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The “Skinny” on Spirits

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on January 20, 2012 | Comments (6)

On another forum I saw a question about spirits. The poster wanted to know how to do magick to get rid of a spirit that had linked with another person. The poster was worried that he would be working against the Wiccan Rede by forcing the spirit to do something it didn’t want to do.

You may have seen similar posts or heard questions like this. I have a few problems with it.

What is a Spirit?

My first question is what does this person think a spirit is? Today, some people (notably members of religious sects) put the blame for all their problems on spirits or demons. Are you an alcoholic? Are you broke? Are you unhealthy? Did you lose your job? Are some of your teeth missing? Did you get a divorce? You’re not responsible for any of these things! There’s a demon or spirit in you for each of these problems.

Uhh, no. Sorry. If you have a problem in your life you’re responsible.

Wait! Some problems are things people can’t have caused. If they’re born with a medical condition certainly they’re not responsible for that! If the company they work for goes out of business and people lose their jobs, they can’t be responsible for that!

Nope. They’re not responsible for causing those problems (some may point to karma from a past life as being a cause, but it’s not something in their current life that’s the cause). However, we’re all responsible for dealing with those problems now. As a result of this experience, what do you need to learn in order to achieve the most you possibly can in this life? This is the concept of personal responsibility rather than victimhood.

In my personal experience, I was working for an advertising agency that made the mistake of focusing on one major client. When the client went to another agency, the agency I was working for had to cut back. I was laid off. On the same day I applied to take training in advanced computer techniques at U.S.C. I was able to get into the class, got training, and not only went on to get good-paying jobs at companies such as Disney, I eventually became an assistant to the instructor for the classes at U.S.C. Although I lost my job at the ad agency, I refused to be a victim.

So if spirits don’t go around causing problems for people, what are spirits? Simply put, they are non-physical entities having consciousness and manifesting a certain type of non-physical energy which can become apparent in the physical world. If we don’t like the energy they manifest we call them “demons.” However, that’s our interpretation of their energy. I reveal this concept a bit more in a story format in my occult-oriented novel, The Resurrection Murders.

How Do You Know It’s A Spirit?

The original poster figured that a spirit had attached itself to another person. How does he know? Similarly, how do you know if you’ve been cursed or someone put the evil eye or a black magick spell on you? The answer, in my opinion, is this: You live on the physical plane. Therefore, physical causes should be the first thing you look for when it comes to any problem you experience. If, after possible physical causes have been eliminated, then you should look for non-physical causes. Do this “up the planes.” That is, after the physical, look to the mental. After the mental, look to the emotional. Only after you are sure the causes of issues are not of the physical, mental, or emotional planes should you consider a spiritual plane cause.

The original poster did not say whether he had looked at physical, mental, or emotional causes of whatever it is that the poster thinks is spirit-caused. People who jump from problem to spirit causation often fail in resolving problems because they’ve ignored the actual cause in one of the other planes. So how do you know if a problem is caused by a spirit? I would give you the advice of a believer in spirits, Sir Author Conan Doyle, who used his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes (in the story The Sign of the Four), to say,

…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

When you have made the determination that it is impossible for the cause to be physical, mental, or emotional,  it is perfectly reasonable to assume it may be spiritual and use magick to get the spirit or “demon” to leave.

Heads of Evil Spirits from Francis Barrett’s The Magus

Against the Spirit’s Free Will?

The original poster wondered if by doing magick to make the spirit leave he would be forcing the spirit to do something against its will and thus disobeying the Wiccan Rede. I have often seen a similar argument used against the idea of spirit evocation as described in my Modern Magick. How dare I force a perfectly happy spirit to leave it’s home and come to a particular part of my magick circle just to answer my questions! I’m working against the spirit’s free will. There’s just one problem with this:

The non-physical entities we call spirits don’t have free will.

That’s why the traditional books on spirits describe what each spirit does. For example, in the Goetia, we’re told that the spirit Bael can give you the secrets of invisibility and Paimon “can teach all Arts and Sciences, and other secret things.” They can only do what is in their nature. You can ask Bael for the location of money or Paimon for the location of a hidden treasure and you’ll get no response.

So a spirit can only do what is in its nature. If it’s in its nature to leave when you tell it to do so by using a particular ritual, it will do so. If it doesn’t leave it’s because you don’t know what the nature of the spirit is. The spirit isn’t resisting your orders, it just doesn’t understand them. Your commands are not in its nature. Give it the right commands, orders that are in its nature to fulfill, and it will do what you ask.

Similarly, if you successfully evoke a spirit it’s not because you’ve made it do something against its will, but because you’ve given it the opportunity to function within its nature.

In a sense, spirits are like computers:

  • Perform a set of actions in a certain order and the computer will start and open an application. Perform a ritual properly and you’ll evoke a spirit.
  • If you’re in a word processing application and try to do some advanced artwork, you won’t have any success. Perform a rite to evoke a spirit but don’t follow the appropriate ritual and the spirit won’t appear.
  • Type a letter in a word processing application and it will work well. Do the ritual to evoke a spirit properly and you’ll have success.

