Happy Halloween friends! Are you excited? I am! This is my most favourite holiday of the year! It’s a time of magick and mystery and monsters. It’s a time when anyone can be whomever or whatever they want and embrace that identity for one incredible night.
Last year for Halloween I talked about some of the witchy myths and pop culture legends that contribute to the image of the Halloween Witch – like black hats and eye of newt and flying broomsticks. This year I thought it would be fun to look at another type of magick that’s contributed to the modern witch or magickal practitioner – Mediums and Spiritualists. Not every spooky woman throughout history donned the black hat and lived ina cottage in the woods, some were highly educated European and American aristocrats who conducted séances in their extravagant salons for the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Abraham Lincoln. These days it’s common for those who practice witchcraft to also be psychics or mediums who can communicate with the dead, and vice versa, but this wasn’t always the case.
Spiritualism, and it’s younger and more open minded cousin Spiritism, was a popular Victorian religion that emphasized the beliefs in ghosts and spirits, and that it was possible to communicate with the spirits in the afterlife. Spiritualists believed, like many modern new age practitioners, that the spirit world is all around us, and that some spirits and ghosts become spirit guides and can offer wisdom from beyond the grave. Spiritism included the belief in reincarnation, and is still popular in Europe and south America.
Lots of spiritualists, as well as mediums and psychics, were women who still didn’t quite fit the image society has drawn up for them to live by. Many supported the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage, many remained unmarried or were “promiscuous” throughout their lifetime, and of course many were vilified and accused of fraud until official organizations were put in place to give them credibility. Many which were funded and began by men.
That’s not to say that they were all real! Many of them were frauds and snake oil salesmen, of course. Every generation of magickal cultures have their Miss Cleo. In fact Harry Houdini was one of the most famous people to accuse mediums and psychics of being fraudulent – but only because he was a true believer. After the death of his beloved mother, Houdini sought to communicate with her after death through popular mediums and spiritualists, and being trained in stage magic, he was able to catch things the average person couldn’t. From that point he made it his mission to expose the frauds, but was hopeful that communication between the dead and living was possible. Him and his wife, Bess, created a secret code that he would use to communicate with her after he died, and she held yearly séances for 10 years. When she finally blew out the candle that had been burning next to his photograph since he died, Bess is reputed to have said “10 years is long enough to wait for any man”. I respect that.
In my lifetime, the image of the séance shifted from the dimly lit elegant salons full of fainting women in corsets, to teenagers at a sleepover with a mass produced cardboard slab calling for ghosts to visit. Spiritualism and the idea that ghosts have something to offer and teach us, the living, is an idea we just can’t shake. Especially around Halloween when the veil between the worlds is said to be thin and the spirits of the dead are permitted a visit home.
First, Let’s be clear, spirit boards or Ouija boards – it’s a board game folks. You don’t need to be afraid, you don’t need to burn it or keep it under lock and key, and they don’t open some sort of weird portal in your home. They work much like tarot cards or pendulums, and you can even use your pendulum rather than the planchette provided. The board is really just a fun way for those who don’t have the psychic abilities to speak with spirits or ghosts or ancestors. So don’t freak out! I have a Ouija board in my home that some douche paranormal investigator retrieved from a supposedly haunted house and I love it. It’s from the 1980s and hella cheap and nothing about it makes me nervous or scared at all.
If you’re not familiar with psychic or paranormal phenomena, A séance is just a gathering of people who’ve come together to reach out to ghosts or spirits on the otherside. This is usually either facilitated by someone in the know like a medium or psychic, or with a Ouija board or pendulum or other divination tools.
Mediumship is a particular type of psychic ability that allows a person to actually communicate with spirits or ghosts who are not only walking the earth among us, but who have reached other areas of the afterlife. The other forms of psychic gifts supposed allow those with those gifts to either see, smell, feel, or hear spirits and ghosts who are earthbound – you know, just chillin. They might not have “passed on” or gong into the light or whatever for whatever reason. Some are here to keep watch over or guide the living, again for various reasons. According to my favourite medium, Allison, some spirits who have passed on also pay visits here to us.
A séance lead by an experienced medium is no doubt your best bet to having a really enlightening, not to mention spiritually safe, experience. But it’s not necessary, especially around Halloween. Here are a few tips to having your own séance or reaching out to your own spirit guides or ancestors.
