimed that evil spirits do not exist. Personally, I find this claim to not only be incorrect, but potentially dangerous.
Some of the world’s earliest magical texts include spells that protect people from spirits. The Maqlû, a collection of incantations from Mesopotamia, lists spells that guard people against witchcraft and spirits. Some of the ancient Greeks practiced apotropaic magic, in which they summoned chthonic deities or heroes to protect them against spirits. Some of these charms can be found in the Greek Magical Papyri, known in the occult community as the PGM (Papyri Graecae Magicae).
But if you were to base your entire spiritual knowledge on horror movies, you might think that all spirits are evil. This is not the case. Religions and folklore tell us that there are far more spirits than just ghosts, poltergeists, and demons. Hell, even if a ghost is in your house, that doesn’t mean that it wants to harm you.
Approach spiritual morality in the same way that most people view human morality. Some are good and helpful, while others and evil, and many are somewhere in the middle. It’s not uncommon for a spirit to act kind until they feel slighted.
How Can Spirits Harm Us?
Depending on the religion and culture, malicious spirits can harm people in any number of ways. According to Mesopotamian religious texts, angry ghosts can inflict illness and bad luck onto people. In certain Muslim traditions, malicious djinn were similar; they could even steal food or other items. Irish folklore tells of faeries who kidnapped humans to work for them before returning them to the human realm.
For simplicity’s sake, I put together a list of the ways that spirits might harm people. These are based on both UPG and folklore I’ve read.
How to Quickly Detect Malicious Spirits
When I first practiced spirit work around 13 years ago, I ran into quite a few malicious spirits. I was naive, arrogant, and lacked supervision, so I fell for a lot of their tricks. Now, I know how to detect when spirits might have an ulterior motive. Based on my experiences, plus the experiences that other practitioners have shared with me, I’ve put together a list of red flags.
Spirits Who Disguise As Deities
I’ve had many people ask me if spirits can pretend to be deities. In short, yes, they can. Learning to distinguish between a deity and spirit requires certain skills and experience, and I plan to write an entire post about this topic.
Here’s all I will say for now: If your deity suddenly sounds different--if They say something that’s entirely out of character or contradictory--be suspicious.
What to Do When You Encounter a Malicious Spirit
Because this post is already so long, I can’t go into detail about every single spell you should perform. But I put together a short list of what you should do if you believe that you encounter a malicious spirit. If you want a separate post about this topic, comment or message me.
Not all spirits act like they do in horror movies. Some are far more subtle, and others work to flatter you instead of scare you. If you know how malicious spirits act, you can detect them early. Then it’s just a matter of cutting contact, banishing, and protecting.
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!
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!
I used to sleep with the lights on. My crippling fear told me that when I slept, I couldn’t fit to stay alive. I had this vision of someone breaking into my apartment and killing me in my sleep. Months of sleepless nights finally prompted me to tackle my fear of death.
This fear manifests in different ways, but everyone has it. It’s in our DNA. If this fear has interrupted your life--caused you to dissociate, created an existential crisis, or robbed you of sleep--it’s time to attack the emotion. If you need therapy for this, please seek out a professional.
I’m not a psychologist, and I can’t cure your fear of death. But I will provide the techniques that helped me. Remember that this is a journey, not a destination. Some days I feel fine, while others I stay up at night. We have to consistently work on this fear throughout our lives, especially as death witches.
Acknowledge the Purpose of the Fear
In my experience, many people treat the fear of death as a weakness. I used to say that I didn’t fear death because I thought it made me appear braver. But this emotion serves an important purpose. If we didn’t fear death, we’d drive 100 mph down the LA freeway during rush hour. We’d smell sour milk, and drink it anyway. No one would work towards their dreams, because if there’s no end, there’s no rush.
The fear of death keeps us alive. As unpleasant as this emotion feels, it makes us value life, and there is no shame in that. Perhaps author Lisl Goodman said it best:
“Our very essence rests on the knowledge of mortality From the building of permanent shelters to the invention of means of transportation to ever more distant places...all this is founded on our knowledge of death. If there were always tomorrow--if we didn’t know that our future was limited--our only goal would be the satisfaction of immediate, parochial needs, as we witness it on an animal level.”
