When I got into this Priest gig I didn’t really consider that dealing with exorcisms would be part of the work. It seemed like something cooked up by movie writers and overexcited teenagers for cheap thrills and storytelling.
I was wrong.
The first paid exorcism I did was for two women who were roommates. One of them had a son, and he had been seeing a dark shadow. The dog had been freaking out. Everyone in the house had been having nightmares, and the mother had been getting visions of a name and memories of a very angry man. I was told the spirit seemed strongest in the basement but that they saw it throughout the house and that it was very bad. I figured it must be pretty bad if they were willing to pay me to come.
On the day of the exorcism I prepared by fasting and doing my prayer and devotional work. I gathered my equipment, including working tools and a spirit trap I created based on my knowledge of shamanic spirit traps. I took a bit of raw meat and brought it with me, along with a bowl of salt and a pitcher to put water in. The idea was to draw the spirit into the bit of raw meat, then to put it in the bowl of salt and pour the water over it, encapsulating the spirit in saltwater. The trick, of course, was going to be getting the spirit into the meat, and that was what the rest of the tools and offerings were for.
In retrospect, I missed a couple of things in my preparations, though I did successfully capture and deal with the spirit. Here’s what I suggest as possible preparations, though often you can’t do all of them or you may have other devotional or magical work to do. Some things you won’t be able to do in a day. Getting good signal clarity is only something that regular practice can do. Building solid spirit allies can only happen by giving offerings, keeping your oaths, and living your life according to your values. I’m not talking about that here. I’m talking about what you do when you’ve already done all the years of development. Just like you can’t learn to be a black belt in a day but a black belt can prepare for a competition in a day, no one can become a spiritworker in a day, but you can prepare for specific workings.
- Purification: There are lots of ways to go about purification. I would suggest combining at least two methods. Saltwater, or water collected from three sacred sources are good for asperging. Smoke from sacred herbs is great too. I prefer mugwort or sweetgrass smudge because I grow both of them myself, and so I can work with the plant spirit before they are harvested. Good quality incense works too. I prefer the Japanese style incense with no stick because it’s better for my asthmatic lungs. As I mentioned, I also fast, which I only suggest if you have been practicing and know what you’re doing. Fasting is like running a marathon. You have to train your body. Epsom salt baths, anointing with scented oil, walking barefoot on the earth, wind purification, and laughter are all good too.
- Alignment with your Spirit Helpers: Primarily this alignment takes two forms, internal and external. If you have access to your higher self, holy guardian angel, fylga, or other internal aspects of your spirit expression meditating upon them is a great idea. It will help your intuitive clarity and make sure you’re rooted in your deepest values while doing delicate work. Externally, giving offerings and prayers to those beings that assist you is a wise idea. It’s like a combination of a polite heads up that you might need their help and a carb load before a workout.
- Gathering Equipment: This depends on your personality and magical inclinations. Someone who works with stones would charge and assemble those. Someone who works with herbs would gather that. At this point I have a pair of messenger bags that I carry my kit in. It’s expanded considerably over the years. I don’t have a generic athame or wand, so much as tools for specific purposes and actions. I have a wand dedicated to Heimdall that was a gift from a friend. I have a feather fan made from the tail feathers of a rooster I raised and ate, dedicating his death to Ing. I have stones gathered from the shores of the Great Lakes, inscribed with the symbols for Saule, Ausrine, Velnias, Perkunas and more. I have spice jars filled with various offerings: hawthorns, ash, and salt. I have wool thread dyed red and soaked in rowan. You know, the usual sort of happy spiritwork goodies.
Assess the Situation
It’s good to think of it like an illness or imbalance. By that I mean that you should assess the situation, ask questions of the residents and do your own checks both with intuition and divination. If you can figure out exactly what the problem is, it’s easier to solve. Helping an angry ancestor to move on to the next life is way different than gathering up a swarm of rogue fly spirits, which is different from calming down an angry house spirit. Trying to get an angry house spirit to go to a Christian heaven is only going to make the problem worse. Diagnosis is key.
In the case of the the two housemates unwanted angry guest, first I sat down and talked with them. The son and the dog had been shipped off to friends because of how they were reacting to the situation. I asked both the adults to tell me about what had happened, and asked questions for clarification. I didn’t do divination that time, but I should have.
Interview the living humans: How long has there been problems? Where are the problems at? Is there a temperature change? Has anyone else seen a manifestation? How do pets and animals respond?
Trancework to interview the non-humans: It’s always important to get both sides of any story. In this kind of work you have to be able to communicate effectively with the unseen to get that done. You also have to be ready to be able to tell if a spirit is lying to you, hiding from you, or is in one of many variants and how to tell them apart. After you’ve been doing spiritwork for a while you will learn the different “feels” of a nature spirit versus an ancestor, versus an elf or a god. It is very important to do this initial communication with shields up. Have your boundaries and wards in place. You don’t know what this entity is capable of. Take proper precautions, but don’t expect that it’s going to be some horrible Lovecraftian doom either. It could just be a cranky house spirit that wants some attention.
Divination: Check your work. Just like when you’re solving an algebraic equation, divination is the equivalent of checking your answer. It gives you a third point of data to compare with, and can indicate what exactly is happening on the spiritual level. The people you’re talking to have bias. You as a spiritworker have bias. I would argue the cards have bias too, but at least its a different bias from your own.
