One of the things that really bothers me about the culture I live in is that so many people actually believe what they see in action, drama or horror movies is somehow true. This is especially a problem when it comes to encounters with spirits. These rather highly graphic and CGI enhanced images shape people’s expectations and how they perceive entities within the domain of spirit. The typical person that I have met doesn’t quite believe in God or necessarily goes to church regularly, but they do indeed believe in malevolent spirits, demons and perhaps even the Devil himself. How odd it is that someone could believe in spiritual evil but not believe in spiritual good, or in some kind of Deity. How indeed can one exist without the other?
I guess the perpetrator of all these strange assumptions and beliefs is Hollywood, which has produced a lot of horror and suspenseful movies about the Devil, demons and other evil entities. These themes have found their way into other media, too, such as video games, D&D, novels and anime. Don’t get me wrong, I love to be entertained by these various media, but I don’t allow such tropes to influence how I see the spiritual world. Coincidentally, these various movies and media have focused very little on the opposite forces of good, and the spiritual or magical power used to generate positive effects that would counter negative threats. That makes the threats seem overwhelming, and the means allotted to mere humanity to fight against them seem weak at best, or pathetic at worst. It all appears rather pessimistic to me, but then again, I just enjoy the stories and don’t try to use them to either explain occult truths or allow them to bleed into my perceptions of the real world.
Of course, as a Witch and a Pagan, I don’t subscribe to any kind of spiritually polarized or dualistic world view where the forces of good and light are arrayed against the forces of darkness and evil. In my opinion the world is quite neutral and so are the spirits that populate it. This is hardly the dramatic stuff of evil pitted against good as employed in Christianity, Islam, and to a lesser extent, Judaism. Yet you would think that people (of the Abrahamic faiths) who have been taught at least something in their respective places of worship would subscribe to the view that evil can be successfully combated by good. I suspect that cynicism is also playing a part, since the rich and powerful in our culture often seem to get away with committing heinous crimes while the lowly slob usually ends up heavily penalized. Add together the unhealthy qualities of political cynicism, post-modern Hollywood induced superstition, various conspiracy theories and a moderate disbelief in an active force for good and you have the special toxic cocktail of ignorance made to order for the rationally handicapped people of our post-modern age. I am glad that I am not one of those individuals so afflicted by our post-modern malaise (or so I think).
Needless to say, the three basic questions that everyone who would actually like to engage with spirits and spiritual beings without being paralyzed with fear are: how do we experience them, what do they look like, and in what world do they exist. I would like to take a moment to answer each of these questions separately and hopefully that will make things a lot more clear. These are good questions to consider whether one is an experienced magician, a beginner or someone not even trained in the magical arts.
How Do We Experience Spirits?
First and foremost, spirits are all around us and live in a domain that is coexistent and contiguous with our own. However, despite that proximity, nearly everyone can’t see them without some kind of special conditioning. A few rare individuals don’t need any preparation to see spirits, but they are usually highly gifted psychics, spiritual or magical masters, or acute psychotics. The rest of us, and that also includes myself, must perform specific meditations and trance techniques in order to shift our conscious mental states so we can perceive spiritual beings and even get a glimpse of their world. The necessity of acquiring a powerful altered state of consciousness in order to see spirits indicates that there is an excellent barrier between the domain of spirit and our mundane domain. It means that I can focus on something like my mundane job without being distracted or disturbed by some spiritual entity that, for whatever reason, wants my attention. It doesn’t mean that I am completely insensitive, but it does demonstrate that I can focus on mundane things unless something really critical or important enters my field of awareness.
Therefore, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for someone whose psychic sensitivities are always turned on. It must be highly distracting or perhaps even maddening if one weren’t able to turn it off and focus on other things. I have compartmentalized my world so that there is a time and a place for spiritual and magical workings, and there is a time and a place to function in the mundane sphere as well. The two typically don’t intersect, but when they do, there’s usually a very compelling reason for it. This allows me to function in both worlds without being overwhelmed by the differentiation or adversely afflicted by otherwise unseen forces and beings.
Why do I need to adopt a rigorous altered state of consciousness in order to perceive and communicate with spirits? The answer is quite simple. Spirits, if they have a material substance at all, are extremely subtle and not part of our normal perceptions of sight, hearing, smelling and touching. My theory is that spirits exist as beings embodied in pure consciousness, therefore, they don’t have any kind of physical body or at least none that we could scientifically measure. That means that spirits don’t occupy space and time the way that we do. They live in world that is also purely within consciousness, and that world is populated with all sorts of mythical creatures, deities and ghosts as well. I will talk more about this world when I answer the question about where spirits reside; but for this particular question, I can say that spirits are so subtle and nearly invisible to our senses that almost everyone will neither be able to sense or perceive them without aid.
