In this life thus far it is not a critical part or even frequent aspect of my practice to work with ancestors or the dead. Yet, I am more than capable of working with the dead, and have on a handful of occasions found myself in a situation when I needed to do such work. This ghost story is a recounting of one such occasion.
Back in 2000, my partner and I found ourselves having the use of a shop space in a very depressed and crime-ridden part of Sacramento. A friend was renting the shop space, but making very little use of it, and invited us to set up our equipment to work on making stock for a business we were attempting to start at the time. The previous business in the space had been a pawn shop, and my friend had done nothing to remodel or repurpose the space. The front doors were always locked, the tiny retail area unused, and instead we were just in the back area.
The energy of the space was… uncomfortable. It was still filthy and run down from the previous business, and had a tendency to feel threatening and hostile, especially after dark, even when the streets themselves were calm. Since I am naturally a night owl, I was frequently there working at night, and the hostility present in the space was disruptively palpable.
One of the first things my partner and I did was break out with the cleaning supplies, especially bleach, and clean. The bathroom was especially nasty, but also fully tiled with a drain in the center of the room, so it was easy to douse every surface with disinfecting cleanser and mop everything. That made the bathroom less terrifying in a purely physical way, but we could not help but notice that the hostility and dread was particularly palpable in the bathroom, even after a thorough magical and physical cleansing.
There was a small, poorly lit ramped hallway leading to the bathroom, and light bulbs over the sink, but the darkness in the bathroom felt like a consuming void. Even after we added a lamp and switched out the bulbs for the brightest bulbs we could find, the corners of the room remained dark in a way that was reminiscent of a horror movie. The energy was cloying and promised that horrible things could or would happen in those corners, like there was expectation of some dark, fearful creature waiting for the right moment to strike.
A thorough energetic cleansing of the whole shop space helped the workshop area in the back feel light and happy for a time, but it did not clear the malice in the bathroom, and as the days went by that malice once again seeped down the hall and out into the rest of the shop. It was so strong in the bathroom that forays into the bathroom were usually as fast as possible, and the malice would follow you back out. Successive cleansings were less and less effective, highlighting the need to address whatever was in the bathroom which was the root source of the malice and despair.
As my partner and I explored the details of what was going on, we found that there was a very male spirit in that bathroom. He appeared to be a developing hungry ghost, and the source of that overwhelming fear, despair, and anger. He was already powerful enough that he ate light like something out of a noir film, and his festering anguish caused him to grow more powerful and more hostile by the day.
Banishing him was not going to work. Attempting to do so would only feed his anger and hostility. He needed to be healed. He needed to be helped with moving on from this plane before his attachments and regrets caused him to become consumed with pure malice and jealousy, and he completely lost sight of the good things and underlying broken hopes and dreams and cares which he had once had. He needed help to be able to see that his existence was more than just whatever had happened to bind him in that space, and that another life and a different future was possible, even if the last go had ended in tragedy.
My partner and I set aside our work, in favor of the Work that needed to be done. It was important not just for our sanity and safety in that space, but also for the broken and battered spirit who was trapped within that bathroom. We could not ethically leave him there, in that condition.
We had no idea exactly what had caused him to become trapped there, nor exactly what trauma he had experienced, but we did not need to know those details to help him. We knew he was angry and in pain. We knew he had lost all hope, and that he was being consumed in a pit of despair and jealousy for those who still had life and hope. We knew that the malice he sent our way was a symptom of his hurt, and not an inherent part of who he was.
We used ritual and other witchcraft to directly reach out to him and acknowledge his pain. We gave him our sympathy and our compassion for whatever ills had trapped him there. We let him know that he was seen and understood, and not all alone in the universe. We acknowledged that his pain and anger and despair were all valid, and we reminded him that those feelings were not all there was to his existence. We reminded him that his existence had once been something else, and that it could be again. We assured him that those he missed would never see him again if he remained trapped here as a hungry ghost, but that they could be reunited on the other side. We opened the gates to the afterlife so that he could see a way forward, a way to heal and put his pain in the past where it belonged. Whatever had happened was done and gone, and nothing could be done to change it. All he could change was his future, and it still had the potential to be beautiful.
He left in sorrow, hope, and gratitude. He was still emotionally crushed by the traumas he had suffered, but he could see a way forward through that darkness and despair. The brightly lit path to the otherworld faded along with his presence in the space as his soul let go of this plane and the dreams he had once held so dear.
The bathroom and the hallway were immediately both brighter, and they felt bizarrely mundane in comparison to our experiences of the previous weeks.
A residual piece of spirit remained in the space for a time, but it did not carry the malice and jealousy which had previously characterized the whole spirit. This residual spirit instead felt protective, curious, had a vibrant sense of humor, and a bit of trickster energy to it. It also had a tendency to occupy the unused shop front, although it could at times be observed anywhere in the shop space. After a few days it rarely went into the bathroom.
For the rest of the time we were in that space my partner and I would give the residual spirit small offerings as we wished it well, and slowly it too began to fade.
Years later I ended up meeting a businesswoman who was renting the same shop space and had converted it into an art gallery. A few weeks later my partner and I dropped in to visit, see what she had done with the place, and investigate the energies currently found therein.
Unlike my friend, this business owner had completely remodeled the interior of the space, including knocking down the hallway which had previously led to the bathroom, and fully integrating the front and back of the shop as a larger single retail area. The entire space was well lit, clean, and cheerful, including the bathroom. There was no trace of the residual spirit, and my partner and I both had the impression that it had fully moved on to its next life.
My partner and I talked to the current business owner a bit about the history of the space, and she knew far more about it than my friend had ever mentioned. Apparently, the owner of the pawn shop had not simply gone out of business. No. One night when the pawn shop was open late he had been murdered, stabbed in the store front. He had drug himself down that dark hall and into the bathroom where he died, utterly alone in his pain and terror and regret and unfulfilled hopes and dreams.
My physical reasons for being in that shop space were ultimately unsuccessful, but I will never forget the most important thing that came out of being there. I will always be both sad and happy for that soul, and that despite the horror of how his life ended he was able to see a way forward to another life. I wish him all the happiness, love, and friendship in the world, and hopefully a more peaceful ending after a long and satisfying life.