4 Nature-Based Ways to Communicate with Spirits

Guest post by Autumn Willow of Flying the Hedge

With summer well on its way and Mother Earth in full bloom, there is no reason to stay indoors. As a hedgewitch, a large part of my craft is communicating with the Otherworld and spirits through hedge riding. Hedge riding is very similar to shamanic journeying, but without the psychopomp work, e.g. soul retrieval. During hedge riding, the witch enters an altered state of consciousness during which he/she can travel to the realms of the Otherworld to communicate with spirits and guides to interpret messages, seek guidance, or heal. While hedge riding is not easy, there are several items found right outside your door that can be used to enhance your hedge riding experience and your ability to communicate with spirits.

Antlers

Finding an antler can seem daunting, especially when you don’t know where to start. Depending on your area, most deer shed their antlers between January and March, making this the prime time to search for sheds. However, if you are looking in your own backyard for antlers, you may find some this late in the season because private property is not well-traveled by humans. My dad, who is an avid hunter, finds antlers year around because he knows where to look.

If you are looking for shed antlers, you need to go where the deer are. Follow their trails; look for food sources. There is no point in searching areas where the deer are not. They are going to drop where there is food or where a deer is forced to jump, which will knock shedding antlers loose. Please do not kill a deer simply for its antlers. The act of taking the deer’s life diminishes the magic of the antler. Shed is best. Remember to thank the deer for its gift to you, because a gift it is.

 

Animal Bones

If you are familiar with witchcraft, it should be no surprise bones are on this list. Bones are considered a fetish, an item believed to be the embodiment or habitat of a spirit. There is a reason many people are afraid or unnerved around dead bodies and in graveyards. This belief is based firmly in animism, the belief/knowledge that all things possess a spirit or energy. The use of animal bones to communicate with spirits and the Otherworld is found across cultures and is no exception today. It is believed when an animal dies, its soul will often linger. This is not always the case, but I have found it to be true more often than not. The animal spirit may be helped to pass into the Otherworld or “bound” to the remains to aid the witch in magical workings and spirit communication. This can be done by making a contract with the animal spirit, much like a contract you would make with your familiar. By making such a contract, the animal spirit often benefits in its own way, while the witch gains a powerful ally, with each animal spirit having different powers based on the type of animal. Modern hedgewitches use cleaned and consecrated animal bones to protect their homes and families, aid in traveling to and from the Otherworld, as messengers between our realm and the Otherworld (especially during ancestral communication), and for boosting magical workings. If you have an animal guide, you can use a bone from that animal to allow your guide to travel to and within our realm. For example, I have a fox skull to represent one of my animal guides, Meka, who is a red fox. I’m still on the lookout for a raven skull to represent Rocar, my raven guide, but I am sure one will appear when he is ready to aid me within this plane of existence.

Furthermore, animal bones can be added to your hedge riding sachet or held during hedge riding for protection, enhanced communication, or to aid in a physical transformation within the Otherworld, e.g. turning into a deer or wolf. Finding animal bones is relatively easy, especially if you live near a busy street or road. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using roadkill to acquire your bones, but I do suggest you approach such remains with caution, in regards to your health and spiritual well-being. Other places to look include streams or river beds, the edge of a forest, brush, and near owl and hawk nests. You can also purchase bones online or use bones from a local butcher shop. As always, don’t kill an animal simply to take its bones. I like to use animal bones from animals that died naturally. The magic is always more potent and the spirit is significantly easier to work with. Slaughtered animals are often sad and sometimes even angry, which can impact your magical workings. When you find bones, approach the bones respectfully. Try to sense whether the animal spirit still lingers. If so, ask if you may approach and touch the bones. If the spirit says no, thank it for its time, leave a small offering if you can, and do not return. If the spirit allows you to touch its bones, make your intentions well known. Ask if you may take a bone or bones for magical workings. I’ve found that being respectful often leads to a yes. If there is no spirit attached to the remains, you should still be respectful. And remember, always thank the spirit, whether it is there or not, for allowing you to have such a precious gift. Once the bone has been collected, be sure to thoroughly clean them (not with bleach!) and consecrate them if you wish. You can also adorn the bones with symbols or redden them to enhance their power.

