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.
The winter solstice, Yule, is rapidly approaching. Many Pagans celebrate Yule, and while I was researching the holiday, I wondered where the traditions came from. I knew a few things, such as that the Yule log and wassailing came from Norse culture. But when I researched more, I found out that Yule is an amalgamation of several cultures, from Roman to Egyptian to modern-day Christmas.
This post is an exploration of modern-day Yule. I’ll go into the history of where certain celebrations came from and how they gathered to create the holiday. Then, I’ll discuss how you can celebrate Yule today.
NOTE: For this post, I will call ancient Pagans “Pagans” and modern Pagans “NeoPagans.” I don’t usually do this, but I’m making an exception for clarity.
The Ancient Germanic Jól
The first written record of Yule we have comes from fourth-century Germany. During that time, the Yule festival began after the first day of autumn. In the tenth century, Haakon the Good of Norway shortened Yule to 12 days at the end of the year. The ancient calendar did not encompass 365 days, so the 12 “extra” days became the celebration.
The word Yule comes from the Old Norse jól and Old English ġēol. It was pretty clearly a Pagan holiday. One name for Odin, jólfaðr, literally means “Yule Father.” The holiday celebrated the winter solstice, and it was a time to make oaths, such as marriages and rulership.
The Old Norse practiced a form of trick-or-treating on Yule. Children would ask their neighbors for treats such as figgy pudding. For dinner, communities would traditionally eat boar (ham), wine, and nog.
In the Middle Ages, people practiced wassailing. It was similar to Christmas caroling where people would sing at neighbors’ doorsteps with a wassail bowl. The bowl was filled with some kind of drink, usually cider, wine, or ale blended with honey and spices. They offered their drink in return for gifts.
Ancient Pagans also believed that the trees slept through autumn. During Yule, they would pick orchards and lay them near trees to “wake them up.” Mistletoes were considered to be sacred and a symbol of Freya. If they spotted a mistletoe, the ancients would let it fall onto a white cloth. Then, they would give parts of the mistletoe to each household to ward off evil.
The Yule Log
The Yule log is perhaps the most well-known holiday tradition. And no, we’re not talking about the French dessert. We’re talking about a log that is burned throughout Yuletide. Today, NeoPagans often decorate logs and place candles in them in honor of the tradition.
For the ancient Norse, however, the Yule log was an entire tree. Communities would take great care to choose a sacred tree to chop down. After cutting off the branches, they would haul the trunk into a long hallway. Instead of lighting the entire tree on fire, they only lit the end. Over time, the ancients would push the trunk into the fire, burning the entire thing throughout the 12 days of Yule. In Holland, Pagans gathered the tree’s ashes and placed them under their bed for protection.
The Roman Festival Saturnalia
The ancient Romans had their own solstice festival, Saturnalia, which went from December 17th to December 23rd. There are many interesting facts about Saturnalia, but I’m going to focus on the factors that likely influenced modern-day Christmas and Yule.
Saturnalia is widely credited as the origin of “Christmas cheer.” The holiday was created to imitate the rule of the Titan Saturn (Cronos in Greek), who governed a golden age. During this time, the Romans practice “role reversal” where their usual societal rules did not matter. Slaves ate with their masters, wars would go on pause, and all political squabbles would cease.
Partying and gift-giving were huge aspects of Saturnalia. On December 19th, the Romans would give each other sigillaria, or gag-gifts. For regular gifts, children often received toys, and adults could get expensive gifts such as a farm animal. A common gift was a cerei, a wax candle that signified the sun returning after the solstice.
People decorated their homes with greenery and wore colorful clothes called synthesis during dinner.. Singing, dancing, gambling, and playing games were common celebrations, as well as large feasts. I’m sure that you can see the similarities between Saturnalia and modern-day Christmas/Yule.
The Ancient Egyptian Winter Solstice
The ancient Egyptians also celebrated the winter solstice. For them, the return of the sun was closely associated with their sun God, Horus. However, in the Middle Kingdom, this festival celebrated the births of five deities over five days: Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.
