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

31 January 2017

How to Hex

Lately I’ve had several people come to me expressing a desire to curse...particular people.  Traditionally, curses come into favor when people feel that more direct/public/legal means of seeking justice fail them and they feel disempowered.  It is no surprise that they are coming back into fashion in times like these.  I’ll teach you a few methods for slinging a hex, but what you do with them is up to you.


Hexing/cursing is the final recourse for the marginalized, disenfranchised, and dispossessed.  It is what you do when the last straw has finally broken the camel’s back, or at least it should be.  Before casting a curse you should, if you are safe to do so, follow every legitimate path for finding a solution to your problem.  Attempting to curse someone/something before trying more traditional problem solving methods, when they’re available to you, rarely ends well for anyone.  Cursing is not what most people would call a “good” thing to do.  Cursing/hexing causes harm and there are consequences for sending harm out into the world.  You need to be prepared to deal with those consequences when they come - and they will come.  As Dorothy Morrison says, you need to be “wicked pissed” before casting a curse.  You have to mean it with every fiber of your being, consequences be damned.


Once you’ve determined that you are “wicked pissed” and willing to accept the consequences, you need to determine just what you want to accomplish.  There are generally two reasons to cast a curse: 1) to stop bad things from happening/continuing, and 2) to punish someone for causing harm. 

I generally discourage people from cursing for the second reason because it rarely helps.  Most people do bad things when they’re in pain.  Hurting someone who is in pain does not tend to encourage them to behave better; it mostly makes things worse.  Further, miserable people rarely need help from me to destroy their lives; they do a fine job of it on their own.  Someone needs to have done something really bad (e.g. hurt a child, incited terrorism, massively subverted justice, etc.) for me to encourage hexing them for punitive reasons.  There are, of course, many ethical/moral reasons not to do this.  I leave you to make your own decisions there.

Cursing in order to stop “bad things” from happening is a much less morally ambiguous thing to do.  When things get bad enough and you really care about the situation then you need to get proactive.  In its best incarnation, a curse should be the magickal equivalent of punching a nazi in the face.  Of course, you must keep in mind what I said earlier - making miserable people more miserable rarely stops them from behaving badly.  Be very mindful of the potential consequences of your magick and only do things that will actually help the overall situation - not just feel cathartic.  For example, you might want to stop a serial rapist by making him impotent.  This might just make him angry and more prone to violence, thus making the situation worse rather than better.  A more effective curse might be one aiming to get the perpetrator caught and convicted.  If your goal is to stop a bad situation then you MUST calm your anger and really think things through in order to get the best results.  Take the long view of things.  Take the time to do some divination to determine the best course of action; consult your elders and ancestors; get advice from people you trust.  Make sure you feel that you truly need to do what you plan. 


There are nearly infinite ways to cast a curse.  Here are just a few ranging from “morally dubious” to “you’re going to do what?!”  You can google any of these types of spells and find dozens of examples of various execution methods, so I won’t belabor the details here.  Further, you can add extra power to these spells by calling on various deities, ancestors, allies, etc. according to your own personal practice. 

Passive-Aggressive Hex
Rather than doing something directly to the target or your ire, you bless their opposition.  For example, instead of cursing the person who robbed you, you bless the police and prosecutors to get the person caught and convicted.  This is positive magick to send blessings to the people doing good work rather than sending negative energy to the people causing harm.  This type of working is great when you have one specific bad situation you want to remedy, though it won’t stop the perpetrators from doing something different later.

The classic way to stop someone from doing bad things is to bind them.  (See my previous post on binding)  You make a representation of the person or organization/corporation causing the problem, then you literally bind it with cord to energetically immobilize it.  I like to make a poppet representing the person/thing to be bound and then bind it with marine cord (it has no stretch/give whatsoever).  You can also use toys, action figures, etc., to represent your target.  Once you’ve tied your representation I recommend wrapping the whole thing in aluminum foil (shiny side in) and then putting it in the back of the freezer until the situation is resolved.

Mirror Spell
Your traditional mirror spell is one in which you use a mirror to literally reflect someone’s negative actions back on themselves.  This is a straightforward retribution spell - your target gets harmed precisely as much as they harm others, no more no less.  This spell tends to escalate the situation.  Remember, when people who tend to take out their anger on others are harmed they will probably take it out on others.  If the house is already on fire then throwing gas on it won’t really make much of a difference, but if it’s not on fire yet it certainly will be afterwards.  Choose your actions accordingly. 

