Banishing, Depossessing, and Devouring

"The Witch of Endor" by Kunz Meyer-Waldeck, 1902

“Raise no more devils than you can lay down.” – German Proverb

Let us be honest. There are endless ways, spells, and rituals to summon spirits, gods, and demons but when it comes to safeguards or banishing one when things go sour, our collective knowledge as modern witches and pagans is quite lacking. What do you do when a haunting, an escaped spirit, or a possession is out of your ability to handle? When so many of us barely believe any of this is real, it leaves us poorly equipped to help ourselves let alone other people when something wicked this way comes.

Let’s get serious. Let’s assume the supernatural is natural, real, palpable. Let’s admit to ourselves that most spirits, aside from our familiars, do not have our best interest in mind and the intent of most is to deceive or harm us. You’d better believe I’m including deities in there too. “Yes puny human, give me all the offerings and do my bidding without question.” Not such a good idea. You read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, didn’t you? No? Time to head to the library. Pick up some Russian and German fairy tales while you’re there too – they’ll help.

If you are summoning anything, whether it be a god, a spirit, or a shade, do so within protected space. This includes ouija boards. It is the true point of our magic circles, to make sure that when we open the door between worlds, nothing escapes into our world that does not belong there. That nothing comes through the door without being invited. Cast a “real” circle. Make it tight, make it true. Have a weapon on hand whether it is a steel knife or a rowan staff. Have banishing herbs or incense on hand and ready to use (rosemary and salt from the kitchen will do in a pinch). Have offerings at the ready, but never feed a spirit before you first confirm its true identity, for offerings give spirits power –power to hurt you and power to escape. Make sure all you may need is inside your sacred space before you cast the circle.

Keep Out – Only Humans Allowed

Have a closed door policy when it comes to spirits. Nothing comes in or out of your home without your say so. Is the Night Hag bothering you? Is a spirit torturing you in your dreams? Is a pervy ghost spying on you in the shower? Lock them out. Burn a banishing herb or incense first and walk counter clockwise around your entire house getting every nook and cranny, every shelf and closet. Shout: “get out unwanted spirits, you are not welcome here, get out, get out, GET OUT!”

Make some holy water and sprinkle it on every “entry” to your home. This includes mirrors, faucets, drains, laundry vents, bathroom fans, windows, doors, stove hoods… get it all. Dip your finger in the holy water and mark your windows and doors with an equal armed cross. Consecrate everything you have touched with the water as locked. State out loud, loudly and with confidence, that all the entryways are sealed and that nothing may come through without your express permission. If you have any boundaries you would like to set with the spirits or even your familiar spirits, state them now. Think long and hard on them and word them VERY carefully before you speak them.

Make yourself a charm to hang in the house that acts as the lock. This can be an old key strung to a holey stone, a red charm bag with st. john’s wort and rowan in it, protective runes or symbols over your front door, a carved Icelandic runestave nailed over the door, and so on. There are endless ideas for apotropaic devices from history. It is the consecration of the item for its purpose that gives it power. Consecrate it on your altar. Sprinkle it with holy water to cleanse it, cover it with a dark cloth to mimic a womb, lift the cloth and birth it into its new life by naming it to its sole purpose. Anoint it with oil. It is done. Hang it or hide it. Five minutes of magical work for a year or more of protection is more than worth it. Resetting your wards at least once or twice a year is recommended.

Ask For Help From Someone Bigger Than You

Start with common sense. As the proverb says, do not summon anything if you do not first have the knowledge and ability to cast it out, send it home, or trap it. This includes deities, but you won’t have much luck trying to banish them or trap them. They are too old, too big and too powerful for you. Don’t get cocky. They’ll just laugh at you while they suck on the bones of your corpse. However, the deity who acts as bouncer to the realm of the gods can give them a boot back through the door to where they belong and keep them there. Every pantheon usually has one. I call them gatekeepers. If you are going to practice spirit work the first thing you should do is make friends with one, preferably one from the cultural context you already practice within. Some of them include Papa Legba, Hekate, Hermes, and Heimdal. They are usually tricksters themselves; no one’s getting by them. They are also usually the ones other gods are scared of or defer to. And using their names to threaten spirits with often works better than just shouting unpleasantries and waving garlic around. “Baba Yaga’s going to eat you!” sounds so much scarier than “I’m going to burn this incense if you don’t leave.”