I want to address the common myth that Horus was born on December 25th. This is incorrect. According to Plutarch, Horus was born on the winter solstice, which can land between December 20th and December 22nd depending on the year. Although these dates are close, they should not be conflated.
The Egyptians frequently associated deities and pharaohs with the sun. They built their shrines so that the sun would rise in between two pillars on the solstice. They knew that they could not live without the sun and welcomed it back in winter.
The Mysterious Origin Of Christmas Trees
Although some NeoPagans say that Christmas trees were appropriated from Paganism, the truth is not so black-and-white. Historians still aren’t sure where the Christmas tree tradition began. However, we do know that ancients from several cultures decorated with evergreens.
The ancient Celts used to decorate temples with green boughs, the plant of the sun God, Baldr. The boughs symbolized everlasting lift and the return of the sun. The ancient Egyptians also placed greenery over doors and windows to ward off malicious spirits and illness.
So when did people start hauling trees indoors? Historians still aren’t sure. The first record of a decorated Christmas tree came from Martin Luther, the 16th-century leader of the Protestant Reformation. Luther reportedly came up with the idea to place candles near a tree after lights outside of his church.
Many historians believe that people were likely bringing trees indoors for many years before Martin Luther. Perhaps Luther was the first well-known figure to decorate a tree. But as for where Christmas trees come from, we’re not quite sure.
Did Christians Steal Christmas?
The claim that Christians stole Christmas from the Pagans is everywhere, especially in Pagan communities. I can’t talk about the history of Yule without addressing these accusations.
First off, the claim that December 25th came from the winter solstice is not entirely correct. In the second century, Clement of Alexandria claimed that Mary conceived Christ on March 25th (the same day as his future death). Therefore, Jesus was born nine months later, on December 25th.
When missionaries aimed to convert Pagan populations, this date came in handy. The most effect method of conversion was to take previous holidays, locations, and figures and change them from Pagan to Christian. Although Christmas was already being celebrated, it was close enough to the winter solstice that the celebration made sense to many Pagans.
In my opinion, the most common misconception about the Christian conversion is how long it took. Many people assume that conversation was quick; it wasn’t. Conversion took hundreds of years. In the Norse, Nordic, and Celtic countries, areas were constantly being taken over by Viking clans before returning to missionaries. So one area would become Pagan, then Christian, then Pagan again over hundreds of years.
This is why we see so many Pagan traditions blended into Christian ones. People took old Pagan celebrations, such as decorating with evergreens, and continued them with a different religion. On top of that, the government eventually became Christian, and it enforced how people should celebrate holidays.
Now, I’m not trying to relieve the missionaries from blame. They absolutely forced people to convert, and there are cases where the word “stealing” is appropriate. For instance, in Ireland, the Goddess Brigid was so popular that missionaries transformed Her into Saint Brigid. But for Christmas, I personally believe that the answer is more complicated than “Christians stole it.” The Christian holiday already existed, and Yule traditions eventually blended in and became Christian.
Wiccan Yule and the Holly and Oak Kings
In Wicca, Yule is a Sabbat, or a celebration of the sun. In some traditions, Yule honors the rebirth of the Horned God. The God passed away on Samhain (Halloween) and is reborn on Yule.
In other traditions, Wiccans celebrate the legend of the Holly King and the Oak King. Although some claim that this myth is ancient, we have no record of it before Robert Graves’ 1948 book The White Goddess. Graves compared the legend to other myths such as Lugh and Balor and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Similar comparisons came from the 1890 book The Golden Bough by anthropologist Sir James George Frazer, but the Oak and Holly Kings story did not arise until later.
According to the story, the Holly King and Oak King battle throughout the year. The Holly King represents darkness and gains power during the autumn equinox. On Yule, the Oak King, which represents light, overthrows the Holly King. In some traditions, these kings are aspects of the Horned God, and the Oak King fights for the Goddess.
How to Celebrate Yule Today
You might have read about all of these traditions and gotten confused. How can we celebrate modern-day Yule when it has so many origins from so many cultures? Fortunately, many of these holidays have overlap, and we can decide which traditions we want to celebrate.
