Cultivating a Spiritual Bond with the Ancestors of our Craft
Working with spirits is a hallmark of the Witches’ Craft. Whether we see those spirits as being the spiritual consciousness within a plant, a stone, an animal, a place, or even that of a faery, an angel, an ancestor, or a deity, a witch places themselves in a position to engage these non-human intelligences, to learn the deeper magical secrets of nature. But of all the spirits a with whom a witch may choose to work, none are as deeply personal –or as eerily fascinating—as those of the Dead.
Honoring the dead in Witchcraft is twofold. On a personal level, we honor our personal ancestors, whom we poetically refer to as “the Beloved Dead”. These are family members (both biological as well as those made by marriage and adoption) and are usually considered to be those spirits who are “closest” to us, meaning that they are more immediately “accessible”. On a transpersonal level, we honor the spirits of those Witches and Warlocks who have gained enough power in this life to be able to retain an astral pattern of consciousness post-death, and now exist in a state in which they offer assistance to living witches. These are “the Mighty Dead” and they might be specific to a particular lineage or tradition, or could be those luminaries who affected the course of the Craft and continue to work toward bettering the Craft from the Other Side.
Honoring and working with the dead has long been a core practice of the Witches’ craft. While it is a popular observance for witches to honor the dead at Samhain (when the veil between the living and the dead is said to be at its thinnest) we work year-round to cultivate and deepen our bond with them.
This ritual is really just the beginning of a practice aimed at forming an intimate relationship with the Mighty Dead. While the first part of the rite is to be done at your altar, the second part (and the subsequent practice that it begins) will require an outdoor place where you will plant one or more seeds, and maintain a living plant. If you have no outdoor space, or your environment will not support the growing of a sunflower, you may use an indoor pot instead.
This rite relies heavily on your ability to enter and maintain an open trance state, as well as to practice automatic writing. If you need additional tools or practices to accomplish this, please feel free to add them to this working.
This rite can be used at any time of the year, especially “special markers” of the year, such as your birthday, or New Year’s, or whenever else you feel you wish to embark on this journey. Since this rite involves planting and nurturing a seed, make sure your local environment will be harmonious to cultivating a small plant at that time, or else adapt to grow it indoors.
A black candle
A white or red candle
A silver candle
Your ritual blade (optional)
A photo of, or personal belonging from, one of your Beloved Dead
A photo of the Mighty Dead with whom you wish to work (or, you can create a sigil for them.)
Offerings for your dead (such as food, whiskey, etc.)
One or more Sunflower Seeds
An incense burner and charcoal
Some copal resin
A “Spirits of the Dead” oil blend (perhaps one that includes anise)
A pen or pencil (you can also use special inks, if desired, such as Dragon’s Blood)
Some paper for drawing
A short length of silver thread
A pitcher of water
An ancestral altar should be placed in the West and have these items arranged in the following manner: the photo or item belonging to your Beloved Dead on one side, along with the red (or white) candle, and the photo or sigil of your Mighty Dead on the other with the silver candle. Place their offerings near their photos and the sunflower seed(s) in the center of the altar. Encircle the seeds with the silver thread. The incense burner may be placed anywhere you would like. Have the other items nearby.
Ground and center. Perform whatever preliminary prayers you feel are appropriate. Light the incense.
We will “Open the Western Gate” which is the poetic term for a magically created portal between the worlds of the living and the dead, giving us more immediate access to the ancestors and the dead. Face West and contemplate the dead. Think of any friends or family members who have passed on, and allow yourself to feel the loss of them. Anoint the center of your forehead with the oil and imagine it assisting you in opening up your inner sight to the dead.
With your breath slow and deep, light the black candle and make a statement of intention, such as:
I stand between the worlds of fate
And summon forth the Western Gate
By my blade1 I part the veil
Across the sea we set our sail.
With your blade (or just your hands) make a vertical gesture from above to below, imagining that you are “slicing” through the fabric of space and time, revealing the hidden realm beyond. See this like a watery, ghostly light just beyond this imagined opening you have created. Still focusing on your breath and the presence of the dead, physically and psychically reach into that opening and –with an outward sweeping motion of your arms—cast open this “gate”, imagining it becoming wide-open before you. Say:
By moon that hangs low in the sky,
By ancient sea, the earth’s own womb,
I call the Gate to open wide,
That leads to life beyond the tomb.
Take a moment to feel this power shine upon you from the gate and know that YOU are the gate; the opening is but an extension of your own spiritual power.