Gatekeepers can also do your dirty work for you and send back troublesome spirits to where they belong. They can aid in depossession if a benevolent deity or ancestor won’t leave a ritualist’s body. They can also make sure you summon the correct spirit and send the right one through and then back again.  Gatekeepers don’t fuck up, we do by using the wrong words in our invocations. Be incredibly specific. Choose a gatekeeper to the right realm. If it is a spirit of the dead, call upon one who guards the entrance of the underworld. Is it an unseelie nature spirit? Call upon the King or Queen of Fairy. You will need to drag the spirit to their door and you will need to pay them handsomely for their services. Each one has their own preferences, you will need to do the research if you are going to build a relationship with a cosmic bouncer.

Summon the gatekeeper, out loud with a strong voice. Give them an offering. Ask them to open the door between worlds. Ask them to take the spirit or other being back to where it belongs and shut the door locked behind them. Leave them another offering and clearly state your thanks for their help. Clearly say your farewell after so they know you no longer need them.

"An Incantation" by John Hamilton Mortimer, 1773

Hold Your Own (aka Stab and Devour)

There will be occasions when a unwanted spirit is “small” enough for you to handle. These you can banish, bind, trap, enslave, or eat. Yes eat. Bigger spirits do it, why not you? Just grab it tight and shove it in your mouth and swallow. Mmm souls are delicious. Not only have you dealt with it, but you’ve absorbed its power as well. Eat a few spirits and it becomes more likely you’ll get left alone when traversing the otherworld, like a man who has shanked a few fellow prisoners and now eats his lunch in peace. Sure, you could bind and enslave those spirits harassing you to do your bidding, but if they ever got free they’d call for backup and gleefully play with your intestines. It’s always better to have willing and happy familiar spirits.

There may be a time when you need to kill a spirit. Yes kill. You can indeed kill something noncorporeal. How? Fairy and folk tales are rife with instructions. If it is too big for you to eat or banish and you are in its own realm rendering a gatekeeper useless, you can try to destroy a spirit. You must find the source of its power –often the trapped souls of its victims or their “heart” (read that as “soul”) hidden somewhere you must find and destroy. What, you thought J.K. Rowling made up the idea of a horcrux? No, she got it from old European folk tales of evil sorcerers and heartless giants. Get your familiars to help you find the evil spirit’s secret stash and destroy it with your magic and your tools. Yes, you can bring your knives, wands, staffs, etc with you to the otherworld –attach them to your body, hold on to them, or put them by you.

Basic Banishing Steps for Hauntings or Possession

To prevent involuntary possession be very specific in your evocations making sure you are requesting the presence of a deity or spirit and not to be ridden by them. In ritual, be very exacting about who you are calling. The ancient Celts and Norse would give a deity or ancestor’s entire lineage using very specific names and titles for them in their evocations. Also, do not attend or perform a ritual where there will be invocations or evocations when you are ill, drunk, high, or emotionally exhausted unless you have taken precautions to protect yourself from possession.

Some precautions one can take from the lore of cultures worldwide include wearing multicoloured clothing consisting of seven colours or more, wearing mirrors sewn into clothing, dusting your bare skin with powdered white eggshell, carry a rowan cross in your pocket or wear a string of the berries around your neck, wear bold red clothing, or wear an amulet consecrated to protect you from possession. If you are someone who frequents graveyards, make yourself a spray or a hand rub you can apply as soon as you leave the gates so no ghosts try to follow you home. Lazy? Just buy some lavender water or Florida water.

Find a banishing or exorcism incantation that works for you. One you like and, more importantly, one you will actually use. If you feel silly saying it, it’s not going to work. You need to come off as confident and scary as fuck. Look in Aradia, in Mastering Witchcraft, in the Carmina Gadelica, or in grimoires old and new. Look through your book collection and those of your occulty friends.

To extract or exorcise a spirit unwilling to leave a person, place, or object different steps may be taken. If incantations, exorcising incenses, or a purification baths do not work then attempt to extract the spirit in the following order:

  • Ask the spirit to leave, tell it that it is time to go and remove itself from the person/object/place. If it refuses move on to the second step.
  • With utmost confidence, threaten the spirit with exorcism and banishment and throw around a scary deity’s name or two. If they still refuse to leave move on to the next step.
  • Make good on your threat and attempt to exorcise the spirit by repeating an incantation firmly and willfully over and over until they leave. If this is not enough also cleanse the person/object/place with holy water, salt, and/or herbs, or fumigate them by burning exorcism herbs or incense while continuing to recite the incantation. Once the spirit has left, do not forget to banish it so it doesn’t return to the person/object/place once you’ve left. This is the mistake many exorcists make.
  • Banish the spirit. Banishing is the act of sending spirits back though the gate to the underworld and then closing it behind them – do so with force and strength of will. If you do not know how or do not have the ability ask a gatekeeper of the underworld to do so.
  • If you are unable to banish the spirit you can resort to trapping and binding it – but always keep in mind this is an absolute last resort. Always try banishing first, but if it keeps returning after and causing harm, then it’s time for trapping and binding it.

