Local spirits, ghosts of the living, and haunted churches (Insights from Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller)

I really get into it in this one! The stated goal of this episode is to talk about some fascinating takeaways from Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller. However, get ready for many digressions about my own paranormal experiences.

A sketch of Trinity Lutheran Church in Astoria, NY. Not haunted, as far as I know.

I really get into it in this one! The stated goal of this episode is to talk about some fascinating takeaways from Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller. However, get ready for many digressions about my own paranormal experiences, several of which I haven't talked about yet on the podcast.

Highlights include:

  • a possible doppelganger encounter
  • poltergeist-type activity caused by a living person
  • a terrifying experience in a church in Portugal
  • local spirits and Randonautica
  • churches as especially haunted and magical locations

Note: Sorry about the radiator noise in this one! I did my best to eliminate as much as it as possible, but these NYC radiators love to make a racket.

Download the episode here or listen anywhere you get podcasts.

Script for Local spirits, ghosts of the living, and haunted churches (Insights from Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller)

Note: This is an inedited script; there will be typos and some variation from the final episode.

What is a spirit?

First, Miller gives a definition of what spirits are; he says that "spirits are organized consciousness."

He goes on to say that:

Let's not kid ourselves; we can accept that spirits are real, and even that they are independent, but we must also acknowledge that they exist in a way that is more subtle and fluid than a human or a horse.

Talk to ghosts on their own terms

When talking to a spirit, you should appeal to them using terms and arguments that they would understand. He talks about how if you are communicating with Hekate, you might want to present something as an opportunity for you to go beyond, so by helping you, she will help you go beyond which is something that Hekate likes to do. Or, if you are petitioning Lucifer, you would want to appeal perhaps to his interest in liberty, rebellion, and pride. Or with Venus, you might want to frame something in terms of charm, attractiveness, charisma, and love.

Basically, if you are asking someone for something, frame it in ways that you know would make them more likely to help you. Basically it’s the same thing that you would do when speaking to a human. Of course, this is focused more on deity work, rather than talking to unknown entities or ghosts. But still, there could be something here about thinking through what a ghost, spirit, or other entity that you might be communicating with might be interested in, based on the location or the context, and trying to frame your requests or attempts at communication that way. Throughout the book, he talks about how communicating with spirits is just like communicating with humans, and just like with humans, there are good and bad spirits or entities, and you need to use your discretion when dealing and interacting with any of them.

This makes me think of trigger objects in ghost hunting, which is basically bringing an object that might be familiar to whatever entity you're trying to contact. The theory is that having either something important to the ghost, or something from whatever era they're from, they're more likely to communicate.

How do I know what spirit I'm talking to?

Use your head. You might think that you are communicating with some grand deity, when you might be communicating with a smaller intermediary or someone else. He calls these intermediaries “mall Santas.” This keeps the ego in check, because people can get really wrapped up in believing that these cosmic deities have all this time to talk to them constantly, but probably it’s really just the mall Santa much of the time.

Building a relationship with spirits is important. You will find that you work more with one entity or deity or spirit than with others and you develop a relationship just like you would with the human. So then, by building a strong relationship, you have developed authority with this particular entity. Then, if you need to communicate with other spirit or entity, then you can ask the one you’re familiar with to help you. Basically, you are conjuring one spirit through the power and influence of a spirit that you are more familiar with.

He talks about how you can negotiate with the spirit and asked them to appear in a particular way (manifestation through controlled appearance). That’s in terms of physical appearance, etc.

Manifestation of resonance

A manifestation of resonance is when something is done through the power of the spirit, even if the spirit isn’t exactly there. This is kind of like a prayer.

When you pray and it is answered, that doesn’t mean that whoever you are praying to is actively in the room with you. The entity whose power you are harnessing may not even know that you are using their power, but can still be really effective. This can be done through prayer or through a spell, which is basically a prayer plus a candle or burning herbs or a written petition, etc. Even though this is the most minor way that is spirit can manifest, Miller says, it’s often all that you need.

Ending a conversation with spirits

He says that when you attempt to contact a spirit, it may have tried to appear, just not in a way that you are able to perceive. Because of that, he said that you always need to dismiss a spirit at the end, whether or not you think it ever arrived. He has a particular prayer for that.