How do you celebrate Yule? Did I miss any facts or traditions? Are you reading this on the holiday or before? Let me know in the comments below!
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!
This post was supposed to come out on 5/7. Here we are, at 6/28. I have no excuse other than deciding to ignore the world for a few months.
Here's a brief outline of what I've been doing in that time:
I have not functioned like a human being or posted on social media in forever. But for better or worse, I'm back. I can finally answer the questions that my subscribers sent me months ago.
Thank you all for your patience. Enjoy the post!
Have you ever encountered a malicious spirit?
In all seriousness, if someone claims that they’ve never met a malicious spirit, they may be lying or doing something wrong. Spirits love to mess with inexperienced and naive spirit workers who are just starting out. I was 12 when I began spirit work, making me the perfect target.
During my early encounters, malicious spirits made claims that seemed too good to be true (a common manipulation tactic). They claimed that I was the “queen” of their clan, and that they “needed my help.” I was lucky to get out of this situation with minimal mental, spiritual, and physical damage.
If you’d like a post about malicious spirits, let me know in the comments. I’m happy to cover the common manipulation techniques that malicious spirits use.
Like how in a skill you can hit a wall, how do you recommend getting around a wall in practicing witchcraft? Do you go back to basics or start on more intricate material?
Based on my personal experience, you have three options. The first is that you can return to the basics. Re-read or re-practice the material that got you started. It could ignite your motivation when you remember why you started practicing in the first place.
If that doesn’t work, you can try something entirely different. Not more intricate per say, but different. If you often draw tarot cards, switch to scrying. If you read NeoPagan resources, check out a book on traditional witchcraft. Some of us hit a wall because our current practice doesn’t benefit us anymore. We may need a new perspective or a new challenge.
The third option is to stop practicing. As much as we want to practice magic everyday, sometimes we need a break. If you decide to take a break for a week, you may stop stressing about it. Afterward, you may return to your Craft with a fresh perspective.
Do you have any recommendations for getting over your fear to do a spell? Not in that it's to do a bad thing but in that you're scared to mess it up
It depends on the spell and the fear. If you’re worried that the spell or a spirit will come back to harm you, set up wards. Protect your home and your body. Keep a banishing spell on hand in case things go south.
Is the fear that your failed spell will “prove” that you’re a bad magician? If so, remember that everyone has failed a spell. The most talented magicians on the planet have cast spells incorrectly.
Before you cast, write down your spell in a journal, grimoire, and BOS. If it goes wrong, return to your journal. What do you think went wrong? Did you use the wrong ingredients? Were you distracted while meditating? By breaking apart your spell, you will learn how you do better next time. You’ll transform the situation from disappointing to motivating.
If I completely missed the mark, and your issue is something else, email me. I’m happy to discuss this in-depth.
Hi Yunan, I love your blog and zines regarding death witchcraft and I am searching for ways to incorporate this spirituality into the ‘death positive’ movement. My question is; have you ever felt called to (or do already) work in the funeral industry, death midwifery or other ways with the dying and/ or the corpse? Thank you!
Thank you, Eva! And you’re not alone. I have considered pursuing a job in the industry, specifically as a death doula. Organizations such as The Death Midwife offer online classes for those professions. I know a few death witches who are morticians, which requires more schooling.
To clarify, you don’t need a death positive profession or degree to have an impact on the movement. Everyone contributes to the movement in their own way, either through art or writing or podcasts or retweeting resources. Personally, I decided against death doula classes because I would rather spend time/money learning herbalism. And I’d rather contribute to the movement through writing and tending to cemeteries.
But that’s my path. You can determine your own.
Will you be releasing a 3rd volume of Death Witchcraft? I’ve absolutely loved volumes 1 and 2!
Thanks, Anna! I do not plan to write a third volume because I’d rather write an entire book on death witchcraft.
Although I have enough material for a book, I haven’t built the confidence to write all of it. So we’ll see where that goes.
I hope you enjoyed. If you have tips or questions, please comment below!
