Communicating with spirit is as simple as listening to the voices in your head; the trick is learning to discern which voices are worth your attention. If you’re not meditating, the mind tends to be filled with voices: differing opinions and priorities, beliefs and fears, impulses and taboos, and so on. Even the isolation of your own mind doesn’t guarantee you freedom when every thought is a potential terrorist capable of undermining the power of your will.
The mind is addicted to stimuli, it craves attention, and wants to fill any empty space with more thinking, purely to justify its importance. Awareness is really just a canvas that desires to be painted -an audience in need of a story. If we’re not creating then we’re typically consuming and there’s rarely much space in between.
Think of awareness like a two-way radio where you can’t send and receive transmissions at the same time. If we’re constantly thinking (sending) then we can’t also be receiving messages from spirit. And this is exacerbated by the constant overstimulation of modern life, which fills our heads with unbidden thoughts that need to be processed.
When you do attempt to slow down and empty your mind, or to focus on only one thing (like your breath, for example), you find that it is an entirely unnatural experience and requires a great deal of effort. Noise clutters your awareness so that it is difficult to tell the useless bits, like last night’s television, from the legitimate feedback that you’re receiving from the world around you -or the world of spirit.
This creates a real problem because spirit tends to “speak” quite softly most of the time and if you don’t regularly set aside time to empty your head and listen carefully, you’ll almost certainly miss important information.
Though it may seem trivial, the downside of ignorance in these moments is that we can miss vital clues for how to successfully break patterns in our lives that will otherwise just keep reoccurring. Taking gentle hints from spirit ensures that the lessons we’re fated to learn aren’t as unpleasant as they might otherwise be and, thus, we ignore spiritual guidance at our own peril and discomfort.
Sometimes though, it’s not so much that we’re ignoring the messages as that we’re caught up in our own bullshit and can’t make sense of the guidance we’re being given. In practice, it doesn’t really matter if you resist spiritual guidance consciously or unconsciously, both will pull you out of flow with the universe. It’s just very hard to recognize when you’re doing something unconsciously, so it’s important to always be checking your blind spots.
Sorry, I can’t hear you over my bullshit
My (more or less) daily devotions to Hekate have the benefit of yielding fairly regular communication and, earlier this year, while I was praying for guidance on how to grow my business, and our income in general, the answer I received was barely more than a light whisper and I was unable to make any sense of what I was “hearing”.
“Events”…is the message I received but I had no idea what to do with the information. First I thought events meant little workshops and social gatherings but I couldn’t figure out how to turn small, local events into anything financially meaningful -so I was stumped.
It wasn’t until June of this year, after we’d been spinning our wheels for four to six months, attempting to find work in other ways, and just generally trying everything that we could think of to grow my business (with no significant results) that I finally revisited the message: “Events”.
Since moving to Mexico and buying our land in the jungle, my wife and I have always planned on hosting retreats, workshops, etc, on our land but we’re still many months from being able to do so, and this has been weighing heavily on us as we have struggled to improve our cashflow. We’ve tried a lot of things, even attempted to go back to our old ways of earning briefly, but nothing has felt right or made any real money despite those efforts.
Over the last year though, we started integrating ourselves with the local spiritual community and we discovered an abundance of high-quality spiritual experiences in the area that no one seems to know how to make accessible to foreigners. After many hints, synchronicities, and prompts from spirit along the way, the answer “suddenly” became obvious to us.
How do we grow our business, The Sacred Serpent, while it’s still in the planning and construction stages? Events: destination retreats for people who live typical, demanding, “normal” lives and need to recharge spiritually. People like us a few years ago who need to step away from their hectic lives and into a natural setting, to de-stress, to find themselves, and get the healing they deserve.
What we realized is that there’s so much good magic to work with around here, plus what my wife and I can bring to the table, that there’s no reason to wait and we can start producing events and providing this service to people now.
I’m eager to tell you all about this exciting new development but that will have to wait for another time (subscribe to my email newsletter to find out more). I share this story here to show how easy it is to receive a message from spirit (and clearly, an important one) but not be able to make sense of it because of your own hangups and preconceptions.