The Harryhausen Effect

Sometimes a spirit might make a statue, icon, art piece, or symbol seemed to move even though it really isn’t. He calls this the Harryhausen Effect, named after the monster animator Ray Harryhausen.

(As an aside, every time I've read this part of my notes, I've had the Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustin song "Olympus" go through my head; the album it's on is a concept album about movies, and "Olympus" mentions Harryhausen.)

Miller also talks about how you can make a spirit house, where a spirit is invited to willingly live in and receive offerings at a particular structure. Sometimes that is done forcibly, though. He warns that this takes serious dedication to keep up and that it takes a lot of knowledge to accomplish this.

This part if the book made me think about an unusual experience that my wife and I had when we were in Portugal on our honeymoon. We were inside a historic church and were in a room with a display case with vestments, and suddenly the whole huge case started shaking violently. And then the case by the window with I believe a reliquary or maybe a statue Jesus started vibrating and ticking loudly. We were alone in the room and I'd never seen anything like it. We ran out of there so fast. It really felt like there was something inside the objects making them move.

Nature spirits and local spirits

According to Miller, nature spirits tend to have a somewhat Lynchian way of communicating.

So think about messages like the famous line “the owls are not what they seem” from Twin Peaks. The messages have real meaning, but it might be a little bit twisted up and hard to understand.

To me, this really makes me think of my interactions with Randonautica. I did a series about Randonautica last year so I've talked about it a lot on this podcast, but Randonautica is just an app that sends you to randomly generated points based on an intention that you set in your mind, and I have had some really interesting experiences with it.

Often, because Randonautica is communicating with me by sending me to a particular coordinate point, the message might be somewhat vague and hard to understand and interpret, because it doesn’t have the luxury of using words that it's chosen to speak. It’s not a ghost whispering in my ear. Instead, it sends me to a place that has some sort of message, meaning, or resonance to me. It has to work with the environment around me. And to be honest, I usually set a 1 kilometer radius for Randonautica, out of laziness so I don't have to walk so far, so it really doesn't have much to work with.

Though, as an aside, I've been thinking a lot about my interactions with randonautica and how I feel like I often have really interesting experiences and I do wonder how much of that has to do with me using Randonautica somewhere where I live, and in a neighborhood where I have lived for close to a decade now. At this point, I have so many memories with different people, since I know people in the neighborhood, and I've lived different places in the area, so a street corner which to someone else might have no meaning, to me might be the location of a particular interaction that I had with someone or an important moment in a friendship, etc. Whereas if I were using Randonautica somewhere that I had never lived, it wouldn't have the same meaning to me. It's almost like my neighborhood has a vocabulary and a language that I know very well and can speak, but if I went somewhere else, that might not be the case and maybe I would know the language but I wouldn't quite be familiar with the vocabulary or the area's way of speaking to me.

I also think a lot about how I live in New York City, so there are a lot of signs around me with words and all different languages and symbols. There are tons of restaurants and many high density apartment buildings, and in my neighborhood there are also a lot of religious objects and shrines that people put in front of their buildings, and people in Astoria my neighborhood also love a lawn and holiday decorations so I do think it's almost like there could be a larger pool for Randonautica to pull from, in terms of the different options that it has to communicate.

Sometimes I almost feel like using randonautica is like reaching into a bowl with a bunch of slips of paper with words written on them in a bowl and seeing what interesting things you pull out. And if that metaphor works at all, then it's almost like for me, living somewhere with so much density of population and businesses as well as so much personal meaning to me, it's like the bowl has more slips of paper in it than it might have somewhere else. Now, maybe that would be true of anyone in any neighborhood, and I am just observing it thinking about my home, but it's something that I wanted to mention because it's something I've been thinking a lot about since doing the episodes I did about Randonautica last year. I really am curious kind of how a specific environment might affect someone's personal experience of Randonautica. Like our some places better or easier to get something interesting out of Randonautica, or is everything good just in different ways?