One more thing: I had the privilege of joining Cee on The Crone and The Alchemist podcast. We talked in-depth about death witchcraft, necromancy, divination, and spirit work. If you'd like to listen to the interview for free, click this link.
Thank you for reading, and I look forward to actually writing posts on time!
If you’ve been reading witchcraft and occult books for a long time, you may have noticed that most spells and folklore trace back to ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the British Isles. Why do you think that is? Well, part of it is English colonialism. It’s no secret that the Brits preferred some cultures over others.
Another reason is that these cultures spent a lot of time writing things down. Other communities, such as African tribes, hardly wrote anything down. Their traditions are primarily oral, and for centuries, historians didn’t bother to record oral history.
Fortunately, this is changing. Many historians are taking the time to write down oral stories and traditions so they don’t become lost. But much of history--especially magic--has already become lost due to the lack of recording oral history.
Don’t believe me? I’ll list some examples below.
I’m writing these down because (a) they fascinate me, and (b) I want to remind people that we don’t know everything. In the occult community, some people believe that written spells survived because they work. But that’s not entirely true. Many other spells existed--and likely worked--but were never written down or saved.
What do you think about these lost spells? Do you think that we will ever figure out what they were used for? Let me know below.
The Dolls in Miniature Coffins
In 1836, three boys were hunting for rabbit burrows near a rocky formation in Edinburgh called Arthur’s Seat. One of the boys spotted a slate, and he moved it to discover a tiny cave. After digging further, the boys found some objects. They were miniature coffins, only four inches in length.
Although the boys uncovered eight coffins, but only five of them survived after the boys hurled them at each other. Yes, really. They threw around historical artifacts.
Eventually, one of the boys brought the surviving coffins to his father. After opening each coffin, the father discovered eight tiny dolls. Each one has a unique face and clothes, and some don’t have arms, likely to fit inside the coffin. At least two were pink or red, and they were carved from white wood. They date back to the 1780s.
Throughout the centuries, many people have come up with theories about the purpose of these miniature coffins. Some claim that these figures represent the victims of the nearby West Port murders, but there is little evidence to support this.
In 2018, historian Jeff Nisbet claimed to “crack” the miniature coffin mystery. He claimed that these dolls represent people who lost their lives during a political revolution. However, his theory is no more “proven” than others.
Many believe that these dolls were ingredients in a spell. Perhaps sailors carried these dolls to ward off death on their journey. Newspapers from 1836 credited “demonology and witchcraft.” What do you think the coffin dolls were used for?
The Bronze Age Bird Skull Headdress
In January 2019, archaeologists dug up several skeletons in Siberia’s Novosibirsk region. While the fully-preserved skeletons were an amazing find, the archaeologists uncovered a peculiar find. One skeleton wore a headdress of bird skulls.
Between 30 and 50 bird skulls and beaks were tied together to create the headdress, which was likely worn on the neck or collar. The bones belonged to large shore birds, including herons and cranes.
Historians nicknamed the skeleton “the Birdman of Siberia,” and they suspect that he was a priest or a shaman. According to carbon dating, the skeletons date back 5,000 years. He was likely a member of the Odinov, a culture that dominated Siberia during the Bronze Age.
Siberian researcher Lidia Kobeleva believes that the headdress had a ritualistic purpose. But what exactly was it? Was it protective? Did it connect the shaman to spirits? Was it dedicated to a deity? Perhaps all of the above.
What do you think was the purpose of the bird skull headdress?
Babies Buried with Skull Helmets
This is a strange one. In 2014, archaeologists unearthed an ancient burial site in Salango, Ecuador. The funerary mound, which dates back 2,100 years, revealed many interesting finds. But the most unusual were two infant skeletons wearing bone “helmets.”
These helmets were made from the skull fragments of older children who had died before the infants. The infants were younger than 18 months, while their skull helmets came from children between ages four and 12. Archaeologists called it “using juvenile crania as mortuary headgear.”
The children were members of Guangala, a civilization that lived on Ecuador’s coast around 100 B.C. But despite knowing when the infants lived, historians still have no idea what the skull helmets mean.
