Did a spirit come to me last night in a dream? Was the message I heard from a spirit or is it all in my head? How can I be sure that I am really communicating with spirit X, Y, or Z? Ok, I think I made contact, whats next? These and similar questions regarding the ability to discern authentic spirit contact whether through dreams, meditation or full-fledged ritual is something we all struggle with when first embarking on this path. In this post I will discuss some of the tips and techniques that I’ve found helped me navigate the unseen spirit-world and hopefully they may be of value to some of you. I firmly believe that the more people who learn to properly engage and live in harmony with the spirit and natural world, the better off we will all be.
Initially, I want to call out that spirit contact does not always come with visible or physical manifestation. Such phenomena can and does happen, but these aren’t the experiences we’re likely to question. However, a message or interaction can be just as valid when a spirit does not manifests visibly. This is important, as a successful working of charging a spirit with a task can be accomplished without ever seeing the spirit, but so can a disastrous working. So knowing how to identify and verify the presence of spirits through other means is an absolutely non-negotiable and vital skill.
The next point is that spirits are are absolutely everywhere and are as varied as the plants, animals, minerals and humans of the visible landscape. However, from a very early age we are encouraged to filter out the subtle realities and focus our experience of reality towards the material world and interactions that benefit the social group. This form of social conditioning is necessary and is what makes us human. But whereas traditional societies maintain the unified view of reality between the physical and the spiritual, modern societies do not.
Break away from restrictive worldviews
The truth is myself and most of you reading this live in a society where the dominant worldview promotes material wealth and the accumulation of physical items and resources over any form of spirituality. Placing value on spiritual experiences just doesn’t fit into the materialistic ideology of our industrious and capitalistic states. Thus, interactions with spirits are explained away as psychological phenomenon and written off as something ‘imaginary’ or ‘fantastical’ and simply less ‘real’ because they do not push the agenda of materialism forward. It is a mentality that is firmly ingrained in the ideologies of the modern world and one that we must learn to overcome.
Such an understanding of the spiritual realms stands in stark opposition to the worldview of traditional societies and that of the individuals who partake in traditional ceremony and magical rites. Those who do regularly engage in these forms of ritual practice swear to the objective reality of spirits with the same conviction as a mathematician or physicist, artist, astronomer, musician, chemist or physician speaks of the unseen principles they pursue. These conflicting worldviews are a major point of confusion and contention for practitioners living in the modern west and attempting to interact with the spirit-world. It is compounded by those who continue to hold on to the outdated anthropological and psychological models of the 19th and early 20th Century that attempted to explain the traditional worldview through the lens of the modern. Equally detrimental are the various branches of modern pseudo-scientific occultism that continue to muddy the waters through their “<insert latest scientific trend> magick” theories and psycho-spirituality. From these blunders come a plethora of elitist theories and etic explanations for emic principles that quite frankly are based on ideas of cultural superiority and blind faith in the tenets of materialism. It is therefore important for us to take a step back and get a better idea of who benefits from the imposition of one worldview over the other and the reasons why the spiritual and material were polarized into such black and white categories in the first place.
I’m going to go on a slight historical tangent, but bear with me as it will come back around…I promise! Centuries before the industrial revolution and urbanization of the modern world, in a medieval landscape still dominated by spirits and spirit interactions the Church embarked on a systematic campaign to stratify the spiritual landscape. As has been done by other centralizing institutions, they enforced a cosmological model that mimicked the desired sociopolitical hierarchy of the time. Let me be clear, they weren’t the first or only religious institution to do something like this; as for better or worse, this is the design-pattern of centralization. Moreover, this has nothing to do with Christianity or Catholic religion, but with the agenda of the hegemonic Church as a political institution. Their doctrine imposed a structure of God, ranks of angels, and then elevated souls, saints and other ‘good’ spirits to contain those spirits classified as ‘evil’ and ‘demonic’; in other words, those spirits who challenged the authority of the desired hierarchy. The theological order of heaven mirrored that of the feudal State (King -> Nobility-> Serfs -> Enemies ) and of the Church itself (Pope -> Clergy -> Devotees -> Infidels ).
