Waking Spirits

In this week’s segment, I'm sharing a paranormal memoir about a Penny Charm, a ritual of blessing you can do with the spirits in a new house.


62 - Waking Spirits


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I like houses with ghosts. I prefer them. Where else does the largest chunk of all that "charm" and "character" come from if not from spirit energies?

But it seems a lot of people react to the presence of any spirit as a "negative" spirit, and, in my opinion, that's just not necessarily the case.

When I moved into the house I shared with my brother in 2003 (the house on Daniel) I had not yet begun to make the distinctions that you find me writing about now, like the differences between ghosts and spirit guides and angels....

I only observed that, among the population of the invisible, were those that came and went, those that came with the locations they inhabited, and those that came along with us, attached to us personally like parents or pets.

My awareness of these subjects had only just shifted to conscious -- the Daniel House is where I moved right after my encounters with Jesse, whom I told you about in the episodes called Stranger Angels. Daniel is where I took those first steps that led ultimately to my communicating and working with spirit guides. (And that’s the arc of my personal history I’m recounting in these paranormal memoirs.)

The Daniel House represents a bridge in memory and experience from the haunted Green House of my childhood. Living with my brother again as an adult seems to have either drawn new phenomena to me, or plugged me back in and turned up the volume.

Gray little black-shuttered Daniel came with great potential for ghosts and residual energy. It was built in the 1930s in a middle class inner-city neighborhood with the timid room dimensions of that pessimistic time. It wasn't the oldest house I've ever lived in, but it was the oldest house I spent a lot of nights in alone, listening... expecting.

Part of the promise of ghosts at Daniel came with the finished walk-up attic, an upper half-story with dormer windows and a permanent steep staircase behind a door at the back of the house. The ceiling height of the attic would have been irresistible to children -- and sure enough, the first time the leasing agent walked me through the house, he semi-apologized for the scribbles on the attic walls.

...Names printed in little kid scrawl; a few broken wax crayons, paper labels peeled off, stomped into the cracks between the floorboards; the murky window light like that of an abandoned terrarium....

How many spooky movies and horror novels begin with delicious little moments of foreshadowing just like this?

Since it was the last room he showed me, the realtor had no way of knowing how much more the possibility of a kid-haunted attic appealed to me than the refinished wood floors and the upgraded appliances, the new energy efficient water heater and the central heat and air.

And there was no telling what all that renovation might have awakened....

The plan was that, by sharing the house, my brother and I could both take advantage of the best of multiple worlds -- for my brother, who spent more time on the road touring with bands than at home, the arrangement would allow him to get rid of an expensive storage facility, and still have some place to come home to, without having to maintain an apartment on his own. For me, well into my thirties, beyond any lingering tolerance for collegiate roommate situations, yet not financially stable enough to live alone in a city as expensive as Atlanta, co-habitating with my mostly absent brother would mean quasi-living-alone. I could enjoy reduced expenses, the place mostly to myself, and yet have an actual family member I could count on not to screw me over in one of those many ways that roommates can.

I know he didn't love the arrangement or benefit from it quite as much I did, but the timing was right for both of us -- he needed to go off on tour again in a hurry; I was moving back to town and starting a new job within a matter of days. With windows of opportunity as small as our overlapping circumstances, Daniel was serendipitous.

The first time I showed the place to my brother, he wanted to investigate the shed out behind the house and compare it to the attic. The lawn had just been mowed by the realty company in anticipation of our move-in date. We noticed the large rectangular depression in the yard beyond the back patio slab.

"My theory is they used to have a carport or something back here," I said.

My brother squinted. His cheeks pulled back in a wince. "Looks like a bomb shelter to me." Standing over the concave depression, he looked like he felt queasy. "They've obviously buried the entrance though."

Now, I've already told you I believe he is one of the most psychically sensitive people people I know -- but also the most uncomfortable with it. He never talks about the paranormal in the present tense at all, although he will refer, matter-of-factly and with great detail, to our shared past experiences when we were kids.

He was a statue of second thoughts, staring down between his feet with a frown at the faint footprint of that forgotten underground room. I half-expected him to deliver an early-in-the-spooky-movie line like "I have a bad feeling about this..." or "Wait! Did you hear that?"

He muttered something fairly close: "No telling what's under this yard...."

My brother's reactions in reality will probably always be a disappointment compared to my magical world view -- still, I decided to downplay his first exploration of the attic. I lingered back on the stairs, not unlike how the realtor had positioned himself when he'd shown it to me, offering dismissive responses and body language that said "Whatever. Nothing to see here. Let's go back down."

I don't know if my brother spotted the children's drawings on the walls in the corner. He only pronounced the attic's security as a favorable place to store his expensive surplus sound equipment.

He left to go rent a Uhaul.

