I’m frequently asked to recommend books on the topic of death, dying, mediumship, grief, and other such topics. While I’d always like to recommend my own book, Do I Have to Wear Black?: Rituals, Customs & Funerary Etiquette for Modern Pagans which covers all these topics and more, I’m always looking for something new in the field. To that end, it seemed like a great time to show you all a few books that I’m currently reading and writing up reviews for. These listed here are in no particular order, and I’ve provided the descriptions available from the publisher.
Manifesting Spirits: An Anthropological Study of Mediumship and the Paranormal
Manifesting Spirits is an exploration of contemporary trance and physical mediumship at a private spiritualist home-circle called the Bristol Spirit Lodge. Located in a garden on the outskirts of Bristol, the Lodge is a wooden shed specially constructed for the purposes of mediumship development and spirit communication. Through a combination of ethnographic observations in séances – including his own experiences of mediumship development – and interviews with spirits and their mediums, Hunter delves into a sub-urban world of trance states, ectoplasm, spirit lights and discarnate entities. Issues relating to altered states of consciousness, personhood, performance and the efficacy of ritual are examined in order to make sense of the processes by which spirits become manifest in social reality.
A large part of Manifesting Spirits is given over to a broader discussion of anthropology’s evolving attitudes toward the ‘paranormal’ as a component of the ‘life-worlds’ of many people across the globe, and argues for the development of a non-reductive anthropological approach to the paranormal, and mediumship in particular. This emerging framework – referred to as ‘ontological flooding’ does not attempt to explain away the existence of spirits in terms of functional, cognitive or pathological theories (as most mainstream theorists tend to do), but rather embraces a processual perspective that emphasizes complexity and multiple interconnected processes underlying spirit possession performances and experiences.
The Ghost Studies: New Perspectives on the Origins of Paranormal Experiences
You’ve just laid down for the night when suddenly doors slam and the curtains shift. The lights begin to flicker and a white mist forms in front of you. You shut your eyes and keep muttering, “ghosts aren’t real.” But then you open your eyes and realize that “harmless” mist has shifted into the form of a man, staring intensely at you, as he floats above your bed.
What causes ghostly experiences?
Are ghosts real?
Why do certain people report numerous ghostly encounters and others none?
For centuries these questions have intrigued, puzzled, and bedeviled science, skeptics, and even believers. Based on cutting-edge research and new theories, The Ghost Studies provides insight into some of life’s greatest mysteries.
The Pagan Book of The Dead: Ancestral Visions of the Afterlife and Other Worlds
Charting the evolution of afterlife beliefs in both pagan and medieval Christian times, Claude Lecouteux offers an extensive look at the cartography and folklore of the afterlife worlds as seen by our ancestors. Exploring the locations and topographies of the various forms taken by Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, he examines how ancient European cultures viewed the beyond, including the Blessed Isles of early Greek and Celtic faith, the Hebrew Sheol, the pale world of Hades from Homer’s Odyssey, Hel and Valhalla of the Norse, and the Aralu of Babylon, the land where nothing can be seen. The author also explores beliefs in Other Worlds, lands different from our own that are not the afterlife but places where time flows differently and which are inhabited by fantastic or supernatural beings such as fairies or dwarfs.
Sharing medieval tales of journeys into the beyond, Lecouteux shows how these accounts represent the first recorded near-death experiences (NDEs) and examines how they compare with modern NDE narratives as well as the work of NDE researchers like Raymond Moody. In addition, he also explores tales of out-of-body experiences, dream journeys, and travels made by a double or fetch and connects these narratives with shamanism, looking in particular at psychopomps, power animals, and what people bring back from their journeys to the spirit realms.
Analyzing the afterlife beliefs of the Middle Ages as a whole, Lecouteux concludes with a collection of medieval afterlife-related traditions, such as placing polished stones in the coffin so the departed soul can find its way back to friends and family at those times of the year when the veil between the worlds grows thin.
An Energy Healers Book of Dying: For Caregivers and Those in Transition
Written by a highly skilled intuitive energy worker, this compassionate guide reveals what is happening energetically during the transition back to spirit and details how to provide support in any phase of losing a loved one: before death, during the dying process, and afterward. Taking readers step-by-step through the nine energetic levels of dying, author Suzanne Worthley explains what is happening at each level or dimension energetically, what to watch for in each stage, and specific ways in which we can support our loved ones through their transition back to spirit. For each of the nine stages, she describes what the dying person may see and experience, including the stages of transition at which people undergo the familiar elements of near-death experiences, such as entering a tunnel, conducting a life review, or encountering angels, guides, loved ones in spirit, or a bright light. She explores what family members and friends may see and experience, such as spirit energy, and what they can do to offer practical support and emotional solace to their loved one.
Examining how life force energy works as well as what Akashic records and soul contracts are, Worthley shares hospice case studies for each level of transition, so caregivers can see how belief systems and energy blocks in specific chakras affect the death process and why it is important to clear energy blocks like fear, anger, or guilt during life if possible. She explores the grieving process and offers helpful strategies for moving through it as well as “at-a-glance” reference tables of the nine stages and related healing strategies designed to be referred to by those holding vigil.
Shedding light on one of the great mysteries of existence, An Energy Healer’s Book of Dying offers a compact yet comforting guide to support you through this emotional, grief-filled, and exhausting time and help you bring solace to your loved one during the transition back to spirit.
Honoring Your Ancestors: A Guide to Ancestral Veneration
Learn how to connect to your ancestors and receive the benefits that come from veneration―deeper spirituality, more love in your life, better outcomes in creative pursuits, powerful magic and spellwork, and an improved sense of wellness. Filled with hands-on techniques and tips, Honoring Your Ancestors shows you how to create an ancestor altar so you can work with ancestors of all kinds. Author Mallorie Vaudoise also shares fascinating ideas for incorporating rituals, spells, family recipes, and even practices like music and dancing to help you open this wonderful new dimension of your spiritual journey.
Ancestor veneration is one of the most widespread spiritual practices in the world. This book shares the important distinctions between working with blood ancestors, lineage ancestors, and affinity ancestors while helping you recognize the signs that your ancestors are responding to your petitions and offerings. You will also explore important topics like mediumship and ancestral trauma so you can be sure to develop a veneration practice that’s uplifting and affirming for you.
Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace
All of us experience loss. Some of us have lost a spouse, or a child, our parents, a beloved pet, a dear friend, or neighbor. In the pandemic, we have lost hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States and around the world. Many of us have lost our livelihoods. All of us have lost our familiar daily routines and textures of work, family, and community. And the losses are not over.
Opening to Grief is a companion to this tender time. With the demeanor and tone of a loving friend, the authors offer an invitation to grieve fully, to turn toward your emotions and experiences however they arise, and to follow your own path toward healing.
The book explores the deep truth that grief and love are richly intertwined. Because we love, we grieve. And when we fully feel our sorrow, we open to loving ourselves and other beings more deeply.
La Santa Muerte: Unearthing the Magic & Mysticism of Death
This is the first book written by a practitioner that presents the history, culture, and practical magic of La Santa Muerte to the English-speaking world. As the patron saint of lost causes, the LGBTQ+ community, addicts, and anyone who has been marginalized by society, La Santa Muerte has a following of millions—and she’s only becoming more popular. Join author Tomás Prower as he gives step-by-step instructions for spells, magic, and prayers for practical results and long-term goals, including money, love, sex, healing, legal issues, protection, and more.
Of course it goes without saying that I am not endorsing or recommending these works until I’ve finished reading them through, but so far it looks like there’s some pretty good stuff to be found in there.