This effectively began to single out and make taboo all non-centralized modes of spirit interaction that could not be mediated by the Church. Even access to the dead and ancestral veneration became centralized via consecrated graveyards and an eschatological doctrine based on piety and loyalty to the Church. Those who continued to engage in unsanctioned communications with the spirit-world, were deemed to be consorting with the enemies of God and by extension committing acts of treason against the State; offenses punishable by death and the promise of a eternal damnation. This tremendously changed the spiritual landscape of the west and the magical grimoires that have made their way to us from this period reflect how practitioners had to come to terms with the dominant worldview. Spirit workers either accepted their role as heretical witches and sorcerers opting to stay at the fringes of society or they claimed to be doing God’s work as militarized-exorcists. They employed familiar techniques but rather than establishing reciprocal relationships with the spirits as is the case with all extant living traditions, they boasted about methods to command and punish them while re-enforcing the ecclesiastical hierarchy. However, what they recorded about their practices (in order to avoid persecution) and what they were actually practicing in private were likely two very different things. Among the indicators that this was the case are the attempts to preserve the roles and structures of the chthonic spirits suggesting that at least one of the concerns of the practicing exorcist was to identify the relationships between these spirits so as to be able to navigate and operate within this spirit-world.
If we delve into the origins of the term ‘demon’ the motives behind this Church doctrine become crystal clear. Demon from the Greek δαιμον was a term used in antiquity for the philosophic principle of the higher genius and for the operative spirits of magicians with no imposed sense of morality. These spirits exchanged messages between the seen and the unseen and also carried out functions on behalf of the humans. Here we find a term to describe an entity with the ability and desire to transfer information in various directions and not just top down. So by their very existence these spirits promoted a decentralized system of knowledge sharing in which the flow of information could not be controlled by a central source. Because these spirits broke the desired chain of command, Church doctrine flagged them as ‘dangerous enemies’ and grouped them into the arbitrary category of ‘evil’ spirits polarizing the spiritual landscape according to the morals they defined and sought to enforce.
A similar reshaping of the spiritual landscape happens again with the onset of industrialization, urbanization and the birth of modern society. Since it does not benefit the materialistic agenda to have its members engaging in pursuits and relationships with sources of information outside that system, spirit communication and other interactions with non-physical forces (inspiration, intuition, emotion, etc.) have been denigrated to the point of being seen as less ‘real’, less ‘true’ and less important than the experiences of the material world. Now I don’t want to come off as simply bashing our western history and modern worldview, a lot of beneficial advancements have been made thanks to science, medicine, technology and other disciplines…but for the sake of a nearly singular focus on material progress we as a society have sacrificed the objective reality of the spirit world. This has left us for the most part attempting to explain away all phenomenon as a byproduct of our own agency and greatness. As a result, we as a society are in a spiritually anemic state.
This is the baggage that most of us who do not live in traditional societies have inherited and is what all of us must learn to overcome prior to engaging in proper spirit work. We simply have no cultural context for interpreting authentic spiritual experiences, and I’m speaking for modern society as a whole fully aware that there are pockets in which spiritual traditions have remained living.
As practitioners living in this modern world, it is crucial to understand that labeling spirit interactions ‘immoral’ or ‘imaginary’ are simply strategies to censor reality and centralize the flow of information so as to maintain the dominant ideological structures. These are arbitrary lines drawn by those in control to stay in control. The ability for individuals to engage with information from decentralized sources is, to put it bluntly, an assault on the status quo. We need only to look at the current political landscape to see what happens when information is unrestricted and how the people’s faith in the established institutions wanes as a result. These binary division whether ‘demon’/’angel’, ‘real’/’imaginative’ or even ‘fake news’/’real news’ are the models used by humans to maintain power and control over large groups of other humans. They keep us functioning in one focused and manageable thread of reality, but they are not absolute truths and provide at best only a tiny sliver of the full spectrum.
Magic, witchcraft, and decentralized modes of spirit interactions have always been and will always be acts of rebellion against the current order. By their very nature these practices must operate outside these restrictive paradigms. And step one as practitioners is to unshackle ourselves from the banal constructs and dogmas of centralized religion and of the materialist worldview. We need to understand them for what they are – imposed restrictions to otherwise perfectly valid and real veins of information.
If I were to highlight a single practice for helping individuals broaden their perspective from the materialism of modernity it would be daily devotion, and specifically the veneration of one’s ancestors. The act of setting up an ancestral shrine, providing consistent offerings and sitting before it daily really begins to shift out perceptions and priorities away from the dominant centralized ideologies. Maintaining the practice with an open mind for a year or more will dramatically alter one’s understanding of the nature of spirits and of reality itself. It is no wonder that this most universal and fundamental of spiritual practice is all but dead in the modern west.
Now with all that said, interacting with spirits is not a free-for-all of indulging in fantasy and accepting everything as truth. There is a balance to be struck. Modernity has taught us skepticism and critical thinking and these skills are extremely valuable in keeping us honest and grounded on our paths. And it is with plenty of both that we should approach the spirit-world.
