By Frater S.C.F.V.
A. Spiritual Work for the Dead: Context of the Working
As some of readers may know, I am a Clinical Social Worker in my professional life, and specialize in palliative care, working with older adults with dementia, cancer, and other serious diagnoses, defending vulnerable people from elder mistreatment, and working with younger people with disabilities.
The people with whom I work with are mostly low-income, socially and intersectionally disadvantaged in various ways, and desperate for help. My mundane calling on this Earth embraces working with them, empowering them, equipping them with tools and resources from the government and community organizations, supporting them emotionally through their challenges, and accompanying them, often until the end of their lives.
And yet, it dovetails with my spiritual calling, for as Initiates know, matter and Spirit are but two sides of the same nondual coin, and death is but a phase of the soul between life and afterlife.
Indeed, the deeper I go into the study and practice of traditional Rootwork and Conjure with my beloved teacher Aaron Davis, studying the classic texts, and learning from experienced Rootworkers, the more I see that this style of magic is and always was about community, resilience, and survival. The African slaves who developed Hoodoo, Rootwork and Conjure in conversation with Indigenous Peoples, Appalachian white folks, esoteric Jews and others, developed a way of using what they had access to to protect and empower themselves, as well as to strengthen and nurture their families and communities. Furthermore, they did this often in the face of harsh realities, abuse, antagonism, and death. Hoodoo, Conjure and Rootwork, therefore, not only practices of spiritual resilience, resistance, and resurgence, but also practices grounded in family and community.
In the spirit of these traditions’ history, I strive to be mindful of my social location and yet also to honour the great teachers spiritual ancestors and workers of old by applying what I’ve learned in service to both the living and the dead. Chiefly, like the Rootworkers, of old, I’ve been focusing on those in my care–friends, family, loved ones, community members, and clients. As I came to work more and more for others and less for myself, I came to discover that doing magic for the betterment of others has a purity of purpose and spiritual strength that can be both moving and profound.
Just as my magic has become more community and service-focused, quite like my professional life, so has it also extended to accompanying my elderly and palliative clients into the liminal spaces following their deaths. Of course, working with people as they transition from life to death is by no means new; from the Ancient Period onwards, spiritual workers have often played the role of Psychopomps, that is, beings who strive to accompany newly deceased souls as they transition from life through death into the afterlife.
Historically, the Psychopomp role was deemed so important that it was cross-culturally enshrined in our mythologies in figures as diverse and yet similar as the ancient Egyptian god Anubis, the deity of Yama in Sanatana Dharma, the Greek ferryman Charon and god Hermes, the Roman god Mercury, the Norse Valkyries, the Aztec Xolotl, the Slavic Morana and the Etruscan Vanth. Ancient Mystery Religions like the Rites of Eleusis often centered on the Mysteries of Life, Death, and the Afterlife. Similarly, in the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ, St. Peter, and the Archangel Michael were all regarded as serving Psychopomp functions, much like the Angel Azrael in the Islamic tradition.
By extension, folk spiritual workers strove to collaborate with these spiritual powers to assist the dead. Indeed, in European folk magic as well as in American Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork, magicians have often helped to offer the dead comfort, rest, light, and spiritual support in their experience beyond this world.
And so it was it was that I found myself drawn to continue to serve my clients after their deaths and helping them as best I could to brave the Great Beyond that gaped before them.
The working to which we now turn was a product of teachings passed on to me from the Conjure and Rootwork traditions in addition to folk Christian traditions, some elements of grimoire magic (e.g. the use of the Bell of Art), and the guidance I received from my own Spirits.
The purpose of this working was to bring cleansing, purification, protection, good fortune, blessings, Light, and peaceful rest to the spirits of three older adults I served in life after they passed away. Within the span of a few weeks, these individuals, each with their own strengths and limitations, had all died in sudden and unexpected circumstances: one after a sudden heart-attack while walking with his caregiver near his home, one after a major stroke in her residence, and one after complications stemming from COVID-19 in the hospital.
Concerned about the suffering and confusion they might feel after passing away so suddenly and hoping to help them in every way I could, I prepared the following ritual.
