Notes on Spirit Work

From my experience, when a human being dies and his or her spirit lingers, that spirit retains its personality, memories, and ability to reason. Depending on how you accept that ghosts (human remnants specifically) become earthbound, this retention of a large portion of who and what they were in life is a fundamental characteristic of lingering human spirits. There are phenomenon labeled as ghosts which are not human spirits. These can manifest as an apparition of a person, as a sense of their presence, the sound of their voice, even the scent of their perfume. In some rare cases, these manifestations will involve all of these things. The manifestations are not necessarily static. Quite typically, they repeat a specific series of actions, over and over again. The vast majority of manifestations witnessed on the field of Gettysburg fall into this category.

These manifestations are what I’ve called “memory ghosts.” They are an imprint or an echo that has been stamped upon the energy of the subtle reality. They are almost always the product of a highly emotional situation or event: a murder, a battle, a suicide. They have all the sentience and free will of an image projected onto a screen. They repeat the seem actions endlessly because they are nothing more than a recording on infinite repeat. As the energy that made the impression fades over time, the repetitions can fade or cease altogether. But the spirit of the actual person who generated the energy to create this effect is long, long gone.

Some constructs exist that might be perceived as ghosts. The most famous example of this is one given by John Keel in The Mothman Prophecies (now a completely inaccurate motion picture!). There is a house in Greenwich Village where residents kept seeing a figure in dark clothes, a flowing cape, and a wide-brimmed slouch hat stalking through the corridors. The face of the figure was always indistinct, but some said it had a very piercing, intense gaze. This apparition was seen numerous times by a succession of people. Concluding that the house was haunted, the history of the house was researched, but it seemed that no one had ever died in the residence (I could go on my rant about how everyone seems to think that someone has to have died in a house in order for their spirit to haunt it — suffice it to say that it just ain’t so). Someone came up with the theory that this figure was the ghost of a Civil War soldier or even a spy — it projected a sneaking, almost sinister air about it to those who perceived it.

After coming up with dead-ends on the identity of this mysterious figure, someone learned that the house had once been the residence of a rather prolific writer by the name of Walter Gibson. Gibson had spent some of his most productive years in the house, turning out page after page in a series which revolved around one specific character. The character was The Shadow — “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows … “ as the old radio show used to go.

It just so happens that the Shadow stalked around in dark clothes with a muffled face, a flowing cape, and a wide-brimmed slouch hat. The “ghost” in the Greenwich Village house was a construct birthed by Gibson’s fertile imagination and all the energy he put into the form as he worked on his series of tales.

So this brings us back to real, legitimate ghosts. Once again, I define “ghost” as the spiritual remains of a human being who has died and lingered here as opposed to moving on to whatever version of the Afterlife exists beyond this place (The Tibetan Book of the Dead offers some good insights into this, and I’d have to say my own views on the whole process are largely in keeping with that of the Tibetans). These spirits are just like people — except they no longer wear flesh. As such, they can lie just like people do; they can have agendas just like people do; and they can be varying shades of beneficial and malevolent just like people are.

It’s a common belief, propagated mainly through Medieval necromantic traditions, that ghosts, once they’ve crossed over, become omniscient. This is the root of necromancy being a diviniatory technique. It was beleived that the dead were privy to all manner of knowledge and secrets that were obscured from the living by the veil separating the living from the dead. But this belief in the omniscience of spirits is just another misconception that’s grown out of the mystique living people tend to apply to the dead. In my experience, while their perceptions from that side of things are different, they are not omniscient by any means. They do tend to be more empathic/telepathic than your average incarnated human, but this is mainly because they exist on the level of pure energy and all communication and/or interaction occurs on this level.

