I have been zig-zagging a bit between self-reflection and historical considerations, so I want to write a post that brings the material on this blog back toward the center, toward spiritual work. This post won’t be long and it won’t tell you much that you can’t find in a dozen other places (at least), but maybe it will be helpful nonetheless (to me, if not to a reader).
When you get down to it, my spiritualist practice has an extraordinarily simple core. I won’t say that what I do here is just talk or that the subtle work of contemplating the invisible side of experience isn’t rich, but it unfurls from a potent simplicity. Bones, dirt, plants, water, fire, smoke, prayer, attention, stone, a little liquor or wine, vessels to contain them, a few signs. A few other things, perhaps, but that is the landscape into, onto, and through which spiritual realities become apparent.
If someone were to come to me and ask for how to start doing spiritual work? I would suggest starting even simpler: white candle, cool water, prayer guided by good intentions toward the spirits around you. Just set the white candle burning, set the cool water before it in a clear glass that lets the light flow through it, and pray sincerely for the spirits and yourself. With some experience with that, I would consider suggesting adding tobacco to the prayers. Tobacco brings spirit closer to us and us closer to spirit, so it is the sort of thing that builds on the foundation of water, candle, and prayer.
In that place, it is a good thing to listen, to see if you hear any guidance from spirit and to reflect upon it. Acknowledge with grace what you receive If it feels like advice, consider it. If it feels like a command, be suspicious of it.
There are ways of using divination to intensify that, but these days I think that is the sort of thing that works best when you are more grounded. Having a divination practice separate from the practice of sitting with spirits is fine and good for many, but I wouldn’t rush to cram them together.
I have often seen people encouraged to double-check spiritual advice with another form of divination and I’m not sure how helpful that really is. Consider the advice you receive from spirits as you would consider the advice you receive from a living person. Learn to practice discernment regarding it. Divination can help, but constantly turning to it for simple confirmation blunts the development of discernment. Learn to sit with advice.
Don’t be afraid to talk about what you want, but don’t get caught up in demanding spirits to fulfill those desires. Give spirits the space to respond to your desires, with concern, with support, with hesitation, with dislike. Learn to take that as a form of advice. Thank them when it seems like some bit of good luck regarding your concerns comes your way.
You can sweeten the scene, adding flowers to the work, perhaps behind the candle, close enough to receive light but not to burn. Consider sprinkling the area with sweet perfumes or colognes, maybe even adding a few drops to the water. A white tablecloth, too, is well-suited to the work.
You can leave the candle burning even while you are not actively praying, but don’t leave it burning when you aren’t present to check in on it. Not only is it bad fire safety, but it breaks some of the habits of good intention that come with preparing and tending the scene.
You can take the whole thing down and store it between sessions, but it is also a good thing to dedicate just a little space to the work where you can leave the water and candle. That space can become the anchor for a proper shrine, around which you can place objects in line with the work you are doing. Especially in the beginning, though, I would warn against cluttering the space and focus on the simpler acts of prayer.
Also, before you bust out to praying, clean your house. Take out the garbage, vacuum/sweep, do dishes. Cool down before sitting down.