At any rate, while reading this book and thinking about nature spirits and the spirit of the place, or genius loci, I kept feeling more and more like Randonautica was both a larger overarching entity that I was communicating with, but also like it communicates with me through the language of the environment and the local area. In fact, in the book, Miller talks about how often smaller spirits and entities might intercede as intermediaries or representatives of a larger deity. The easiest example for to since I come from a Catholic background, is the idea of saints interceding and working on behalf of people.

There is this hilarious stand-up bit by a comedian whose name I can't remember. The joke is “don’t bother Jesus,” and it's all about how in catholicism, when you are growing up and just in a lot of Catholic settings, there is a sense that you don't go right to Jesus if you have a problem. You might pray to a particular Saint or address the Virgin Mary or you know petition somebody else in the pantheon for lack of a better word, but you don't necessarily want to go straight to the top to the big bosses, Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, to request something.

In the book, Miller says that often it makes sense to contact a smaller local spirit rather than trying to connect to a deity.

He has this great metaphor, where he says that if you had a customer service problem with the Amazon order, and you call the customer support representative and say hey I know Jeff Bezos so you need to fix this problem for me, that’s kind of meaningless. Because the customer service representative isn’t close to Jeff Bezos, and if you really were friends with Bezos, you would have some sort of concierge service to contact instead of the regular customer service hotline.

Instead, it’s helpful to have friends in low places, people who are in a position to help you out, even if they’re not someone with a huge amount of power. Just like if you know a middle manager in customer service or had a relationship with someone in customer service, you would be helped more readily than if you knew Bezos himself, probably, the same goes for contacting larger deities versus smaller ones or local ones.

The book goes into some really great examples of this from Miller’s own magical practice, including a fascinating interaction with a spirit and the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil. It’s a really cool story.

To read from the book:

Of course, sometimes you don't need to go anywhere to find spirits from history. In the early 2000s I lived in a house right on Lake Lefferts in Matawan, New Jersey. This lake was the site of the famous 1916 shark attacks during which a great white shark made its way to Long Beach Is- land, then slowly north into the Raritan Bay, and eventually up creeks into the lakes of Matawan where it killed several children. The story was the basis for the book and movie Jaws. I was fascinated that such an odd occurrence happened just ten feet from my dining room, so I spent several nights on the dock making offerings in hopes of contacting the ghosts of the victims and offering some solace. After three nights I made contact with a beautiful Undine who claimed that the shades of the victims were too fragile to receive the offerings, but that she would transmit them for me. Months later, one of these spirits appeared to me in my house to warn me of impending danger from an unstable person I had recently befriended. As it turns out, this warning came in handy and I distanced myself from him before he started lashing out and causing trouble.
Think about this for a moment: I made a simple offering and it was accepted by an intermediary spirit. Some time later, one of those spirits reached out to me with useful information. This kind of interchange is exactly what I hope you are able to establish in your life in the place where you live.

And to read a bit more:

The spirit of the stream that runs through my property here in Vermont is a lot more localized than an Archangel. Unlike Michael or Raphael, she's unconcerned with tradition or religion. Her locality is the key to her presence. If I were to share her name and call her from wherever you are, I don't think that we would get her. We might get something, but I doubt it would be the spirit of this stream.
Regardless of what distant land or place of pilgrimage you might hold dear, ultimately you need to recognize the place where you live as a place of magic. If you live in a place famously steeped in occult lore like New Orleans, Glastonbury, or Kathmandu, you have an enormous, if perhaps touristy, body of material to link your Sorcery to. Truthfully, though, the whole world is alive with spirit. Even if you live in the dreariest suburb, surrounded by box stores and blight, you can still investigate the land and integrate it into your practice.
Every place I have ever lived, I have made a map that details the important locations I might need for magic. Once you have this map, mental or on paper, you can begin to establish a relationship with the land and its spirits. It will serve you in ways that you would never expect as long as you serve it faithfully as well.

I think this map idea is really interesting. I love maps, and I have created my own haunted maps of New York City with information about different events and supposed hauntings and that sort of thing. And I do think this is a really great suggestion for anyone wanting to engage more with the local area and whatever might be out there.

