13 October 2019

Magickal Self-Defense 101 - PPD 2019

Today I presented Magickal Self-Defense 101 at our local Pagan Pride celebration.  For participants and those who missed it, here are my notes for that workshop.  As these are just notes, it's not the fully fleshed out writing that you're used to from me.  Feel free to ask for clarification or elaboration on any point.

Magickal self-defense is about securing the self.  There are four basic parts:

  • Cleansing - Get that which is “not me” out/off of me.
    • The magickal equivalent of taking a daily shower or washing your hands.  Enhanced by common cleansing herbs such as sage, cedar, lavender, or rosemary.
    • Asperging with herbs (or essential oil water in a spritz bottle) or censing/fumigating with incense are common techniques. 
  • Grounding - Get rid of excess energy and any internal negativity.
    • The act of flushing out negative or excess energy you have in your body into a place where it is naturally neutralized.  It’s basically the same as the concept of grounding electricity.  Some traditions refer to this practice as “earthing” because you send the unwanted energy into the earth.
    • Roots down.  Envision all of the negative or excess energy in your body as black static that you allow to sink into the ground to be neutralized.
  • Centering - Stabilize your own energies and connection to life energies/the universe.
    • Finding the place in your body where you feel your energies the strongest and aligning your energies to concentrate and flow from that place.  For most people this energetic center is in the lower abdomen, but could be other places. 
    • Branches up.  Breathe in and out while envisioning your energies flowing in and out of your center for a few minutes until you feel calm and stable, then connect yourself to your external source - whatever that may be (nature or the heart of the earth are good ones to start with)
  • Shielding - Strengthen the barrier between “you” and “not you.”
    • Shielding is the practice of forming a layer of protective energy around yourself in order to strengthen the barrier between you and the outside world.  Think strengthening the aura or putting a case around your phone. 
    • Magickal shielding is entirely energetic. That means that while shielding can protect you from all kinds of bad juju and unpleasant emotions, it won’t do anything to stop a physical attack.
    • To cast a bubble shield you just imagine a solid bubble of energy forming all the way around your body, creating a barrier that negative energy can't get through. If you've ever seen any of the Star Trek movies or television shows remember what it looks like when they raise the ship's shields. You are seeing the characters raise a bubble shield around the Enterprise. You can do the same thing by picturing a solid egg of energy forming around you, feeling the air thicken with energy around you, or even imagining a particular smell filling the space around you. This simple shield will protect you as long as you hold it in your mind. When you stop holding the shield in your mind the shield will fade away.
    • Suit of armor can also be effective - the trick is to find the metaphor/visual/idea that clicks in your brain.

Quick Defensive Preparation

Whenever you feel the need to be on your guard do the following exercise.
  • Take a deep breath, in and out.
  • Take a deep breath in and feel all the stress in your body vibrating like static electricity. Forcefully breathe out and see it all rush out of your body and into the ground like a torrent of water.
  • Breathe in and visualize a sphere of calm silver energy in the center of your body, breathe out and see it expand until it forms a sphere around you.
  • Breathe in and let your mind still. Breathe out.
The whole exercise should take the time of four breaths. If it takes you longer than that, you’ll need to practice until you can do it quickly.  This exercise should make you feel calm and focused.

23 September 2019

Our Community Has a Power Structure Problem

This post is going to be a soapbox speech about something that’s bothered me about the Pagan/Magickal/Occult community for a long time - how our traditional power structures are ripe for abuse.  Feel free to skip it if it’s triggering, but otherwise please give this some thought.  We’ll be back to our regular witchy shenanigans next post.

I’ve been an active member of the greater Pagan/Magickal community for about twenty years now and I’ve seen some shit.  I’ve been part of groups large and small, functional and totally whacked.  I’ve seen groups rise and fall, and the fall is almost always as the result of people behaving badly.  The very secrecy, mysticism, and exclusivity that can make a group feel “special” are the traits that make our community so very susceptible to abuse of power - and boy do a few bad apples take advantage of that.

A lot of Pagan/Magickal communities base their structures either on hierarchical lodges/covens or psuedo-equal communes.  The former tends to raise leadership into cults of personality, while the latter can lead to extreme group think.  Hierarchical groups are particularly susceptible to manipulating followers into doing the bidding of the leaders by promising power or secret knowledge if they “go just one more step.”  This can be as simple as acting against one’s better judgement or go so far as fiscal, sexual, or physical abuse.  Pseudo-communal groups look like each member is supposed to be equal, but almost always have a core council or “in group” that really controls the group mind and can exert extreme pressure on members to conform in toxic ways.  I’ve seen this result in members being pressured into sexual situations with which they were not comfortable or truly consenting.  The lack of transparency in the inner workings of communities can shield potential abusers.  Further, the mysticism that elevates leadership (particularly the priesthood) during sacred ritual can give those leaders a sense of power and - for lack of a better word - holiness during regular hours that they can abuse.  It’s shocking what the vulnerable can be manipulated into doing with the promise of “belonging” or being made to feel special or “chosen.” 

