Panic at the Boveda

A reader whom I'll call M wrote to me yesterday, somewhat alarmed after she read a warning in my last post about the possibility of things going wrong when working with the dead. She writes:

I live in Kansas and am Internet taught. I was really interested in the ATR's, but I think to truly join the religion I would have to relocate. It isn't my native culture. I'm not working off advice from my mother. It's just I was told that working with your ancestors is something you can never go wrong with. I may never wear collares or have a proper Eshu, but this, I thought, I could do. And I love my ancestors. I enjoy serving them and spending time with them.

Don't panic too much, my warning was mainly directed to those wishing to create spirit pots, spirit dolls, bundles and so forth for the dead. This is a somewhat more nuanced form of muerto work, during which things can in fact go wrong. Trickster spirits love containers. I mean they LOVE, containers. This does not make ancestor work absolutely dangerous, nor does it make it risk free. No spirit work is ever completely risk free. Ancestor work remains a beautiful and wonderful thing. You just need to work it simply at first if you are flying solo, and not get too wild and whacky with what you offer them or use to work with them.

You also need to take your own fledgling mediumistic impulses with a pinch of salt. You may think you 'know' that the spirits told you this or that but unless their presence has truly been established and settled you could just as easily be tuning into your own unconscious babble as you could be listening to some wandering trickster that wants you to feed it - and will then gladly take everything you give it, demand more and use the foothold to turn your life upside down. Unless you have access to another spiritist more senior in experience to yourself to verify these sorts of messages and guide you, its wise err on the side of caution.

This isn't fashionable to say in the DIY post-modern spiritual marketplace. It doesn't sell books and it doesn't stroke the ego of an audience convinced of its own proficiency at all things spiritual when in fact most modern westerners are basically handicapped in this area when compared to the least educated people in the third world, who live with this stuff as the fabric of their culture. 

One of my ideals, always, with this blog - small as it influence may be - is to avoid talking about these traditions in a way that dumbs them down so westerners can more easily consume them. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. One of the recent trends it seems is the notion that "you can't go wrong with the ancestors". Well you can go wrong with them. These are the spirits of the dead not potplants.

It doesn't mean we should be terrified by them. A healthy respect, informed practice and some education about how to do it right goes a long way, however. It may also save you some tears in the long run. In the mean time keep it very simple and go slowly. If you work sincerely with them in this way, I can guarantee you they will put your feet on the path and guide you to the right people who can support you in your spiritual development.

It's their job.


  1. Why did you link to my post about spirit pots with "dumb them down" and "consume"? Your links had to be added later, as I wrote the post after reading the first published draft of this one.

    I don't understand, my work is all about trying to take spiritual techniques that seem daunting and complicated and demonstrating that they aren't as unattainable as people like to think. It hasn't been a problem with you before that I knew of.

    I'm disappointed that you think I'm dumbing it down for consumption. I thought I was helping people understand a useful technique. You mentioned trickster spirits love containers, and I thought I'd share something ... useful. I didn't even talk about working with the dead, I was talking about spirits with seals that you conjure and get to know.

    This is a serious downer, man.

  2. R.O. your post was a response to my cautionary note about pots and the dead. It sounds like you are saying "don't worry, it's safe to build a pot for a muerto if you follow these three easy steps." And you do mention ancestor spirits along with genius loci, and what might be suitable containers for them.

    This is going to cause disastrous confusion. It already has caused confusion judging by the e-mails I am getting. People are going to try and build pots for the dead using the method you describe - which would highly inadvisable. Seriously.

    Secondly, the whole idea of spirit pots is drawn out of palo, santeria, espiritismo etc. Aaron Leitch established that idea and you have commented on that often. You may want to make spiritual techniques that are daunting accessible but this technique is taken from another living tradition with it own rigour and established knowledge system. Don't be surprised if initiates from these faiths critique your deployment of the their sacral technologies.

    For instance, contrary to what you say, you need to be exceedingly careful about the container you choose (especially second hand containers), and very careful about any and all dirt you put in there. Everything needs to be washed with a special omiero etc. Each major component of the pot needs to be divined for to confirm its inclusion is suitable. It just not as simple as you make it out to be. And you can potentially wreck someone's life with an ill-conceived pot.

    Even if you do import this to your tradition, surely you are going to pay at least some small degree of respect to these tradition's warnings and teachings about this technology? - and especially considering everyone admits that this idea has been taken straight out of the ATR's?

  3. Ahhh, I see what this is about. Thanks for explaining, I totally missed that whole thing there at first.