"You are a tiny little soul carrying around a corpse."-- Epictetus
"The Fifty-fourth Spirit is called Murmur...his office is to constrain deceased souls to come before the exorcist to answer those questions which he may wish to put to them..." -- The Goetia
I notice that even among the local Pagan folk, communication with the dead or necromancy is often categorized into the realms of the paranormal and rarely regarded as a form of spiritual practice. But making contact with human spirits, especially one's ancestors, has always been an instrinsic part of many pagan and shamanic traditions throughout history. Our modern culture gives it more bad rep that it deserves due to its association with death, but death - as with all other universal laws of nature - is something that transcends the dualities of good and evil in many pagan philosophies.
There are many reasons why one would wish to make contact with the dead. For one thing: our departed human loved ones can be a great source of guidance and protection. Sometimes we just wish we could mend our relationship with someone who has passed away and eventually promote spiritual healing within ourselves. As for those of us who can see beyond the veil, there would be occasions when the spirits themselves would come to us, and not without reason.
A boveda, or ancestral altar of a practitioner of Santeria. The nine masks represent the faces of the 'egun', or ancestors. In the Yoruba religion, nine is a number associated with death.
Whether genuine occult phenomenon or psychological event, the danger of spirit possession is real and something to guard against during any form of spirit communication. In my experience, dealing with human spirits is far more psychically draining than dealing with elemental or even planetary entities. Communication with the dead is most preferably held in groups. Not only so that there will be someone present to help in problematic cases of full possession, but also so that the others can serve as batteries of psychic energy as well. The murky nature of the astral world tends to blur the messages coming from the spirits, so having somebody else to confirm or interpret the message being relayed would also be quite helpful.
If one must make contact with the spirit alone, then it is very important for the medium to stay grounded and centered throughout the communication. There can be found many simple exercises for grounding and centering, like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram or the Tower of Light, but it may be hard to maintain their effect for very long. The medium must strive to maintain a state of consciousness low enough to awaken the psychic senses yet still being able to perform rational thinking. A pen and paper is crucial: since one will only be half-awake during the seance, it will be very difficult to remember the messages that were being received. Also, the act of writing down the messages helps in keeping oneself grounded as one will have to switch back to Beta state in order to perform conscious writing.
My opa iku (death staff), used for calling the departed ancestors. The colorful ribbons and the bells serve to attract the spirits. On the top of the staff is an image of Eshu-Elegua, the keeper of doors and deliverer of souls in the underworld. Homage is paid to the ancestors and to Eshu-Elegua at the beginning of every ritual.
Tools like the ouija board and the pendulum are often employed, but for a solitary seance, using these can be cumbersome since a free hand is needed for note-taking. There is a convenient yet effective method for making contact with the other world that involves the use of a mirror. The mirror is a fascinating object: it seems to contain within it a world that resembles ours yet one that is unreachable by the hand. Hence its association with the world of the souls:
Through the Looking Glass
The wee hours of the evening is ideal time for the seance. In a darkened room, a candle is lit to serve as a guiding beacon for the spirit into the world of the living. Facing a mirror, the candle light is placed somewhere below the chin of the medium so as the shadows would render his face almost unrecognizable in the mirror's reflection. It is recommended to have some belongings of the deceased nearby to connect with the spirit's energy signature. It would be helpful as well to spray on the deceased's favorite perfume, or to play his or her favorite music as long as it would not interfere with the medium's altered state of consciousness. A prayer is to be recited for the gods of the underworld or the keepers of the dead, asking aid or permission to make contact with the deceased. Now with utmost sincerity, the medium calls upon the deceased while gazing deep into the mirror, introducing himself, and asking the spirit to appear before him. The spirit's full name, a short description of the spirit's earthly life, the relationship of the medium with the spirit (if there's any), and the purpose of the contact are mentioned during the calling. A sudden chill or warmth, the wild flickering of the candle flame, or a swirling cloud in the mirror signifies that a rift is opening in the veil. The calling shall go on until the image of the deceased appears in the mirror in place of the medium's own reflection.
There would be occassions when a different spirit appears in the mirror. The medium may commune with this spirit instead if he wishes so, or insist for the spirit he is seeking for. Once the apparition is established, a few questions may be thrown for confirming the spirit's identity. The language used when speaking with the dead should be in the same tone and manner as one would use with the living - not with willful authority as with demons or lesser elementals, and not lowering oneself as when communicating with the gods or higher spirits. After the seance, it is preferable to leave an offering of food and candle for the spirit as a gesture of thanks.
-- Murmur, Liber Umbrarum
I tend to think that human spirits are really just humans who have been freed from the limitations of the physical body. Hence they are not limited by the everyday human way of thinking, and are more connected with the world above the material. That's probably one reason why we have so much difficulty understanding them most of the time. The more evolved ones however not only can give us insight about the worlds beyond, but can even teach us about the ways of the living from a different perspective. From them we can truly learn that death is not the end of all things, but just another stage in the spiral dance of evolution. Communing with the dead, especially with one's ancestors upon whose shoulders we stand, can indeed be a 'spiritual' experience. We have become so used to portrayals of human spirits coming to us for help, when sometimes it is actually we who may need help from them.
Basbasan nawa ang mga yumaong angkan. Maferefun Egun!