One of the greatest strengths of our communities are that they are (or should be) welcoming to people that are not readily accepted in the mainstream.  This means that a lot of the people entering our communities are particularly vulnerable to predators that can, at first, make them feel good about themselves.  (There’s a big “senpai noticed me” vibe when it comes to being singled out by leadership in a lot of our communities.)  It is a sad fact that victims of abuse and manipulation are often extremely vulnerable to those presenting themselves as saviors.  A lot of predators in our communities are very good at looking like they’re empowering people while actually grooming them for manipulation.  Our failure to protect our most vulnerable members from predation is the greatest failure of Pagan/Magickal communities. 

While the great majority of Pagan/Magickal leaders have the best of intentions, those that don’t really ruin things for everybody.  The problem is that it’s hard to tell at a glance whether a leader is genuine or problematic.  A person can have good ideas and be a predator.  A person can be a great writer and be a predator.  A person can be a great ritualist and performer and be a predator.  A person can be magickally potent and be a predator.  This means that individuals MUST practice good judgment and use their common sense at all times.  Just because the leader “says so” is not a good reason to do something, nor is “everyone in the group does ‘X’.”  It is also important to remember that misuse of power is a spectrum that runs from minor issues (like making people feel pressured but not compelled to agree with the leader) all the way to full on felonies.  Leadership that starts with minor infractions can escalate the more they get away with the little things.  Even leadership that begins well intentioned can become corrupt as more power is given to them.  Of course, it’s also possible for community members to abuse their leadership - making transparency even more important.  It is imperative that community members are aware of the behavior of their leadership and fellow community members and hold everyone to the same standards of conduct.  Clearly established and enforced boundaries are good for everybody.  

The big difference between a mostly functional and a problematic community is boundaries - does everyone know them, are they enforced, and are they enforced equally.  Well established and respected boundaries are a critical part of any relationship and are even more important when the relationship involves a group.  Get multiple people in a group and you will always have multiple opinions on just about everything.  Knowing what conduct is expected and what is discouraged or forbidden is critical.  Make sure everybody knows what’s expected of them up front and make sure everybody actually behaves themselves.  No blaming the victim, no exceptions for your favorites.  Actions have consequences.  This is kindergarten people.  Sure, some rules are badly written but you should see all of them before you’re expected to abide by them and be given a chance to air your concerns.  Healthy boundaries are what allow different people to interact with each other peacefully.  In a perfect world everyone would be sincere and guided by their best selves to behave well.  We do not like in a perfect world, thus we need boundaries.

The Pagan/Magickal community needs to do better in protecting our members from the abuse of power.  We need clear boundaries that are actually and equally enforced.  We need transparency in our processes.  We really need to stop establishing cults of personality around every person that can perform a decent ritual or write a semi-coherent blog post.  Individually, we all need to exercise discernment and common sense in our own behaviors.  It’s time for the community to step up and take responsibility for our weaknesses and actually do better.  There is way too much appalling behavior being permitted out there and it’s eroding the entire community from within.  We need to do better.

A few resources:
Characteristics of a Cult
Seven Signs You’re In a Cult
Warning Signs of Cults and Dangerous Leaders
Psychology of Cults
Signs of an Abusive Relationship

13 September 2019

Building Relationships with Metaphysical Entities

Having strong relationships with metaphysical entities is the foundation for fluid communication and developing working agreements.  Many practitioners know they should build these relationships, but a lot of them are at a loss as to how.   Be they ancestors, spirits, fae, gods, demons, or anything else: build relationships with metaphysical entities the same way you would with people.  It seems like common sense, but developing relationships with metaphysical entities requires you to push through the mysticism and confusion surrounding them and just treat them like any other thinking, feeling being. 

Be a Good Neighbor

To start building a relationship with a metaphysical entity you need to be appealing to them, to be the kind of person they want to have a relationship with.  For most positive entities this means being polite, respectful, and amiable - treat them as you would want to be treated if your positions were reversed.  (Negative entities are a whole different story, but that’s a discussion for another article.)  No one wants to be friends with the obnoxious neighbor that is too loud at the wrong times, leaves trash all over the sidewalk, and has no consideration for others.  Don’t be “that guy.”  Further, remember that relationships require consent on both sides.  Just because you want a relationship with a spirit doesn’t mean they want one with you.  If you get indications that the spirit doesn’t want to talk, respect that and don’t harass them.  Don’t start relationship building from a deficit. 

Know Your Entity

You approach relationship building differently with potential friends, coworkers, bosses, and relatives (you wouldn’t introduce yourself to a potential employer the same way you would Billy from down the pub); so too you should modify your approach according to the nature of the entity with which you’re pursuing a relationship.  Some entities, like many land wights and spirits, can be approached you would a peer and potential friend.  Other entities, such as high fae, loa, and Gods should be approached with a certain degree of deference and formality.  Take some time to research the entity you’re trying to befriend and learn what type of behavior they expect.  If you’re trying to build a relationship with a known entity, such as a god or loa, there will likely be established procedures for introducing yourself.  If it’s a spirit or ancestor, try to find out if they had particular preferences in life (this won’t always be possible depending on what memories/records are available to you).  Learning, or at least trying to learn, these preferences is a sign of respect.  When in doubt, be more formal than you think is strictly necessary and you should be fine.  