Energy does sustain them. However, they are perfectly capable of taking it for themselves. When you are alive, you are both spirit and matter — and just as your physical body sustains itself with food and water and air, your subtle body sustains itself with the energy from the world around you. Some of this energy is in the food you eat; some of it is exchanged with the environment through the process of breathing (hence the layered meaning of breath/life/spirit with such words as prana, chi, and even the Swahili roho); and some is gained through more subtle means (we can get into the ramifications this has on the reality of vampirism in another thread). For the most part, a living being’s interaction with and intake of energy occurs on the same unconscious and instinctual level as breathing — you don’t need to know the mechanics of it or even what muscles you’re flexing in order to do it — it’s hard-wired into the organism. Survival’s great that way.

The ability to take in sustaining energy (and expel energetic byproduct) is similarly a natural process for the spirits of the dead. However, there is usually a slightly more active element involved. Consider energy the food of the dead. You don’t eat a hamburger just by thinking about it. So it is with the spirits — they do have to actively forage for their “food” although it’s not necessary for them to consciously understand the whole process by which they eat and digest it (consider how many embodied beings would be in trouble if we had to understand the mechanics of physical digestion just to gain any benefit from our regular meals).

Spirits certainly appreciate gifts of energy — and this is one way I have of thanking them for a service rendered. Think of all the funerary systems the world over that leave food offerings to the dead while acnowledging that the food itself serves as a symbol for the subtle nourishment that the spirits derive from such sacrifice. However, if you’re working with spirits, don’t let them feed off of you without restraint. There’s no reason for this. Set guidelines and groundrules for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Make sure the spirits know that these don’t apply only to you, or else you may have visitors to your home complaining of being tired all the time. Be very clear that the spirits you work with are to take energy that is offered willingly only — and if they start breaking this cardinal rule, make certain there are consequences.

As for what use a human spirit can be put to? You can sit around and talk to it — I find some of them vastly entertaining. They can be put to work as house guardians. This runs much along the same lines as creating a construct to do that job — except most constructs have a limited intellect and frequently can only do what they’ve been programmed to do. A human spirit is just like having another person in the house, but someone who can watch it from the otherside. They can think, reason, make judgement calls on what to do, etc.,

Summoning any other sort of entity for this work yields about the same results — it’s just that some entities don’t operate on remotely human principles, and so their behavior & reactions are harder to predict. I suppose I like the predictability of human spirits — with a good grasp of human psychology, it’s pretty easy to know what they want, how to make them happy, and how to get them to do a job for you. The other benefit is you’re working with something that you can meet on equal terms. Unlike a lot of others who work with spirits, I prefer not to bind or compel otherworldly entities. Constructs, as created things, are a little too much like servants or slaves to me, and bound entities are worse. So I prefer working with spirits that I can relate to as friends, companions, and equals, which means the vast majority of the disembodied I work with wore human flesh at some point in their existence.

Spirit-Chasers: Dispelling Unwanted Entities

Every culture the world over has had traditional tools and objects intended to protect the living from unwanted the spirits. You might think that the dead, once they were finished with their lives, would move on and not bother with the living. However, especially among less modernized cultures, the dead were perceived as being very jealous of the living. Thus, on nights when the wall between the worlds grew thin, such as Samhain, it was believed that the dead would return to their living relatives and attempt to feed on their vitality or to steal them away altogether in order to join them on the otherside. When there was no immediate family for the dead to prey upon, it was believed that any living person would do.

In addition to the dead, there were all manner of other spirits and entities active on the otherside. As an old Scottish prayer specifies: “From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night – good Lord deliver us!” All of these were thought to hover, just beyond our ordinary reality, waiting for a chance to attack, play tricks on, or otherwise annoy human beings. For these reasons, cultures around the world developed many techniques and tools for driving unwanted spirits away.

Gargoyles and Grotesques

Many items functioned on the notion of chasing spirits away by scaring them. For some reason, living people, who find spirits frightening and often depict them as malformed and hideous, seem to think that making things with hideous faces on them will in turn frighten away these unwanted spirits. Tribal masks from the Innuits to the various African peoples demonstrate this notion very nicely, with their distended faces, enlarged mouths, and protuberant eyes. Similar masks used to frighten away evil spirits can also be found among a number of primitive Asian cultures, with quite a few of these recently finding a receptive market here in the West as decorative pieces.

