Speaking to the Dead

Step 1: Setting an Intention

A spell begins before you ever start the ritual. It starts with the realization of desire– something you want so desperately that a part of you reaches out from within and grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. It begins with a simple thought: “I want to do a spell for that.”

For me, it started with small signs of my grandmother here and there: a cardinal in the yard, a song that reminded me of her, a flower at the grocery store that happened to be one of her favorites. Feelings of being in her presence intensified most when I caught the strong scent of her lavender perfume in my bedroom one night. My boyfriend, Jackson, tried to tell me that I was imagining it and blamed it on my love of lavender shampoo, but her perfume was unique because she made it herself. Lavender and freesia with a hint of lemon, with herbs straight from her garden. 

I ushered him into my room to smell for himself, and it was so strong that he exclaimed when he opened the door. I knew he believed me. He grabbed my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “I think we should try to talk to her.”

“I talk to her all the time,” I answered, and it was true. I told her I missed her, I updated her on my life, and I even said goodnight to her sometimes. 

But Jackson shook his head and smiled. “You know what I mean.”

I did. It was time to perform the ritual.

Step 2: Preparation

Magic has rules, and it must be done properly if one wants results. Some can be bent, many are varied, but the basic outline is usually the same: purify, protect, perform, release, and offer. Because of this, it’s suggested that anyone who plans a ritual should write the steps by hand.

I took my notes into a metaphysical store and shopped for what I needed. My list was simple: palo santo, white and black candles, amethyst, and roses. I showed my notes to the practitioner behind the counter who squinted over them, lips pursed in concentration. “What about the ferryman?” she asked when she’d gotten to the end.

My brow furrowed as I took in the unfamiliar term. “What’s that?”

“When you’re practicing magic in a graveyard, you have to pay the one who guards it,” she explained with patience. “A bottle of whiskey or four silver dollars is customary. Ask the spirit for safe passage, cover your head, and be sure you will not get caught. Some graveyards are closed after dusk and are watched by more mundane guardians.”

I scribbled her advice in the margins of my paper, thanked her, and left with my bag of wares.

Step 3: Purification

To work magic is to work energy, and each ritual requires a cleansing of any stagnanation or negativity beforehand. Negative energy in a ritual space is like dust on a wall before painting. If you do not rid the area of the debris that does not serve you, then you risk the result not sticking quite right.

Jackson and I decided to wait until the full moon, when power would be highest and the door between the living and the dead would be easier to budge. Luckily, my grandmother was buried in a graveyard in the country, a place unlikely to be under the watchful eye of police. He wore a hat and I wore a scarf. When we arrived, I poured a bit of whiskey and left a silver dollar just to be safe.

The path was well kept, so it was not difficult to find our way, even in the dark. I lit the palo santo. “Spirit guides, ancestors, all beings of the highest good, we ask that you watch over us this night. Send the negative energies away so that we may communicate with Victoria Rose Miller. Be with us tonight,” I said as we walked, waving the lit palo santo in front of us while Jackson lit the path with his flashlight behind me. 

We stopped at her grave, a modest tombstone made of a light gray granite. I hadn’t been there in a long time, but Jackson kneeled first and wiped away the leaves and stray grass that collected over her name. She never had a chance to meet him, but part of me appreciated that she was seeing what kind of man he was now.

I circled the grave three times with the palo santo held aloft, repeating my appeal to the spirit guides. I imagined all the negative energy floating away as the smoke encircled the area, and I breathed the scent of it, drawing its strength. A feeling of calm washed over me like warm bath water. Some people were scared of cemeteries, but to me, they were places of peace and rest. I took a moment to cherish the special serenity of a cemetery, the quiet and the contentment.

Step 4: Protection

Any magical practitioner would be remiss if they did not remind their reader to protect themselves. This can take multiple forms, and it is suggested that you choose more than one measure for safety. Crystals such as smokey quartz or black tourmaline are ideal, but you could also utilize a simple circle of salt. Most magical traditions suggest casting a sacred circle.

The moon shone bright and silver as I lit candles in each cardinal corner, asking the elemental correspondences to protect us as we embarked on our spiritual journey. The wind was mercifully soft, only blowing enough to lift stray hairs from my face. I breathed in the scent of earth and summer as I raised my voice. Confidence is necessary when calling the quarters. “I call upon the guardians of the North,” I said as I lifted a lit candle above my head. “Spirits of the Earth, strong and steady. Be with us this night of our spiritual rite.” I repeated this for each of the four corners: air to the East, fire to the South, and water at the West. When complete, the candles created a circle around the grave. I held out my hands and visualized a sphere of golden light above, around, and below us, protecting us from any negativity that might wish to enter. 

I held that image in my mind, both from inside and outside the circle, and concentrated on the thoughts of protection and containment. Jackson, who knows not to leave the circle once it is cast, waited patiently for me to finish as he lit the incense. When it was done, we exchanged a look and I nodded. We were ready to begin.

Step 5: Performance

Magic is the manipulation of energy. Full stop. Some people want to believe that it’s more than that. Some say that it’s evil, or bad, or forbidden, but using your mind and body to connect with energetic fields is one of the most natural things a person can do. Long ago, our ancestors knew this. They did this regularly. There are stories of shamans accompanying hunters for the purpose of using energy to assist in the capture of dinner. Humans are full of the same life force that makes up everything in our world, and using that to interact with it is not wrong. 