Equal Exchange

Relationships with metaphysical entities are about mutual benefit.  Both parties should get something from the relationship, be it offerings, aid, companionship, affection, entertainment, etc.  You’re not going to get something for nothing - that’s not how it works.  Throughout the relationship make sure the exchange continues to be equal - if you ask for something you must give something and vice versa.  If you’re just making offerings and not asking for anything specific, be sure to acknowledge the value of the entity’s time and the deepening of the relationship.  Keep in mind that friendship and affection are things of value and that they can be the “commodity” being exchanged.  If you find your relationship becoming unequal be sure to do something to balance it out - if the entity resists this, you need to take a deeper look at the situation. 


In most traditions, offerings are the backbone for building relationships with metaphysical entities.  An offering is something given to an entity that the entity wants - given either to build good will or in exchange for specific favors.  Offerings can be almost anything, ranging from a small gift of energy to building a temple.  If you know that an entity prefers particular offerings then that is what they should be given if it’s reasonable for your circumstances.  (An entity’s preferences can be learned through research, divination, gnosis, spirit communication, etc.)  If you’re unsure what to offer, there are many general offerings that will serve until you get to know your entity’s preferences.  General offerings commonly include: incense, flowers, food, water, alcohol, candles, energy, art, effigies, and relevant community service.

Altars and Spirit Houses

If you want a long term relationship with an entity, give them a formal place in your home.  Just as a friend has a favorite chair when they come over, metaphysical entities like something to call their own when they visit.  For ancestors that place is often a photo on a special shelf; for deities it’s often a statue on your altar; for fae and spirits it may be a sigilized patten or a spirit house. These things are essentially a physical anchor that becomes imbued with the essence of a metaphysical entity through repeated visits that make it easier and more comfortable for the entity to remain in our space.  Such anchors become the place where you make offerings and visit with the entity with the greatest ease.  While not required, a physical anchor can facilitate relationship building with any metaphysical entity.

Crisis Relationships

In a perfect world we would always have time to develop strong relationships with entities before calling on them for help, but we don’t live in a perfect world.  In times of dire need most friendly entities will help you out regardless of your relationship.  Think of a Good Samaritan that witnesses an accident: you call for help and they’ll do their best to help you simply because you’re in need and they have the ability to help.  Don’t worry too much about etiquette in this kind of situation.  Most entities will understand that you didn’t have time to build a relationship beforehand and that you’re probably not at your best.  However, once you have a reasonable lull or the crisis is over the entity will expect some acknowledgement and gratitude.  It’s just polite; they were generous so now, within reason, you owe them.  If you want to continue a relationship with the entity afterwards once the crisis has resolved you’ve got something to build from.  The only caveat to this is to use good judgment in from whom you accept help.  There are unscrupulous entities that will take advantage of your distress in order to trick you into owing them more than you want to give. 

Overall, building relationships with metaphysical entities is just like building any other type of relationship.  Treat the entity with respect and make sure the give and take in the relationship is equal.  Know your own boundaries and maintain them.  Just because an entity is something otherworldly doesn’t mean that your relationship should be manipulative, coercive, or otherwise unhealthy.  When in doubt, talk to your friends and get an outside perspective.  Building a relationship with a metaphysical entity can be exciting and, when done well, it can give you a powerful ally in your work.  Treat these relationships with the same care and discretion as you would any other relationship and you should have success.

08 September 2019

Some Doors Can’t Be Closed

Experiences with the occult tend to leave lasting impressions.  The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more intense the after effects.  Sometimes people end up opening doors they didn’t intend to and then have to go to herculean efforts to close them again.  Unfortunately for the unwise, some doors just can’t be closed.

A while ago I was on a road trip with a friend and we were talking about the lasting effects of working with the occult and I brought up the story of a woman I know.  This woman, who will remain anonymous, was having marital problems and was emotionally distraught.  In her desperation she decided to go against her mainstream religious beliefs and resort to a local practitioner for a love spell aimed to bring back her wayward man.  The practitioner gave her instructions and supplies so the woman could do the spell herself, which she did.  As the woman performed the spell she experienced intense magickal phenomena that freaked her right out.  She stopped mid spell in the hopes of making it go away.  It didn’t work out quite the way she hoped.  Turns out the woman had a considerable amount of natural talent and once she opened the door to the world of the occult, even just a sliver, it noticed her.  Despite the woman’s best efforts to erase her occult encounter, things never quite went back to the way they’d been before.  Many years of steadfast church attendance and liberal applications of holy water, and still the unseen world lurks near the woman - waiting for her to once more crack open that door. 

Once the unseen world sees you, it’s never going to unsee you.  Steadfast denial of the realities of the occult and calling upon “holy” power to protect you can only do so much.  Pretending the occult doesn’t exist, once you know damned sure that it does, is a lot like putting a chain link fence around your yard to keep out wolves.  Sure, if it’s high enough the wolves won’t be able to get in, but they can still see and smell you and it won’t do anything if you have to open the gate.  Calling upon other/stronger metaphysical entities for protection will work so long as you maintain their good graces, but the threat is still real.  In the case above, calling on “angels” to defend you from “demons” will keep you safe so long as the “angels” are present but it doesn’t necessarily mean the “demons” are going to forget about you any time soon - particularly if you've got a lot of natural power.  The metaphysical world is real and once something in it takes an interest in you, it might never go away. 