The most sensitive and untrained psychic might feel a chill or sense something unusual when encountering a spirit, but otherwise, the rest of humanity walks around the common topography of their lives without sensing any spirits whatsoever. What most people believe about spirits and then when they claim to have encountered them are perhaps based on an almost imperceptible sensation that is amplified greatly by their imaginations. And that imperceptible sensation could be triggered by a natural phenomenon. Often our imaginations make up for what we really can’t see or perceive, and that makes many supposed supernatural experiences nothing more than just spurious interpretations of naturally occurring phenomena. It doesn’t mean that spiritual phenomena are non-existent, only that they exist in a highly rarefied world that is mostly imperceptible. It also means that human nature dislikes any kind of unknown or vague occurrence, and so it fills in the blanks making use of our a volatile imagination and our hardwired flight or fight instincts.
If what I am claiming seems to question or even invalidate what people typically declare as the basis of their beliefs in the supernatural and their encounters with spirits then why do I and most other occultists need to adopt an altered state of consciousness in order to be able to perceive and encounter spirits? Wouldn’t a naked perception of a spirit experienced by someone completely skeptical or untrained indicate that such a spirit has a physical reality that can be filmed, videotaped, or otherwise measured or captured using scientific tools? Even the most audacious reality TV show that claims to hunt and capture ghostly activity often comes up with nothing more than ultra-subtle evidence that could be just as readily interpreted as the results of a natural phenomenon. The extremely faint whisper, the bizarre reflection of light or even the strange air temperature fluctuation cannot be used to prove conclusively that ghosts exist as objective physical entities.
So, it would seem that very subtle cues are being interpreted by individuals who don’t have the training and experience to know a real manifestation from one that is spurious. Even the expert psychic or a trained occultist isn’t infallible when supposedly encountering spirits. Everything that is experienced regarding spirits and their domain must be rationally evaluated and examined in order to determine if it is real, and then, relevant. Even some of my experiences with spirits have proven to be valid occurrences but spurious because what was revealed by them was nonsense. This happens more often with earth-based spirits (like the spirits of the dead) rather than more evolved and intelligent beings. We must, as occultists, carefully examine and qualify any and all spiritual encounters to make certain that they are real, meaningful and significant.
After many decades of practice and engaging with spirits I might be able to easily slip into the altered state of consciousness needed to sense them without the lengthy or arduous process of meditation and trance induction, but often what I sense under these conditions is very subtle and indeterminate. Only when I perform the classic methodologies used to achieve the correct mental state, and confined in the sacred space of a temple or grove, will I be able to “see” and “hear” spirits without any doubt or the need to aggressively question and rationalize what I have perceived. What that means is that an impromptu adoption of this mental state outside of sacred space can cause me to misinterpret what I am sensing almost as readily as it does to the untrained. It means that even I am susceptible to the same subtle cues and sensations that might give other people the “creepy” feeling that something spiritual is active when in fact it is only a natural occurrence.
Let me give you an example from one of my many experiences over the decades with spirits. I was visiting two old cities in the southeast, namely Charleston and Savanah, some years ago and when I was wandering with the rest of the tourists around the old brick docks of the port of Savanah, I sensed something disturbing despite all of the distractions and people, sights and sounds. I felt sensations of fear, sadness, pain, anger and bitter remorse. It was just a feeling that came and went, and I couldn’t figure out why I felt those emotions, since they are not typical for me to experience. My lady and I went on the obligatory ghost tours in both of these towns, but all of the supposed tours visited the graveyards and antique homes of white people. Wouldn’t such a place be haunted by the ghosts of all of the slaves that lived and died in that place as well?
I briefly wondered about that and then forgot about it. Later on when we visited Tybee Island, we talked with a person who was studying to be a root doctor and he said that the old parts of Savanah were full of the ghosts of slaves, and that the ghost tours of white-only locations was a sham. I then remembered my strange emotions and sensations and told him about them, He concurred that I was probably picking up on the many ghosts of slaves who built the old town and the port area of Savanah, often suffering and even dying while they labored. The old town was built by the sweat, blood, tears and bitter suffering of black slaves, and it is likely that a real psychic would be able to sense that perturbation in a much more pronounced manner than that of the white privileged owners who gained immense wealth from their efforts. Did I sense the ghosts of departed slaves who were earth bound and seeking some kind of peaceful release denied to them over the centuries? I believe that I did sense them, but I have no concrete proof. I only had the brief sensations that seemed not have any kind of origin within me as a type of subject verification.