B. Setting the Lights on the Tablet: Preparations for the Work
To begin, as I work within a chiefly Christian framework, I offered prayers to God for guidance in the work and asked the Holy Spirit to guide me to select the right ingredients to benefit the three souls at the center of the work at hand.
I also opened up to the Archangel Michael as well as to my Ancestors, their Ancestors, and the spirits of the Herbs to guide me in developing the right formula for the work at hand.
I began by gathering the Herbs, consulting their spirits to see who would like to assist me in this work. In the end, the following 7 curios were included:
- Holy Olive Oil (for spiritual anointing and to carry the powers of the Herbs),
- Hyssop (that their souls might be purified and cleansed),
- Rue (that they might be protected and cleanser),
- Oak (that they might have good fortune in the afterlife and be blessed with protection),
- Cinnamon (to fire up Light to help them progress and strengthen their spiritual progression),
- Mugwort (that they may rest in peace and to enable them to communicate with me in dreams if they should like to do so),
- Loosestrife (that they might have calmness of mind and heart and drive away all evil and worries).
I ground the herbs together while praying over them, thanking each for its aid and asking it what I wished it to do.
I then took up a plate consecrated for the purpose of candlework–which Solomonic magician and Conjure worker Balthazar Van Der Merwe called the “Tablet of Lights”–as well as a spiritually-prepared chalk marker. This chalk had been previously exorcised and consecrated following the Key of Solomon’s method.
With these, I drew a “5-spot” of 5 equal-armed crosses in the form of a larger cross. Hearts were used to finish the Holy Cross, signifying the intention to extend love, care, and comfort to the Souls included in the work. I then included the initials of the three Souls under where I would position their candles.
Using a fresh pin, I carved each of their names into their respective candles. I then dressed each candle with Holy Olive Oil before rubbing the Herbal mixture into it, praying continuously at the same time. Finally, I warmed the bottom of each candle to fix each to the Tablet of Lights, while praying over them.
Next, I prepared charcoal, Frankincense, 3 glasses of water, and an additional candle for Archangel Michael, and brought the Tablet with the fixed candles into my Temple space. I left them there while I took a ritual bath, cleansing and purifying myself with Hyssop for the work at hand. Then, the spiritual work began.
C. The Working: Offerings and Transition Assistance for Three Recently Deceased Souls
I placed Archangel Michael’s dedicated spirit table at the center of my Solomonic Circle in the center of my Temple space. On the table, I placed Michael’s Statue, a water glass for him, the Tablet of Lights and candles, a censer containing charcoal and Frankincense, the Bell of Art, a bread offering for Michael, a torch, and three glasses of water for the three spirits.
I began began by praying in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while ringing the Bell in the formation of a Cross multiple times over the spirit table, to open the work and “wake up” the spirits.
I then prayed extemporaneously for God’s help, the help of my Ancestors and those of the three deceased, and that of Archangel Michael. I did not do a formal Solomonic evocation of Michael, but simply asked him to be present and to assist with the work and greeted him with water, bread, Frankincense, and a candle offered to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on his behalf and which I invited him to enjoy.
I then lit the three candles while praying over them. I greeted each spirit in turn, starting with P.D., proceeding to M.TP. and ending with J.W. I explained to them why I had invited them here and offered their candles, Frankincense, and water glasses to the Most High on their behalf before inviting them to partake in them for refreshment, light, and strengthening.
I then prayed for the three spirits collectively and then explained to them the role of each Herb fixed to their candle and prayed for its benefit to be bestowed unto them.
Next, I spoke to the spirits of the Herbs and invited them to partake of the fire, Frankincense, and water offered as thanks for their assistance in the working.
Then I prayed for each spirit one at a time, starting with P.D., proceeding to M.TP. and ending with J.W. I then spoke to each spirit as if they were sitting before me and alive, citing cherished memories of my time with them, thanking them for their strengths, blessings, and the traits I appreciated about them, and again praying for their cleansing, purification, uplifting, illumination, good fortune, care, and comfort beyond their deaths.
