“Actions with Spirits”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the title of a 16th-Century book by Dr. John Dee and the scryer Edward Kelly that is a seminal work of Enochian magic. Here I’m borrowing it to launch a discussion on using divination (principally the tarot) for contacting ancestors and other disembodied beings.

Recently I’ve noticed an increase in interest regarding the use of divinatory practices for opening a conversation with souls who have “passed over.” The least helpful advice I’ve found online for the practicing diviner is “Go see a medium,” followed by the slightly more useful “Don’t use a Ouija board.” The second of these acknowledges that exploring the Astral Plane with an expectation of encountering dear departed Uncle Joe isn’t a “walk in the park.” There are denizens in the spirit world who, while not necessarily inimical to human incursion, may not be entirely amenable to such contact and therefore not particularly friendly (when not actively obstructive). Elemental entities – salamanders (Fire), undines (Water), Sylphs (Air) and Gnomes (Earth) – are the first that come to mind, and there is no telling what one might experience in their presence.

Some form of “guided tourism” like Edwin Steinbrecher’s Inner Guide Meditation is usually recommended for the sake of psychic well-being, and a more esoteric approach is afforded by “path-working” using the Major Arcana of the tarot as an aid to creative visualization while “scrying in the astral vision.” Most of these are not directly aimed at ancestral communication but they at least provide a structured “point of entry” into the astral sphere. We should recognize that those we interact with there may not be present by choice (even if we don’t intentionally invoke them with some kind of magical summons); they may be “stuck” for some unknown reason and unable to pass through the far portal into the more exalted realms of spiritual existence. This could certainly make them ornery at best and perversely hostile at worst.

As far as practical divinatory methods for achieving the desired results, I haven’t come across many that convince me of their effectiveness and safety. They carry the same risks inherent in the Ouija board: we indiscriminately open our subconscious channels of communication and invite in anything that happens to be wandering by under the belief that it will be someone we want to engage in conversation. As long as we’re only interested in some kind of “action with spirits” and take appropriate precautions, these can be stimulating and instructive psychic events, but if we set out to locate a particular personage we might very well be mislead by “confirmation bias” (and those who think their “spirit guides” are going to coach and defend them in this endeavor may be just as vulnerable to such mystical self-cajolery). Some authorities advise that less-sophisticated astral beings may take malicious delight in “playing” us rather than catering to our naive assumptions about their benevolence.

I made a couple of previous attempts at creating tarot spreads for the specific purpose of spirit contact in the Lower Astral (which I’m linking below), as well as a handful of others that employ the concepts described here. They can be found in the sidebar drop-down menu under “Spirituality.”


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