With a Little Help From my Friends
Once you’ve figured out what’s going on, you can then figure out which tools you need for the job. Sure you could take a spiritual sledgehammer to the house and blast every spirit into bits, but the nuclear option isn’t always the right option. In fact, it’s almost always the wrong option. Christian spirituality influences a great deal of the way many modern people think. For centuries now, any spiritual being that wasn’t part of the Christian mythos was denigrated as a devil. That doesn’t mean all spirits that lack fluffy white wings are bad or should be gotten rid of.
Your voice is a powerful tool and one you can never leave behind. I encourage anyone who does spiritwork to use their voice both with memorized chants and as a more intuitive noise making. I probably ought to make a video of this because I cannot begin to figure out how to describe it. It’s a little like how Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance uses her voice.
Drumming can be both a tool of control of spirits and a diagnostic tool. By allowing your intuition to change the tone and tempo of drumming you can use it like a dousing rod or pendulum. Then once you have the keyed rhythm you can begin to change it to communicate or move spirits.
Items of power that you have made or been gifted. I’m not big on buying magical items, though if you buy from a handcrafted source that’s awesome, or if all you can afford is thrift shop items, I’ve been there and I get it. There are lots of ideas about what makes a good magical tool, and that could be a whole other post. In my view, the trick is to figure out how to make stuff portable so as to not squish the feather fan, get the tarot cards damp with the sacred water or otherwise mess stuff up. I have two messenger bags that I sling across my shoulders as my travel kit.
Offerings are important. Make sure to bring offerings for the spirits that you work with as well as generic offerings for spirits you might find. I tend not to bring things that need to be refrigerated, but sometimes will ask the householder to make sure to have butter, milk, or raw meat on hand. I usually bring something sugary, something boozy, something good smelling, and various grains and powders.
Purification agents. You never know what might need scrubbing. I suggest ash, ground eggshell, thorns, holy water, rowan berries, red thread, bells, and iron as good options to have on hand.
House Saining and Reclaiming
I’ve never had to blitz a spirit into oblivion. On that very first house clearing I gave the spirit of the angry young man over to the local river mother. I found out after the working there actually was a real a person who fit the description and who had died on that street a few years before. I will say the spirit did not like what I did to him. But there was no anger or ill will from me. I did what was necessary to protect the family and to heal him. The river spirit was able to help him. If you are doing this kind of work it is your job to create balance. Always work with compassion and skill.
We should be thinking of spirit ecologies, in our homes as well as in our natural areas. We live in an era of antibiotics and obsessive sanitation that has lead to an increase in allergies and autoimmune disorders. The spirit world is tied in directly with those trends. We think we are alone and that we can survive alone. We don’t want to remember that our digestive systems are symbiotically linked to our gut bacteria. We like to forget the fact that without plants, there is no oxygen, without carrion eaters, there is more illness. We are not alone and we need to remember how to live in balance with the non-human worlds, both spiritual and physical. More than that, we need get rid of that false dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. If you are planning to attempt this kind of work you need this perspective even more.
So when you reclaim the house for the humans you may find what you’re actually doing is teaching the humans and the non-humans how to live together in harmony rather than just acting as an exterminator. Either way, you should make sure to do work that purifies and claims the house for those inhabitants who have agreed to work together.
Burying coins and rowan berries at the corner of the property, smudging with sage or mugwort, purifying with salt water or holy water and claiming with fire by carrying a lit candle around the house and property are all good ways of blessing and claiming a house. I would suggest using more than one method and getting the owners of the property and those who live in the house involved in the actions.
Aftercare for Humans and Others
Make sure to explain to the humans what you have done and why you did it. Get their feedback about how the house feels and give them basic suggestions that suit their level of interest in the spiritworld. One person may need basic meditation techniques while another may want help designing a prayer or charm.
Hauling spirits around and disrupting their patterns can be upsetting for them, especially the nature spirit kinds. It’s not just the humans who may need help after you’ve done the work. Follow through is important when you agree to do this kind of work. Going in and just stirring up the bees nest of angry spirits isn’t going to help anyone. After you’ve diagnosed the problem you need to make sure the spirit gets the help it needs to be in balance either in the home or somewhere else. This means that after you’ve captured it you don’t keep it like a Pokemon unless you happen to bond deeply with the thing. Even then, I would be very cautious and think it would be far better for you to find a natural place to leave it and go visit rather than inviting a spirit that has already been causing trouble into your life.
- Natural areas are good for nature spirits and some ancestors, if they don’t have a heaven or afterlife they’re supposed to go to. Look for areas that aren’t popular with people. Swamps are excellent purification areas, and can help unhappy spirits decompose a bit. Also, people tend to avoid them.
- The Christian heaven: if you don’t know how to dial that phone number, ask one of your ancestors to act as a psychopomp. Many of them are pretty familiar with the place.
- Generic afterlife and various pagan afterlife locations including the various deities and psychopomps.
- Passing a spirit off to an angel is another way to cope with upset Christian ancestor spirits.
- River Spirits can be very helpful in dealing with problematic or angry spirits. They’re big enough that they can handle most anything. (So cultivate some brownie points with your local river!)
Helping humans create better patterns
- Devotionals: these are simple daily ritual actions that give thanks, connect, and gently transform
- Offerings: by giving offerings we come into relationship with the otherworlds and the spirits. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways of gaining allies rather than enemies in the spirit world.
- Personal purification: there are many techniques that can be used, including taking a shower, laughing, singing, as well as more traditional methods such as smoke or sacred water.
- House purification functions similarly to personal purification, but is on a larger scale. Make sure to get basements and bathrooms! It’s good to build this kind of work into your daily and weekly habits. Not only does it help create structure and focus in your life, it also helps you remember to do the mundane cleaning. Speaking of, sometimes the best way to purify your house is to vacuum or sweep.