The trick is to make this fear work for you, not against you. Thinking “life ends, so nothing matters,” will only worsen your life. The following tips will attempt to flip that mindset.
Define What You Think Happens After Death
What do you think happens after death? Take some time to write down, in detail, what your theories are. Do you believe in an afterlife? Are the afterlives separate for different religions? Do you believe in reincarnation? Or that you’ll enter a deep sleep?
Although this may seem arbitrary, it’s essential for the rest of the process. Some people find comfort in the idea of an afterlife and reuniting with Gods. Others feel terror at the idea of a conscious end. The next tips will provide support for all views, whether religious or otherwise.
When you are writing your ideas, remember: THERE IS NO “TRUE” ANSWER. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard something like “consciousness just disappears, and that’s a fact.” We DON’T KNOW what happens after death. Scientists don’t know, religion doesn’t know--no one knows. Treating your theories as a fact could lock you into a box of existential dread that you don’t need to be in. Be nicer to yourself.
Pinpoint What about Death Scares You
The fear of death is more complicated than many people assume. Everyone worries about a different aspect of death. If you want to tackle your emotions, you need to determine what they are.
According to psychologists, here are the most common fears surrounding death:
You may have more than one reason why death scares you. Write down your reasons, and remember that all of these fears are valid. There’s a logic behind them, even if the emotion itself feels irrational.
This is a technique that psychologists use to test what they call “emotion myths.” These myths are assumptions that we treat as truth, when they may actually be flawed. In short, you write down arguments against your fear.
Here are some examples for the fears I listed above.
These “myth busters” won’t erase your fear immediately. But they may create cracks in your logic. They help people realize that there may not be as weight to their emotion as they once thought there were. As a thought experiment, come up with arguments against your fear.
Write Your Own Obituary
Instead of discussing another person’s death, write about your own. Create an obituary for yourself, or write a speech that a loved one will give at your funeral. This exercise clarifies what we want from life, because it forces us to explore the impact we can have on others.
Try not to invent worst case scenarios in this exercise. Brainstorm your ideal funerary speech. Imagine that you’ve accomplished everything you wanted to; this will illuminate what you want to do in life. It will also frame death in a positive way, proving that your life will make a lasting impression on others. I still remember feeling inspired by speeches at my relatives’ funerals.
This is by far the hardest technique on the list.
“Cope ahead” is a therapy skill designed to relieve anxiety around a situation. In short, you imagine yourself undergoing the experience that you most fear. If you’re scared of dying painfully, imagine it. If you worry about dying unexpectedly early, picture what will happen afterward.
The idea is to brainstorm how you’ll cope with these situations. For instance, will you get medical support that alleviates the pain? Will you write a will that tells your family to publish your manuscript if you die early? “Coping” may help you realize that you can handle the situation, even if it feels like you can’t.
Some authors have added physical exercises to this mental experience. For instance, witchcraft writer Konstantinos recommended lying on the cold floor to picture your body in a coffin or at a funeral. Although it may sound silly, your posture influences your thoughts whether you realize it or not.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO TRY THIS EXERCISE, READ THIS. You must schedule “cool down” time. Coping ahead is an emotionally draining experience, and you’ll want some self care afterward so you don’t carry your strong emotions throughout the day. I didn’t do this the first time I tried it, and it messed me up. So remember to watch a fun movie, take a bath, or spend time with loved ones to recover from the exercise.
Also, try coping ahead in ten-minute intervals. Again, this exercise is draining, and you don’t want to spend all day imagining your own death. Right now, you are living. Enjoy life and make the most of it.
Before I Go, Let’s Talk about Shadow Work
Whenever I see metaphysical writers talk about the fear of death, shadow is the number one recommendation. The psychology theory comes from Carl Jung, who argued that the conscious ego ignores or shuns emotions that we don’t want to experience. By tending to this “dark side,” we can make peace with it, Jung said.