As wishing away the realities of the occult world doesn’t work, if you’re going to open a door you need to be damned sure you’re ready to deal with the consequences.  For most people most of the time, a little dabbling is harmless.  Things like getting a tarot reading, playing with a ouija board, going on a ghost hunt, or even doing a little minor spellwork are rarely going result in long term problems.  However, if your personal energies are just the right strength and flavor, or if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, then you can attract attention that will never go away.  It's rare, but it definitely happens.  How can you know beforehand what kind of scenario you’re walking into?  Sometimes you can’t, but most of the time it’s a matter of listening to your intuition.  If a particular place or person with occult connections makes you uncomfortable, chances are good that it’s for a reason.  If you don’t understand what’s going on in an occult/paranormal situation or feel that there’s more going on than what you’re being told, you don’t have to participate.  Do not participate in occult workings that make you feel unsafe.  Yes, there are advanced workings that can be quite risky, but if you’re performing such a rite you’ve already opened those doors and should fully understand what you’re getting yourself into.  If you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into you should really find out before you find yourself neck deep.

There are many potential consequences to getting involved with the metaphysical world.  Some of the positive effects are increased awareness of the realities of the world, a higher degree of control/influence over what was previously unseen, and the presence of helpful spirits and entities.  On the negative side, you are more likely to be targeted by negative entities simply by being more obvious to them.  Dabbling in the occult is a little like sending up a signal flare on a dark night - things are going to come and investigate: good, bad, or indifferent.  Whether or not those things stick around depends entirely on how interesting you are and the boredom of the entities.

The unseen world is unpredictable, but there are some simple precautions dabblers can take to make things less fraught with peril.  1 - Do your research.  Curious about the occult? Read a fucking book.  Talk to people that have done things.  Learn about the potential risks and rewards and understand them.  Look before you leap, it’s not that complicated.  2 - Before dabbling, learn how to shield.  Seriously, this should be the first thing anyone learns before they so much as touch a tarot deck.  3 - Have a protective item on you.  Something as complicated as a charged amulet or as simple as a token received by a loved one or even a baggie of salt will give you a better-than-nothing amount of protection from negative entities and energies.  4 - If at all possible have an experienced practitioner guide you through your first foray into the metaphysical world.  Even if you don’t have someone local to you, there are plenty of advanced practitioners online that will happily answer questions and give advice to sincere seekers.  Take the time to ask someone who knows.  We really do know things you can’t find in the books.  By taking a few simple precautions you can make your first dips into the occult far less dangerous.

Take a moment to really think about what you want before you go dabbling in the occult.  Be sure you’re really willing to let the metaphysical world into your life, because once it’s there it will never go away.  The wonders and beauty of the unseen world are impossible to fully describe, unfortunately so are its dangers.  Take the time to understand what you’re getting yourself into and then prepare yourself, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

20 June 2017

Changing Values

While there’s always some in-fighting in any community, it seems like the last few years have been particularly rough on the greater Pagan, Polytheist, and magickal communities.  It feels like our past conflicts have been more about how and what to practice - the whole “my tradition is better/more authentic/more powerful/etc. than yours.”  These days our conflicts seem to run quite a bit deeper, to our core values - issues of right conduct, inclusion, personal sovereignty, and leadership. How do we, as a community, move forward when our core is fracturing?

Over the last few years I have seen a palpable shift from an embrace of larger communities to smaller, more insular units.  I believe this is due in large part to a shifts and schisms in core values.  At age 35 I am firmly in the middle of a generational shift in thought and values.  I can see and appreciate the values of our community founders, many of which are now aging into eldership or retirement.  They tend to value connection to the earth, freedom of expression (within a certain definition), and community togetherness.  I can also see the values of up and coming practitioners whose values tend towards individual expression, acceptance, and transparency.  While on their face these values don’t seem to conflict, but in practice they tend to express themselves with radical differences.   Whereas coming together in homogeneous celebration or join purposes has been standard for large scale ritual for years, these days a lot of practitioners are looking more to have an individual experience while in community rather than having the same experience as the person next to them.  Similarly, students these days are often looking for guidance on making a practice their own rather than simply wanting to be told the “correct” way of doing something.  While alternative communities are always more individualistic than the mainstream, we’ve taken things to a whole new level of late.

Another way this value shift has expressed itself is in the denouncement of poor conduct by community members, especially leadership.  Certain behaviors that were once quietly ignored or accepted are no longer tolerated.  Things like sexual misconduct, casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and various microaggressions are far more likely to be called out by the larger community than they have been in the past (we’ve still got a loooooooong way to go, but we are slowly improving).  Get any group of folks who have been in the community for more than five years (and a goodly number of newer folks) and they will be able to tell stories of “that once leader who creeps on all the girls” or “that one person who’s super nice as long as you’re straight” or, my personal favorite, “that one leader who loves everyone unless they disagree even slightly.”  In this era of ever present information it’s a lot harder to hide questionable behavior and people are getting better at calling it out.