Identify Different States of Consciousness & Triggers
To obtain any form of spirit contact we must learn – or perhaps simply, relearn – to tune our consciousness into a receptive state for spirit interaction. It behooves us to understand consciousness in non binary terms and not as a something that is simply switched on and off. Nor should we view it as a generated byproduct of the physical brain, but instead as something far more fluid and that exists independent and outside of our head and its organ. Our brain is more of an antenna to which we tune into consciousness, it is not the generator of consciousness but a receptor. This is important and if we don’t subscribe to such a point of view then it contradicts all we do. Take a moment to think about this. If you believe consciousness ends with the physical ‘death’ of the brain, then there is no point in ever embarking in any spiritual practice…this is the viewpoint of materialism, all starts and stops with physicality. As practitioners of magic and spirit workers, this is not – and cannot be – our model of consciousness.
Like wind, consciousness flows with many currents, but it is up to those receiving its information to adjust the sails to the currents in which they would like to navigate. In the case of interacting with spirits, we need to broaden our perspective and enter a receptive state in which information we have been conditioned to tune out and ignore is instead acknowledged and processed.
There is no shortage of techniques to trigger this shift in conscious awareness. Many living traditions use song and rhythmic sounds, others use plants and ecstatic dance. Invocations (in particular those with acoustic or harmonic formulae such as from the PGM) and potent prayers among other techniques can also achieve the same result. Engaging in daily energy work and meditative practices ( i.e. Qigong, Kundalini Yoga, the Middle Pillar exercise and others) can greatly improve our ability to be aware of the subtle realities and become more receptive to the spirits.
The goal is not the complete state of emptiness sought after in deep meditative techniques, but a more liminal trance state in which we are sill in control and aware. A good indicator is loosing time and a palpable change in the atmosphere. Perhaps after a particular rhythmic sound and ritual action one feels an extreme stillness come over them, the air seems to thicken accompanied by slight sensation of detached consciousness as in the moments before drifting off to sleep. What seems like seconds are actually minutes, and minutes become hours. We should aim to experience this state with all our senses and try to identify what triggers it while staying within it as long as possible.
As with everything, it takes practice and time, but eventually we start to identify the specific triggers that put us into this correct state of mind. Through these triggers we can learn to navigate in and out of this receptive conscious state at will. They do not need to be anything overly elaborate or even a very long sequence. It can be that first flicker of the candle light together with a whiff of incense or a puff of a cigar, etc…
Know, listen to, and trust your body
We need to pay attention how different subtle energies manifest in our bodies. What happens when we enter a highly charged environment like a wedding, a funeral, a sporting event or a nightclub? What does our body tell us about the ambient energy? Perhaps it’s an instant gut reaction, perhaps our hands tingle or ears ring. We should pay attention to these signals however minute they may be and focus on identifying them and their patterns. They are the means through which our bodies sense and inform us of subtle changes in the environment. For the most part we are accustomed to ignoring such signals, but we should instead learn to tune in and acknowledge them as part of a greater dialogue between the physical, spiritual and energetic realities. Many of us will discover that these are the same sensations that also trigger when in the presence of spirits. Our body is one of our most important magical tools, and thus we should work with it and learn to use it to its fullest capacity.
I discovered early on that my hands and left leg are indicators. My hands tingle and heat up when in the presence of spirits when the energies are exceptionally strong or when I’m around certain familiar spirits it manifests in my left leg (and yes, I’ve had it checked out by physicians who insist that nothing is biologically wrong). These indicators are my bread and butter, I know that when these sensations are active the spirits – even when I cannot see or sense them in other ways – are present and listening. Inspirations and visions that come to me together with these physiological reactions are messages that I know are coming from the spirits and to which I pay extra close attention.
Learn a system of Divination
Divination is a fundamental practice in all traditional religious and magical practices. It is very difficult to engage in spirit work without having mastered some form of divination. Needless to say, it is always good practice to cross-check our experiences with a reading, especially at first when we might still be unsure about interpreting our sensory signals. But even after become sensory ‘aware’, divination helps ground the experience and give concrete answers while reducing personal biases. It is also an ideal method to verify the identity of the spirit and the sincerity of their agenda.
Even if one is clearly hearing the spirits, a physical divination system provides an additional layer of communication and meaning for interpreting the messages. It is the difference between the spoken and written word, that which is physically captured has a degree of permanence and tangibility with which to interface, recall, and literally see the message.