The jack o’ lantern, such a common sight in the United States around Halloween, also functions on this principle. Originally used in Ireland (and made out of a potato or turnip before it was ever carved from a pumpkin), the jack o’lantern was placed outside of a family’s home with the hope that its hideous face, lit by a candle from within, would frighten the spirits away. The gargoyles and grotesques on old churches also served the same purpose, although I have heard it argued that they were actually intended to impress upon the living attendants of those churches just how ugly and frightening the spirits of evil could be.

I have found that a grotesque, be it a gargoyle or other mask, functions very nicely as a guardian over a doorway. You may coax a spirit to inhabit the item, or you may work an energetic construct into the item with the specific intent of using it as a guard. Either way, placing this object just over a door has the effect of scaring lesser entities away. Think of the item as a sort of keeper of the threshold, and remember to charge it with energy and intent fairly regularly to maintain its function.


Another spirit-chasing item that the old churches employed were bells. Like masks and grotesques, the use of bells to clear the air of negative energies and to scare spirits away crosses the boundaries of culture and time. In the Catholic Mass, for example, when the host is solemnly raised for the moment of transubstantiation, a small set of four bells is often rung by one of the altar boys. This ritualistic ringing is only partially meant to draw attention to the mystery unfolding within the priest’s hands. The high chiming tone of the bells, ringing throughout the silent church, was at one time also intended to chase off any unwanted spirits from the place. Furthermore, it was a common belief in the British Isles that the sounding of church bells would drive faeries away.
A lot of folk-beliefs are founded on some grain of truth, although in many cases that truth has become greatly distorted. For example, the ringing of church bells was believed to keep faeries away because it was a sanctified and holy sound. Since the fey weren’t part of the Christian belief system, the Medieval Church automatically identified them as “evil” spirits, in league with Satan. Therefore, anything that was holy or blessed by the Church was believed to repel the fey.

In Eastern countries where bells were employed to ward off spirits, the effectiveness had little to do with what god was in charge and more to do with the actual tone of the bells. The vibrations of the bells were thought to clear negative energies and to disrupt the energy of spirits. From many personal experiences, I am inclined to agree that it is the sound of the bells – very specifically their vibration and resonance — which has the greatest impact on clearing energies and chasing spirits away. To clear energy, a resonant, deep-throated bell seems to work best, while for most spirits, bells with high frequencies or a slightly dissonant tone seem to irritate them and drive them away.


Drums, cymbals, and other percussion instruments are also thought to work along the same lines as bells. Typically, the loud and dissonant playing of percussion and other instruments is used to chase spirits from an area. By this reasoning, the claims of some conservative Christians that heavy metal music is used to summon demons might be completely off base. Instead, such ear-splitting tunes blasted at loud decibels is much more likely to disrupt spiritual energies and send entities packing.

Rhythmic drumming is used by shamans to aid them in achieving an altered state for working with spirits and with the dead, so be certain not to get confused. Generally, for the effect of chasing spirits away, the sounds you make on drums and other percussion instruments should be disruptive and unpleasant. As with many other spirit-chasers, this functions on the logic that if it makes your mother-in-law want to flee from the room, it will likely chase away any other nasty entity that’s out there.

Tibetan Ritual Tools

The Tibetans, who had a highly evolved spiritual “science” before the Chinese invaded and drove them out of their land, had developed a number of tools for driving off unwanted spirits. The phurba, a three-edged ritual blade popularized by the late nineties movie “The Shadow”, was used when dealing with spirits. The three edges of the blade are supposed to cut on the physical side, the spiritual side, and the spaces between. Similarly, the three faces of the traditional phurba, their countenances distorted in demonic fury, are supposed to scare spirits away, once again hitting every possible angle between spirit and solid realities.

The phurba is also used to “nail down” spirits so they may be dealt with in other ways. This can be helpful when binding spirits so they do not get away, and it can be helpful when performing a more involved attack intended to weaken a spirit to the point that it will be rendered incapable of doing harm for a very long while.