Beginner’s luck in spirit communication
The good news is that spirit tends to be more willing to hold your hand -to make it easier on you- in the early days of your experiments in animism. The first couple of times you encounter the divine it’s impossible to ignore and hard to deny. After contact has been established though, you hardly ever “meet angels on the road to Damascus” any more…it’s usually just a subtle knowing, or a voice in your head, that helps you navigate the twists and turns of life.
A few years back, before I had my breakthrough, I was praying very hard and very regularly to Hekate (my primary spiritual ally) to teach me how to communicate with spirit. By this time, I had been practicing devotions to Hekate on a nearly daily basis for well over a year, and had never gotten any kind of a message beyond vibes from her. I must have been incredibly dense because it took very strange, and very physical, manifestations to convince me that what I was experiencing was actually spirit communication.
Hekate’s traditional animals are black dogs and black birds, particularly ravens and crows, and there were families of crows that lived near our home and they would often come around while I was saying my prayers or engaged in some magical working with the goddess.
I would hear crows cawing while in the middle of praying and petitioning Hekate and then go outside to find 5 or 6 big crows sitting on the fence -all staring straight at me. Bewildered I would try to talk to them, making guesses about what they “wanted”, and they would usually fly away as I said something presumably correct.
For example, I might ask “are you trying to tell me something’s wrong?”, “are you trying to tell me I’m on the right track?”, and nothing would happen, and then, “should I ask the cards what this message is about?” -and they’d all fly off suddenly. This happened more than a few times…once I was even convinced that the frantically squawking murder of crows perched on the roof of my employer’s office building saved me from losing my job.
That kind of weird in the tangible, “real” world encounter quickly tapered off and settled into mostly mental communication, occasional clairaudience, and visualizations in meditative and altered states. Realistically, I think this is the default state for most people; it seems easier for the spirits to sustain this kind of communication than more obvious portents and physical omens.
Early on though, I was experiencing electrifyingly strange encounters on a regular basis, from crow visitations to crystal clear clairaudient messages, and so on. I could not deny that I was receiving messages -I was hearing literal voices in my head. I think this is also fairly typical though, spirits only need to appear to you in a burning bush once before you’re convinced. After that it’s just more practical to maintain an open channel for “telepathic” communication, synchronicities, and so on, for the regular, day-to-day kind of engagement.
Cultivating the right mental state for spirit communication
Beyond just believing that you are indeed receiving communication from spirit, a calm emotional state and a tranquil mind are also essential to the clarity of those messages. Regular meditation is really the only way to achieve this and that’s why it’s regarded as so important by basically every introductory book on magic. Breathwork is the best way to achieve mental clarity, focus, and control, so meditating prior to a magical working or a channeling session, etc is considered best practice.
Two simple focusing meditations
Two breathwork techniques lead the pack when it comes to effectively altering your mental state: box-breathing and breathing to stimulate the vagus nerve.
“Box breathing” is where you count to four on the inhale, hold your breath for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, and then hold for a count of four again -and then repeat. The four evenly timed steps repeat indefinitely, forming a “square” or “box” (instead of a “circle”).
Box breathing is useful for entering into a deep meditative state (a trance) and it very quickly shifts brainwave activity to facilitate gnosis and magical ritual. This is kind of the classic wizard’s go-to breathwork technique for entering altered states. Use the box breathing technique when entering ceremony and when manifesting or intending (meditating on outcomes).
“Vagal breathing” is where you breathe out for longer than you breathe in: breathe in for a count of four and then breathe out for a count of seven. Keep the pace of the count the same but control the breath so that the exhale is smooth and lasts the full seven count.
Vagal breathing relaxes the body quickly and pacifies the mind. It is an instant calm down technique that works very well to relieve anxiety and facilitate relaxation quickly. Vagal breathing is effective before all kinds of meditation practices; for getting into a relaxed, receptive state that’s useful for self-healing.
Tips for clearing the mind
Clearing the mind, and keeping it clear, is trickier than anyone would imagine until they try for the first time. Humans have so little control over our thoughts that the weight of them surging over the top of your awareness as you meditate can feel overwhelming and make you want to give up immediately. Of course, it is only by overcoming the urge to avoid discomfort that you get the value of meditation in the first place.
Conquering the overactive mind is not accomplished by force but through grace and patience. When something steals your attention away, allow the thought to continue long enough to identify its underlying source. Then simply acknowledge the thought (that it exists and has energy) and then banish the thought by focusing on it clearly and blowing the energy from that thought out of you and into the air around you. When done exhaling, switch your thoughts to something completely different (baseball, the first 5 decimals of pi, etc).