Light the white (or red) candle and call out the name(s) of your Beloved Dead, along with any titles, or descriptions of accomplishments that are relevant to their personal mythology. Take some time to honor their presence. Silently send them love and awareness of the offering you present to them.
In their presence, we are brought closer to the mysteries of death. And so here we now call to our Mighty Dead; those spirits of Witches and Warlocks passed from this life. They offer to us the Silver Thread –the connection and magic of the spirits– so that we may better learn the magic of our deep ancestors, and the magic yet to be known in this world. Their passing from this world offers up the seeds of renewal… and with their guidance, we plant those seeds that they may grow into power for the coming year. Light the silver candle and say:
I call to you, O Mighty Dead
To enter through the Western Gate
And weave here now the Silver Thread
That guides me toward the witch’s fate!
Be open to their presence now… as assuredly as the wind does blow, they are with us. Call to them with open heart! Send them love and awareness of the offering you give to them. Ask them to extend to you the Silver Thread of their spiritual knowledge. Imagine taking that thread… and following it toward that which you need to know… what the Mighty Dead wish to tell you…
Mighty Dead, I call upon your guidance…
Empower me to receive your message.
Maintaining your trance and that sense of connection, take your pen and paper and begin automatic writing. Just write whatever comes through. Try not to judge it in the moment. You may begin just “doodling” … drawing circles… shapes… just allowing the energy to come through while you are moving pen against paper. Spend as much time as you need, writing and drawing, imagining the Mighty Dead guiding your hand through the connection of the Silver Thread. You may wish to chant something to keep the energy moving.
Ancient witches, Mighty Dead
From you I take the silver thread.
When you feel you are done, look at your paper… this is your “message” from the Mighty Dead. It could be a word, phrase, or perhaps a symbol. Or it may appear to be nothing more than gibberish. But if even so, it is a start. You need not understand it. Whatever you see, know that the Ancient and Mighty Ones of the Craft have given you this message that you may use to strengthen your own connection to the ancestors of our Craft, and to deepen your own power in the coming year.
Now, take the silver thread and hold it in your hands… Be open to the presence of the Mighty Dead and ask for their guidance. Close your eyes and feel them here with you. Feel their presence in the silver thread that you hold, as we claim that connection to them. Holding their presence in your heart, take three breaths of power and then blow life-force out onto the thread with each exhale, while tying a knot to bind that presence there… (3 breaths, 3 knots).
Now, go to your outdoor space with your message paper, your seed(s), and the small pitcher of water. (Or go get a pot filled with potting soil.) Take the message paper and breathe out three times upon it. Fold it in half toward yourself, rotate 90 degrees clockwise, breathe on it three more times and fold it toward yourself again. Repeat this process one more time and then roll the paper toward yourself, wrapping and tying it with the silver thread while you chant:
Ancient witches, Mighty Dead
From you I take the silver thread.
Using the spoon or spade, dig out a small amount of dirt and then place the thread-wrapped message paper inside the hole. Place some of the soil on top of this and then scoop up the sunflower seeds and breathe three breaths of power over them. Plant them in the soil about 1” deep and about 6” apart if you are planting more than one, all the while repeating:
Flower of the golden sun,
The seed of life that comes from death
Awakened by the witches’ breath
Arise! The magic has begun!
Continue to chant until the last seed is planted. Now, place your hands over the pitcher of water and “charge” the water with energy. Focus on this water being a catalyst for the spiritual power to “take root” in this plant you will now grow. Water the seeds with this water (and repeat the process of watering the seeds with charged water every day for a week).
End the ritual by closing the Western Gate: imagine the gate closing as you sweep your arms closed, then trace a pentacle over the area with your hands or your blade. Proceed as you would normally, making sure to thank all the spirits you have invited and extinguishing the candles. Allow their offerings to remain in place for 24 hours and then dispose in a reverential manner.
As the flower grows, so will your spiritual connection to the Mighty Dead. (For tips on growing sunflowers, visit: https://www.almanac.com/plant/sunflowers.) The plant’s petals, leaves, and seeds will be potent tools in your continued work with them when used as part of your spells, such as in a charm bag, a poppet, or an incense or bath blend. You can also use the plant as a meditative portal, allowing your consciousness to travel down its roots into the Underworld for trance journeys with the dead, and providing a symbolic anchor for you to more easily return. As you work with the plant both its spirit and that of the Mighty Dead will guide you. IO Evohe! Blessed be.
 Obviously, if you are using your hands instead of the blade, then make that change to the incantation.
This article originally appeared in Llewellyn’s Magical Almanac 2019