I pride myself on having a really good relationship with my students but there is one subject that I teach about that I can almost always guarantee is going to piss people off. That subject is learning how to tell whether a haunting or spirit is really a haunting or a spirit. Look, I get it! Nobody likes to feel like they’re not being taken seriously. Coming to a teacher like me with a story about what seems to be an obvious ghost or spirit and immediately being interrogated about whether it’s really what you say it is doesn’t make anyone feel like I have confidence in them. I know this.
As a teacher and a source of spiritual guidance for many people, however, I can’t always give people what they want. When we’re dealing with things like spirits, taking the easy route or doing the least offensive thing would often be causing more harm. I can’t live with letting people get hurt because I don’t want to offend them! I’d rather say the hard thing upfront and make sure that people are safe and that I can truly help them. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at why it is so crucial to learn how to differentiate between a spiritual haunting and more mundane occurrences and how you can make sure you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
Why We Need To Check
So why is it even important that we check to see if a potential haunting really is a spirit? I mean, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck, right? Well, as luck would have it, the spiritual world is not so straightforward. There are some obvious signs and symptoms when a spirit is present, such as objects moving, hearing voices, hearing bumps or odd noises, or seeing the spirit out of the corner of your eye. One would think that if these signs and symptoms are present, it’s easy to say that yes you probably have a spirit haunting. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that simple.
The truth is that these symptoms of spirit haunting can actually be caused by a wide array of unrelated, non-spiritual occurrences. In some cases, these occurrences are relatively harmless. Maybe your kids found a way into a crawl space and that’s why you’re hearing bumping in the walls. Maybe the house is just old and creaky. In many cases though, the underlying mundane causes of these events can be very dangerous.
This is the real reason why my first response to any report of spirit activity is to drill down into whether it’s truly a spirit. It’s not because I think people are lying or they’re crazy or they just don’t know how to recognize a spirit. It’s because I am not willing to take the chance that there is a dangerous mundane problem at the root of this issue. If I spend a week or two helping someone with magical solutions to a spiritual problem that isn’t even a spiritual problem, then I have essentially helped them stay in a potentially dangerous situation for several weeks longer than would have been necessary. In some cases, an added week or two can be deadly. This is not an exaggeration! Some of the common mundane causes of faux spirit hauntings are deadly if not addressed quickly. I would rather offend someone a thousand times over if it meant that I could get them out of a potentially deadly or harmful situation.
I’m Pretty Sure It’s A Spirit Though!
I get it. Everyone is certain that their senses are telling the truth and the thing they think is a spirit is definitely a spirit. You might be totally right! I’m not saying that your spirit problem isn’t really a spirit. All I’m saying is that the smartest way to approach any spirit haunting is to first eliminate potential mundane causes. Not because I don’t think it’s really a spirit but because eliminating mundane causes is both the fastest way to determine if it’s really a spirit and the safest way to move forward.
Think about it, if on the off chance your spirit haunting is actually caused by something mundane like an insect infestation or carbon monoxide, all the banishing spells in the world won’t help you. This is the real crux of the matter. I am all for using magic to help solve our problems, but we cannot appropriately address problems, magical or otherwise, until we know the truth of the situation. I can give you a million spells and cleansing rituals to get rid of a spirit, but if you’re dealing with toxic gas in your house, none of that is going to help.
As witches, we always need to remember that our axis of power is in reality. We have to be in reality if we want to have any power as witches. If we do not know the truth of the situation, there is no way for us to respond appropriately, magically or otherwise. This goes for all areas of our life and our craft. Power stems from truth, from being firmly rooted in the reality of our situation. If we know where we are right now, it is much easier to determine the right set of actions, the right magic, and the right mindset to move from where we are to where we want to be. By refusing to take stock of the reality that we are in, we’re only denying ourselves the power to create real change in our situation. Long story short, if you want to get rid of your spirit haunting, you need to know everything you can about the reality of the situation you are in. Without doing that, there is no hope for you to resolve the issue properly. You will essentially be taking shots in the dark hoping to hit something rather than simply turning on the light and taking a good look at what’s around you.
Even if you’re 100% certain that what you’re dealing with is a spirit, I still want you to go through the process that I’m about to outline that will help you to eliminate any potential mundane causes of your experience. I do this every time I’m dealing with a spirit even though I have been practicing the craft for more than two decades! It’s not about experience, it’s not about knowledge, it’s not about whether you’re a good enough witch. It’s about making sure that you root yourself firmly in reality so that you can solve your problems from a place of true power.
So Is It Really A Spirit?