In addition to the phurba, another ritual blade, known as the dargu, is intended to cut spiritual attachments. This is the sacred blade of the dakinis, the feminine embodiments of the peaceful and wrathful deities. While the dargu is intended to sever the attachments a soul may have for things in this life, I have found that this blade works nicely for severing the links that some entities will forge to attach themselves to people in the here and now.

Another Tibetan tool, the dorje, is a symbolic representation of a lightning bolt. This item, often used in conjunction with a bell, amplifies the energy of the person holding it and can be used to great effect in clearing the energy of a room. Two dorjes forged together make a kind of four-spoked wheel and while this item can be cumbersome to hold, it is a very potent tool for amplifying and spreading out the wielder’s energy. Thus, a double-dorje, when energy is focused through it, can be used to clear out the stagnant and blocked energy over a wide area in a ritual space or other room.


A very popular Native American device, the dream-catcher, has gained widespread usage in recent years. Originally woven of sinew within a circle of wood or vines, the dream-catcher is symbolic of a spider web. Typically, there is a small, polished stone suspended from the web at some point within its design. This stone is said to represent Grandmother Spider, a Native American goddess of wisdom who watchers over any who use her dream-catchers.

The purpose of a dream-catcher is to capture nightmares while allowing good dreams to pass through the spaces between the web. Dream-catchers are traditionally placed on the walls just over the head of the bed, where they are supposed to encourage restful sleep. In recent times, dream-catchers are employed to capture any manner of negative energies, while presumably allowing more positive forces to pass through the web.


Just as the nasty-looking faces of gargoyles and grotesques were thought to drive spirits away, so, too, were nasty-smelling substances thought to repel visitors from the otherside. This is where we get the tradition that garlic can keep vampires away. Garlic has a strong and very pungent odor, and if one is wearing a string of garlic around their neck, it is likely to keep not only vampires, but also friends, family members, and perfect strangers at a safe distance.

Moving beyond garlic, there are a number of incenses that were traditionally burned to dispel spirits and drive them from a place. The ancient practice of fumigation, that is, filling a room up with a thick cloud of pungent smoke, was used to dispel negative energies as well as physical pests and vermin from a home. Fumitory is one incense that was traditionally used for this, as was the herb asafoetida. The word “fetid” is part of the root for “asafoetida” and this is very apt, for the herb has an exceptionally strong and amazingly unpleasant odor. Although it is employed in some forms of Indian cooking, asafoetida, in my book, is best reserved for exorcism, and even then, it should only be employed when a situation calls for the “big guns”.

Other incenses often used to purge energies and to exorcise spirits include frankincense, dragon’s blood, and myrrh. All of these have a more pleasant odor, and will probably not have the effect of driving you from the room along with the spirits.


Nearly every religion and spiritual tradition recognizes the purifying qualities of fire. Returning to Medieval days, peasants would erect huge bonfires, called “need-fires” in times of calamity, especially during outbreaks of plague. The fire was allowed to blaze up, and when it had burned down a little, sheep and cattle were driven through the smoldering coals. This was thought to burn away any harmful magicks or negative forces that were causing the plague.

In a ritual setting, fire can be used to dispel unwanted forces from a person or from a place. If the name or sigil of a spirit is known (especially if it is something you have called up yourself), this spirit can be dispelled by inscribing this on a piece of paper and committing it to the flames. As the name or sigil is burned to ash, the spirit is banished.

Spirits, Incarnation and Between Lives

In some belief systems, there are spiritual immortals. These are individuals who have attained a level of spiritual cultivation and soul-awareness that allows them to direct their own rebirths while maintaining a constant thread of personality and memory across their lives. Such individuals not only have a clear recollection of the past lives they have led, but they also have memories of the time spent in between lives. These between-life memories can provide significant insight into the evolution of the soul, the nature of spirits, and the very process of incarnation.

As a Kheprian, I come from a tradition of spiritual immortals. And while I wouldn’t say this makes me automatically “enlightened” or even spiritually superior to others, it certainly has given me a lot of knowledge about the wheel of death and rebirth.