One could argue that the exercises I mentioned above are forms of shadow work. But that’s not what Jung would say. He asserted that the “shadow” appears in dreams, as it is subconscious. Acknowledging your shadow and identifying or “assimilating” with it is the ultimate goal of this practice.
I’m here to discuss the downside that a lot of other writers ignore. Some experts don’t agree with this philosophy. It isn’t practiced in modern psychology, and it doesn’t work for everyone. I’m not telling you to avoid shadow work. I’m saying that, before you dive in, you should assess whether or not this practice will work for you.
I’ll list some pros and cons for you to consider.
If you’ve been following me, you may know that my grandfather died quite recently. It was my second familial death in four months, with the first being my great aunt. Although these deaths were hard, I’m no stranger to experiencing the loss of a loved one. If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re familiar with it, too.
I receive a lot of questions about what to do, magic-wise, when a loved one dies. Many of these messages sound urgent--people are eager to communicate with their loved one, especially if they pass away unexpectedly. In this post, I hope to answer some questions on what you can do after someone you know dies.
The Mundane Comes First
This probably goes without saying, but the funeral and your family always, always come first. If you were close to this loved one, you’re probably involved in their funeral and honoring their will. These projects take time, but they’re essential for both the deceased soul and the people grieving.
The funeral helps the deceased to wrap up any loose ends they had in life. Many people receive signs from their loved one during this period, such as messages in dreams or specific picture frames falling off the shelves.
If you haven’t received any of these signs, don’t worry. You aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s actually quite common for souls to not contact the living right after dying. Why? Keep reading.
Don’t Expect to Communicate with the Dead Right Away
“Is it too early to contact my dead loved one?” is one of the most common questions I receive. I’ve also seen a lot of practitioners fearfully warn against communicating with the soul soon after death, as if something bad will happen if you do.
Technically speaking, you can communicate with your loved one soon after death. Some older occult works advise that necromancers perform a ritual within a week of the death. In their eyes, the soul will remain close to the body within this time, which makes for an ideal communication session.
However, in my experience, most souls do not contact the living soon after death. I’ve read message upon message asking why a loved one won’t respond, and what the practitioner is doing wrong. Chances are, you’re not doing anything wrong. Most souls prefer not to communicate within weeks, months, or even years after their death.
Think about death as a major life transition (despite how that sounds like an oxymoron). If you moved to a different country, you’d likely take a while to adjust. You’d have to learn a new routine, a new home, and possibly a new language. That major transition could consume your life for a while after the move.
Death is the same way. Your loved one may take a while to adjust to their new state. They may want to wrap things up in their life before they respond to magicians. Some may never respond to magicians--that is entirely their choice.
As a death witch, you should honor your loved one’s choices in death. Be patient. Don’t keep bugging them to respond if they’re not ready yet. As a general rule, most necromancers don’t contact a soul for around six months to a year after death. Although there are some exceptions, expect to receive few messages in between that time.
So What CAN You Do?
Being unable to contact your loved one can hurt. You’re grieving, after all. You may want to help your loved one feel safe and happy, or you may fumble with your own emotions. Fortunately, death witchcraft isn’t only about talking to the dead. It’s about helping, honoring, and caring for the dead, even if you don’t receive any message from them in return. Here are some things that you can do to support your loved one beyond the veil.
Erect an Altar
In my opinion, building an altar for your loved one is one of the most important steps that a death witch can take. The altar continues the soul’s memory just by existing. It contains any tools or memorabilia you need to contact the soul, and it’s where you can perform most of your rituals.
If you already have an altar for the dead or your ancestors, give your loved one a special spot. You can provide a picture of the person or an object that represents them, such as their old jewelry or even their funeral pamphlet. These objects will serve as a taglock to connect you with your loved one during rituals.
What else can you put on the altar? Anything that represents your loved one or furthers your magic. If you have their graveyard dirt or ashes, keep them in a container at the altar. If you write a letter or make a candle for your loved one, you may keep it on the altar. Include a space to give offerings. Appropriate magic tools, such as an obsidian scrying mirror or tarot deck, may also be stored there.