Archaeologists have many theories. One is that these helmets represent the infants’ ancestors quite literally protecting them. Others believe that the helmets protect infants in the afterlife, or that they symbolize conquering another nation. We still have no idea what these skull helmets mean.
What do you think about the skull helmets? Do you think they were a spell, or purely symbolic?
Archaeologists are skill unearthing facts about ancient civilizations. Some could have been spells, but we will never know if they actually were.
Do you think that you can use this knowledge for your Craft? Do you believe that these were even spells at all? Leave your theories below!
As many of you know, I’m getting married in October 2020. So far, our date has not been postponed, and we are planning as if nothing has changed.
From the beginning, my fiance and I knew we would have an interfaith wedding. Both of our families are Christian. Mine is Catholic, and his family leans more towards Baptist. My fiance is still Christian, and I am Wiccan. How could we create a spiritual ceremony that won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable?
Here is the process that I’ve been struggling with. This is a personal post to convey my ideas and request more ideas for our future day.
We Want Something Universal, Not Two Specific Rituals
When I first looked into Pagan weddings, I bought the book Handfasting and Wedding Rituals by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein. This book has many perks, such as flower meanings, color correspondences, and ritual examples. I’d recommend it. But one thing I don’t like is that all the interfaith ceremony examples are “separate,” for lack of a better term. They all include two priests or priestesses, one for each faith, conducting two ceremonies back-to-back. We don’t want that.
We want one ceremony that reflects both of us, not two rituals that separate us. Instead of saying “here’s him, and then here’s me,” we want our ceremony to say, “here is us.” We’re aiming for a universal ceremony, one that is vague enough to convene our faiths and the faiths of our ancestors.
Related: Offerings to Deities: the Basics
To Make Matters Worse, We Have No Officiate to Guide Us
If you look up Pagan or interfaith weddings online, you’ll likely see mentions of priests and priestesses. We don’t have either--at least, no one we know and trust to conduct our ceremony. I’m not part of a coven, and we don’t go to a church.
Although many couples seek out priests that they don’t know, we didn’t want to do that. We wanted someone who knew us to lead the ceremony. We could work on the rituals with them, and the ceremony will feel far more special with a loved one than a stranger.
After much deliberation, we decided to have my grandmother officiate. She was a psychology professor who focused on family and religion. She has observed many religions both here and in India, and she has written books and articles about karma. She describes herself as “undenominational,” which is exactly what we’re looking for. We know she’ll be well-spoken and open to both of our opinions on the ceremony.
On top of that, my grandfather (her husband) died earlier this year. He was sick for a long time, and he was upset that he wouldn’t survive until the wedding. This is our way of involving both of my grandparents. Honoring ancestors is one of my values, after all.
Plus, There’s Little to No Information Online
If you try to research Pagan interfaith weddings, you won’t find much. There are plenty of articles about Pagan weddings--handfasting, jumping the broom, etc.--but few about combining your faith with your spouse’s.
The best sites I could find were couples’ wedding photos that they uploaded onto sites like Rock n Roll Bride. Seeing real couples’ weddings gave me ideas of what we could do. But many blogs lacked the information I needed. Many scheduled weddings as “here’s the Pagan part, and here’s the Christian part.” Again, that’s not what we want.
So Here Is What We’re Doing (So Far)
First, we decided on one spiritual ritual that we both want: the handfasting. This ritual is perfect because it combines my Wiccan faith with our ancestral histories. Handfastings date back to the 16th century (at least) in the British Isles. It is also the origin of the phrase “tie the knot.” Even for family members who aren’t Pagan, this ritual has some ancestral significance.
We’re going to remove the segments that are too “Wiccan-y,” for lack of a better term. For instance, we won’t cast a circle and call upon the four elements. That is a bit too explicitly Wiccan for our interfaith wedding. Instead, I can make four handfasting cords that represent the elements.
My grandmother/officiate recommended that she call upon “the Universe” in place of specific deities. We like this idea. It shortens the ceremony because she won’t have to list every deity that we worship. Plus, both my fiance and I believe in a higher power. Calling upon the Universe is enough to invoke that.