You can also visualize your mind as a blue sky and thoughts as the clouds in that sky blowing past your field of view. If a cloud lingers you can send it on its way by acknowledging it and wishing it away…and you can continue to do this until the “sky” is clear (and so is your mind).
Counting while you meditate is another great focusing technique. Count in this manner: one on the inhale, two on the exhale, three on the inhale, four on the exhale, and so on, until you reach 10 and then start the count over again. If you lose count, just start over wherever you remember being last, the count is irrelevant anyway.
Herbal teas, incenses, tobacco, cannabis, fasting, and other chemistry
All kinds of dietary and chemical strategies also exist to help you into the receptive, intuitive state that enables spirit communication. While it’s generally preferable to be able to enter a meditative state and receive messages from spirit unaided, I would be remiss not to at least mention the wide variety of substances and practices which make the process easier.
Mugwort, blue lotus, and other mildly psychoactive herbs drank in tea or inhaled as incense, or likewise frankincense incense, burning bay leaves, smoking sacred tobacco or cannabis, and of course consuming entheogens like psilocybin mushrooms or ayahuasca, peyote, and so on, are all ways to “thin the veil”, so to speak. While it’s not ideal to become dependent on substances to communicate with the divine, there is no denying how much they can help you get in the right state, especially in the beginning.
Fasting, or even just skipping a meal or eating very lightly, can also help you have clearer spirit communication. Eating meat tends to be more grounding than eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, and so on (I’m not advocating for a plant-based diet, just timing your meals and your opportunities for spirit contact with this reality in mind). The more grounded in the physical you are, from eating, working, fucking, etc -embodied activities- the less clear that communication tends to be; which is why meditation is so critical (it moves us into a state that is more conducive to receiving clear messages). Fasting, in particular, disassociates the mind from the body and heightens sensitivity considerably more than the other methods.
Working with a psychopomp
By far the most effective strategy for aiding spirit communication though, in my personal experience, is to work with an intermediary spirit; a psychopomp and spiritual messenger. Examples of popular spirits of this nature include Hekate, Hermes / Mercury, St. Cyprian, Papa Legba, and so on. When attempting to contact other spirits the best ally is a spirit with whom you already have a relationship.
I favor Hekate, the many-formed, “opener of the ways” that she is, and open my ritual every day first to Hekate and then call upon her to connect me to any other spirits I wish to engage in that session (read about my relationship with Hekate and the lunar mansions). I found that, when it came to working with spirits of place, for example, connecting with them on-location was easy but calling to the spirits via dirt on my altar didn’t work very well until I started asking Hekate for help.
Psychopomps are spirits of the crossroads and working at an actual crossroads is the ideal way to access their energy. When my wife and I first started trying to make contact with our local jungle spirits, we started by leaving offerings and making prayers at the intersection of two gravel roads, off the main road a little ways, in the little community where we eventually bought our land. This worked like a charm. The crossroads isn’t strictly necessary when you’re channeling cosmic / stellar spirits but leaving offerings at the crossroads is a great way to build a relationship with Hekate, Hermes, and other psychopomps; which is necessary to do if you want their help in other workings.
Three methods for spirit communication
Everyone tends to overthink spirit communication at first. It’s easier to receive messages from spirit than you’re probably thinking. The challenge is in making sense of them and knowing how to take action on the information they contain. Spirit communication is anything but straightforward and it’s easy for our own thoughts, fears, ambitions, and opinions, etc, to creep in and confuse the message.
Separating the messages from spirit from the mental noise inside your own head is often quite challenging. This is why meditation is important but there are a few techniques that help provide structure to the communication, making it easier to parse the content of your channeling experiences.
Prompt and response
This is my go-to approach for channeling via journeying (active imagination) and it works by creating a setup with a visualized prompt, such as a box with unknown contents, or the edge of a forest that something can emerge from, or a door that you open and walk through, where the mind is then left to fill in whatever happens next.
If the creative urge is properly suppressed by meditation and focus, and you “send” the energy of this visualization out into the universe and simply wait for a response, you will find that whatever then appears in response is likely to be spirit communication; provided you’ve done this in ceremony and invoked the spirit you’re channeling.