Ley lines

From Consorting with Spirits-Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller:

After doing some research on the geography of the area, you should investigate with your spirit skills and Sorcery. I used to hike to a blue hole, perform the offering ritual I gave a few chapters back, and then just wait, listen, and look with my spirit skills. What's the point in holding a feast if you don't listen to the guests, right?
You don't need to be in the woods to do this, though. When I was living in Philadelphia, my friends and I used pendulums over maps of the city, followed up by psychic viewing onsite to confirm the existence of a large ley line that ran across the Delaware and west across the city between Walnut and Locust streets. Interestingly, places where these ley lines crossed others (Nexus Points) were at parks: specifically Washington Square, Rittenhouse Square, and Blanche P. Levy Park. One gets the impression that sometimes those city planners knew more than they were letting on. Then again, sometimes spirits of nature take shelter wherever they can as the world of men closes in. Parks seem to inspire both people and spirits to become guardians of them. The first of these parks, Washington Square, not only is the site of hundreds of unmarked graves from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, but was known for a time as Congo Square because it was a place where Africans gathered to dance—just like Congo Square in New Orleans, another place of profound power and history.

Can a living person cause a haunting?

Jason Miller talks about how humans are spirits. We can do things that spirits can do, even though we have bodies.

This makes me think about something that I have been really fixated on pretty much since moving to New York City: the idea of living humans being able to haunt a location. I think that this is a real thing that can and does happen. This book felt like it was giving me a bit of evidence to work with here, by suggesting that humans have spirits that are just like any other spirit.

So there are two examples that I want to go into here about things that have made me think about the idea of living people haunting things.

I've been fairly open about my mental health on this podcast, though I try not to go into too many specifics, but I will say that when I first moved to New York and was in a late teens and early twenties, I had some pretty serious mental health issues and, I don't know, a sort of sense of psychic distress and despair and pain.

And I remember even when I was still in college in my early twenties walking around different parts of the city and I would get this sense of really visceral feeling that if I looked around, I would see myself. I'm not talking about like a PTSD flashback or anything like that, it was really more like that feeling when you feel like there's something paranormal like right next to you or occurring around you, that weird, visceral sense of not being alone. And, of course I'm talking about standing on a busy street corner in lower manhattan, for example, so of course I wasn't alone, but in these moments I really did think that I was just going to like blink or turn my head and see myself.

Because these were locations that were important to me, usually because of something that I was going through in my life at the time that I went to this location. But when I returned to these sites even just a couple years later, I had a sense of... not quite nostalgia, but something else.

I still occasionally get that sense, especially if I go back to a location that I haven't been to in a really long time but it's somewhere that I had visited while being very distressed. It's almost like this sense of seeing a doppelganger or something. I'm like, oh crap, I'm here. But I'm not talking about the present me, but like a ghost version of me.

Of course, in these instances, typically have not actually seen a doppelganger. The reason why I say typically is because there was one instance when I was walking through one of these areas with the person I was dating at the time and I crossed the street and there was someone walking towards me and I thought this person looked exactly like me and the two of us looked at each other both looked kind of confused and unsettled and then we just both kept walking. And the thing is, I'm face blind. So I often see people who I think look a lot like me, but this wasn't quite that. And the fact that the person looked at me and seemed to look a little uncomfortable or unsettled as well, stood out to me. Then the person I was dating turns to me and remarks on how that person looked exactly like me. So, I don't know, maybe something's going on there.

Now there is absolutely potentially a mundane explanation for me encountering this person who looked just like me. I definitely do think I have one of those faces. It is not been uncommon for random people to come up to me and start talking to me because they think I'm someone else . So it really could have just been someone who looked like me and was weirded out because of how much they looked like me. I definitely have doppelgangers on my mind right now, at any rate, because my friends over at the Lunatics Radio Hour have been talking about doppelgangers on their podcast this month, so if you want to hear more about doppelgangers, check that out. But still, it's interesting that that encounter happened in one of those areas where I sometimes feel is haunted by myself.

