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c6c79f28580d9ed024_Lisa and Louise Burns as the Gr

How to talk to ghosts: a guide to mediums, necromancy and séances

If we learn to communicate with the realm of the dead, we might have a better relationship with the living and grapple with our inherent fear of endings and uncertainty

“One need not be a chamber to be haunted. One need not to be a house” – Emily Dickinson

Ghosts have been capturing our fear and fascination for centuries. From Pliny to Toni Morrison, haunted houses to séances, spectres, phantoms and apparitions have always been a feature of popular culture, literature and mass media, proving endlessly durable against scepticism. 

Though the topic of ghosts can be sinister, mediumship has taught me that communing with the dead can be quite restorative. My work with the deceased has shown me that the dead are never truly dead – they continue to live amongst us, whether it be through the retellings of stories or other nostalgic evocations, as thought forms or energy. Death, like life, is not linear, which is why we have a strong sense that the deceased are still with us, as birds, flowers, gusts of wind or guardian angels. We carry the dead within us wherever we go; the dead are not only sickly Victorian children in cheese cloth drapes atop stairs, but they are also the memoric imprints we hold within us and deposit in given spaces.


A tablet belonging to an exorcist in ancient Babylon around 1500 BCE may be the earliest known mention of a ghost. Depicting a male ghost being led to the afterlife, the inscription reads: “Do not look behind you.” Recordings of ghost communication were later prevalent throughout antiquity with records of necromancy, the ceremonial conjuring of spirits, in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome and China. One of the oldest literary accounts of necromantic ghost summoning was found in Homer’s Odyssey, which recounts the sorceress Circe guiding Homer to summon the dead through rites varying between the mundane to the grotesque: such as burning fire, animal sacrifice and prayers to the gods of the underworld. 

Ghosts reported in mediaeval Europe tended to fall into two categories: the souls of the dead or demons. Mediaeval European ghosts were more outlandish than their predecessors, with reports of phantom knights and ghosts fighting battles in the forests and atop old forts. During the late Victorian spiritualist movement, mediumship, the art of communicating to deceased ancestors, was popularised as a reaction to divisive sectarianism that dominated with the disestablishment of religion. Having previously belonged to the realm of the working class, the spiritualist groups and their séances were largely dominated by London’s nineteenth-century elite who would gather in ornate drawing rooms and shriek as gusts of wind would blow out the remaining candles. 

Technological explanations for the rise of spiritualism during this time often cite the development of photography, which in its ability to immortalise its subjects has a ghost like quality of its own. In addition to capturing otherwise ephemeral moments, cameras are able to render the unseen visible through astronomical, microscopic or X-ray photography. The intersection between the supernatural and photography not only reflected a fascination in capturing the unknown, but also in providing more concrete evidence for paranormal activity.

Today, both necromancers and mediums are often few and far between. Though there remain festivals all  over the world that allow for interaction between the living and the dead, such as the Día de los Muertos in Mexico or the Hungry Ghost Festival in China, talk of the dead and the practice of ghost communication remains taboo. In attempts to avoid confronting our own inevitable deaths, and the deaths of those we love, talk of death is branded as morbid or grotesque.


The assumption that the dead are no longer amongst us not only denies our own personal histories but also denies the history of spaces. This colonial view of the world, and of the supernatural, disavows the importance of the memoric history of land, institutions and buildings, as well as bodies. To believe in ghosts is not only to believe in life after death, but life before death too. As Jean-Michel Rabaté reminds us: ‘to haunt’ comes from the Germanic root heim/home. Haunting and inhabiting are inextricably linked, and if we recognise the history of land inhabitation, so too must we acknowledge ghosts and haunting as post-colonial in nature.

Ghosts not only threaten a colonial view of the land, institutions and our bodies, but also our sense of linear time. Arriving from the past, and reappearing in the present, ghosts belong to neither realm. They are neither dead or alive, nor are they corporal objects or absences. In The Specters of Marx, Derrida says the anticipated return of the ghost in society is representative of a collective desire to deconstruct a rigid sense of historical chronology. The ghost’s ahistorical and atemporal nature might help our lives to feel less final and fixed, offering hope that they might lead the way to a better future, and a more illuminated past.

My earliest encounter with this was as a child. My younger brother had crippling insomnia claiming he could not sleep as two women dressed in black lace were pinching him at night. One day, three witches from a local spiritualist church were passing through the village and without any prior knowledge of his story, immediately went to his room where they said a small boy had died of cot death during the Victorian era. His mother and night nurse had escaped their mental asylum in mourning clothes to search for the dead boy, and in their ghostly state, had mistaken the boy for my brother. In desperate attempts to save my brother from dying of the same death, their ghosts would pinch him to keep him awake at night.

Communication with the dead is not only insightful, but it might also save us from less favourable destinies. Spirit communication has guided me in my own life, warning me of several dangerous situations or people, never proving itself wrong. For Hannen Swaffer, one of Britain’s leading advocates for spiritualism, the knowledge we learn from the dead is just as worthy as the knowledge we learn from the living. If we learn to communicate better with the realm of the dead, we might have a better relationship with the realm of the living and grapple with our inherent fear of presupposed finalities and endings. 


If you are curious about the dead, the best option is to find a medium. As a medium and psychic, I will only work with people who are ready to, as work with the other side can be incredibly healing but potentially destabilising. I usually will ask clients to wait at least a year after someone near to them has passed, so that they can start the processing journey alone first. 

If, however, you choose to contact the dead yourself, make sure you are protected. Medium and clairvoyant Lisa Andrews advises the following: “It is essential to cast a protective circle before you work with the other side”. You can do this by visualising a ring of white light around you. Andrews also advises on setting an intention, and being open to what comes up: “The dead can respond in different ways. They might present themselves in a dream, or in smells like tobacco or perfume, or in shifts in your body temperature. Be open to all possibilities”. 

The dead are not dissimilar to the living, and it is important to treat them as such. “Spirits who appear are as unthreatening as any other visitor,” says clairvoyant Rosemary Brown. For Brown, “the next world  is very similar to ours, only infinitely more beautiful”. As the supernatural and ghost communication becomes more normalised, the banality in our everyday existence becomes miraculous. We can only hope to bridge the divide between ourselves and what we have lost. In this way of living, the dead can exist with us harmoniously, as we commune with the shadows in our attics, summon all that haunts us, and enter into a dialogue with what has passed – and all that is yet to come.