At the end of each series of prayers, I addressed the spirit and invited it to communicate any message he or she wished to share with me.
The messages were brief and yet, so meaningful to me. As each spirit spoke, I seemed to see a hint of it Astrally; I saw them appearing from their waist up, looking much as they had looked when I last saw them, or perhaps a little younger.
Their images seemed to emerge out of darkness and hover in a gentle illumination above their associated candle and its flame.
These were the messages I received from the three dead spirits with whom I had worked in life:
From P.D.: (speaking in French) “Thank you for this gesture and for your help. It’s so nice here (Frater S.C.F.V.’s Note: seeming to me, in the “space” in which he now found himself after death)! So beautiful! Thank you!“
From M.T.P. (speaking in French): “Thank you, A., for helping me. How we laughed! Thank you for all you did.”
From J.W. (speaking in English): He appeared stern as he had in life, then seemed to shift into a half-smile and said, gruffly but sincerely, “Sorry I gave you such a hard time. Thanks for your help.”
After each spirit spoke, I shared some private final words to them, which I shall not share here as they are personal to us.
Their candles were burning so still and the feeling in the room was somehow both heavy and light at the same time. The words I spoke seemed to hang on the air… as if time itself had come to a halt.
Attuning to the spirits of the tree, I could feel that they were dead, but they did not seem scared; instead, they seemed content and comforted to be there.
The space in the room was positively thick with energy and yet so still, so clear and yet so solid…
Indeed, I was so touched when I finished sharing and receiving the above messages, that I had completely forgotten to pay attention to Archangel Michael’s candle.
That’s when I noticed — it was going wild.
My impression was that the Archangel was doing some intense work to help the three spirits.
In a startling visual display, Michael’s candle began to sputter up tall bursts of fire, spitting them upwards at a rapid pace, like dragon fire. This rapid bursting would be followed by the flame dropping into a very tall, clear, still flame, and barely moving at all.
Then the flame’s tip would split into separate “tongues” of flame, as if the Angel was working on individual spirits at that time, 2-3 at a time, before returning to the tall flame bursts and swaying. The bursting seemed to indicate burning through impurities; the still hovering to harmonizing and attuning.
I asked Michael if I could film this candle flame manifestation and share it with others to inspire them to know that Angels are very real and he agreed for me to share the brief footage below:
I cannot overstate the intensity of the emotions I felt as I watched this scene and felt its impact on the three spirits… I felt overcome with awe, complete wonder, utter astonishment, moved almost to tears…
Even just watching the video back a day later, I feel an intimation of those same feelings. The contrast between the wildly active candle offered to Michael and the very still candles of the dead was so striking to me then and remains so today.
Moreover, I was amazed and surprised by the fact that in this humble little ritual to help these three souls, I felt Michael’s presence more powerfully, more palpably, more viscerally than I ever had before… Including in any of the full Solomonic evocations I had done with him. I didn’t know what to make of it…
Suddenly, my eyes fell closed.
Out of the blackness of my closed eyelids, I saw a face of pure light emerge from the darkness.
It was Michael.
He spoke to me in a voice at once deep, calm, loving, and grounded.
“This is the work I knew you were capable of, that I was waiting to see from you.
Working to help, working not for yourself.
Whenever you work for the good of others, in love and humility,
I’ll never fail to help you.“
Just like that, his image vanished, and my eyes opened once again.
The Archangel’s candle continued to flicker, sputter, wind from side to side like a serpent, and stretch higher than I thought possible above the candle holder…
I felt so moved and touched I couldn’t think of words to say. I could only pray “thank you… thank you… praise God! Thank you…”
My thoughts drifted back to remembering a Solomonic invocation I completed 4 years ago, in which I had found Michael quite difficult to communicate with. I’ve now come to believe that part of why I had such trouble was that, in that ritual, my heart simply wasn’t in the right place. I was thinking too much of myself and fooling myself perhaps, but not the Angel.