Oh, another thing that's worth mentioning about these locations where I have felt haunted by myself, I'm not even talking about like oh, something happened to me at this location. It's much more like I was having mental health problems everyday for a long period of time and there were certain places that I really liked going and even though I liked those places, I was just going through some things so it almost felt like I left an imprint on those locations. Maybe this is vague, but I'm very curious if other people have had that sense as well. This is happened to me other places as well, places where I spent a long time being very unhappy, but I don't want to go into a super lot of detail there. But I think you get the idea?

Of course, that's just a feeling that I get. But I've also had more concrete things happen to me that suggest that living people can haunt places. I have experienced hauntings in a person's home, that I would attribute to that person. And that person was still alive and still living in that home. I'm having to be a little bit vague about this since I'm talking about a living person, though it's not someone who knows that I have this podcast, but basically there is someone who I know who really doesn't like people in their space and is very obsessive about every object in their home and what things can and can't be done in the home, and this person even sort of polices what people eat in their home and what they can talk about. They are someone who can be very intense and very controlling.

And while staying at this person's house I have had some really weird experiences. One example is that once I woke up earlier than everyone else because I tend to be an early riser. I wanted to take a shower, I grabbed a blue towel from the hall closet I went into the bathroom, and I locked the door. I kind of just threw the blue towel down in the middle of the bathroom floor, and then when I got out of the shower the towel was gone. And I know there's no way that anyone could have gotten into the locked bathroom, period, but especially not without me noticing. But also I knew that everyone else was asleep.

So I did not have a towel anymore, so I had to make do with drying off with a hand towel, which was annoying but not impossible. And then when I got out of the bathroom, everyone was asleep still. My theory is that this person who is very fastidious, really didn't like that I had just thrown this towel down on the ground, and I think that they or their spirit moved the towel and took it out of the bathroom. Sadly, at the time I did not think to look and see whether the towel was back in the linen closet not.

And that's not the only thing that has happened in that home. I know someone else who has had something disappear from their backpack and then reappear there, and just little things like that. I would almost describe it as poltergeist activity. But I think the poltergeist is one of the residents of this home.

My theory is that their spirit does things to guests because they are so obsessive about having people in their space and having things out of place. And I really do think their spirit does things and moves things and hides things.

So, I know I just went on this huge tangent just because of one pretty basic contention in the book that I'm talking about, which is that living people are spirits too, but like I said, this book has given me a lot to think about and there's just like these little gems in the book that then send me on these sort of rabbit holes of thinking about different things, and this was one of them.

Churches and hauntings

The book has some really interesting things to say about churches and hauntings. He talks about how more witchcraft in the world is Christian then pagan, a point that many people don’t seem to like to acknowledge, but it’s true nonetheless.

Related, excerpt from "Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies" by Jason Miller:

The architecture of many churches is not just inspiring, it is magical! One of the advantages enjoyed by Magicians who work in the Christian tradition is the presence of so many churches. Their spires rise like cellphone towers of spirit, repeating a signal through the land. When you get into oldschool folk magic, there is a ton of magic that is based in and around churches. In Sweden, the Årsgång ritual of walking around a church backward on Christmas Eve would empower you to perform Witchcraft, and sometimes reveal the future. Often the rite would trigger an encounter with a Demon or spirit who could initiate you as a Sorcerer.
Some churches are built according to the specifications of spirits. The Swedenborgian Bryn Athyn Cathedral in Pennsylvania is a marvel of spiritual/magical engineering and one of the strangest churches I have ever seen in all my travels.
There are no right angles in the whole church, no two hinges or knobs are alike, the roof is made from an unsparkable metal called monel that is almost as heavy as lead, lightning rods run from the roof down into the church, and there is an altar that is a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, which functions like an orgone accumulator. I could go on, but you really would have to see it for yourself to believe it.

All of this also makes me think of something that I read once in a book, which was written by someone who worked with exorcists within New York city. I'm actually not going to say the title of the book or the author's name, because I think that you should not read it because it is very and hateful and racist, but there were some things that stuck with me in the book. And the author talked about how in their experience, they found that in New York city, there tended to be more hauntings near churches.

That was very interesting to me, because many of the places that I've lived in New York City have been near churches, and there are just a lot of churches here. But also I've been wondering about what the connection might be between churches and hauntings, and I feel like this book, Consorting with Spirits, really has helped to articulate some of that for me.