If your loved one was religious, include some items to represent their faith, not your own. For instance, my great aunt Mary was a nun, a sister of Saint Joseph. So I included a Saint Joseph votive and a rosary on my ancestor altar. Even if you don’t agree with your loved one’s religious views, it’s important to honor them. Although I’m Wiccan, I give my ancestors Catholic offerings because I love them and want to make them happy.
Speaking of Offerings…
Never underestimate the importance of offerings. They not only nourish the soul, but also prove that you are thinking of your loved one. Offerings establish a connection between the two of you, even if you can’t receive their messages quite yet.
As I mentioned before, make sure that the offerings for your loved ones honor their religious beliefs. Rose quartz wouldn’t be an appropriate offering for my grandfather since he never believed in crystal healing. But lighting my Saint Joseph candle and offering red wine--which he drank every night--would be appropriate offerings.
When in doubt, here are religion-neutral offerings that you can give: water, bread, wine, honey, milk, and rocks (not crystals). I will write in-depth about offerings in a future post.
Personalized offerings, such as writing a letter or providing their favorite food, also work. If you’d put the object on their grave, it’ll likely make an appropriate offering.
These gifts will relax your loved one in death. It’ll calm them, help them pass on, and remind them that you won’t forget their legacy. Offerings can also help you sort through your grief.
What to Do If These Things Aren’t Enough
If you’re a magician, you’re probably a “doer.” Sticking to prayers and belief isn’t enough for us; we want to push the forces of nature with our own hands. Offerings may scratch this itch for some time, but after a while, you’ll want to perform a ritual.
Although I recommended waiting to contact the dead, nothing is stopping you from trying. You can always try divination to see if your loved one is willing to talk. But don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work; they just aren’t ready yet.
If you want to be more proactive in helping your deceased loved one, I recommend a love spell. No, not a spell to make them fall in love with you--a spell to send healing and love to your loved one in death.
When I performed this spell in February, it encouraged communication between me and my lost loved ones. Even my great aunt Mary responded to my ritual, which is highly unusual given that she died in November.
You will need:
Here’s what you do:
This ritual is just an idea. You can change it to suit your practice if you wish.
Although most people can’t communicate with their deceased loved one soon after death, they can connect in other ways. You can build an altar, give offerings, and perform a spell for the newly deceased soul. Remain patient and focus on mundane tasks first, such as attending the funeral and tending to your living loved ones. If you give the soul time, you’ll be able to communicate eventually.
I'm not fond of the term "spirit guides" because it implies some special status that every magician needs. Depending on how you define the term "guide," every spirit can guide you in some way. Here, I define a spirit guide as a soul who can lead you to answers, messages, or pathways you were previously unable to reach. Although some people assume that they can only have one spirit guide, rest assured that most spirit workers contact multiple. Here's how spirit guides help you in death witchcraft.
Although spirit guides are often over-emphasized in generic spirit work books, they're frequently overlooked in necromancy. In death magic, spirit guides can lead you to the afterlife, connect you to other souls, and deliver messages from other entities. They may aid you in certain divination techniques such as scrying, or they may appear in your dreams to point you in the right direction.
Finding your spirit guides takes time. Although many authors write rituals to summon your spirit guide, I personally don't like these. I think that calling out "who's my spirit guide?" to the void is a perfect opportunity for spirits to take advantage of people, especially new practitioners. Don't force it. Guides always come as you expand your craft.
If you are interested in death witchcraft or necromancy, start how most of us did: by contacting souls through divination, graveyard dirt, or bones. Over time, you'll find a soul who is willing (often eager) to show you secrets and paths you never dreamed of. You don't require a spirit guide to practice; you just need yourself.
How do you know if a spirit is your guide? Figure it out yourself. Is the entity reliable? Have they answered your questions correctly? (Asking them something you already know is a good way to verify divination.) Do you have good reason to trust them? Have you worked with them before? Often, a spirit becomes your guide before you even think to apply the label. As with all things spirit work, let this happen organically. Your death will flourish from it.
