|Maneki Neko: Spirit of the Beckoning Cat|
How to Work with Spirits?
The practice of Hoodoo is heavily based on working with spirits and many practitioners are said to be Spirit Lead. It is not surprising then that perhaps the most often question I receive is "How do you work with [insert spirit name here]?" And for every person who asks this question there are just as many answers. So, for all those people who have ever asked "How do you work with [insert spirit name here]?" this blog's for you!
What Are Spirits?
Very simply stated, spirits are non-physical entities which may or may not have had a human incarnation and which have the ability to influence people and events in the physical world.
Types of Spirits
There are several types of spirits which may be divided into the following categories. They are:
- Deities: These spirits are often classified as Gods or Goddesses in their respective cultures and/or religions. You will often find spiritual practitioners who build altars and direct that petitions to deities from Non-Christian pantheons including, but not limited to Hinduism, Voodoo, Palo, Yoruba, Santeria, etc...
- The Dead: Many Root-Workers start out working with spirits of the dead in the form of the Ancestors, the spirits of the dead connected to them by blood. It is believed that the dead don’t die, but rather ascend to another level of being, from which they can look on and assist us. From this higher level, the Ancestors can guide us in our daily lives, intercede with the Godhead on our behalf and protect us in times of need. In other instances, a practitioner may visit the graveyard to ritually collect dirt from a particular grave or graves for use in spells and rituals. There are many variables to consider when collecting graveyard dirt for spells and rituals.
- Familiar Spirits: While most people associate the term 'familiar spirit' with the shape-shifting entities which were believed to have served Medieval Witches; the term can also refer to one's genius, or a type of tutelary spirit. Other terms synonymous with familiar-spirit include Patron Saint, Guardian Angel, Daimon, Higher-Self. They function as a person's guardian and teacher often communicating with humans through dreams and intuition.
- Plant/Animal Spirits: The use of herbs, minerals and animal parts in the practice of magick is not exclusive to Hoodoo. In fact, their use is virtually a world-wide phenomenon and modern medicine owes a great deal of credit to the ancient magicians for their discoveries. Animism, a belief that spirits inhabit non-human entities, plays a large role in the practice of Hoodoo. When a rootworker utilizes an herb or zoological curio, such as a rabbit's foot, they recognize the spirit dwelling within it and which can be called up to favor their petition. (See also Doctrine of Signatures)
- Anthropomorphic Spirits: Anthropomorphism, or more commonly personification, is the practice of ascribing human-qualities to inanimate objects or abstract ideas. A popular example of an anthropomorphic spirit in Hoodoo is the Anima Sola, or lonely soul, which commonly depicts a woman wearing broken chains amidst the fires of purgatory. She is often invoked for release from suffering or to bring suffering to others. Other examples of an anthropomorphic spirit include Santo Muerte, the personification of death as a holy spirit; and High John the Conqueror, a folk-hero representing the qualities ascribed to the root of the same name.
Are the Spirits Real?
The spirits are as real as your belief in and your connection to them. The greater your connection to the spirits, the more real they become to you. The connectedness comes from fostering a relationship with the spirits through prayer and offerings.
Five Steps to Working with Spirits
- Educate Yourself about the spirit with which you wish to foster a relationship. Read everything you can get your hands on about the spirit, what its traditional offerings are, how is its altar erected, how it is venerated, what days of the week (if any) are associated with the spirits, specific rites associated with the veneration of the spirit, etc...Do not limit yourself to written resources, seek out others who work with the spirit and ask for their advice.
- Erect an Altar to the spirit. This is where all that reading and interviewing others pays off. Some spirits have very specific altars and colors that they are associated with. For example, keys can often be found on Papa Legba's altar because he is known as the Guardian of the Crossroads who opens the doors for other spirits to come through. Conversely, Marie Laveaux's altar is traditionally three-tiered and there are specific items which are placed on each level. If there is no specific altar associated with the spirit with which you wish to foster a relationship, a very basic one can be erected with a photo/statue of the spirit, candles, incense burner, flowers, and an offering bowl. When erecting the altar to the spirit let your own imagination/creativity guide you.
- Make An Offering to the spirit. Many spirits have specific offerings associated with them, for example St. Expedite's traditional offering consist of pound cake, flowers, and water. In fact, I cannot think of one spirit that would not accept an offering of cool water from a sincere seeker. The offering is made to the spirit to invite him or her into the space that you have created for them. This may or may not happen the first time, you may be required to make several offerings before the spirit responds with its presence. When this does occur, you may sense the spirits presence physically or psychically, they may place signs in your path or send you dreams to make their presence known.
- Introduce Yourself to the spirit. Explain exactly why you want to foster a relationship with the spirit, what you expect from that relationship, and what you are willing to do to encourage and maintain that relationship.
- Make Your Petition to the spirit.Once you have introduced yourself to the spirit and made consistent offerings to him or her, you may now petition the spirit to assist you with your goal. A petition may be made simply through prayer directed to the spirit or through altar-work associated with your goal. This may consist of burning candles, making a mojo-bag, or working a doll-baby at that altar to the spirit. By working your spells at the spirits altar you are encouraging the spirit to take an active part in the work.
Working with spirits is really a partnership and sometimes partners don't always get along though they may have a common goal. Sometimes the human gets lazy and doesn't make the proper offerings, fails to perform the traditional rites, asks for favors but does nothing to effect change for themselves. If this is the case, the remedy is to simply admit your fault, make restitution by making the proper offerings, and consistently putting your part in the "part"nership.
Spirits sometimes get complacent too and when this occurs they may fail to respond to your prayers and offerings. They may attempt to control you, or trick you into giving them tribute without giving you anything in return. When this happens, it is important that you go to the spirit and attempt to discern the problem so that it can be addressed. If the spirits fails to respond, you may need to punish him or her. There are three levels of severity to punishing a spirit they are:
- Rebukement. Reprimand the spirit in the name of a higher power, usually Jesus, but if you are working outside a Christian context this may not be workable for you. The idea here to verbally shame the spirit by explaining how you have faithfully prayed to him or and consistently made their offering only to have the spirit ignore your request.
- Reversal. Turn the spirits image away from you if it is a statue, or upside down if it is a picture. This is an act that is believed to make the spirit uncomfortable and ashamed. When the spirit begins working for you again, set the image back correctly. For an example of this type of punishment we need only to look to Saint Anthony. Saint Anthony is often prayed to in order to find lost objects, however, in Latin countries he is often prayed to by those seeking a husband or wife. When Saint Anthony does not work for the petitioner, he or she will often turn the statue upside down or in some cases take the baby away from him in the belief that he will work faster for the petitioner.
- Withhold Offerings. Spirits draw strength from the offerings we make to them. When they don't receive their offerings they grow weak and will be more inclined to work with you.
The practice of Hoodoo consist largely of working with spirits. These spirits may be deities, ancestors, plant/animal spirits, working-spirits, spirits-of-divination, spirits from your own culture and spirits from outside your culture. Many spirits have traditional altars, offerings, and other correspondences with which they are associated and which facilitate contact with them. The more contact you have with the spirits the more real they become.
Through a process of prayers and offerings at their altar, one can make contact with and foster relationships with spirits who will assist them with their petitions. However, sometimes spirits become complacent and they must be scolded by rebuking them, reversing their images, or withholding their offerings. In many cases, scolding a spirit will result in strengthening your relationship with them; however in other cases it can result in severing your relationship with a spirit.