Feathers and Insect Wings

Like antlers and animal bones, feathers and insect wings are commonly used during hedge riding to communicate with the Otherworld. In fact, I have a small feather in my hedge riding sachet to aid in my travels between realms. The use of feathers is found in magical traditions around the world. Druids wore feathers during ceremonies to invoke the gods, to increase celestial communication, and allow travel between realms. Native American chieftains wore ornate feathered headdresses to symbolize their communication with the spirit world, while in Egyptian myth souls were weighed against features before they could pass over. In modern witchcraft, feathers are believed to be messages from spirits and should be heeded accordingly. Insect wings have much less mythology behind them but are just as useful as feathers. Despite the lack of mythology, insect wings are believed to be messages from loved ones since passed and can be used in spirit communication and flight. As a hedge witch, I place feathers and insect wings on my altar during hedge riding to aid in travel, carry feathers in my hedge riding sachet to “give wings” to my “flight” or journey, to invoke the spirit of birds and flying insects, and to send messages to spirits and ancestors.

Like animal bones, feathers and insect wings should be approached with respect. While the animal is likely still alive if it’s a feather, it is still a gift for you. Do not take it if you feel any anger or unwanted energies. Unlike animal bones, however, feathers and insect wings are much easier to acquire!  A walk through your yard will likely yield a feather or two. Spring and summer are also a great time to find insect wings. Insects have a very short life cycle, so check around flowers, trees, and sidewalks for dead insects. Ants will usually eat most of a carcass, but they generally leave the wings behind because they lack nutrients. When you acquire a feather, make sure to clean it to avoid mites and parasites in your home. Freezing the feathers for a couple of days before cleaning them with a facial wipe will help reduce the chances of contamination. I don’t suggest cleaning insect wings, especially butterfly and moth wings, because you will destroy their natural beauty. If you are concerned about any “germs,” freeze them for a couple of days. A little note of caution regarding feathers: it is illegal in the US to possess feathers of raptors, e.g. hawks, owls, and eagles, and migratory birds. Safe feathers are those that belong to common waterfowl and game birds such as the turkey. However, I won’t tell if you won’t.

Plants

The easiest natural item I’ve mentioned to collect are plants! No matter where you are in the world, there are a number of plants you can use to enhance your hedge riding and communication with spirits. Dandelion, for example, can be used to summon spirits. The root is often used to summon spirits from the underworld, the leaves to summon nature spirits and other spirits that inhabit the middle realm, and the flowers and seeds to summon angels and the spirits of the skies and heavens. The dandelion can be burned, carried in a sachet, held, or consumed to increase spirit communication and hedge riding. Poplar branches and buds are used to achieve “flight” and aid in the physical manifestation of spirits. Modern hedgewitches place poplar branches on their altar to invoke spirits, create crowns from the branches to be worn during hedge riding, carry small twigs and buds in their hedge riding sachets to aid in flight, and create anointing oils from the buds to be used during rituals and riding. However, a favorite among hedgewitches is the rowan. Unfortunately, rowan trees do not grow in the South, making it a difficult ingredient for me to find. However, if you live in cooler climates, the rowan is likely found in our own backyard. The rowan amplifies magic and protects from spirit possession and attachment, making it an important plant to hedgewitches during hedge riding. It also helps give control to the wielder during their crossing over and can even be used to compel spirits. In one Irish folktale, a woman uses a staff of rowan to summon a spirit, compel it to speak the truth, then send it back. Branches and berries of rowan can be placed on the altar or worn for protection, and the berries can be consumed to enhance spirit work. 

However, the berries must be fermented or cooked before they are safe to eat. Other useful plants include mallow, St. John’s Wort, and mugwort. To find these wonderful plants, consult a plant identification guide to see if they grow in your area and what they look like this time of year. There is nothing worse than misidentifying a plant, especially if similar looking plants are toxic! Once you are sure of what they look like and whether or not they are found in your area, head on outside for a little hike. A couple of notes regarding harvesting plants. Never use plants found on protected land; the areas are protected for a reason. Do not collect and use plants found along the roadside. I know it is tempting, but these plants are often sprayed with chemicals to kill them off and contain heavy metals. Furthermore, no amount of washing will get rid of the heavy metals from car exhaust. The heavy metals are stored in the leaves during photosynthesis and cellular respiration, often resulting in toxic levels. Do not overharvest. Make sure you leave enough behind for the plant to continue to grow or enough other plants to repopulate what you have harvested. You also want to leave enough food for the animals in the area. Dandelion is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring and is an extremely important food source for pollinators after a long winter. If you overharvest dandelion, you are depleting an extremely important food source for your local bees and butterflies. And finally, be sure to thank the plant for allowing you to use it. Leave an offering behind, especially in the form of water or plant food.

 

Acquiring materials for your practice doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Unlike those perfect Instagram and Tumblr rituals we see daily, many of the items you use can be easily found in your own backyard. From my experience, those items I’ve collected outside contain a magic I cannot find in a store. And remember, the magic comes from within you. You don’t need any of these items to successfully hedge ride or communicate with spirits, however, they do help if obtained and used properly. Happy hunting, witches!

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