Okay, so how do we determine if something is a spirit or if it’s something more mundane? Our first step is to eliminate the usual suspects. There are six common mundane causes that can create faux spiritual experiences. We want to check for each one of these, one by one, until we have determined that none of them is an issue. This may sound like a lot of work but for most of these, some simple yes/no questions or quick tests will help to rule out these potential causes. Often, I can run through these in 20 minutes or less and have a more definitive idea of whether I’m dealing with a real spirit or not.
For now, take these one step at a time, don’t rule anything out until you’ve verified that it’s not an issue, and move forward with an open mind. As you move down this list, take note of any symptoms that you have in common with those listed. If you or anyone else in your home (including children and pets) have symptoms associated with a particular potential problem, go ahead and run through the tests for it.
1. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Or A Gas Leak
The first issue to check for is carbon monoxide poisoning or a gas leak. This is a seriously insidious problem and hundreds of people die from it every year because they don’t know how to spot the signs. Symptoms include a dull headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, smelling sulfur, fatigue, chest pain, depression, nose bleeds, ringing ears, plants dying, loss of consciousness, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms will disappear or become less severe when you leave the affected area, leaving many people to assume there’s an unhappy spirit trying to get them to leave their house. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain and organ damage and even death! Please do not take this lightly.
If you have carbon monoxide detectors, check to make sure they’re functional. If you don’t and you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, get everyone including pets out of your house immediately and do not use any open flames, wall outlets, or light switches. Open up all the windows and let the space air out for several hours. I don’t care if it’s hot or cold outside, you must let the air circulate. When you return, take note of how you feel in the space. Have the previous symptoms disappeared? Does the space feel better? Can you breathe easier? If so, you MUST get your home checked before taking spiritual action. Call emergency services or the National Gas Emergency Services to come check your house, this service is usually free.
2. Mold Contamination
Next on the list is mold contamination. We all know that mold in our homes isn’t a good thing but many people don’t realize how truly toxic mold can be. This is particularly of concern in older buildings, and buildings in climates that are frequently warm and humid. Short-term symptoms may include headaches, feeling exhausted, frequent coughing, especially at night, sinusitis, allergic reactions, chest colds, fever, and difficulty breathing. Long-term effects include losing your hair, anxiety, confusion or memory loss, numbness in hands and feet, stomach pains, sensitivity to light, gaining weight for no reason, and muscle cramps. Again, long-term exposure can be quite harmful and should not be ruled out if you’re having location-based symptoms.
If you have visible mold growth in your home, you want to get yourself and your family out of there immediately until you can have a professional evaluate and remove the mold. Not all mold will be easily visible, though. It can grow in walls and other hard-to-spot places while still having toxic effects so if you don’t find any visible mold but you’re having related symptoms, get your home tested for mold. You can buy home mold test kits online for relatively cheap or you can call a professional service to check your home for you.
3. Heavy Metal Toxicity
Heavy metals are something we all know are bad for us but most of us don’t realize how common heavy metal exposure really is. Old houses frequently have lead in the paint and plumbing that cannot be easily removed. Mercury from broken thermometers or lightbulbs has to be cleaned up very carefully or it lingers in the room, slowly poisoning everyone who comes into contact with it. Hell, recent reports have even found unacceptable levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead in baby food! My point is, exposure to these toxins is way more common than most people are aware of and the consequences of exposure can be life-altering. Here are just a few of the many symptoms these common heavy metals can cause.
Mercury – Irritability, anxiety, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, numbness or tingling, psychosis, confusion, and much more. Mercury is well known to cause serious mental instability. If you’ve ever seen Alice In Wonderland, the trope of the Mad Hatter is based on a real phenomenon that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hat makers used mercury in the hat-making process and over time it would drive them quite literally insane.
Lead – Brain fog, difficulty thinking, hyperactivity, stuttering, aggression, impulsiveness, irritability, hypertension. Homes built before 1978 often had lead paint and while the original paint may have been scraped or sanded off there’s a good chance that the dust may have settled in the home or on the surrounding land. If you garden, definitely do a soil test to ensure you’re not growing heavy metal contaminated veggies.
Arsenic – Unhealthy or pale skin, irritability, cancer, carbohydrate intolerance or insulin sensitivity, racing heart, mental anguish, weakness, numbness, and pain in the hands and feet. Arsenic has been very widely used in agriculture and building homes in the past and that contamination easily finds its way into our lives. Rice is particularly adept at accumulating arsenic so it’s the single biggest source of inorganic arsenic in our food supply.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s worth it to get tested for heavy metal toxicity. I suggest the Andrew Cutler Chelation protocol. His books discuss the proper ways to get hair testing (which is the safest way to test) and how to remove heavy metals from the body safely.
