Let it be known you’re a witch, a Druid, or any sort of magical practitioner and the requests for magical assistance will find you. By far the most frequent request I get is for house cleansings and blessings.
Someone moves into a new place and they want to make it theirs. Something feels unhealthy, unwelcoming, or just not quite right and they want to clean it out. Or something bad happens, or happened in the past, and the residue is still there.
This isn’t just a Pagan thing. While Baptists and atheists tend to dismiss house blessings, Catholics, Methodists, and even Unitarian Universalists do this sort of work on at least an occasional basis. So do Buddhists and followers of most other religions. Each religion and each tradition has their own way of doing this work – all of them can be effective in the right context. My way, of course, is grounded in Paganism, polytheism, and the active practice of magic.
If you feel the need for a house cleansing, the good news is that you can probably do it yourself. This is some of the most straightforward magic there is. Plus nobody knows your house as well as you do, and nobody is more invested in getting it good and clean. In my rough estimation, 19 times out of 20 all that’s wrong is some residual energy that’s simple enough to get rid of.
That one other time? We’ll talk about that in a minute.
Begin with a mundane cleaning
According to Dictionary.com, the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” was first written by John Wesley, but the idea is ancient – and it did not originate with Christianity. A line we adapted from the Pyramid Texts for our Egyptian Temple Rituals says:
Oh water may you remove all evil,
As Ra who bathes in the Lake of Rushes.
I come before thee, O Isis, O Ra, my purification upon my arms.
Water – and soap – removes many evils. You don’t have to go full Marie Kondo, but get rid of garbage and junk. Vacuum, dust, and wipe down all the surfaces. Hoodoo practitioners are big on floor washes – whether your mop water is magically charged or not, use it to get your floors as clean as you can.
Many times a good mundane cleaning will also get rid of spiritual dirt and grime. At the least, it makes it harder for unwelcome things to hide.
Probably all you have is some spiritual residue, but if you don’t listen to your house, how can you know for sure?
“Listen” with all your senses, both mundane and magical. You probably don’t have a ghost or a house spirit, but if you do, treat them with respect. And with caution – just because they’re a spirit doesn’t mean they mean you well.
Mainly, do your best to determine what’s wrong and where it’s wrong before you begin. You’ll want to cover your whole house, but hot spots (or the legendary cold spots) will need special attention.
Gather your team
You can do a house cleansing by yourself – I’ve done it on numerous occasions. But it’s easier if you have help. It’s also a good community building exercise – think of the “broom ritual” in Practical Magic.
I prefer to work with a team of three or four, mainly because it lets each person focus on one element during the cleansing portion of the ritual. More is good, although too many makes it hard to move around rooms.
Your team need not all be practicing witches or Pagans. Ordinary people can help just fine, and this is a good way to involve children (older children, anyway) if you have any. You don’t have to all be in religious agreement, but it’s best to exclude anyone who would actively criticize the process (again, Baptists and atheists, or at least the more militant versions of them). Magic works based on action and not on belief, but active skepticism can put a damper on the whole thing.
You don’t need a lot of formal ritual here. You do need to get yourself and everyone else focused on the work at hand. An opening bell, a cleansing of the participants (a quick ceremonial hand-washing is fine), a declaration of intent, and a prayer for divine assistance is adequate. If you share a tradition of grounding and centering, do that also.
As always, I recommend calling on the assistance of deities you know and are in relationship with, rather than picking Someone you don’t know based on an assumed function.
This is the hard work of the ritual. There are many techniques – most of them are good. You need not do them all, but use at least one technique designed to break up spiritual residue and one to clear it out of the house.
Move in one direction. If possible, start at the top of the house and move downward, moving widdershins (counterclockwise) through the rooms and through the floors. If you have an upstairs and a basement and there’s no basement door, do the upstairs, then the basement, then the main floor.
Sound and smoke are best for breaking up spiritual residue. I prefer to have the person leading the procession ringing a bell or striking a chime. Burn astringent plants or incense (not sweet incense) and waft the smoke throughout the rooms (but if you set off the smoke detectors, you’re using too much smoke).
Open all the closets and cabinets. Pay particular attention to any hot or cold spots you noticed during your listening work, or that appear during the ritual. Pay particular attention to mirrors and other reflective surfaces.
Sense what’s going on. See and feel the sound and smoke breaking up the negative energy. Use a wand or an athame to add your own energy to the process – like using a knife to scrape a particularly dirty cooking pot.
Continue the cleansing by sprinkling salt water. Give the last person in the procession a broom (ideally a besom, but an ordinary broom works fine) to sweep everything clean.
