What’s spiritwork? Spiritwork is the art of engaging in meaningful conversation and relationship with spirits, especially hidden or subtle spirits. That definition is pretty standard. A more telling question is: How do you define spirit?
Around here, I use an animist-friendly definition of spirit from the Ced Tradition of witchcraft.
Spirits are the identities of life—life’s forms. (And every identifiable sum and division of those forms.) I’m a spirit. My heart is a spirit. My family is a spirit. The tree is a spirit. The leaf is a spirit. The forest is a spirit.
Some spirits are subtle in the sense that they can be difficult for us as humans to notice, perceive, comprehend, or build a personal relationship with. Difficult, but not impossible. The God of Time. The Spirit of Hope. The Sum of your Ancestral Wisdom.
Most spiritworkers have a special fondness for these subtle spirits. Y’all might even read this and be like, “The ancestors aren’t subtle. They never shut up!”
Some religions practice spiritwork, but spiritwork is not a religion. So, weird as this might sound, you don’t have to have believe in the existence of literal spirits to practice spiritwork. Maybe you think it’s just the idea of our loved one that survives death. That’s cool. Ideas are spirits, too. I have had meaningful conversations and relationships with many of my ideas.
In fact, I consider engaging in conversation with our own ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and motivations to be a critical part of building healthy, meaningful relationships with spirits!
During a spiritworking I would ask you to behave as if the spirits you’re encountering are real and not governed by your mind—to suspend disbelief the same way we do when watching a film or reading fiction. Supported by effective trance, we let ourselves go there and enter the reality of the work.
After a spiritworking you can go back to believing and behaving in whatever way feels most natural to you. (Of course, what feels natural to you may shift over time if you continue to provoke spiritual growth in yourself through things like spiritwork.)
For the folks who are die-hard believers in literal spirits, I would ask you to remember that your mind plays a big role in interpreting and generating the sensory experience of spiritual contact—so even if the spirits are real, that doesn’t make our interpretations infallible.
So, it’s less a question of whether you believe in spirits…and more can you imagine the benefit of experiencing conversation and relationship with spirits?
I’ll quote Joy Harjo’s poem Speaking Tree (1951), but highly suggest reading it in its entirety. [ Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She served three terms as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2019-2022. ]
Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,
But they do not understand poetry—