The Craft of the Dead

Everyone is entitled to work with their dead. If you have ancestors, you have a network of potentially powerful spirits who care about you and are willing to get involved with you spiritually, in one capacity or another. However, don't be too easily fooled. Even though these are our relatives, ancestral spirits can get pernicious, moody and mischievous. In our daily lives our relatives often cause us the most stress and anxiety, and this can also be mirrored in the spirit world - just as the support and unconditional love we receive from them is. They can test us with trials. Occultists have a tendency to believe you can dial up spirits the way you dial up pizza delivery, expecting that they will arrive in a friendly, efficient and service oriented fashion. Not so with the ancestral forces.

The reason that the muerto (dead) can be so powerful is because people who work them well - with wisdom and skill - take the time to establish them and strengthen their influence gradually. Most of an espiritista's work is in the cultivation of this foundation by; feeding them; listening to them and then following their instructions carefully; elevating them in services; assembling spirit containers; creating spirit dolls; crafting bundles and other items through which they express their power in structured ways. In this manner the dead begin to take on a tangible and respectful presence in our world. We help give them form once more just as they help give us luck, prosperity and protection. We continually fine tune that process with increasing subtlety and precision. This is the true craft of a muertero - one who passes the spirits.

It's a highly individualised and creative process too, and this is because each muerto is has their own peculiarities. As such we need to be ready to get your hands dirty - to make things; to sew, bead, paint and carve. Yet, this is more than an eccentric craft project because it holds some true spiritual peril too. A wrong move, one cavalier blunder in the early stages of this kind of work and unwanted or outright malign forces could find a foothold in our lives, bringing a destabilising knock - derailing the entire process. And this will cause major havoc in our lives, to say the least.

Above all it is a timely, organic process. A true craft in every sense of the word.

Many assume once you have made contact, that's it, an ancestral spirit is 'here' and ready to work. But really, getting in touch is only the first step. They need time and disciplined cultivation to really start coming through manageably. Their range of influence needs be brought into the world gently at first and then rooted artfully.

As Don Azito likes to say, "we need to clean them up".

Whenever he says this to someone I can't help but picture a ragtag bunch of folks out in the astral. People dressed in old clothes, dusty, rendered in sepia tones like an old photo - all a little confused as if they have wandered forgetful in a strange dream for too long. Then once we start working them, they gradually begin to brighten up, colour returns to their forms, cheer to their faces and a sparkle to their eyes as they begin to remember...

Otherwise it can get a little crazy. A spiritual cacophony as some try to push and shove to the front, and begin 'helping' in ways that really isn't all that helpful at all. Or demand to be heard when they don't have much to say just yet. It's seems odd to say but we need to 'train' the dead.

The good news is, it can be done.

This is why we work consciously at first by elevating them and calming them, before we make demands. The water we offer on the boveda is a medium through which they express, a kind of conductor fluid, sure. But also, and very importantly, it is there too cool them and refresh them. We pray for them, we enlighten them, we soothe them, and by illuminating them in this way their relationship to us and each other becomes harmonised and increasingly structured and workable. The more reliable spirits in our quadro espiritual (spiritual framework) start taking charge of the others and acting as a conduit for the totality of the ancestral forces. The more 'civilised' spirits then start 'bringing in' the wilder, and more tangibly powerful ones, once things are stable enough to do so. These 'leader' spirits - whom we systematically identify and propitiate - begin acting as intermediaries who are able to integrate the 'hotter' ancestral forces in a good, and useful way.

In a very real sense we are weaving a living spiritual architecture, a constellation of discarnate intelligence  whom are all interacting with each other in precise ways to, ideally, bring forth a unified and balanced necromantic ecosystem. On another more subjective metaphysical level it can be argued that we are aligning our own personal energetic framework, that interior dimension; finely calibrating and optimising the very core of our own psycho-cosmic identity using its most primal building blocks - our spiritual genetics.

Once a sane vehicle is built for that journey, the wilder forces in the ancestral matrix can begin finding constructive expression in our work, and can be fed those 'hot' substances that get the dead moving...

In this way we pave a road for them to pass into our world. A road that is both secure and reliable. And so the true miracles can happen...

we are the stars which sing
we sing with our light;
we are the birds of fire,
we fly over the sky.
our light is a voice;
we make a road for the spirit to pass over

{algonquian indian song}


  1. Quoting dead can dance who in turn quote the indian song in a blogpost about the dead.

    You just made my night :)

  2. Well spotted Chris! Of course I just couldn't resist putting an oblique Dead can Dance reference into a post about the Dead. Ha! Only the most devoted Dead Can Dance heads would be able to spot it, I thought. :-)

  3. What would be a wrong move? I haven't heard any such warnings, so I hope I'm not making mistakes in my practice.

  4. A wrong move would be to inadvertently draw a malign entity into your ancestral work before your ancestors are even established. They hang around and can, and will, take up residence in spirit containers, dolls, pictures etc, that have not been prepared properly, by the hasty and over zealous. These spirits want the feeding and form too. Once they get foothold they can cause total havoc. Which is why I emphasise a gradual process in this post. Start very, very simple.

    I'm not saying this because I want to scare people with the boogyman, but because I have personally seen what happens when muerto work goes off the rails. It's a spiritual mess that get you into a very uncomfortable place.

    This is common knowledge in the ATRs, if you haven't heard the warnings its because you probably have not been talking to the right people...

  5. Have you read Martin Coleman's book "Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy"? If so, what's your opinion of it? Thanks.


  6. Spiritchaser is one of my favorite albums. I just discovered your blog and am finding it really interesting and substantial--thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences. Wondering what might be absolute step #1 for one who wants to connect and work with his or her ancestors. Would it be to create an altar space and a bowl of water?

  7. @William: Yes, a white table cloth and a goblet of water is the basic set up. Some place an adorned wooden cross hanging into the water. You can also place a prayer book on the altar and white candles, and white flowers. Be very modest with the set up at first - it's quite potent just like that. It's minimalism creates a 'blank screen' for the spirits to come through on to, you might say... Good luck with your ancestor service and Luz!

  8. Correction: an unadorned wooden cross is the tradition. In other words - no Christ on the cross. The exception being when one hangs a rosary's cross into the water - a common 'travelling' boveda technique round these parts ;)

  9. I know this post is old, but I just wanted to mention something that may or may not interest you:

    I'm a Mormon interested in the Occult. Within Mormonism, the practice of doing one's family history is considered a religious calling. Many feel that their ancestors guide them as they do their family history work. Being visited by one's ancestors is a considered a normal experience in Mormonism.

    I mention this because some here who are trying to find their ancestors may be interested in visiting a free online service provided by the Mormon Church: new.familysearch.org

  10. Hi Curtis, thanks for this interesting point about Mormonism. I had no idea that Mormons incorporated a form of ancestral veneration into their religious practice. Fascinating.