The concept of incarnation is pretty simple. When we are incarnated, we are both body and soul, united into one being. The process of incarnation, however, is relatively complex. There is an intricate interaction between our physical bodies and our subtle bodies that allows for incarnation. This interaction is based on the proper integration of our subtle body structure with our physical body structure. There is a delicate interplay between energy channels and nerves, chakras and organs, and the vital energy which passes between the two.

Integration between the subtle and physical bodies can start at the moment of conception. A great deal of integration occurs throughout gestation, but even after birth, the brain and nervous system are not properly developed. The soul frequently is not fixed completely in the body at this point and will not be until the nervous system has finished developing. The body is hardly without a soul during this final “setting” of the incarnation; instead, it extends around and beyond the physical body, but still rooted to the physical form.

Generally, the process of integration is complete by the age of three, and it is at this time that the soul really becomes fixed in the current life-time. This is one of the main reasons children beneath the age of four often have vivid past-life recall. Until the soul is firmly entrenched in the current life, it will retain its awareness of its previous selves. Once the child is caught up in the here-and-now, these memories settle to the unconscious mind and become as distant dreams.

Problems with Incarnation

If something in the subtle body fails to integrate properly with the concurrent physical structure, various problems can occur. Typically, these result in miscarriage, but if the pregnancy is carried to term and the integration is flawed or incomplete, various birth defects and neurological disorders can occur, and these are carried with the individual for the duration of that life.

Several factors can hinder the process of integration that is necessary for incarnation. One of these is soul-origin, and the other is damage to the subtle body. Both hinge upon the effective “shape” of the subtle body, and its ability to link up to key points throughout the physical form.

Soul-origin is relatively self-explanatory. Given that the soul is immortal and that races and even worlds die and are lost over time, not all of the souls incarnated among humanity are precisely human. Although it could be argued that a soul should not have a “race” any more than it should have a gender, some souls seem to cling to favorite forms. The difficulty in this is that not all of these forms are compatible with incarnation into a human physical structure.

As a hypothetical example, let us suppose that a being spent many, many lifetimes as a something akin to a Hindu god. This being was relatively human, but operated on a higher energetic level, and in addition, it had many more than two arms. For some reason, this soul now attempts to incarnate among humanity. Its subtle body, however, is accustomed to linking up with energy centers and pathways throughout 8 upper limbs. A human, of course, only has two. The soul then, in order to incarnate, has to contort itself in some fashion to fit all of the necessary subtle connections into the limits of the physical form. And even so, it may still have some sense of those “phantom” limbs.

Some soul-forms integrate better than others into humanity. For a few, the task is nigh impossible. And again, if the integration is flawed or incomplete, such as if crucial connections somehow get crossed, then the attempt will result in either miscarriage or undesirable birth defects. Even when successful, the integration of a very different soul into a human body can leave the individual with a sense of not feeling quite comfortable in their skin. And, supposing they have no conscious memory of what they were in the past, they may suffer their entire lives from an indefinable longing for a humanly impossible form.

Subtle body damage is typically the result of an exceptionally brutal, traumatic death, or a death that lingered over a long period of time. A quick death, even from violence, rarely does damage to anything but the physical shell. Some types of damage are still so severe that they cut across physical and subtle forms, leaving the soul wounded even in the between-lives.

Torture and extremely violent or painful deaths can often result in subtle body damage. Long and drawn out wasting illnesses also cause damage, as they slowly eat away at an individual’s strength, energy, and will. It is my opinion that prolonged periods spent in insensible states while the body is kept alive through life support can do massive damage to the subtle body by wearing away at it a bit at a time. Illnesses whose cures are more torturous than the deaths they cause, such as cancer, can also do lasting damage, because of the stress and trauma the treatments ordinarily put the victims through.

Someone also can be killed with the intent of damaging the subtle body so as to prevent or delay incarnation. Very few beings remain who know how to do this, however, and it’s a much rarer cause of such damage now than in ages past.


