The subject of Spirit Work is vast to say the very least and it requires a great deal of respect honour and reverence. The pursuit of a definition is improbable due to the breadth of information and cross-cultural practices that influence the term as a whole. After all, we are talking about Spirit here and that in itself is an elusive concept. Nevertheless, I shall persevere with my own interpretation of Spirit Work and preface any ensuing statements as thus,
“These are my own personal opinions based on my personal life experiences and independent study of the matter at hand”.
The practice of Spirit Work is one that is rooted in both nature and the realm of the gods and has intrigued, fascinated and downright terrified many for quite some time now. My own experiences of Spirit Work come directly from my upbringing, specifically the Centro Espirita São João Batista located in Coelho Neto, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That was where I grew up. In a big old house with my three sisters, overbearing mother and AMAZING Grandmother. My family practice Macumba, specifically Umbanda and Candomble. These traditions originated in Africa specifically from the Yoruba people. Umbanda and Candomble can be classed as diasporic and syncretic. Both Umbanda and Candomble practice every known level of Spirit Work, from prayer to ritual spirit possession and are known to engage with the world of spirit in impossible ways. But of course, these aforementioned traditions are not the only to walk through the world of spirit. Spirit workers come in all shapes and sizes, from all corners of the globe and each one has an interesting and rare jewel of information that gives depth and meaning to the practice of spirit work from a cross-cultural perspective.
Spirit Work has for the longest time being an integral part of my practices because of my roots. And each and every time I engage in Spirit Work I honour my lineage. The type of Spirit Work I do is mostly Shadowing and Channelling and while I have the first-hand experience with ritual possession, I do not engage in the practice unless I am back home in my Terreiro with trusted Ogãs and Ekédis to support me. In truth, the practice still unnerves me and my experiences horsing is not as extensive as my other skills, so best to be careful and honour one’s limitations.
My style of Spirit Work is fluid and tactile. It ignites the senses thrusting me into a dreamlike state that opens both heart and mind to a world that is both primal and innately apart of each of us. I consider the act of Spirit Work to be sacred and I consider working with Spirit in any regard to be beyond important. When we choose to work with Spirit whether that means to acknowledge our guides or connect with a deity, we step into the “in-between”. Into a place that is not a place and a time that is not a time. Other known terms for this “in-between” states are “Walking the Hedge”, “Flying”, “Trance”, “Journeying”, “Ecstatic Awareness” etc. It is a transient place whereby information between the physical and the spiritual flow back and forth concurrently. For those who have experienced an altered state of consciousness through any one of the methods that make up the “Eight Fold Path to the Altered States of Consciousness,” you will be familiar with this “in- of the between” state that I am referring to.
Side Note, The term “Walking the Hedge” and “Riding the Hedge” comes from the Saxon word haegtessa meaning ‘Hedge-Rider’. It is a term most notably used by Hedge Witches.
The term “Flying” come from European Witchcraft and is a byproduct of using “Flying Ointments” .
The Terms “Trance, Journeying and “Ecstatic Awareness” Belongs to the Shamans of the world.
To enter this state of altered consciousness one must first “Cross the Veil“. The term “Veil” is well known to Witches and Pagans who understand that a sacred barrier exists between the world of the living and the world of Spirit. The crossing of the Veil is a point of honouring and celebration that occurs at the cross-quarter festivals of Samhain and Beltane. It is said that at these sacred festivals “The Veil” between the world of the living and the world of spirit, thins making communication with Spirit much easier.
Extract from “Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession” by Raven Kaldera & Kenaz Filan
Some time ago, a list started circulating around the Neo-Pagan community, attributed to Willow Polson, with regard to levels of deity presence. While we found it to be useful, we also expanded it a bit to include levels-between-levels that only people who’ve had a lot of experience horsing deities could know. Therefore, we present the expanded list, with apologies to Ms. Polson.
This is speaking about a deity; for example, giving an invocation in the third person, or telling a story. Doing this enhances people’s understanding of that deity, their immediate connection with them, and the feeling of their presence at the event. Enhancement requires only knowing about the deity, rather than having an intimate connection with them.
This is similar to enhancement, in the sense that you are giving an invocation or telling a story, but the difference is that with inspiration you speak from the perceived viewpoint of the deity. In this case, you speak for rather than speak about them. Instead of “Aphrodite did this,”, it’s “Aphrodite wants this.” Inspiration is done by connecting on some level with the deity, picking up messages about what they want, and then relaying those messages.
This is where the deity “rides along in your head”, as many folks have put it. There’s a feeling of them being just behind your shoulder, and able to speak clearly to you (and some may keep up a running commentary during a shadowing experience), but they are not using your body, and you are in full control of your reactions. You may “take dictation” and relay their words, or rephrase them, or keep silent as the situation requires.
Integration goes one step further; here you speak as the deity in the first person. This is generally done only as the highlight of a ritual; one example of this is the classic Wiccan “drawing down the Moon”, in which the high priestess steps forth and speaks as if she were the Goddess herself. “I am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mystery of the waters….” Integration is done by connecting with the deity and relaying their words immediately, in the first person, as if one was an interpreter. It requires a more intimate and clear connection if it is to be done properly, rather than merely narrating the words of the Athena puppet in the priestess’s head, for example.
The line between Integration and Aspecting is subtle, but basically here one is a full channel for the energy of the deity, and often their words, but the deity has not fully taken over the flesh body in order to walk around in it and treat it as their own. Some refer to this as “co-consciousness”, meaning that the deity’s mind and energy and their own are equally present and share command of what will be said. Aspecting is often mistaken for fully being ridden by people who have never dealt with full-on possession. Classic New Age “channeling” is one form of Aspecting, usually with dead souls or minor spirits. Many people can aspect a deity that they cannot necessarily fully horse, and Aspecting is less exhausting and much easier on the body and the soul. Galina Krasskova comments about it: “Often at this stage, I find that I am sometimes able to (or allowed to) explain sensations, thoughts, or emotions that I pick up from the Deity to whomever the Deity is speaking to for greater clarification. There are those possessions where I am sure it’s co-consciousness and later find out that while I may have thought so, large portions of time are simply blanked from my mind so that what I think is a full memory of the experience is in reality piecemeal.”
In this situation, the strongest connection of all, the deity comes into the person’s body, displacing their own personality/soul for a time, and speaks directly to the audience or client. Depending on the god and the situation, the deity may commandeer the body for other things as well. Generally the horse’s consciousness at this point is either extremely distanced (horses have reported seeing and hearing things as if underwater or from a long way away, in a very dissociative manner, or the sound might be turned off entirely) or they are completely unconscious and have no memory of the experience. My Pagan group, with its wry sense of humor, often refers to the former as being “in the back seat behind the safety glass” (while the deity is “driving”), and the latter as “locked in the trunk”.
Spirit Work as an act or practice is a calling because it does just that, it calls to you. It slips into your consciousness and you become intrigued. Exploring this topic will take you on a most curious journey. It will take you around the world, to past and present and introduces you to practices that are so rooted in the ancient world that they are mind-blowing. Where you go with your Spirit Work is entirely up to you and is absolutely no one’s business but your own. When you enter that sacred area of Spirit, then the conversation is and always will be, between you and your Guides.