Destruction Spell
This is the “as seen on tv” curse.  This is where you do you damndest to rain hellfire down on your enemies.  There is no moral ambiguity here.  If you’re going to do it, own it.  Your intent is everything in this spell and you’d better be freaking livid.  If you are even the tiniest bit unsure of what you want to happen then this is not the spell for you.  Make a poppet/doll out of black fabric (the little craft squares of felt you get at the craft store for a dollar are great for this).   Fill the poppet with straw/grass/something itchy put a picture of the target inside the doll and sew it up.  Write on the doll with a sharpie all the terrible things the person has done (the silver ones are great for writing on black).  Alternatively, you can write everything out on paper and sew it inside the doll or even embroider it on the fabric.  Then destroy the doll as violently as possible, allowing all your rage and pain to flow into it and then burn the pieces.  Yes, there is often energetic backlash for doing this sort of thing depending on the exact nature of your intent and what energies you normally work with.  The further this type of energy is from your normal practice the more difficult it will likely be for you.  Moreover, this type of working can create an energetic link between you and your target - be sure you really, really want to do this.

These are just a few examples of common curses.  If you’re really, really angry and committed to doing this type of work I encourage you to get creative and execute them in a way that feels right to you.  Magick is an art, so do something beautiful - even when it’s hideous. 

If you have any questions about specific things you want to do feel free to email me emily @ e-carlin.com or send me a message via Tumblr (where you can be anonymous).  Keep in mind that I will not advise people to do things that are illegal and all discussions are purely theoretical.

Here are a few resources:
Poppet resource
How to tie a monkey’s fist/rope ball

02 January 2017

The Mundane in Magick

So, it was pointed out to me that I haven't actually posted to this blog in...quite some time.  Sorry about that.  In all honesty 2016 was not a great year for writing inspiration.  I kept up my monthly post obligation over on my pop culture magick blog and that's about it.  Apart from the overall trash fire that was 2016 in the wider world, it was a year where most of my magick somehow fell into the mundane.  I've decided (code for my gods yelled at me via my friends' divination methods) that I need to reclaim my magickal self this year.

On paper 2016 looks like a fairly good year for me magickally, at least insofar as my position in the local Pagan community.  I spent a lot of the last year working in community events: Pantheacon, Many Gods West, Pagan Pride, etc.  I gave a lot of presentations and, I feel, acquitted myself rather well.  I met a lot of amazing people from across the region and made some important connections and a few really good friends.  2016 saw the one year mark of doing public sabbats as Illustris - our collaborative ritual group.  We're quickly approaching the two year mark (Ostara I believe) and are going strong.  We're even expanding the project to include monthly salons to provide safe and supportive space for asking questions, discussing Pagan/magickal issues, and practicing magickal techniques.  My hopes are pretty high for them.  Last year we even saw the first of what I hope will be many inter-group Pagan/magickal leadership meetings.  Helping to create a cohesive and supportive local Pagan community is incredibly important to me and I'm really happy to be a part of it.  Sounds great right?

The downside to vast amounts of community work and activity is less time and energy for my personal practice - the heart and soul of who and what I am.  You see the thing about community work is that it's at least 90% about communication and managing logistics.  Giving a lecture is all about effectively communicating your audience, whether you're talking about database structure or how to giving offerings to Santa Muerte.  Putting on a ritual is about getting your supplies from point A to point B, marketing in a way that the people who would enjoy it find out about it and actually show up, then facilitating other people's experiences, and finally cleaning up after yourself and everybody else.  No matter how magickal what you're ultimately trying to do is, you need to do a lot of extremely mundane work to get there.  So while I spent a goodly chunk of 2016 engaged in highly magickal activities, most of my work in them was either quite mundane or focused on supporting the magickal experiences of others.

My goals for 2017 are to 1) spend more of my limited energies on my personal practice and writing, and 2) to figure out how to balance my community and personal work.  For the former I think actually putting down at least an hour or two a week explicitly dedicated to my personal work and writing should help tremendously.  I'm a virgo, if I've written something on a to do list or schedule then I have to do it.  I expect the latter to be much more difficult for me.  I've never been good at balance; ask anyone who knows me.  If I bother to do something at all I tend to do it too much.  As a good friend said to me on new year's eve, I don't take breaks I just break.  I think I may need to put that on a bracelet or something and just wear it all the time, perhaps with another that says "hubris."  I think the first step on balancing out my community work is going to be expanding the Illustris leadership.  Right now it's just me and Raye and that's a lot of weight for just two people to bear.  If I could find people to facilitate maybe one out of every three rituals, that would be a huge help and is fairly realistic (some awesome friends have actually volunteered and I love them for it).  So hey, if you're in the Seattle area and want to learn how to lead collaborative ritual shoot me an email.  Beyond that I think I'm just going to have to pace myself and check in with friends to keep a better perspective on my activity and energy levels.  If any of y'all have suggestions on better maintaining this balance I am all ears.  Rising to a community leadership position is hard.  Thank the gods I have the support of trusted friends.

We all need to do mundane things in order to live magickal lives.  The trick is figuring out how to balance everything so that planning, logistics, and interpersonal issues don't drain you of so much energy that it pops your magick balloon.  I am very, very bad at this and thus need to woman up and ask for help from the people I trust on a regular basis.  One-time grand gestures do not create change, only consistent progress - no matter how small - can actually break the habits of a lifetime.  Gods keep me mindful.