Clear your thoughts and write down whatever comes to mind
Using the techniques I mentioned earlier, you can reliably clear your thoughts and then write or draw anything that comes to mind, without attempting to process, understand, or judge it in any way. This is referred to as automatic writing or drawing.
You can combine this with sending intentions in the form of questions to the energy you’re channeling; asking it for answers to specific questions, and then clearing the mind and so that messages can surface in response.
Communicating with tarot
For anyone who’s got a tarot deck, even if you’re not confident in your fortune telling skills, using tarot makes spirit communication much easier because it already occurs largely in metaphor and tarot is a system for communicating in (visual) metaphors. You can just look at the pictures and see what comes to mind and you’ll be more right than wrong (just don’t overthink it).
Simply cast a circle, invoke the spirit you wish to communicate with, and ask if you can use tarot for the purpose. Anything but a negative response can be taken as permission to continue. Then proceed to ask your questions, interpret the answers to the best of your ability, and then ask follow up questions. Treat this more like a conversation than a “reading”. Three or five card line spreads or tableaus (3×3 or 5×5 squares) are best for this purpose.
The most important factors are relationship and attunement
Communicating with spirits is a means to an end. As a magician, typically the underlying goal is to build a relationship with spirit so that you can receive guidance, good fortune, protection, and so on, but this all occurs as a byproduct of your relationship with the spirit in question.
And while it would be inaccurate to call that relationship transactional, it is reciprocal, meaning that there is quid pro quo -you gotta give a little to get a little. What you need to bring to the bargaining table depends on your situation, and the nature of the spirit, but generally-speaking, offerings, prayers, acknowledgement, and sending energy are all viable currency.
To build a relationship with a spirit, you first have to be able to invoke its energy into your circle successfully. This is less about the method you use, or the grimoire you copied it from, and more about treating yourself like an antenna that can communicate with anyone once properly tuned.
Tuning your antenna is done through performance, story, and metaphor. The express purpose of ritual is to put you into a state in which your antenna can send and receive effectively and then point you at some aspect of the divine so that you can co-create reality with it. Hymns and invocations, myths and lore, sympathetic materia, and so on, are all ways of attuning ourselves (tuning our antennae) so that you can communicate in greater fidelity.
Putting it all together…
You don’t have to do anything special to get messages from spirit besides pick a spirit and build a relationship. The communication will come as soon as you’ve connected and that can be accomplished with a little attunement and a heartfelt invocation. Pray, give offerings, observe traditions related to the spirit, study the mythology, and understand the archetype. Keep an altar dedicated to the spirit you want to communicate with, fill it with material sympathetic to their nature, and feed it with your energy regularly.
Do all of this and the messages will come but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily know what to do with them -and this is where having some practice with meditation, journeying, cartomancy, and so on, is very useful. You can employ cartomancy systems like tarot as a kind of universal translator and you can always go back (journey again) to ask clarifying questions (this is almost always necessary). And, it can even be advantageous to mix methods, like using tarot to clarify information channeled through other sources, for example.
If you’re struggling to get into the right, relaxed state of mind to channel, there are some ways to enhance your “psychic abilities”, from herbal teas to entheogens, but learning how to do this through breathwork and meditation gives you greater power and flexibility as a magician. It’s good to have tools like entheogens when you need to pull out the big guns but be able to function as a spirit worker on a day-to-day basis more or less unaided.
Anyone can learn to speak to their spirit guides with a bit of practice, and one’s own ancestors, and patron spirits tend to be pretty naturally accessible. Beyond one’s close spiritual circle, however, making contact with spirits whom you have no relationship with is easier through a spirit whom you do -particularly if that spirit is a psychopomp, or crossroads deity.
Between these various techniques you should have no problem getting messages from spirit but the catch will still be interpreting them and taking action. This just takes practice. There’s plenty of opportunity for this though because the universe is filled with spirit and spirit always has something to say, if you can “hear” it.
If you have a funny feeling that the universe is trying to tell you something, there’s a good reason. When gods speak they whisper and it’s up to you to make sure you can hear their message clearly, receive it fully, and take action with the information you’re given.
If you’re struggling to make sense of spiritual communication, dreams, synchronicities, and other messages from the universe, consider booking a tarot reading or magical consultation session with me.