Before moving anything into the house, I performed a ritual walk-through to introduce myself to the ghosts, to map any active vortex or portal in etheric dimensions coinciding with the physical space. (I prefer to wait and call the archangels into their protective posts at the four corners of the property later -- after I'm all moved in. Like a lid or a seal or a deadbolt; a moat around me and mine.)

Once the keys are yours it's hard to resist bringing something in with you on that first visit to a new place. You think Why waste a trip over without throwing a few things in the trunk? Doesn't make any sense when you can easily predict just how sick you'll be in the next day or so of all that carrying boxes back and forth....

But an empty house is like that pause between breaths in yoga, the moment that is neither inhaling or exhaling, the midpoint of the swing free from gravity, neither kicking up toward the sky or dropping back to earth.

Some of the greatest sources of power can only be found in Between Things, and most people feel a need to hurry through that unnerving discomfort, as minor as a dash through the rain without an umbrella between the car and the front porch roof overhang. The stillness of the in between can be peaceful or its silence can be deafening, depending on your personal comfort with sustaining a sense of timelessness, of nowhere, of nothing, of namelessness.

This moment is rife with magic -- you only get one such moment per move. Once you bring in your pets, your thoughts and emotions, your friends and family, your personal belongings steeped in your energy... the spirits have already started shifting, ink dropped in water, smoke torn and curled by your breezing in.

When I first move into a house I don’t smudge right away (or sage, as in its verb form, to burn sage) because .... Well, because I have this theory ....

So let me interrupt here with an apologetic parenthetical aside/ slash/ disclaimer before I tell you my theory about smudging --

This is just a belief (or a behavior, really) based on personal observation. I know it's not The Norm and Most People may not agree with this and I would not doubt it for a second if you told me there's a traditional Native American shaman in a famous 1970s commercial somewhere with a big fat tear sliding down his cheek as he casts his gaze out over the way I have gutted and bent shamanic tools and techniques to my own eclectic 21st Century mixed Anglo-Cherokee Neo-Pagan Post-Modern Creato-Matic Magical Practice.

My theory is that smudging sedates spirits much like smoking subdues a hive of bees.

To clarify further: smudging clears energies; it does not necessarily clear entities.

It doesn't get rid of Anyone, it just might make them stoned, pliable, sleepy, unmotivated... (maybe they get the munchies; and so if you know it's not mice -- or really big cockroaches -- or a roommate/partner with an Ambien-induced sleep-eating problem -- then That's probably why you're hearing the rustle and ruckus in the kitchen cabinets late at night).

Who's to say the Things That Go Bump don't dig a fatty smudge bundle just as much as your deceased Aunt Clara, your childhood fairy companion Sarafina, or your Guardian Angel Fanciel?

You know, I'm pretty sure sage smudge is a Southwestern thing anyway (my life stories take place in either Tennessee or Georgia); we certainly don't use Southeastern tobacco in anything close to a traditionally reverent way....

My point is: it's all bastardization, cultural appropriation and customization.

Many of my theories and practices exist under a canopy of Personalization -- that your beliefs and your intentions literally create the power -- the force, the degree, the volume, and the outcome -- of any ritual.

Take it; tweak it; make it work for you.


A medium friend of mine -- one of those guys you typically see accompanying paranormal investigators on those ghost hunting shows -- taught me this basic ritual for establishing a working co-habitation contract with any self-aware spirit entities who are bound to a specific location. Spirits may be attached to your house without being technically "earthbound" -- earthbound is an undesirable state of purgatory where the spirit is trapped and unable to cross over due to trauma, confusion, obsession; much more common are benevolent spirits dropping by a beloved past home in visitation.

Someone may have loved this house before you did (obviously, this is especially true with an older house). The original owner may have also been its creator -- he may have designed and built it to very personal specifications. It may have represented the single largest financial investment in his entire life. His wife may have given birth to children in this house; at the very least it is the place where they were raised. Some members of the home's original family may have died in the house -- not tragically, but as they most wished.

There can be enormous positive emotional attachments between spirits, memories, and places.

When you first walk through the space as part of your introductory ritual, listen for that history -- sense those personal stories. Recognize those who have gone before you. Honor their lives and respect their experiences -- this should be the foundation on which your own life story will be overlaid.

You are a new layer — it's a palimpsest. In the eye-blink of the present, your breath, your thoughts, your emotions, your energy are scribbled on the walls of the past of all those who have walked here before you.


We called this contract — this ritual, this spell, this game, really — a penny charm (in that obvious, childlike manner with which such things tend to be named).

The basic gist of a penny charm is that, before you move any of your belongings into the home, you greet the spirits who dwell there, you introduce yourself, explain who you are, how you intend to share the space, how you wish to interact with them, ask for their blessing, and invite them to provide security for you and yours.