While this is an absolutely necessary part of healthy growth, it does create friction and some people are pretty unreasonable about it.  It should be a no-brainer to kick out community members that prey on the community and yet, for some unfathomable reason, it isn’t.  Some communities have spent so long teaching tolerance and “positive thinking” that they become immobilized in the face of conflict, no wanting “confrontation” to “lower their vibrations.”  A little harsh?  Maybe, but people like that drive me up the wall - honestly what good is a community that refuses to protect its most vulnerable members?  It gets trickier when it’s a leader that’s made positive contributions to the community, while simultaneously preying on it or undermining the values they preached.  There have been far too many people in positions of power that have overtly made positive contributions while at the same time covertly engaging in sexual misconduct, abusive behaviors, racism, etc.  Does this mean they should be removed from those positions of power - of course it does!  Does this mean we should throw out all the structures they created and teachings they gave?  That’s much more difficult to say.  Chances are good that any power structure created by someone who abused their power will have some fundamental problems that will need correcting, and that their teachings will likely need close examination and amendment, but it doesn’t mean that they are without value.  Of course, determining how much should be kept and what should be tossed is likely to cause as much of an uproar as the initial exposure of wrongdoing.  There will always be those who value familiar structures over change, even when it’s necessary.  There will also be those so outraged by misconduct that they’ll want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Finding a balance between the two may be difficult unto impossible.

Change is good; growth is good.  However, people grow and change at different rates and in different ways and sometimes that means they can’t work with one another any more.  We are living in an uncomfortable time in which so many things are changing at once that it can be hard to keep up, let alone adapt and thrive.  As the values of the Pagan, Polytheist, and magickal communities evolve our existing community structures will also need to evolve.  We are incredibly diverse communities that are growing more so by the minute and our needs are changing.  I don’t have any answers for what we need to evolve into, but we’d better start figuring it out.  

03 June 2017

Cemetery Work 101

There is much magick to be had in cemeteries.  The guardians and spirits of burial grounds have tremendous abilities to aid the living in magick and divination.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of fear and many misconceptions around such workings. In this post I’ll introduce you to the guardians and gatekeepers of cemeteries, show you how to legally and ethically do your workings, and teach you the basic etiquette of working with the dead.

Know Your Cemetery

The first step in cemetery work is, of course, to choose a cemetery.  If you live in an area with a reasonably dense population then you’ve probably got a multitude of cemeteries from which to choose.  When choosing a cemetery for magickal work there are several factors to consider: how active it is, its overall energy, who’s buried there, and how it’s run. 

Not all cemeteries are created equal.  Some are awake and brimming with spirits, some are sleepy and quiet.  Some have fierce, active guardians, while some barely have a guardian at all.  For most cemetery work you’re going to want a more active cemetery, rather than a quiet one.  It’s just easier to talk to spirits that are already hanging around rather than having to summon them from elsewhere.  A strong guardian is indicative of a metaphysically healthy graveyard, and is thus is also desirable for those doing ethical workings.  (Yes, there are a whole host of things you can do where a strong guardian would be a problem, but they generally involve disrespecting the dead and I don’t work that way and won’t be discussing it here.) 

The overall energy of a cemetery is a huge factor is deciding to work in it.  Some cemeteries are full of beautiful monuments, some are heavily wooded, some have neat rows of white military headstones, while others are grassy parkland.  Each cemetery has its own unique energies depending on who’s buried there, how often it’s visited, where the site is located, how it’s maintained, and a host of other factors.  Some graveyards will feel compatible and others will likely not.  I generally prefer active secular cemeteries with lots of trees and plants, that get a moderate amount of visitation simply because that’s what feels best to me.  There are some cemeteries I enter where I immediately know that I’m not welcome to anything beyond paying respects and I abide by those feelings.  Know what works energetically and what doesn’t is extremely personal and will likely take some trial and error.  I tend to not work in specifically religious cemeteries simply because it feels disrespectful to do so - you may feel differently.

Beyond the general feel of a cemetery one should also look at who’s buried there.  A lot of cemetery work involves working directly with the spirits of those that are buried there.  Take some time to research the people buried in a particular cemetery.  Are they city founders, religious leaders, criminals, victims of epidemics or crime, war heroes?  Different types of people are more or less willing and able to help with different magickal workings.  The spirit of a nurse or doctor can help with a healing; the spirit of a judge or lawyer can help with justice spells, the spirit of a police officer or soldier can help with protection magicks; etc.  If you know you want to do a specific type of working, look for a cemetery containing the spirits of those most able and apt to help you.  Remember, the dead are not so very different from the living and they don’t suddenly sprout vast new skill sets simply because they’re on the other side.