Now I was focused on working for the good of others, asking nothing in return, pure and sincere in my intent, nothing could be easier than receiving Michael’s words… That seemed a profound lesson about Angelic work, namely, that an Angelic Operation is most powerful and effective when we not only respect the protocols for fasting, prayer, abstaining, etc. in the days leading up to the Operation, but also approach it with a clear and clean purpose and a heart centered on extending the Good, on blessing.
Such a heart, such a mind-set, is in harmony, not only with the nature of the Angels themselves–thereby making it easier to attune to them–but also with the Divine Will itself.
For the Divine Will is always to extend the Good, through all manners, through all planes and worlds, to all beings, in all ways; as the great Adepti and Scriptures tell us, the eternal extension of the blood–Supreme Cosmic Benediction–is Love itself in action, Grace itself, and even the very Nature of God.
Indeed, it reminds me of the words of Christ in Matthew 23:12, in which he says that “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It now seems to me that there is a profound occult secret hidden here, in plain sight. At least for the Christian folk magician, the more we humble ourselves, the more we keep our self-concern out of the work while elevating the Divine and focusing on benefiting others through the work, the more help we will receive and the easier it will be to attune to the Angelic presence in the work.
Conversely, if our Angelic communications break down, it’s worth doing some soul-searching about our real motives, what we’re really aiming at, and whether that really is what we say it is…
This lesson also reminded me of the words of John the Baptist speaking of Christ in John 3:30, in which he proclaimed that “I must decrease; He must increase.” John devoted his life to paving the way for Christ, heralding his arrival, and drawing all to him in repentance, even unto death. Having so faithfully humbled himself, Jesus said about him in Matthew 11, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” And yet, even after this, he added a humbling other part for you and me, “…yet whoever is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.“
At this part of the working, I was so moved, I could barely proceed. But I knew I had to carry on.
I prayed for P.D., M.T.P., and J.W and recited Psalm 132 on their behalf, praying the following (Names of God Bible Translation):
A song for going up to worship.
1 O YHVH, remember David and all the hardships he endured.
2 Remember how he swore an oath to YHVH
and made this vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
3 “I will not step inside my house,
4 get into my bed, shut my eyes, or close my eyelids
5 until I find a place for YHVH,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
6 Now, we have heard about the ark of the promise being in Ephrathah.
We have found it in Jaar.
7 Let’s go to his dwelling place.
Let’s worship at his footstool.
8 O YHVH, arise, and come to your resting place
with the ark of your power.
9 Clothe your priests with righteousness.
Let your godly ones sing with joy.
10 For the sake of your servant David,
do not reject your anointed one.
11 YHVH swore an oath to David.
This is a truth he will not take back:
“I will set one of your own descendants on your throne.
12 If your sons are faithful to my promise[a]
and my written instructions that I will teach them,
then their descendants will also sit on your throne forever.”
13 YHVH has chosen Zion.
He wants it for his home.
14 “This will be my resting place forever.
Here I will sit enthroned because I want Zion.
15 I will certainly bless all that Zion needs.
I will satisfy its needy people with food.
16 I will clothe its priests with salvation.
Then its godly ones will sing joyfully.
17 There I will make a horn sprout up for David.
I will prepare a lamp for my anointed one.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on my anointed one will shine.”
I was going to end the ritual there, but felt nudged to add a final Psalm 23 as well:
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Having finished praying the Psalm, to close the Temple, I prayed an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, as taught to me by a dear Esperitista friend, while again ringing the Bell of Art.
I gave thanks a final time, said goodbye to the three deceased, thanked Michael, the Ancestors, and the Most High, then declared the Temple duly closed.
I left the candles to burn and checked in on them about 40 minutes later, only to see the following:
My impression was that P.D.’s and M.T.P.’s candles had burned down rather quickly, but with tears of wax running down the sides as they burned, suggesting that pain and other impurities were being processed out of the spirits with help from Michael.
J.W.’s candle on the other hand, burned clean and clear almost to the end, when it suddenly pulled forward in an extension of wax towards where I was standing. How can we interpret the wax from these candles?