Witchcraft generally divides ancestors into two broad categories: the Beloved Dead and the Mighty Dead. For this post, we're going to focus on the Beloved Dead, which are familial ancestors.
Who are the Beloved Dead?
The Beloved Dead are what most people think of when they hear "ancestors": family members who have long since passed. Although the Beloved Dead are often called the "ancestors of blood," they don't require blood relations. Familial dead also include adoptive families and in-laws. After all, family is family.
Some people divide the Beloved Dead into subcategories, such as the Ancestors of Milk and Honey (in-laws). For this post, I'll refer to all of them as your familial ancestors.
What if I don't know my ancestors?
If you don't know your ancestral line, don't fret. In my experience within the community, most witches ask ancestors to come to them. You don't need to have met your ancestors, or even know their name, to work with them.
Ancestors can be contacted in two ways: communicating with specific souls, or calling out whoever wishes to respond. I'll cover both of these methods later.
On Abusive Ancestors.
When discussing ancestor work, one of the main topics that pops up is abusive family members. In fact, this is one reason why people contact the Beloved Dead: to achieve clarity and healing for previous trauma.
If you're going to contact abusive ancestors, keep two things in mind: (1) the dead may carry their attitude with them, BUT can also receive clarity in death; (2) you don't HAVE to contact them. Communicating with rude or uncooperative spirits is emotionally taxing. Don't risk your health or happiness over it.
Sometimes, an ancestor may turn out to be rude, manipulative, or stubborn. Don't feel the need to continue with this soul. You are never obligated to heal or put up with taxing spirits. If a relationship turns too sour, don't hesitate to contact a different ancestor.
What if my ancestors have a different religion?
This is one of the most common questions I receive about ancestor work, and it's a valid concern. Most new spirit workers worry that their ancestors won't cooperate due to religious differences. While this is sometimes the case, I've learned that many souls--even hardcore Christian souls in life--are surprisingly lenient in death.
When I first worked with my grandfather, a devout Catholic, he was more than happy lend me graveyard dirt for my magic. To him, it was like giving me a sweater when he was alive. He felt happy to give his granddaughter presents again.
As you can probably tell, my ancestral line is Irish Catholic. While some of them refuse to partake in witchcraft, others gladly participate once they learn that it's for my own protection, healing, profit, etc. My main piece of advise is this: Don't decide whether or not they'll participate before they do.
How to contact the Beloved Dead
You have a closer link to the Beloved Dead than any other ancestor. As such, they're fairly easy to contact (in comparison to other spirits).
Much of spirit work requires a physical link to the soul, and ancestor magic is no different. One option is to use your ancestor's graveyard dirt (sometimes called ancestor powder). If you have your ancestor's ashes, these work similarly. Another option is to use family heirlooms. Old photographs, books, tea sets, clothes, furniture--any heirloom should do the trick. You'll have an easier time signaling the Beloved Dead if you have a direct link to their soul.
If you own some of these, harness their energy before communicating with the Beloved Dead. For instance, focus on the energy while calling your ancestors to you. I highly recommend using these objects during divination. If you know your ancestor's name, call it out, and clarify "of the ___ family" (to prevent souls of the same name from arriving). If you don't know their names, ask for an ancestor of the ____ family to come. Evoke the Beloved Dead through a ritual with offerings and, of course, adequate spiritual protection.
If you don't have your ancestor's heirlooms or graveyard dirt, you can achieve this without them. A piece of yourself--such as a hair clipping or finger nail--can go a long way. Remember, you're blood-related to the Beloved Dead.
Offerings For The Beloved Dead
Offerings vary depending on ethnicity and culture. Some general offerings include dark bread, cakes, wine, tobacco, milk, water, candles, stones, flowers, artwork, letters, or items that represent their religious faith. Well-fed ancestors are more likely to repay you, whether that be through protecting their offspring, increasing your luck, advising your craft, or pouring their power into your spells. If you can, maintain regular offerings for your ancestors.
But why should I do this?