How We Incorporate the Christian Aspect
If you don’t know, traditional Catholic weddings basically do an entire mass before the ceremony even starts. There’s no way in hell that our ceremony will be that long. My parents did that, and they emphasized that we don’t have to.
Instead, I want to incorporate some Christian aspects into our spiritually vague wedding. Many handfasting cords have charms on the ends. I would like to include a cross or two on the cords.
I also want to erect a table for our ancestors who couldn’t make it to the wedding. Many of my family members died before this day. I would like to give them an open chair and table for them to be present. I may include a Christian candle and rosary on the table, too.
How I Sneak in the Pagan Aspect
Because I am one of the only Pagans at my wedding, I don’t want to shove the Wiccan aspect into peoples’ faces. So I prefer to incorporate my religious views into my jewelry, handfasting cords, and some decorations.
I bought a hair comb in the symbol of the Goddess. In Wicca, the Goddess rules over weddings because it represents the transition from maiden to womanhood. This beautiful design is from Etsy seller Ayreeworks.
I have already bought two necklaces from the Etsy jeweler Sheekydoodle who makes formal Pagan jewelry. I’ll see which ones work with my dress during the fitting. Representing my religion in my jewelry is very important to me.
Recently, I asked a Hellenic polytheist discord how I can sneak more Pagan aspects into my wedding. A few people brought up the bouquet. If the florist makes the bouquet green and purple, those colors signify Hera, the Goddess of marriage. I also want an artichoke in my bouquet. Oddly enough, artichokes are an aphrodisiac--Aphrodite, much?
Do you have any ideas for incorporating Pagan symbolism?
I considered naming the tables after deities, too. Perhaps there’s a way I can bring Hades into the ceremony too? If you have any ideas, please hit me up. We’re still planning the ceremony and could use more brainstorming.
Please comment below!
On my post about decorating altars, a few readers commented that they’d love to set up an altar if they weren’t closeted. I remember feeling that way for the first seven years of my Craft. Growing up in a Catholic family, I never openly displayed my interest. Whenever I mentioned it (like when I discovered Hellenic Polytheism in middle school), I’d receive a lecture about Jesus and one God, which shut down the conversation.
So, yes, I understand the struggle. Even in college, I couldn’t set up altars in the dorm room. I had to hide all of my materials until my environment became safe, around age 20 or so.
If you’re “in the broom closet,” this post is for you. I’m going to discuss some methods I used to keep my Craft private. If you have any other ideas, please share. This is more of a brainstorming post than a “guide.” Your ideas will help people who are struggling with their environment.
Get “Non-Witchy” Containers
The easiest way to hide your supplies is to put everything in a box. It’s annoying, but effective. When it comes to deciding which box can hold your witchcraft/Pagan supplies, I recommend something that looks like another container.
In high school, my parents bought me some fancy “London” and “Paris” boxes as a set. Since they make pretty decorations, I put many of my art supplies in my Paris box. That means my London box held more painting tools, right? Nope. It disguised my witchcraft stuff.
For me, a really good way to hide supplies wasn’t just by using a random box. It was an intentionally disguised box. By stacking the Paris and London boxes, my parents assumed that both held art supplies for school. Whenever a Sabbat came around, I unloaded my London box and set up an altar on the floor. This box holds my extra witchcraft supplies to this day.
Or, Your Box Becomes Your Altar
When I practiced in secret, I shoved all of my supplies haphazardly into a box. While alone, I’d take it all out and set it up. If I were active in the witchcraft internet community at the time, I would have discovered a much more convenient solution: make an altar box.
Essentially, your altar is the tiny container. Your meditation crystals, prayer beads, and candles are already in there. Many bloggers pitch this idea for travel altars, but they can become at-home altars if you’re struggling for space or have to hide your Craft.
Those wooden boxes from Michael’s work well, and you can paint them. Otherwise, a shoe box or disguised box that I mentioned earlier would work. Hell, you can even use a desk drawer if you want.