Another important consideration is how a cemetery is run.  Different corporations, towns, and churches have very different ways of running graveyards.  How a cemetery is maintained can have a huge impact on its metaphysics.  A well maintained cemetery is likely to house contented spirits, whereas a neglected one may have unsettled residents and is much more likely to have wild entities roaming (fae, elementals, etc.).  Which you prefer will depend on the type of working you wish to perform.  If you’re new to cemetery work I recommend sticking to well maintained ones until you’re more comfortable.  Further, different cemeteries have different rules: public hours, what can be left at graves, what can be taken, etc.  In general, I find that cemeteries with permissive rules but strong security (guaranteeing respect towards graves) are the easiest to work within. 

Before You Go

Once you’ve chosen a cemetery there are a few practical preparations to be made.  As part of choosing a cemetery you should have taken a look at it’s rules and regulations - know them before you go.  Know the public hours and what you’re allowed to leave at a grave.  Abide by the cemetery rules and posted signs.  Not only can breaking the rules get you banned from a cemetery, but it disrespects the spirits (which never ends well for anyone). 

Further, check the weather before you go.  Here in soggy Seattle chances are good you’re going to be dealing with either active precipitation or mud when doing cemetery work.  Sturdy shoes and appropriate outerwear are a must.  Conversely, if it’s going to be hot and dry be sure to bring a hat and a water bottle.  Intense magickal workings tend to consume your attention and make you forget about your body, so you need to think about these things beforehand.

The last thing to do before you go is gather any supplies you may need.  Be sure you have an offering for the cemetery guardian and offerings for any spirits you might want to work with.  I tend to give an offering of coins for cemetery guardians and offerings of water, tea, or tobacco at graves (though this can vary quite a bit depending on the spirit - more on that later).  Bring small containers for gathering grave dust, dirt, feathers, or plant materials.  These can be small jars, film canisters, plastic bags, anything really.  A pen and paper can be useful if you need to leave a petition.  I also always bring a spoon for discretely gathering grave dirt or making small holes for burying petitions.  Make sure your equipment is discreet.  If you come in looking like you’re going to an archeological dig chances are good that someone is going to notice and do something unfortunate about it. 

Cemetery Guardians and Entering the Cemetery

In addition to those interred within, every cemetery has its own guardians and spirits.  Different traditions believe in various entities and deities that have dominion over the dead and their resting places, such as Baron Cimitière or Anubis.  (Please note that not all death deities are associated with burial grounds.)  If you belong to one of those traditions you should greet the appropriate entity in the way specified by your tradition.  When I enter a cemetery I always greet Baron Samedi first, as that is part of my tradition.  After greeting any deities or patrons, you should greet the guardian of the cemetery. 

Every cemetery I have ever visited has had a “head” spirit in residence.  This can be the spirit of one of those interred within or a cthuonic entity who resides within the graveyard.  This guardian spirit acts as a metaphysical gatekeeper for the entire cemetery.  You can think of it like a combination of a bouncer and an elder.  The guardian will prevent the disrespectful from pestering innocent spirits and can offer insight when asked correctly.  When you see teenagers on “true haunting” shows talk about being chased out of cemeteries they weren’t supposed to be in by dark entities, chances are good they’re talking about the guardians.  When approached respectfully guardians are generally quite friendly.

Before doing magick in a cemetery it is important to greet its guardian and ask permission.  This is done either at the cemetery gates or a prominent grave (usually near the entrance).  Begin by introducing yourself and making a small offering.  I usually give an offering of 10 coins (either pennies or dimes), although offerings of tobacco, corn meal, water, fruit, or flowers are also appropriate.  Some guardians will tell you what specific offerings they expect on return visits, and as long as the requests are reasonable I try to abide by them (as with the living, just because a spirit wants you to do something doesn’t mean you have to although there may be consequences for not doing so).  After giving your offering you should feel whether it’s been accepted or rejected.  How that manifests is different for everyone.  You may feel as if the volume has been turned up on the energies around you, a pleasant breeze on your face, a sensation of warmth, or any number of signs.  It will take practice to know what acceptance feels like for you.  Once your offering has been accepted take a moment to explain your intentions: any graves you specifically intend to visit, spirits to work with, spells to perform, ingredients to gather.  Once again, wait for a response from the guardian before proceeding.  I have had guardians tell me not to work in specific cemeteries or not to do particular workings.  I always abide by that because, not only is it disrespectful, having a guardian actively working against you while you try to do magick is almost never worth it.  It takes way too much energy to work effectively while under assault - better to find another place to work.
 If the guardian likes you then you can ask it for advice, such as which spirits are likely to work with you or the best times to perform workings.  If you forge a particularly good relationship with the guardian and it's strong enough you may be able to ask it to aid your magicks directly.  Once you have the permission you seek you can move forward.

If it’s your first time in a particular cemetery I recommend walking the cemetery before doing magick.  Take some time to walk through each part of the cemetery.  Allow yourself to get a read on the various energies, which graves seem more active, what attracts you, what repels you.  You’ll probably find that there are some areas of the cemetery that feel particularly comfortable and welcoming, while other parts may feel downright hostile.  You’ll likely find the same thing with certain spirits.  If you find particular areas or spirits calling to you, note them and do some research to determine if you want to work with them.  Depending on the cemetery you may find unexpected metaphysical entities, such as fae, elementals, imps, etc., or even portals.  This can be good or bad depending on what you find what what magicks you wish to perform.  If nothing else, non-human entities and portals can be unpredictable and potentially disruptive, so exercise caution when doing magick around them.  Take note of hotspots and potential trouble zones and act accordingly.