If the spirits accept you as a new member of the family and agree to let you reside in their house unmolested, they will leave a coin (or coins) on the floor. The coin -- usually a penny -- will appear close to a door or window (sometimes, it may appear on the actual window sill).

You should express your thanks to the spirits and place the penny on the top of the closest door- or window-frame. (The trim around a standard door or window will comfortably hold a small coin, disguising it from view.)

The protection’s not literal; it's not only active on a particular door as a physical lock or deadbolt might be; all physical and non-physical pathways into and through the space should be theoretically "covered.” I've observed that the penny's placement might have something to do with energetic or spiritual portals, more than physical openings. If you do find multiple coins as a result of the spell, just place them individually, according to the best/closest corresponding door or window.

Or spread them around the house. It's your ritual -- follow your instincts.

The penny acts as a symbolic charm of protection -- the coin itself has no power; it represents the signed contract that the spirits have agreed to provide protection, to the best of their abilities, in the dimensions which they can affect.

Fully expect the penny to (eventually) vanish.

(Shortly after placing it above a door or window, you may remember the charm and check to see if it's still there. At some point, you will forget about it... this is when it ultimately disappears. Then again, months or even years later, the coin may still be there. Who knows? Both situations have happened to me.)

What if you've already been living in your home for some length of time -- can you still do this spell? I've moved around a lot, as a renter, so I've had plenty of opportunities to do this from Day One. I don't see any reason why you can't or shouldn't perform this spell right now if you want.

A couple of things I would advise -- if it ain't broke, don't worry about fixing it. I also can't help but wonder how many of you, if you go feeling around the tops of your doors and windows, might discover these kinds of coins or talismans already in place. If you find something there, and you're not experiencing "negative haunting issues," I'd assume the charm is still active -- leave it alone or put it back.

If it makes you feel better, before returning a found coin that you suspect is already an active charm, you could always ask the spirits to amend the contract to include you.

If you really want to ensure that the pennies you find are indeed charms or messages left by ghosts -- sweep first.

Sweeping ups the challenge level; but also it takes the doubt out. Unless your home is new construction, you'll nearly always find those Last Dustpan Piles left behind by the vacating human occupants. Those coins don't count (you know they don't) so start your ritual with a clean floor.

Sweeping is, in my opinion, one of the most multi-purpose practical, functional, and productive spiritual activities you can engage in -- excepting, of course, exercise. (Yes, vacuuming is the obvious alternative if you have carpeted rooms.)

I sweep daily. Not only the obvious places like the kitchen, but also the sidewalk, the driveway, the curb at the street. I'm sure the neighbors driving by think I'm obsessive-compulsive; when I'm in my senior years, stooped and ancient, I'll hopefully pass for eccentric and a bit anachronistic -- one of Those Little Old People.

For everyday sweeping spells I use a trusty full-size industrially manufactured (but still natural fiber) straw broom; but for rituals, such as the Penny Charm Contract, I go full-on hand-made besom. I've had my besom since the mid 1970s -- it looks like it came straight out of the props collection for a Loreena McKennitt album cover photo shoot.

I swept through the rooms of Daniel, prattling on out loud to whatever spirits might be present. I talked to them just as I would one of my new living neighbors. I have always experienced satisfying results from informal, improvisational rituals; formal prayers scripted by other people or choreography out of books feels a little fake to me. That kind of self-consciousness is a red flag indicating a lack of authenticity; therefore, the true power may be diminished.

I left the house and returned the next day with my first car load of stuff.

On the long drive back into the city, I kept picturing where I was most likely to find a coin waiting for me. I hurried through the front entry and past the living room, a quick raking glance in either direction assured me those boards were still bare.

As I anticipated, I discovered the coin in the dining room at the back of the house, about twelve inches in front of the door with the stairs leading up to the attic.

I was still convincing myself it was indeed there -- a dull rusted penny -- even a heartbeat or two after spotting it. I picked it up to see what year it was... 1973. Aw, wouldn't it have been perfect if it could have been 1969, the year of my birth? Already the stuff of stories, the symmetry of that detail was probably too much to ask for... But it did occur to me that my brother was born in '73.

Maybe they were drawn to him, more than me. He's more naturally sensitive... Ghosts, pets, babies have always found him instantly approachable. Maybe he'd even been by the Daniel house last night, since I performed the spell, and spoke to them, unknowingly or not.

I placed the coin on top of the sill on that most obvious of doorways and thanked the spirits for accepting us into their home.

Well, there it is, I thought. I can officially move in now.

I went out to my car and brought the first box into the back bedroom.

There was another penny, by the closet door. (Minted in the late 1990's; nothing exceptional about that.) This closet was actually the underside of the staircase to the attic -- the same space, reached from a door on the other side.

And the most logical places for our two desktop computers were in the spots where the coins had been found. This proved to be a very significant part of the story.