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