Working a Grave

When most people talk about cemetery work they mean working with a grave and its inhabitant.  Working with the dead is a lot like working with fae or other spirits; they each have their own specific personalities, wants, needs, and skill sets.  The most important thing in working with the dead is an amiable relationship.  Always ask permission.  Find a spirit that wants to work with you; never force a relationship.  It’s better to have the willing help of an average person than the coerced help of someone with the exact skills you’re looking for.  This is true across pretty much all spirit work, not just working with the dead.  If you plan on doing a lot of cemetery work, take the time to find a spirit that really wants to work with you and cultivate a long-term relationship: ie, give regular offerings, visit just for visiting’s sake, ask if there’s anything you can do for the spirit.  If you have a strong relationship you’re more likely to get the help you need when you need it - just like asking a good friend to help you move verses asking an acquaintance.  That being said, there’s nothing wrong with one-time workings, just be prepared to spend a little more time negotiating and/or give a larger or more meaningful offering. 

Approaching a grave for a working is a lot like approaching a cemetery guardian for the first time.  Take a moment to ground and center yourself, then approach the grave and greet its inhabitant.  If you haven’t worked with the spirit before take a moment to introduce yourself.  The give the spirit a small offering.  This is rather like giving a host gift when visiting someone at their home for the first time.  It’s a “Hey, I’m on your home turf and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.”  Offerings can be almost anything, but the more personalized to the recipient the better.  Traditional offerings include: flowers, incense, tobacco, corn meal, or cleaning/maintaining the grave.  At this point you should receive some indication whether the spirit is awake and has accepted your offering.  How this will be communicated to you can vary wildly.  If you don’t sense energies well then I highly recommend a divination tool such as a pendulum or tarot to help you communicate.

Some graves are more active than others.  An active grave is one where the spirit is either immediately present or nearby.  These spirits are the easiest to contact and work with because you don’t need to call them up from other places.  Graves that are well tended and receive regular visitors are more likely to be active.  The exception to this is the graves of famous people - then it depends on the individual as some get overwhelmed by the constant visitors and choose to stay away.  In many cases simply giving a small offering will “wake” an inactive grave, rather like paging someone.  However, if a grave is long neglected or the spirit is actively elsewhere (most ghosts don’t actually haunt their grave sites) you may need to either visit multiple times to get a response or do a little more work - such as give larger or more personalized offerings or go so far as doing an actual summoning ritual (that’s a bit beyond the scope of this post so I won’t go into details here).  If a spirit doesn’t respond or seems unwilling to work with you, then you should use your best judgment to determine whether you want to try again or simply move on to a more friendly spirit - but please be respectful in your choices. 

Once you’ve established positive communication with the grave’s inhabitant you can do workings.  Workings at the grave site may include collecting grave dirt or dust for use in future spells or onsite spellwork.  It’s at this point that discretion becomes paramount.  Very few people will disturb you if it looks like you’re meditating.  Disturbance becomes far more likely if you’re doing full ritual magick in broad daylight.  There is a reason I collect gravedirt discreetly with a kitchen spoon rather than a more obvious spade or trowel and it’s because I don't’ want to be yelled at, or worse, for disrespecting the dead.  You know what is and isn’t considered appropriate behavior in your local area; blend in and you can do your work and no one else needs to be the wiser.  As a side note, I always do my cemetery workings during regular open hours (ie. broad daylight).  You may choose to do your workings at other times but please don’t trespass.  When practitioners get caught breaking the law we all look bad.  Don’t be that guy.

When you’ve finished your work always thank the spirit and tidy up after yourself if necessary.

Other Workings

There are lot of magicks you can do in cemeteries because of their liminality.  Cemeteries are between places: they are neither fully places of the living nor fully places of the dead.  They have an inherent crossroads quality, therefore almost any magick that can be worked at a crossroads can also be worked in a cemetery.  Magicks involving changes or transitions can be worked very effectively in a cemetery, although the chthonic energies do tend to darken them so use caution.  Cemeteries can be excellent places to do trance or astral journeying, particularly to the underworld.  Just remember that you are out in public, so I recommend having a spotter if you’re going to any work that will take your awareness away from your body.  Safety first!

Of course, cemeteries are spectacular places to do bane magick.  There is a time and place for all workings and sometimes love and light doesn’t cut it.  Be a grown up and make your own ethical decisions and be prepared to live with the consequences.  I won’t go into the details of bane magick here, but I will be talking about it very soon.  Just know that cemeteries are great places to do it.

 Leaving the Cemetery

If you’ve paid proper respects to the cemetery guardian you shouldn’t have to do more than wave goodbye as you leave.  However, sometimes a little extra energy or a wild spirit will decide they want to follow you home.  Take the time to ground and center once you’ve left the cemetery and then go and do something joyous and lively.  If you have any trouble shaking off the graveyard energies then go home and do a cleansing.  I’m partial to sacred baths and fumigation for formal cleansings.  Choose whatever cleansing method works best for you.