Okay, now you’re thinking “but how do I trap and bind spirits?” Good thing you asked, the next blog article will be all about spirit traps. How to make them, use them, and destroy them properly. Stay tuned. Same witch-time, same witch-channel.


Text and images © 2015 Sarah Anne Lawless. Do not copy or use without the express permission of the author, but sharing the link is very welcome.

Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Jon Bullard says:

    Great informative read, loved this! I think Banishing is one of the first things you should learn when entering this craft. Can’t wait for your next blog on binding and trapping!

  • Beatriz says:

    Amazing post as always, Sarah, thank you very much. I have a question you may be able to answer. Can Gwydion from the Mabinogion be considered a gatekeeper? He is usually considered a trickster and is a very skilled magician in the myths, but as always with welsh lore, the roles of the gods are blurred and confusing. Blodeuwedd, his “creation”, is not a trickster, but have strong ties with the underworld. Can she be a gatekeeper? Or do cosmic bouncers have to always be very scary in a more traditional way?

    • Sarah says:

      Gatekeepers don’t have to be scary, just powerful. It’s their power that will scare a spirit, not their nature. In Welsh mythology I consider Gwynn ap Nudd a gatekeeper.

  • Barsa says:

    Very informative on a topic that is not touched on enough, thank you.

  • Thorin says:

    What about playing the spider- trapping small malfefic spirits with the intention of eating them?

    • Sarah says:

      I suppose that depends on if you can eat the trap or safely pick them out. Maybe suck them from the trap into a stone or a hollow bone and then into your mouth.

  • Kate says:

    It’s so funny that I read this just today — I was already planning to do a whole-house cleansing and protection tomorrow. I personally have a bat nut anointed with Van Van oil affixed over my front door as my apotropaic charm, but I didn’t know that it might need to be replaced once a year. Good info!

    • VERY advisable to “walk your bounds” regularly and refresh your wards (corrected from the auto-filled “warts”) at least yearly.

      Doesn’t hurt one bit to practice doing that on the astral, either.

      This is the voice of experience, as I have to kick my own ass into gear for this stuff all the time!

  • Cheri says:

    Thank you for being the first witch besides myself who has taken on this subject. There was something I read about the witch in the woods; she must become the most dangerous of all the predators, and acknowledge it. I find that one must think like the big wolf in order to run with the big wolf. Devouring is very effective and so is no mercy. Deity or demon were once one in the same and acknowledged the same name. It’s not arrogance but experience that I write about. Fear is not an option for a witch; that pit in the stomach gut feeling should be acknowledged and dealt with swiftly. I cannot do my worst if I am afraid of myself or of the entity I am banishing or dealing with.

  • Maria says:

    Thanks for the great post! In Finnish folk tradition we have these “poems” that are called ” Words of origin” (my own translation from “syntysanat”). When you knew the mythological origin of a spirit, illness or other you had power over it. And it was also common to threaten them with their parents, like “I’m going to tell on you!”

  • Robyn says:

    What about getting your more powerful spirits to keep house for you? I think we focus too much on banishing, when witches as spirit workers should get their own spirits to do that for them.

    • Sarah says:

      I don’t think I’ve met many in my greater community who’ve actually performed a proper banishing. It’s all sage smudging and welcoming positive energies. I agree with you, familiar spirits are great for house and personal protection. I have a friend who even has one that acts like a security alarm and warns her when her shield has been breached by something inhuman. I wrote this keeping in mind that a lot of witches are not spirit workers. It’s also a worst case scenario post; if everything’s gone wrong and your familiars aren’t strong enough, it’s time to bring in the big guns.

  • Porl says:

    I’ve actually met quite a few people online who can banish, or say they can banish what they call up, excepting if course for deities which must be dealt with respectfully.
    It was also the first thing I was taught : opening/closing. summoning/saying farewell.

    I have picked up tricks along the way that seem outright strange to some people, like using a horsetail to smash and banish spirit energies. Stuff that is older, less heard of. Not found in many circles,

  • Afshin says:

    Great advice Sarah! This all makes sense when you think that spirits are all around us and are quite active beings. You perfectly outline the importance of knowing where spirits come from and how they can possess people and gain entry into this world. Blessings :)x

  • Curious Novice says:

    If you devour a malicious spirit, then wouldn’t that taint you with its power? Or does your own dilute it?

    I’m just getting into this and I’m still a bit new when it comes to these things.