One thing to call out is that the complexity of the tools of the divination system does not equate to its accuracy. The best diviners I have had the privileged to know can cast a reading with whatever they find at their disposal (leaves, twigs, etc.). Much of the skill of a diviner is knowing how to ask the right questions and learning to lead from one question to the next in order to develop an ongoing dialogue with the tool and spirits involved while also maintaining a degree of skepticism and learning to really challenge the results.
For example, if using a pendulum or other binary yes/no system to determine if a message received in a dream or vision was indeed from a spirit, we may start with “was I visited by a spirit?”, if affirmative, we then go through a list of potential spirit names based on the symbolism of the dream or vision but don’t simply stop when receiving an affirmative response. We should then rephrase the question again along the lines of “did spirit X come in the dream/vision?” and then go on to ask more detailed questions regarding the specifics of the message. This chaining of questions and circling back to recheck the initial query will make it so that we can proceed with confidence regarding the authenticity of the message. More elaborate divination systems (i.e. tarot, geomancy, nkobo, etc.) can be used as the actual vehicle for receiving messages if we find ourselves aware of the spirit presence but not hearing the spirit voices.
Keep a record
When I learned the Nkobo divination system used by my Palo munan nzo, I spent months doing a daily reading and recording the results in my journal (and still do!). Throughout the course of the day I note everything from my dreams to the most mundane events of the day. By looking back at the diary I am able to see how the individual letters of the reading manifest in my life.
This same principle applies whether we are attempting to communicate via scrying, meditating or invoking. We should write down the messages that are received, even when we think they are subconscious chatter. I cannot overly stress the value of having this record as something to look back on and check against.
Overtime and through continual awareness and practice we learn to identify the patterns and differentiate the voices of spirits from our own mental “voices”. Eventually it becomes rather obvious and the need to constantly question the authenticity of the information subsides as it is very clear what is a message from spirit and what is not. But in order to obtain this certainty we need to record our experiences and be able to look back on them to draw conclusions from the patterns.
Do yourselves a favor and put down that fancy leather-bound diary and use something you always have access to like iCloud Notes or a similar app on our phone…it will ensure that it is nearly always at your disposal and you can easily update and check against the entries throughout the course of the day.
Embrace the path
What does this mean? Simple, if we choose to live a magical life and interact with spirits, we need to understand that messages can come from the spirit-world in a plethora of ways and at any time and not just in ritual settings. Some spirits will communicate through others (particularly those whose mental filters are down, i.e. the sick or dying or mentally unstable).This also includes animals and other natural phenomenon. We should pay close attention to these messages and note any of the bodily sensations that accompany them.
Next time you find yourself walking by that crazy homeless man on the street corner, take a moment to listen to what he says…it may surprise you! What others tune out as the ramblings of a mad man may in fact be a spirit speaking directly to us and as individuals who walk the path, it is in our interest to listen.
Pact-making and spiritual allies, the next step
Once we have learned to identify the presence of spirits and receive messages from them with some regularity, the next step is to develop a working relationship. This is how we move from the realm of mediums to that of magical practitioners capable of affecting change in the world around us.
All too often we succumb to a process of shopping around and quickly move from attempting to call forth one spirit found some book to another without ever taking the time to establish and elaborate the relationship. We quickly thumb through a spirit catalog, find one who is documented as being helpful for a particular situation and we get to summoning.
I have been guilty of this. I worked through the Olympic spirits of the Arbatel and a good number of the spirits cataloged in other grimoires blazing through them as if collecting Pokemon. Gotta get them all! While these were great exercises for beginning to understand the techniques and modes in which spirits manifested, they resulted in little more than an interesting collection of experiences with little to no tangible results. It wasn’t until I began to focus my work with a small handful of spirits and developed relationships with these that I began to see real tangible results that have benefited my day-to-day life and that of the people I have done work for.
Spirits can perform countless functions. Those functions (i.e. “treasure finding”, etc.) listed in the grimoires and other magical books are only a subset of their capabilities based on what an individual ritualist was interested in achieving at a given time. These notes then pass on from practitioner to practitioner and before we know it, it becomes dogma that spirit X only does task Y. This is simply not the case. You really only need one operative spirit or at most a handful to be successful in our work.
Once we start to see spirits as entities with their own agendas and priorities, spirit work becomes much more like forming business agreements between living humans. Here the notion of the ‘pact’ is fundamental. Again, we need to divorce ourselves from the polarized definition of the term as something inherently diabolical or evil. A pact at its most core definition is an agreement between two parties; in our case, us and the spirit. It is the promise of payment or reward for information or a task; after all, nothing is given for free. All of nature functions in this manner. If we want the land to produce crops, we exchange labor and water for its harvest…this is a pact – a covenant- that our ancestors made ages ago with the spirits of the land. Working with spirits in magical context is no different, something must always be given in exchange.