🔮 Tip 1: Take it seriously but not too seriously. Like I said, don’t burn your beloved Ouija board after you use it or anything, but also don’t make fun of the process. Spirits and ghosts are being or even people just like you, and they deserve to be treated with respect. Treat the process with respect or reverence, but don’t be afraid to smile or crack a joke. If your great uncle irving was the practical jokester in your family and kept a rubber chicken in his pocket, he’s no doubt going be the same in death. Have a little fun!
🔮 Tip 2: Be wary of who you invite to your séance. I’m honestly more nervous about the kind of energy some other people project than I am about ghosts! Keep the group relatively small, especially if you have little to no experience, and if anyone gives you bad vibes calmly ask them to leave. You don’t need someone trying to get ahold of the ghost of jack the ripper right along with aunt mabel, the first woman in your family to go to college.
🔮 Tip 3: Treat it like magick. IT IS. I don’t care what you call it, paranormal science is the science of magickal and unexplainable things. Ghosts are magick. So do the same things you would do when you perform magick rituals! Light your candles, cast protection, maybe grab appropriate crystals, burn herbs and incense, and wear your protective talismans. Align your chakras and ground, do yoga, say prayers, or meditate. This is just like any other psychic exercise, and you need to be able to connect, spiritually.
🔮 Tip 4: Encourage others to share their experiences, and feel whatever they’re feeling. Be prepared man, you’re going to need some tissues. If you end up contacting spirits, someone is going to cry. Let it happen. Let them get their feelings out, and encourage anyone who experiences someone to share it. You might find out you have someone in this group with hidden mediumship abilities, or discover a long-buried past life, or get some emotional closure after the death of a loved one.
🔮 Tip 5: Sweeten the deal. Take a cue from Day of the Dead traditions and offer a reason for spirits to visit you, or a way to find you. Pour out some libations for your guests, put some sweet food or bread, burn copal and rosemary incense to guide them and honour them. If you’re reaching out to someone specific put out their favourite treat, play their favourite song, and put out their favourite item from life. Afterwards you can put what’s left on your altar if you have one, or put it outside for nature to grab it. If you’re near a crossroads, depositing it there would be extra perfect.
🔮 Tip 6: Don’t read some archaic latin incantation from a mysterious and dusty tome. I mean, we’ve all seen Beetlejuice. First of all, working with spells and incantations in other languages you don’t speak is just bad news. You have no idea what you’re saying or any of the original intent behind those words. Say something from the heart. Stick to something simple, something personal, and something you can really feel. A little bit of ceremony like filling the room with candles is cool, but don’t turn it into a performance.
🔮 Tip 7: Remember to say goodbye. Honestly, this is just good manners. You’re not opening some portal you can’t close if you have a séance or use a Ouija board, but if you’re not someone who maintains contact with the dead in life it’s a good idea to make that clear. Mediums have their own set of boundaries to help keep them separate and get them privacy from spirits in their waking life, and if you should do some of the same. Be grateful and thank any spirits or ghosts for their time, and politely ask them to leave and to respect your own boundaries. If you enjoyed your experience, you can even say that if you’d like to communicate with them, you’ll initiate it in the same way. Hopefully this will keep anyone from getting attached or thinking you’re someone they can come to for help or friendship on a regular basis. I think being a ghost is probably a bit lonely sometimes and that lots are on the hunt for open minded people who can actually talk to them.
If you’re looking for a specific spell or method for spirit communication outside of things like the ouija or a pendulum, consider the Black and White Skull Spirit Communication Spell by Jacki Smith on page 92 of Coventry Magic.
Every month in my private group, the Witch n’ Bitch, I choose a magick herb and crystal to feature and work with for the month, and for October I chose Mullein and Malachite. I had so much fun researching them and creating a spell for the group, I decided to share them on the blog and feature them here on this Halloween podcast. Last Halloween I spoke about Eye of Newt and Emerald, two herbs that are ingrained in the overall image of the Halloween witch – thanks to Macbeth and the wizard of Oz. Mullein and Malachite on the other hand are all about the world of the dead, and the journey across the veil.
The overall theme for this year’s halloween episode is Victorian Spiritualism, and I was inspired after reading this collection of spooky stories of Victorian era occult and supernatural detectives. I cannot recommend it enough!
I did some research into ‘the veil between the worlds’ a while back. Not a single example of a pre-Victorian use.
— Adrian Bott (@Cavalorn) October 30, 2017
If you’re interested in learning other ways that Victorian Spiritualism has influenced the modern New Age and Witchy movement, check out this super interesting thread on twitter about the term “the veil between the worlds”, which I use a lot in this episode!
I hope you all have a wonderfully safe and SPOOOOOoooooOOOooooKYyyyyy Halloween or Samhain!