What is your experience with spirits?

Reader Comments

Written By Bozanfe Bon Oungan
on January 20th, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

Respectfully, there is a piece of this article I must disagree with… namely that of spirits not having free will, wills, or agenda of their own.

That may hold true in the Western magical tradition, but it is completely UNtrue in traditions that draw from African source material.

In Haitian Vodou, many of our spirits (especially the lwa, but there are many classifications of beings whom we refer to as simply “spirits”) most definitely possess free will, intelligence, and agenda of their own, and have no qualms whatsoever about letting a person know exactly what they (the spirit) feels should be done about different scenarios that may be brought to their attention. It would be considered an insult (and a rather grave one) to assume to treat them as though inserting the right line of code would get them to respond a certain way to one’s desires.

There *are* protocols and specific methods of approach, which are traditional and which should not be varied because they do provoke a certain response, but those are only the invitations for these spirits to come join the practitioner… beyond that, when one is dealing directly with a lwa (usually through possession but also through other means) they will very clearly spell out what they want and what they want the individual consulting them to do; this has always been a major component of our religion.

I have no experience with the Goetic spirits/daemons, so am not qualified to comment on how they behave… but as for the spirits Vodouisants build their own relationships with, I have to say your statement would be incorrect.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 20th, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Bonzanfe Bon Oungan. I think, however, we may be using different terms to describe the same things. I did not write that spirits do not have “intelligence, and agenda of their own, and have no qualms whatsoever about letting a person know exactly what they (the spirit) feels should be done about different scenarios that may be brought to their attention.” I would respectfully contend that this, however, does not imply free will. While I am certainly not very knowledgable on the African Iwa, is it not true that you would give one type of offering to one spirit and a different type to another? Is it not true that you would ask something of one spirit and something different of another? This is because they can only do what is in their nature. Within that nature there may be a wide range, but they are still limited to that range. Free will is either free or it is not. I acknowledge that you see this freedom within bounds as having free will, but I would say that my definition of free will being completely free is different.

Written By Bozanfe Bon Oungan
on January 20th, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

Those are the things people forget about these religions, or things people dont pick up when their only contact is a book and not a practitioner. 😉

Any Lwa can do anything for you; they may have styles of working, and different ways of behaving, but it is most emphatically not true that, say, one may be good for love but another would be good for finding a job… any lwa can do anything for you, on the proviso that there is a relationship between the individual and the lwa in question (which can either be a relationship that’s inherited, or it can be one that is built up over time) The lwa are not at all limited in the acts they can perform. (the notion of, say, Freda being a “love goddess” is actually an incredibly disrespectful view of the spirit in question as well as her place in the religion, and it is issues like this that arise very frequently when, for sake of example, people outside the tradition attempt to force the spirits of the tradition into whatever on the outside they themselves are doing)

As for types of offerings, different spirits sometimes have different likes, and yet also have similar likes; there may be a few spirits who for example may take Anisette as an offering, but those very spirits will also take different beverage offerings that may differ between them; many spirits will ask for a certain grade of rum, but failing its availability they may ask for something else if they think the temple has it on hand.

The bounds I spoke of were of the tradition, on the individual, in how they call to the spirits initially… much like there is a certain formal protocol were one to call upon the Queen; the ensuing conversation cuold go anywhere depending on what the two of you wanted to discuss, but without that opening protocol (say, someone shouted “Hey Queen Liz!!” instead of following the required formalities) than, initiation contact out of bounds, the Queen would simply walk away or find a way to block further embarassing contact.

Its much like that; our spirits are very much seen by our religion as having free will. (our spirits also initiate contact on their own as well; while the person is still bound by tradition in how they initially open contact from their end, lwa are known for popping up in possession outside of ritual if need be, and certainly contact through dreams is a chief method by which the spirits, of their own accord, will pass messages or make their desires known.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 20th, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

Again, respectfully, we are using different terms to mean the same things. You seem to be assuming that I implied spirits can only do one thing. That is not true. Each has their nature. Some have a wider nature than others. Some have overlapping natures. Others do not.

Written By Gemmon
on January 27th, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

Be aware of the Hod you both possess.

Written By DAaTh KCh
on February 6th, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

Very interesting article!! My view of Spirits (definition) is that a Spirit is The Spiritual body of a being who lived on earth (ex: My Grandfather), who has not distanced itself from the physical plane (for some reason, has not moved on). What you refer to as Spirits, I simply call Enteties (elementals, Demons, Angels, etc…).So if I use my definition of Spirits, they DO have free will (as much as they had while living in a physical body). But Still would do things wich is in their nature. As an example. I would never knowingly harm a child! So, even after death, if someone summonded me to torment a child, i would not comply.

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