C. Practical Carromancy: Wax Remains Readings of the Three Candles
The next morning, I took the high-definition pictures of the wax remnants of each candle that you see here and endeavoured to interpret them with some insights from fellow readers with whom I shared the images in order to obtain insights from objective third parties. Much thanks to Cléo and David Domart, my fellow Working the Root students, for their input.
First, as seen above, we have P.D.’s candle. What I saw here was a spirit reposed and relaxed, a face looking to the side, surrounded by comforting and joyful petals. David got an impression of “thank you” from this wax and Cléo got a sense of “petals and playful cherubs.” This seemed very much in harmony with the message I received from P.D., namely, that he was grateful and that he found the space he was in very “nice! So beautiful!” This wax pattern was also very much in harmony with P.D.’s personality; he was a friendly and fabulous man who delighted in fashion and flowing fabrics. I saw his ‘imprint’ in this wax, in this sense, the stamp of the energy he embodied.
The second candle was M.T.P’s and looked as follows:
What I saw here was her face, looking relaxed and content (the wick remains forming two eyes connected to a nose with a mouth below it). Above her, I saw the sweep of her hair, looking flowing and free. There were hints of her ears and perhaps a suggestion of a bosom at the bottom of the wax. Cléo also got a feeling of joy and gratitude from M.TP.’s candle. I was also struck by how much it looked like her; I could almost see her little smile and hear her joyful giggle as if she were laughing in my presence! David, similarly, sensed her free-flowing spirit and noted that he could feel “energy moving fast.” That sounded appropriate to me.
Finally, and most interestingly, we come to J.W.’s candle wax remains:
This wax felt entirely different from the others. As it turns out, this was exactly as it should be. P.D. and M.T.P. were both friendly, jovial people. J.W. was cut from a different cloth; he tended to be harsh and suspicious to the point where he refused to answer nearly every question I ever asked him. Part of my work with his spirit in the candle work here involved trying to show him my good will for him and help him relax his walls of suspicion so that he could move on without getting unnecessarily obstructed and encumbered. To hear him say “Sorry I was so hard on you, thank you” was about the nicest thing I could have hoped for from him. I told him all was forgiven and that I was just happy to have had the honour of meeting him and his family.
Looking at his wax remains, I see the wick remnants making up a face once again, a very different kind of face. I see eyes that look suspicious, perhaps a little fearful yet incredulous, but also see the wax sweeping down to the right as an outstretched arm, a kind of “olive branch” to me. I read it this way because the wax is coming towards where I was standing while doing the candlework. The overall message then became something like “yeah, I’m still a little wary of you, but I appreciate what you did for me so here’s an olive branch.”
Seeing this wax pattern, Cléo found it a little hard to read, saying he “seems elusive, like moving on or going through something.” That sounded right to me. J.W. was an elusive person in life, and remained so in death. He was hard to read, evasive as a man, both for people who just met him and for his own family members who had known him the longest. Moreover, he likely was going through confusion because his death came suddenly when we had been preparing for him to go home the very next day from the hospital; we have even put in place a new bed, raised toilet seat, and free homecare services to help receive him more comfortably at home. Appropriately, reading this wax, David saw someone “lost, not quite conscious.” That resonated. I hoped that the Rootwork would help calm, comfort, clear, illuminate, and strengthen his spirit through this transition.
D. Conclusion: Parting Thoughts on Working at the Crossroads of Life and Death
Overall, this was a beautiful working, a working that made me feel at once connected to the roots of the Herbs that powered the work, to Archangel Michael’s profound presence, to my own Ancestors and the Rootworkers who came before me, and to my fondly-appreciated clients at their passing.
I hoped that the working would help them to move on even as the Fire and Herbs helped soothe my own grieving and the bereavement of their surviving loved ones.
At the same time, the ritual cemented for me that magic really can operate at the Crossroads, even of Life and Death itself.
And while moving in that liminal space, a space of terror for many, we as spiritual workers can move in peace, and doing so, help bring that peace to troubled spirits in their moment of transition.
What could that be but an honour and a humbling opportunity for service, to life, death, and the Infinite itself?