Some traditions say to sweep the residue out the front door, or the back door. Others say to sweep it into the hearth and up the chimney. I use whatever is most accessible. The main thing is to get it out of the house.
Now your house is clean, but it’s a sterile hospital clean, not a friendly and welcoming clean. Make a second pass through the house, this time moving deosil (clockwise). Asperse it with clean fresh water (magically charged if possible) and cense it with sweet incense. In each room, say words of blessing, something like:
This room is clean and pure, safe and welcoming for those who live here and for our guests. May it remain so in the days and weeks to come.
Pay special attention to your altars and shrines. Clean and cleanse them well, and then ask for the blessings of the Gods and ancestors who are honored there.
You can clean your house until it’s spotless, but if you leave the doors and windows open it won’t be long before things you don’t want blow in – or walk in.
Make a third pass through the house. The direction isn’t critical, but I prefer to move deosil. Stop at each door and window. Draw a pentagram or other symbol of protection over it using a wand, athame, or your finger. See them glowing (mine glow blue). Do the chimney too.
When you’re done, ask any deities with whom you have a relationship to ward and protect your house and all within it.
You can combine blessing and warding into one pass through the house, particularly if you have a team and can make one person responsible for setting the wards. I prefer to do them separately, to make sure nothing distracts me from protecting the house once it’s clean and blessed.
Review, monitor, and repeat
No matter how clean your house is, it’s not going to stay clean forever. Ordinary living tracks in dirt, gets food stains on counters, and produces dirty clothes. Among other things. Sooner or later you’re going to have to clean house again.
The same is true for magical and spiritual cleansings. If your ordinary life and the lives of your housemates are going well, if you’re only interacting with spirits who mean you well (good luck with that), and if your wards are strong, your house may stay clean for many months. If not, you may find yourself living in a dirty house again in a few weeks.
Monitor your wards. Are they still glowing or are they covered in grime? Keep listening. If you feel your house getting dirty again, cleanse it again. As with mundane cleaning, regular small cleansings are a lot easier than infrequent big cleansings.
If the cleansing doesn’t work
The vast majority of times this ritual or some variant of it is all you need. Honestly, a lot of times a good mundane cleaning is all you need. But sometimes – about 5% of the time, by my estimation – something more is involved.
Something really nasty happened in the house and the stains won’t come out. A malevolent spirit has moved in… or perhaps, just an annoyingly mischievous spirit. Magical attacks are rare (most people with the desire to magically attack you don’t have the skills to do it, and vice versa) but they do happen.
This is when you call in help. Call your local witch or Druid or priest. Call someone with more experience than you, someone with the magical skills to handle something you can’t. Mainly, someone who knows what to look for so they can figure out exactly what (or who) you’re dealing with.
If you call for help, expect to pay for help. Now, I occasionally see criminal cases where a fraudulent magician (who is more fraud than magician to begin with) charges a naïve person thousands of dollars to remove a curse that isn’t there. That’s a crime, and rightly so. On the other hand, if you want the benefit of someone’s time and training, you should expect to pay for it, just as you would expect to pay a skilled tradesperson like a plumber or an electrician.
A word on sage
Lots of people use sage for cleansing. As I explained last year, burning sage is not cultural appropriation. Burning sage in Native American ceremonies when you’re not Native American is. There is some disagreement on whether or not white sage is currently being overharvested. I’ve seen arguments both ways and I can’t find an on-line source I trust enough to say for sure.
Here’s what I do know: people around the world have used smoke for cleansing for thousands of years. White sage is native to a rather limited area in the western United States and Mexico. That means the vast majority of people have been cleansing with something other than sage. So while sage is particularly well-suited for cleansing, there are many other perfectly adequate choices.
Do a bit of research and find something native to where you live. Or grow your own. Then you know it’s been ethically harvested.
Before you ask me to cleanse your house
If you’re a member of one of my local groups and you need my help, give me a call. I’ll be glad to help you cleanse your house. There will be no charge because we’re family, and I’m sure you’ll do something for me sooner or later (if you haven’t already).
If you’re not a member of one of my groups but you’re still local to me, I’ll do it, but expect to pay my usual consulting rates.
If you’re not local to me, then I can’t help you. Even if you pay all my expenses, I don’t have the time to travel to you.
More than that, though, there’s no reason to call me in for a house cleansing. In most cases you can do it yourself. If you can’t, or if you really want a professional to do it for you, there are almost certainly people local to you who are just as good or better than I am.
Honestly, while I’m good at this, I’m nothing special. I’m not even the best in my local groups (that would be Cynthia Talbot).
Cleansing, blessing, and warding your house (or apartment, or dorm room, or where ever you live) is a skill almost everyone can learn. Give it a try – now, before things get bad – and see how it helps.