Despite the negative light shed on the concept of pacts by the centralized Church (for reasons discussed earlier), it is still preserved in many medieval grimoires through the use of the term ‘conjure’ whose etymology contains the inherent meaning of pact-making. From Latin con (together) and jurare (swear), it literally means to “swear together.” Thus, when you read through the grimoires you will often find the words “summoning” and “conjuring” in the same passage…most read these as synonymous, but they are in fact two separate processes. One calls forth the spirit, the other forms a working pact. Here is another of those indicators that the medieval practitioners of the grimoires were in fact more consistent with the protocols and methodologies of present-day living traditions than we are initially led to believe.
The best spirits in my opinion for initially establishing these relationships are not those listed in the famed spirit lists, but rather those with more investment in us and our immediate surroundings. These would be the ancestors (of blood or spiritual lineage) and the local spirits of the landscapes we inhabit. These are the spirits we interact with day to day knowingly or not. And these should be the first spirits we interface with as allies in the spirit-world.
Once we begin working with one of these spirits, we start to identify the modes in which they manifests and learn to identify the sensory experiences that come with them. These can be extremely helpful intermediaries to the spirit-world and introduce us to and vet out other unknown spirits. In my own practice, I’ve come to know the spirits I frequently work with very well. They generally appear to me the same form and always result in the same atmospheric and visceral sensations. If I require the assistance of some other spirit, I go through these first to act as intermediaries and essentially ‘vouch’ for the spirit called upon.
Think critically and measure success
The ultimate goal of our practice is the ability to interact with spirits and exchange useful information (receiving knowledge or delegating tasks) in order to affect changes in ourselves, others and the world around us. At least that is my barometer of success.
As modern men and women we pride ourselves in our ability to be free thinkers and to question authority and our own life experiences. This ability to think critically is a gift not a curse brought forth by modern science and philosophy. Though it at first seems counterproductive for engaging with spirits, the scientific process – once divorced from the materialistic worldview – is in fact quite valuable for improving our interactions with the spirit world. It is sound model we all can employ to refine and measure our success with the spirits. In its simplest form the scientific process consists of a well formulated hypothesis, a repeatable experiment and then an analysis of the results leading to either a proven theory or the necessity to revise and retest the experiment. We should keep this formula in mind when engaging in magical activities and working with the spirits. It maps rather seamlessly to the process of asking a question or delegating a measurable task (the hypothesis), the divination or ritual (the experiment), and determining success through verifying the answer or observing the task to completion (the result), while providing a theoretical loop for fine tuning and improving our methods.
We are privileged to have access to such critical ways of thinking as it not only keeps us grounded and less likely to be swept away by fantasy, but also less gullible to being tricked by certain spirits or controlled by a dominant religious institution or the latest new age fad. This is a luxury that many of our ancestors did not have and we should take full advantage of it and leverage it in our interactions with the spirit-world.
Concluding thoughts and farewell
All my practice and experiences thus far has led me to conclude that there are defined protocols and techniques for interacting with spirits. Several of these can be found in historical texts such as the PGM and the grimoires and in the documented practices of living traditions and folkloric rites (i.e. receptive states of consciousness , divination, pact-making, intermediary spirits, etc.). These practices are so universally pervasive that they highlight just how intimately connected our story, the human story, has been to the unseen spirit-world. To live in both the physical and spiritual worlds is our birthright and has been since time immemorial. We should embrace this heritage!
I have attempted to the best of my ability to call out some of the the techniques and concepts regarding spirit interactions which I have found to be the most useful and pertinent to my path. I’ve done my best to do so in as tradition agnostic and general terms as possible. However, to really dig beyond the surface and not only to perceive and receive messages from spirits but to be able to call upon them and charge them with tasks requires a degree of spiritual authority that can only be bestowed upon one through initiation and immersion into the spiritual context of tradition. At least this has been my experience.
Lastly, I have one final thing left to say. This will be my last post here and in the online space for a long time. My desire has always been to explore the esoteric realities and spiritual realms and to discuss, teach and learn from others as I carved my own path through the mysteries. However, my time in public ends here, at least for the immediate future. It time for me to step away and devote myself to my practice and continue on my personal journey with the spirits, for I have so, so much to learn.
I am eternally grateful for all those who have read and shared my writings and reached out to me here or engaged in online discussions elsewhere. I have learned much from all of you. May the spirits continue to guide and watch over you wherever your journeys may lead.