First and foremost, contacting the Beloved Dead unites you with your family line and traditions. If you feel disconnected from your culture or ethnicity, you may want to work with the Beloved Dead. In America, many descendants of immigrations feel stripped of their ancestral roots. The Beloved Dead teach you how to reconnect with them (as well as the Mighty Dead).
Second, ancestors are more likely to help you than other spirits. Powerful, well-known spirits have a lot of people knocking on their door, but few practitioners are summoning your great-grandmother. Your familial ties guarantee that you already have something in common. The Beloved Dead can become valuable allies and guides for your craft.
Third, the Beloved Dead are easier to contact than other deceased souls. There's a higher chance that they'll respond and get along with you. Finding physical links, offerings, and tools is relatively simply compared to most of death witchcraft. If you're a beginner spirit worker, consider working with the Beloved Dead.
Consider this post to be a primer, one that will kickstart your work with the Beloved Dead. To learn more, research more ancestor sources and your culture's funerary traditions.
In the death work community, most people emphasize gathering graveyard dirt and bones. Yes, these tools are significant: they connect us with the deceased when we're outside of a cemetery. But in my practice, I rarely collect graveyard dirt when I visit the dead's resting place. Instead, I practice other forms of devotion, spirit communication, and magic.
I don't recommend packing up grave dirt during your first trip to the cemetery for a couple of reasons:
On my tumblr, I've received a lot of questions about how to contact the dead in a cemetery without using a divination vessel. Like any method of spirit work, this connection with the deceased develops through practice. The best way that I can answer this question is to respond with what I, personally, do in graveyards. Every death witch practices differently. Hence, this post is just here to give you ideas about how to advance your death witchcraft.
When I enter a new cemetery, here's what I'll do.
While we're talking about cemetery trips, here are some etiquette/safety tips to keep in mind:
I hope this post inspires you to view cemetery visits as more than a way to gather tools. These visits allow us to communicate with the dead, advance our abilities, and build a reliable reputation with the spirits. I wish you best of luck in your path.
his is what I bring to cemeteries when I want to conduct spirit work there. The box is small enough to fit in my purse. Also, I didn’t paint this beautiful box; the lovely @la-la-laurels painted it. I just added the stickers and bows.
Here’s what is contained in all the little bottles and packages:
Sorry for the delay in posting this. Hope it was worth the wait, and you can get some more ideas for your own death witch travel altar!
Last time, we talked about trees’ associations with funerals and symbolism for being planted in graveyards. Now, I want to get more complicated and talk about how the tree’s spirits can relate to death work.
Most of us know that ‘tree spirits’ exist in several cultures. Here are just a few:
This said, most cultures are not as simple as ‘trees = specific spirit’ in this manner. Many cultures had different spirits inhabiting different kinds of trees. Some folklore describes other spirits inhabiting trees, even spirits of the dead. With all these varying accounts, how do we approach trees in cemeteries?
Based on my research, I have found that tree spirits can relate to the dead or afterlife in one of four specific ways:
Looking through this information, it’s clear that trees in cemeteries should not be overlooked in spirit work. The spirit within the tree can guard the dead, contain the dead, or link the dead to the afterlife, depending on the tree and its role in the cemetery.
This also broadens the use for tree bark and leaves as tools in death work. An amulet made of elm, for example, can help the magician cross over into the afterlife. Asphodel can be given as an offering to the dead, or an aid to communicate with them.
To work with a tree spirit inside a cemetery, you may approach it similarly to how one approaches a grave: give offerings, connect to its energy, and listen. The tree may give you information about the cemetery, or aid you in your magic. I had one tree guard my tools when I accidentally left them near there, and there were still there when I returned. That actually sparked my interest in working with trees in cemeteries.
~ Offerings for Trees in Cemeteries ~
You may use similar offerings as those for the dead, or ones catered towards tree spirits.
To Work with the Tree:
Although working with tree spirits inside a cemetery isn’t necessary to death witchcraft, it can certainly enhance your relationship to the dead and to that specific cemetery. I hope you got some great ideas from this.