When we die, our physical body and our subtle body separate. The physical body, bereft of what kept it animated in the first place, becomes just an empty shell which then rots away. The subtle body, the true seat of the soul, continues on, only now it lacks the component that allows it to interact with the physical world. Instead, it exists completely on the subtle level. The subtle reality is perceptible to physical beings because they exist in both realms. The spiritual half of the world we know is perceptible to the disincarnate, and it is on this level of pure energy which they must interact once they have gone beyond their bodies.

Most souls incarnate again after the death of their physical bodies. The process of reincarnation can happen almost immediately upon the death of the body, or the soul may choose to wait a while for the proper circumstances to come together for the best birth it can achieve. “A while” is a very relative term, of course, because time as we experience it does not exist on the Otherside. Even if they are ready to, not all souls incarnate after dying. Some are caught between death and rebirth, and most of the spirits we perceive as ghosts are made up of these souls caught between incarnations on the Otherside.

Between Lives

Souls can be between lives for many reasons. Sometimes a soul gets confused about its death and it cannot seem to let go of its last incarnation. It has a lot of unresolved issues, and it tends to hang around the people and places that were important to it in that life. A soul in this situation is what we most commonly understand to be a ghost. If it is perceived, it is often perceived as a shadow of the person it once was, and it will retain its personality, memory, and motivations from that life. It can be so stuck in the former life that it does not even really have access to its Higher Self, something which ordinarily occurs once a soul has been separated from its body.

Souls that are ghosts are actually stuck in the transition stage from life to life. They are often blind to the fact that they are dead, or if they are aware of being on the Otherside, they care more about getting back to what they once were than they do about moving on. Only a small percentage of souls become ghosts, and it really depends on how traumatic their life or death was, and how well they approached the act of letting go once they did die.

Other souls are on the Otherside because they either do not want to incarnate again right away or some damage was done to their subtle bodies so that incarnation will be difficult or impossible until the damage heals. Spiritual attacks that occur on the Otherside can cause this kind of subtle body damage, but more often it’s the result of particularly traumatic damage to the physical body. This is most often damage that brought about the person’s last death.

Souls that have chosen not to incarnate may simply want a time out from the flesh and the demands of the world. They can keep to themselves, or they can hang around people who they have some karmic connection to from the past. This connection does not have to be one that was established in the last life — if one is self-aware on the Otherside, there is a deeper connection to the Higher Self, and so memories of other lives and the people from those lives come with much greater ease than when one is incarnated in a body. From the Otherside, it is easy to recognize such people because the semblance of the flesh doesn’t get in the way — the souls see the soul and not really the body of the people they interact with.

Higher Self and Spirit Guides

Souls that have chosen not to incarnate can serve as spirit guides and guardians for those they’ve taken an interest in. They are also the ancestor spirits revered in many non-Western cultures. They may alternate between people, paying attention to one incarnated person for a time, then moving onto someone else they have an old connection with. They may simply remain on the Otherside in order to see someone progress through a specific period of their life, such as childhood or adolescence, or a particularly traumatic time.

Souls on the Otherside may hang around people for less than benevolent reasons as well, though this seems more rare. If the karmic connection is a darker one, where the incarnated person perhaps caused the soul’s death at some point in their history together, the soul may take an interest in making that person pay for this crime, even if, in the current incarnation, they have no recollection of it.

Most New Agers believe that the stronger connection to the Higher Self enjoyed by the disincarnate soul prevents such pettiness, but this is simply not the case. The Higher Self is not omniscient nor all-good. It is simply the core of a person, the most basic, and eternal part of who they are. This portion of the Self remembers all the lifetimes, and to a certain extent it chooses incarnations in order to learn certain lessons and to forward certain goals. However, it is not always altruistic, and it is not always enlightened in its choices. In many ways, it is simply a bigger version of the selves if incarnates in.

Keep in mind: if it were a perfected being, then the Higher Self would have no reason to direct incarnations in the first place. We come to the flesh for learning and for experience, and if we keep coming back, we are acknowledging that there is more left to learn.