4. Rodent/Insect Infestation
Next on our list of potential spirit imposters are rodents and insects. Signs that you might have these include hearing bumps and scratching in the walls at night, strange odors, erratic pet behavior, droppings, holes and gnaw marks, dying plants, or dead insects/rodents. These critters can be very destructive to homes and can carry diseases so please call a pest control expert or tell your landlord if you notice these signs.
5. Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis may be one of the most common faux spirit hauntings I find with my clients. Symptoms include an inability to move the body when falling asleep or on waking, lasting for seconds or several minutes, being consciously awake, being unable to speak during the episode, having hallucinations and sensations that cause fear, feeling pressure on the chest, having difficulty breathing, feeling as if death is approaching, sweating, having headaches, muscle pains, and paranoia.
Frequently episodes involve seeing shadow people moving in the room, seeing someone watching you, or “hag riding” where a person or creature is sitting on your chest immobilizing you. It’s easy to see why sleep paralysis might be confused with a spirit!
Despite this, sleep paralysis is NOT a spirit problem. It’s a stress response that causes the transition to or out of REM sleep to become out of sync with the brain. I’ve experienced it myself and while it is harrowing and can certainly seem like an obvious spirit manifestation, it’s more akin to a night terror than anything from the spiritual realm.
Solving this problem requires better stress management and sleep hygiene. For more information on how to solve sleep paralysis, go here.
For those of you with sleep paralysis, here are some magical steps to take as well. These won’t necessarily banish the sleep paralysis as though it was a spirit, but it can help with feeling safer and calmer in your space.
Protective Floor Wash
Boil 1/4 cup of salt and a handful of Solomon’s Seal root in water for nine minutes. Let it cool and use this to mop the floor under your bed if possible. If you have carpet, you can flick the water around the room, anoint the baseboards, and wash your sheets in the water.
DO NOT sleep near crystals like Herkimer diamond, amethyst, shaman’s stone, moonstone, or moldavite. These stones enhance dreaming and moonstone and moldavite can make nightmares worse. Stones to use to improve sleep include hematite, albite, and angelite. These three are excellent for inducing truly restful sleep.
Finally, before bed, you can make yourself a very simple tea potion with chamomile or sleepytime tea and honey. On a magical level, chamomile helps to prevent nightmares and has a very soft, soothing energy while honey helps to sweeten your dreams. On a physical level, chamomile is very relaxing and the sugar in honey down-regulates the production of the stress hormone cortisol before bed, allowing you to sleep deeper and more restfully.
6. Psychiatric Problems
While this is often an unpopular opinion in spiritual communities, mental illnesses can cause symptoms that resemble spirit activity, and this should be ruled out first. If you have a personal or family history of psychiatric disorders, you should start by seeing a medical professional who has good religious tolerance, they will be able to help you differentiate between the two.
Symptoms are wide ranging and may present in many ways but delusions, seeing/hearing people or beings that aren’t physically there, and paranoia are red flags. One criterion to help you out is to check if all the beings that you sense are victimizing or antagonizing you in particular. This can be a sign of paranoid delusion, as the mind creates external evidence of internal struggles. Another way to tell is if you are the only person who experiences these beings’ presence. If another person has also experienced the presence of the spirit, then it’s likely not a mental disturbance. If you’re the only one who sees or experiences the spirit, though, it might be time to consider whether this applies to you.
The average spirit is not going to be heavily antagonistic and will be generally easy to banish. A delusion will probably be controlling, mean, or antagonistic and will NOT go away with spiritual intervention. If you try to banish it and nothing happens, SEE A DOCTOR. There’s no shame in getting help for mental struggles and while we may not like to admit to such severe symptoms, the right medical treatment can help these symptoms subside and give you a much better quality of life.
So What Happens If All Of These Tests Are Negative?
If you carefully consider and eliminate all the above mundane causes of faux spirit hauntings then congratulations, you probably have a real, bonafide spirit on your hands. Now what? How you handle this spirit will depend on the spirit itself and on your personal approach to the spirit realm. Spirits are as diverse and unique as people are and dealing with them often requires an individualized approach.
Keep an eye out for next week’s blog post where I’ll be showing you how to take care of your spirit haunting!
Ready to learn more about Spirit Work?
The world of spirits can be an overwhelming place for beginners and more experienced witches alike. There’s no telling what you might run into when you open that door!
This practice doesn’t have to be so scary though. As with most things in the craft, it’s been built up to be way more difficult than it actually is. With the right guide and a little prep work, you can be working with spirits without all of the fear and trepidation.
In Spirit Work for Witches, I give you a look at look at beginner-level spirit work, dispel common misconceptions, teach you how to stay safe while working with spirits, and ease you into some easy introductory spirit work that anyone can do. Whether you want to learn to work with spirits or you want to learn to keep spirits away from you, this is the course for you.