Working in cemeteries is potent, rewarding, and not nearly as fraught as some make it out to be.  A little bit of forethought, caution, and a healthy dose of respect and you’re pretty much good to go.  When in doubt be nice.  The dead are just people and desire to be treated with the same mindfulness and respect you’d pay to anyone else you were asking for help.  Finally, trust your instincts.  If a particular grave or location feels great, sit down and do your working.  If you don’t feel welcome or something feels “off,” just move on. 

I welcome any questions you may have so feel free to comment or email me at: emily @ e-carlin.com.

24 March 2017

So You Want to be a Death Witch

Over the last few months the number one question people have been asking me is: how do I get started working with Death and the dead?  How do I become a death witch?  In the preceding decade not one person ever asked me that question.  Given the general state of the world it’s not exactly surprising that more and more people are being drawn to the darker side of witchcraft.  However, death work is not something to be entered into casually.  Here are a few things you need to know before starting down the path of a death witch.

What does it mean to be a death witch?

As with any occult identity, if you ask a dozen different death witches what it means to be one, you will get a dozen different answers.  In short, it is a witch who works primarily with the forces of death and/or the dead.  What that looks like can take many forms and depends greatly on the traditions and culture of the individual.  Most magickal traditions have some branch dealing with death and the dead, but someone who occasionally contacts an ancestor or officiates a funeral is not a death witch. 

To be a death witch there must be a resonance in your soul with the forces of death and the dead that compels you to work with them.  For me that manifests as an intense sense of belonging and kinship with the forces of death and comfort with being around the dead.  When I am in the presence of the forces of death it feels like being surrounded by family in the best of ways.  I find cemeteries and haunted places to be incredibly welcoming and try to spend time in them as often as possible - paying all due respects to those reside there.  Very early in my explorations of Paganism and Polytheism it became clear that my focus was to be with Death.  That may not be the case for you.  There are many ways the pull towards death work can manifest; if you feel it, then you should pursue it.

How do I get started?

The most important thing about working with Death and the dead is respect.  Every chthonic deity is different; every spirit is different.  Some death deities are very casual, some are very strict - know the stories and basic personality of the deity before you approach them.  An offering for Hades is very different than an offering to Santa Muerte, as are the behaviors they expect from those approaching them.  The same holds true for the dead.  The dead are just people who have passed on to the other side of the veil and they all have particular wants, needs, and personalities.  Treat them with the respect you would have treated them with in life.  A little time and effort goes a very long way towards forging positive relationships with the forces of death and the dead.

The easiest place to start in death work is your own ancestors, be they of blood or spirit.  Ancestors of blood are your actual deceased relatives.  Ancestors of spirit are those that paved the way for your spiritual being, including teachers, artists, writers, etc., whose words and works helped shape the person you are today.  Begin by creating an ancestor altar.  If you have the space this can be a shelf or the top of a dresser where you place pictures or representations of your ancestors.  Keep this space clean and add things like fresh flowers, a glass of water, or incense offerings as a sign of respect.  If you don’t have the space for a physical altar you can create a photo album or digital representation of what you’d like on an altar.  The purpose of an ancestor altar is to be a focal point for your work and to be a place for the energies of your ancestors to reside.  What that looks like is far less important than the simple fact that you’ve taken the time and trouble to build it.  Your investment of energy and attention to your ancestors will begin building a relationship with them.  Creating a relationship with the dead means that when you need advice or a helping hand on the spiritual plane you will have willing aides when you need them.

***Note - not all of everyone’s ancestors of blood are necessarily folks you want to invite into your life.  You get to choose who goes on your altar and you are allowed to say no if someone uninvited shows up.***

Once you’ve begun cultivating a relationship with your dead you can look into working with death deities or anthropomorphic forces of death.  Of course you can do this work before or instead of working with your ancestors, I just find it easier in this order.  Begin by reading myths regarding death and see what stories resonate with you and why.  If you’re lucky you might find other practitioners that work with that deity to compare notes with, but your own feelings and impressions are your best guide for your relationship with any deity.  Sometimes these deities will reach out to you rather than the other way around, it will be fairly obvious if it’s happening.  Once you’ve found a deity that resonates with you then you approach them just as you would any other deity.  That may mean building an altar to that deity, making offerings, doing magickal works, simple devotions, or something else entirely.  I’ve not found working with death deities any more onerous or risky than working with any other deity.  In fact, many death deities are a lot more relaxed than their above ground cousins, but it all depends on the particular deity. 

Once you’ve begin building relationships with the dead and the forces of death you can begin the deeper spiritual and magickal works of a death witch.  That’s a whole series of posts in and of themselves so I won’t go further just yet. 

If you think you want to be a death witch start by talking to the dead: get to know them, build relationships with them.  Then get to know the different death deities and see if any of them call to you.  Explore with respect and you shouldn’t have any problems. 

If people are interested, I will be on a necromancy panel on 4/2/2017 in Seattle:
Life Among The Dead:A Panel On Necromancy
Sunday, April 2 at 5 PM - 6 PM
Spooked In Seattle Ghost Tours
102 Cherry St, Seattle, Washington 98104