Online Altars And Grimoires
This is another tip that I would have used if I had learned it earlier. Where I grew up, the magic community was secretive. You wouldn’t mention your Craft unless the person you were talking to also had a psychic ability. So I never thought to use the internet, or my computer, to my advantage.
Online altars are a thing. Many people use Tumblr accounts or Pinterest boards to save images, prayers, and facts that relate to their practice. Some save information they find in folders or on Google Docs.
These are great because (a) you can create an online alias so others don’t find you; (b) you can save information easily; and (c) you can engage with an online community. But if you’re reading this blog post, you probably know this already.
Take advantage of the resources you have. Can’t write down a grimoire? Copy and paste facts in your Notes app. Can’t build an altar? Make one on Animal Crossing. (I’m particularly proud of the Hades shrine on my island.) Remember that this is all temporary. Eventually, you’ll have your own place and can transition to a physical altar.
Can Your Supplies Disguise As Decor?
A lot of witchcraft supplies seem like everyday items to most people. Consider how many people place a Himalayan salt lamp on their bedside table or shelf. I know quite a few Christians who own those, and nobody thinks anything of it. But when you place a Himalayan salt lamp on an altar, with a pentagram and a jar of mugwort, then people will think it’s witchy.
If you have supplies that look like everyday items, display them. Why? Because when you’re practicing out of boxes, you’ll need as much storage space as you can get. As your collection grows, you may struggle to store EVERY witchcraft tool into one or two boxes.
Crystals make common decorative items and bookends. In my practice, family heirlooms contribute to ancestor work, so I display the teacups and incense burner that my grandmother gave me.
I’ll also set out some statues. Yes, even Pagan statues can seem discreet in some families. For years, my (Catholic) parents displayed a statue of Bast on their desk. We got it from a museum, and they loved the fact that Bast guarded the home in ancient Egypt. I had to bargain with them to get it back, and I eventually gave them a Bast statue of their own.
Another tip that I wish I knew: If you own witchcraft books, shelve them with their pages facing outwards. Believe it or not interior designers use this technique with some books. If the spine color doesn’t make the palette, they’ll flip it around so that you see the pages instead. I do this a lot with thin books, and nobody notices.
There are many convenient (and even fun) ways to hide your craft.
You know your living situation more than anyone. If any of these moves seem too risky, don’t do them. Stay safe. That is always your first priority.
Have you ever had to practice in secret? If you have, which tricks did you use? Comment below to help others who come across this post.
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!
While browsing through witchcraft blogs, I see a lot of posts about building altars on a budget. Those are wonderful, but I want to approach altars from a different angle. How can you make a functional altar that’s also beautiful?
Today, I’m going to write a fun post as a break from all the chaos. I’m going to redecorate my Hades altar and guide you through the process. If you redo your altar after this, post it on Instagram and tag me @death.witch.envy!
Determine Your Altar’s Function
Many posts about altars discuss the “purpose.” For instance, you may build an altar for a specific deity. Perhaps you want to practice your craft at your altar. Will your space focus on nature, ancestors, or something else?
But I want to take this a step further. What will you do at your altar? Or rather, what do you want to do? Perhaps you want to practice spirit work there. Perhaps you plan to create more jar spells at your altar, or you want to journal more.
Thinking about your altar’s function will determine the setup. For example, if you want to write in your grimoire at your altar, you’ll need enough space for your notebook. If you want to practice more fire magic, include a jar of candles and matches.
Write down everything you’d like to do at your altar. This will determine which tools you include and how much space you’ll need. If you need a lot of space (like I do), stack all of your decorations and tools in the back. Leave the front open for your work.
Sort through What You Already Have
While setting up your altar, focus on the stuff you already have. Don’t wait for a specific crystal that you want to buy in the future. Appreciate what you have--and get creative! Decorative boxes, bags, jars, sculptures, and rocks can make great altar accessories.
Lay out all of your materials so that you can see them. If you’d like, pinpoint what color palettes you have. In my pile, I have a lot of blacks, tans, blues, purples, and pinks. I decided to use blacks, tans, and purples for my Hades altar. Of course, you don’t have to make a color palette. But it can be fun to explore what combinations you can make.