How does one assume the proper altered mental state to sense spirits and the spirit world? It is done through a medium level trance state inducted from a deep meditative state. The simplest method for assuming a trance state is to stare at a fixed point for a period of time, such as a Yantra, diagram, wall painting or anything that is stationary or cyclically oscillating. Thus, a revolving light or shining object can also be used. The subject performs this type of trance induction once a deep meditative state has been achieved after performing many minutes of assana, breath-control and mantram vibrations. You can find these techniques in many books on meditation and trance, or you can fully read chapter two of part two (starting at page 204) in my book “Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick.” The assumption of a moderate trance state is the foundational state that I use to sense and perceive spirits and their world.
What Do Spirits Look Like?
Here is where the imagination comes into play, since without it, the many spectacular visions of angels, demons, ghoulish ghosts and other kinds of spirits would be subtle and unremarkable occurrences. What this means is that without any embellishment of the mind a spirit will look like a transparent egg-shaped sphere of light. The color of that light varies, of course, depending on the quality and vibrational rate of the spirit’s conscious being; but this is hardly the stuff of myth or imagination. However, a spirit, when it is perceived and encountered by a human being, can and does assume different shapes in accordance with the expectations and the imagination of the seer. In other words, a spirit can project an image of itself in a completely imaginary form within the mind of the seer, and it can also speak and produce other phenomena (music, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, etc.), but all within the mind of the seer. This means that what is perceived by the observer can’t be captured by a video camera or other measuring device, since it is not an objective, physical reality. Not only can the observer sense the spirit, but also a good seer can see the world (or the specific occult symbolic context) in which the spirit resides.
An effective seer experiences a spirit as a fully immersed occurrence, which includes that specific entity and its domain. All sorts of visionary imaginings are triggered when encountering a spirit, and often powerful visions occur as well. If we expect to see a terrible and grotesque entity stinking of sulphur and brimstone when evoking a demon then that is what we will experience. Since magical practitioners of different spiritual persuasions experience the evocation of a spirit differently, and sometimes even radically different, then we can rationally assume that our expectations play a powerful role in what we experience. This is yet another indicator that spirits are not physical beings like us simply because of the variety of impressions and experiences that many magicians have had when evoking them.
It might even be said that magicians experience something unique when evoking spirits, and that no two such experiences of the same spirit are identical. Spirits reside entirely within the fields of consciousness so they can be perceived in a myriad of imaginary forms. I would suspect that even the egg-shaped point of light is imaginary, except that it has the precedence of accepted modern occultism to back it up.
So, what does a spirit look like to the apparent seer? It looks like whatever they think it should look like. That would at least inform the would-be magician to be quite clear and also careful with his or her expectations when planning an evocation. It wouldn’t do to get the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man when attempting to invoke the spirit of a demon or a revered spiritual ancestor.
In What World Do Spirits Reside?
As I have said, the domain of spirits is all around us and contiguous with our own world, except that we can’t normally see or perceive them, or for that matter, their world. Since I have proposed that spirits reside in a world that exists entirely within the domain of consciousness, then all we need to do in order to see them is to change our conscious state using some ecstatic technique. This is also how one would enter into their domain, and that ecstatic technique has been part of the magician’s repertoire since the days of the shaman.
Because the domain of spirit is entirely within consciousness, it has a completely symbolic quality to it. Basically, the spirit world, which I might add is contiguous with our own world, has three basic levels, and each level is populated by different kinds of spirits. These three worlds are also found in classical shamanism and therefore, represent a kind of fundamental representation of the human experience of consciousness itself. These worlds are the heavens, the underworld and the surface world (where we reside). Spanning these three worlds is a device that connects them, which could be seen as a tree, ladder, pole or stang, or similar bridging mechanism. Let’s quickly examine each of these worlds and speculate about the kinds of spirits to be found in each.
Spirits of the Heavens
This is the place of stars and planets as well as the celestial Gods of the sun, moon, wind, clouds and storms. It is also the place of winged spirits who appear as birds or even angels. When considering the three worlds of spirit we should keep in mind that it is all based on symbology that has only a small bearing on the real objective world. This view is based on our subjective experiences of the world and the inner psychic structures that these experiences create.
