A simple ritual for laying to rest domestic ghosts

In honor of the feast of All Souls, I thought I might put on a costume, as it were, and write a blog post as if I were an old English cunning man and you, my readers, came to me for advice on supernatural problems, rather than computational ones.

So your house is haunted. You don’t know who the ghosts were in life, and you’re maybe a bit scared to find out, but you would like to gently encourage them to let go of their troubles and move on. I have for you a simple ritual involving a little of the old rune-magic.

You will need these materials:

  • A small piece of paper. A 3x5" card is plenty big enough. The paper does not need to be anything special, but ideally it would be unlined, heavy, and an unremarkable color, the sort of thing you would write a formal invitation on.
  • A pen, marker, or writing brush whose ink is not soluble in water or alcohol. The ink should be black or dark blue.
  • A small glass (no more than one mouthful of liquid) of whatever you would drink at a memorial wake for a close friend. If you’re not sure what would be appropriate, red wine is a safe choice. If you never drink alcohol, fruit juice will serve. Do not, however, use plain water or any variety of milk.
  • Something with which to attach the paper to the inside wall above your front door.

Draw the following seven symbols on one side of the paper, as big as you can. It would be a good idea to use a pencil and a ruler to divide up the space so you don’t start too big and then have to cram the last few in at the end; it’s important that the first three and the last three have equal significance. Leave a little extra space on either side of the middle symbol. Erase any pencil marks after you’re done.


These are Old Norse runes. They don’t add up to a word in Icelandic or anything like that; we are using them for the meanings of the individual letters, which are:

  • THORN, a curse, a misfortune, a hammer; ghosts are a curse to the living, but they are also themselves cursed, unable to leave the world where they no longer belong. Draw this one backward—with the point to the left—to make it the symbol of what we seek to bring to an end.
  • OTHILA, inheritance, fate; the cause of the curse; whatever debts the ghost may owe the world, or the world owe the ghost, that keeps it here.
  • ISA, ice, the nature of the curse: something that cannot change when it should.
  • JERA, years, time, change, the cycle of life. This is the pivotal rune of the working. All things, both good and ill, shall pass away in their time, and new things shall come in their place. No joyful thing can endure forever, but neither can any curse.
  • EHWAZ, horse, motion. What is frozen shall move again; what is trapped shall be released.
  • DAGAZ, daylight, dawn, emergence. The end of a curse, the lifting of a burden, the forgiveness of a debt.
  • WUNJO, joy, blessing, liberty. The negative of THORN, and the intended outcome of the working.

At twilight, take the drink and the paper and stand just inside the open doorway of your house, facing outward. It is better to do this on the first night after a new moon, but if there is some urgency to the matter you don’t need to wait. Dip one finger into the drink and trace the first of the runes with it; repeat for each rune. (This is called staining the runes. The tradition here originally calls for blood, but for an amateur working involving the dead, that would be an unwise choice.)

Next, attach the paper to the inside wall above the doorway, with the runes facing the wall (that is, blank side visible, runed side toward the outside of the house). Take care not to mar the rune lines with a pinhole or a glob of sticky goo or anything like that.

Step to one side of the doorway, raise the glass and recite a short prayer for the dead, from whichever religion you feel the most emotional connection with. If you have no emotional connection to any religion at all, make up your own brief benediction. I can’t help you with that, because it has to be emotionally meaningful for you. Drink the drink, all in one go. Close the door.

Leave the paper in place for a complete lunar cycle (29 days). At weekly intervals during this time, repeat the part of the ritual where you stand to one side of the open door at twilight, say a prayer for the dead, and drink. At the end of the cycle, again at twilight, take the paper down and carry it through the door. Standing just outside, hold the paper at one corner with tongs, set fire to it, and recite the prayer for the dead while it burns.

If the paper falls down by itself during the lunar cycle, that means the ghosts have already departed. Leave it where it fell until the next twilight and then burn it as above; you don’t need to continue with the ritual after that.

Come back if it doesn’t work.