Decide What You Need and What You Go Without
When deciding what to put on your altar, aim for the absolute minimum. Divide your stuff into three piles: must-haves, maybes, and no’s.
Your must-haves are tools that you WILL use on the altar. Don’t include tools that you might use; add ones that you know you’ll use. Remember, you can always add more tools later.
However, your must-haves can also be sentimental items. Is there a statue that improves your prayer? Or a family heirloom that makes you happy? Perhaps you have a crystal or candle that gets you in the “witchy” mindset. If you can’t imagine your altar without it, then it’s a must-have.
Keep out your maybe pile and put away your no’s. When you set up your altar, focus on the must-haves first, and add the maybe’s if you have room.
Related: Offerings for Deities: The Basics
If You Include Containers, Fill Them Wisely
Adding boxes to your altar can save space and look elegant. But if you’re going to include storage, fill the containers with stuff that you frequently use. If your box holds old letters or crystals that you never take out, it’ll only gather dust.
Before decorating my altar, I filled my favorite containers with tools that I need. The basket holds graveyard dirt, bones, and wands. The box stores my favorite crystals and candles with candle holders. My coffin containers have more bones and bone candles for my Hades worship.
Now, for the set up!
Establishing symmetry will always make your altar look put-together. If you have a long table like I do, placing items on both ends will signal where the altar begins and stops.
For my Hades altar, I have two candles that I use for death work. I also have two skeleton statues. Although these pairs don’t match perfectly, they still look symmetrical. They’re similar in height and appearance, so they frame both sides wonderfully.
Create Different Heights
If you want your altar to look aesthetically pleasing, vary the object heights. Include some tall candles next to short candles, or a short teacup next to a tall statue. It’ll entertain the eye.
To create height, stack boxes or books and place objects on top. For my Hades altar, I stacked a Konstantinos book and my old Greek mythology book. Both match my color palette and provide a platform for the rest of my tools. Plus, they were both influential for my Hades worship and death work.
Related: On Worshipping Hades
Arrange the Biggest Objects First
This step will make your decorating a lot easier. If you have a large statue, candle, or crystal tower, place that on your altar first. The smaller objects can surround the big objects. Plus, including large items will automatically create height variance.
On my altar, the biggest object was my obsidian scrying mirror. I placed it on top of the books as a centerpiece. The rest of my tiny objects can go around the mirror.
Have Fun with Smaller Decorations
After your large items are set up, your smaller decorations and tools go on. Experiment with different arrangements and colors. Remember, must-haves go on the altar first, and maybes can be added if there’s room.
First, I placed two bones that I commonly use in my practice. Then, I added a jar of graveyard dirt. Those are some of my must-haves because I work with them frequently. Another must-have was a purple Cerberus sculpture that my friend made for me. (Visit her Etsy at IntotheCaveCreations!)
The rest were maybes. A tiny Greek jar filled with coins and a black candle skull fit perfectly. In front of everything, I included an offering bowl for Hades. The altar is pretty, functional, and contains plenty of space for my death witchcraft.
Decorate Shelves Similarly
If you have shelves of witchcraft supplies, you can decorate them similarly. Place the largest containers first, and stack books and boxes of different heights. I’m lucky enough to have a bookshelf as my altar, so I keep all of my supplies underneath my altars.
If you’re closeted, store items in discreet boxes. That London box in my bookshelf has hid my witchcraft supplies for years. If it weren’t underneath my altars, nobody would guess that it’s witchy.
Related: My Death Witch Travel Altar
If It Can Go on the Wall, Hang It
If you want to save space, use the wall. Hang decorations that can’t fit on your altar. Install shelving to contain more of your supplies that you can easily reach.
I created a magnetic herb container out of an old advent calendar from Starbucks. I painted the container lids to label every herb. Then, I hung the advent calendar over my altars. Whenever I need some dried herbs, I can easily grab them. Plus, it makes a wonderful decoration.
Did this guide help? Have you redecorated your altar during quarantine? Let me know in the comments below!
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.