Even though science has explained all of the natural phenomena seen in the sky during the day and night, our subjective and mythic experiences are still real and valid, based as they are on our collective perceptions, beliefs and culturally determined conscious topography. We can still think about the “Man in the Moon” even though it is deemed by science to be an impossibility, it has stubbornly resisted scientific explanations and retained its mythic value in our culture. The same is true about the apparent constellations of stars, whose outlines represent merely our subjective perception and interpretation of stars and galaxies from our earthly vantage point. The spirits of the heavens have a more macrocosmic perspective, and so they are remote from the events and occurrence of human activity, of course, with exception of those who function as messengers or intermediaries.
Ritual magicians are interested in the spirits of the sky because of their ability to see things from a lofty vantage point, and they often are able to give excellent long term oracles and also understand the world from the vantage point of the cosmogonic cycle. What they are not particularly good at is giving concise oracles about individuals and short-term events, since that is something that a remote viewing would be unable to discern clearly.
Spirits of the Underworld
This is the place of darkness that lies under the surface of the earth, and so it symbolically represents all of the things associated with that domain. The spirits of this place are subject to the chthonic deities of the underworld and their intermediaries. The underworld is the place of our departed ancestors, both genetic and spiritual. Anyone who is dead and not trapped on the surface world is to be found in the underworld. However, the underworld is not confined to just a repository of death, darkness, coldness and things inimical to life. Indeed, the underworld is also the place of fertility, birth, a reservoir of the life-force, underground aquifers, streams and even rivers, as well as the treasures of gold, silver, gem stones and other precious or semi precious stones and metals. The underworld is also the well of souls to be born and the potential of everything that is manifested into physical form. Underground localities, such as caves, gorges, or man-made barrows and graveyards can represent symbolic and actual entrances to the underworld, but to engage with the spirits of the underworld only requires the right mental state and the ability to enter into the domain of darkness, death and rebirth.
As you can imagine, the spirits of the underworld are more intimate and relevant to our surface world than the spirits and deities that reside in the sky. If you want to acquire a material thing or objective, then the spirits of the underworld will be much more helpful and immediate in their aid than will the spirits in the sky. This is because the underworld is the true repository of everything material, including life itself, and it the place where everything that lives, returns. It is also the place where a ritual magician would go to learn about his or her specific destiny or about a short-term possibility. Oracles involving the dead and chthonic deities are often very specific and unambiguous, but they are less capable of perceiving the long term or the greater destiny of a people or a nation.
Spirits of the Surface World
The surface world is filled with spirits as well, and these are often associated with a specific places or geographic features. A large and unique looking tree, a lake, stream or river, hill or mountain, forest, fields, giant rocks - anything peculiar or interesting. It can be man-made, such as sacred locations (churches, temples, ancient ruins) or even villages, cities, town or massive urban locations, or it can a pristine natural and inaccessible location.
Spirits are everywhere in the surface world (and so are deities, yet not as populous), but they are mostly invisible to humans. Even so, it is easier to engage with spirits in remote locations than in the middle of large city, for the obvious reasons of distractions, noise and people. However, I have experienced spirits in a city late at night when distractions are at a minimum, and it was just as thrilling (and unnerving) as the same kind of experience in a natural setting. The spirits in such locations are quite different, since the location and the geographic context does have some influence on how such spirits appear and function, although the imagination does the real embelishing. There are also wandering ghosts on the surface world who have not found their peaceful place of repose (although they are more rare than some people would believe), and there are swarming numbers of entities that are associated with the confluence of geographic features, ley-lines and other kinds of grids, both natural and man-made.
Therefore, it is just as possible for a city shaman to engage with distorted human-created paramentals in an urban setting as it is for a hedge-witch to engage with nature spirits or to walk the ghost roads of the ancestors in some remote location. Either approach is similarly valid, and it represents the fact that spirits are uniformly everywhere. All we need to do is to develop the methods and techniques of being able to see and engage them. Out of that experience comes the structures and systems of the occult and the spirit matrices of practical ritual magick.
What this article informs us is that spirits are everywhere, and that they can assume a shape based on our expectations and beliefs. However, spirits are nearly impossible for most people to see, experience or in any wise engage; so for most of humanity they are the stuff of myth, media and religious belief and not particularly real. Only the preternatural psychic, trained occultist or acute psychotic can see and engage with spirits, and of these, only the first two are likely seeing what is really there.