When you perform a ritual or a spell, you must build and release energy. Someone from the other side requires a large amount of it to communicate with you. For this spell, I used meditation and visualization. I also used a medium through which my grandmother could speak–a radio.

Jackson plugged headphones into the radio. It continuously scanned through FM stations so that my grandmother could use the words. I sat at the foot of her grave and held his hands. We closed our eyes and I envisioned an energy cord going deep into the Earth, pulling golden light from the core. The light came up through my body and into his arms, cycling back through like a circuit. I practiced breathing deeply, and as I did this, the air grew warmer.

Jackson’s hands heated in mine and he spoke. “Lily,” he said, my name on his lips but not in his typical easygoing, low voice. This voice was slightly higher, breathier, almost like he was trying to whisper. “You came back.”

I swallowed hard to contain the tears that threatened to break my concentration. I didn’t open my eyes, but I touched my grandmother’s locket that rested in the hollow of my throat. I had to remain strong. There are beings that will trick you in these circumstances, and I had to ensure my grandmother was speaking. “I am here to speak with Victoria Rose Miller, and I do not wish to speak with any beings that mean harm.” I paused as I increased the amount of energy in the circuit and strengthened the circle in my mind. “Victoria, are you here?”

The pause between my question and the answer stretched into eternity, but at last Jackson said, “Here with you.” It came out stilted with pauses between each word, but the message was unmistakable. 

I let the tears come then, but only a little bit to relieve some of the pressure building inside me. Between the expenditure of energy and the emotion, it was too much. I was in danger of being overwhelmed. I took the amethyst from my pocket and clutched it to my chest, keeping my other hand in Jackson’s. I needed to draw strength from the stone. 

“I smelled your perfume in my bedroom,” I said. “Is there a message you want to tell me?”

I felt Jackson jump, so I opened my eyes. “Woah,” he said, this time at his normal, full volume. “That was the clearest thing I’ve ever heard.” I glanced around the graveyard as I waited for him to elaborate. “Always with you,” he said.

My eyes swept the circle in expectation. Though I couldn’t see anything, I felt her all around me. A spot on my back tingled with warmth and it reminded me of the protective hand she used to shuffle me through crowds when we’d go shopping together. “I feel you here, Granny.”

Jackson held my hand tighter and I returned the squeeze. “No more tears,” he said. “I am happy.”

“I’m glad,” I responded, tears now falling freely. My energy waned and I knew the time was almost at an end. 

“Sleepy,” Jackson said. “Rest.”

I squeezed the amethyst. “Thank you for talking to us. Get rest, grandma.”

“Love.” It was one word, but I knew what she was trying to say.

“I love you, too.” It was over.

Step 6: Release 

When you are finished with your ritual, it is vital that you release any elements you have called to protect you. It’s like saying goodbye when you hang up the phone in that it provides a sense of closure and shows respect to the energies you’ve called into your space. You should begin by giving thanks, and as you douse each candle in the circle of protection, address the elements and explicitly release them.

“Thank you, Granny,” I said again. I tapped Jackson on the shoulder to signal that it was over. He removed the handkerchief he kept over his eyes and wiped tears away with its corner. “Everything go OK?” he asked. 

“More than OK,” I whispered. He gave me a kiss on the cheek, a reassurance that he would listen when I was ready. 

I picked up the candle in the North of the circle and held it at my eye level. “Thank you spirits of the Earth. I release you from this ritual space.” I doused the candle with my fingers because blowing it out would be an affront to its fire.

As I thanked each element and doused each candle, I envisioned the circle receding back into the Earth, the energy returned to the source. I thought of my grandmother resting below us, her body asleep and at one with nature. For some, thinking about their loved ones buried in the cold ground would be sad, but at that moment, I was at peace knowing that I not only honored her memory, but imbued her resting place with my energy.

Step 7: Offering

At the close of a ritual, it is appropriate and respectful to leave an offering. This can be anything you feel is right for the spell you performed–flowers, fruit, bread, coins, or even words written on paper. Whatever you give should be given freely and without expectations. It should be a way to say, “It is an honor to work with these energies, and I leave a gift to show my reverence.”

Jackson took the spade from our bag and chose a spot under an oak tree nearby. Its roots went deep, its branching rose tall, and as he dug the hole beneath its protective shadow, I held the flashlight steady. He couldn’t have chosen a better place.

I handed him the candles and he placed them in the hole with a quarter and a handful of lavender seeds. “Thank you, spirits of the Earth and guardians of this place. We honor you with this offering,” he said. I repeated his words and helped him cover the hole with my hands. As I did this, I imagined white light flowing from my right hand and into the Earth. 

I placed the red roses in the vase on my grandmother’s grave. They looked ethereal, shining dark red in the moonlight. Jackson held my hand and we stood in silence as we looked at my grandmother’s name carved on the headstone. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

I smiled. “Peaceful.”

As we left the graveyard, we poured the rest of the whiskey at the gate to thank the ferryman for safe passage. This was the most tranquil I felt since losing my grandmother three years ago. I can’t imagine how anyone could think magic was evil when it brought comfort like this.

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