A year ago today I did a version of a kemetic ritual honoring the akhu that was specifically supposed to honor the “unmournable” akhu in Set’s name. At the time, I thought it would just be a one-time thing; a way to release souls who had not been mourned or had the opportunity to move on to the other side. Hoping to help aid them, I even summoned most of the psychopomps I knew the names of (Anubis, Hermes, and Jesus), hoping to get everyone to their preferred afterlife after an hour or two of fellowship. I thought that would be the end of it, but it very much wasn’t. (Spirit/astral work in a nutshell, huh?) A lot of them ended up sticking around, requesting sanctuary in the place where they’d been given food, booze, entertainment and attention for the first time in, apparently, a very long time. I hadn’t done very much of any kind of spirit work at that point, but I ended up deciding to let them stay. That ended up being a better idea than I could’ve imagined, and I’ve added veneration of the Outlaw Dead as a permanent aspect of my practice; one that’s arguably even more important than my veneration of my deities.
Originally, it was only a ritual to mourn and release the unmourned. Now, the term went from “unmournable akhu” to “Outlaw Dead”, because it includes not only people who died without being mourned or given the rites their culture required, but people who lived and/or died as “outlaws”, mourned or not; not only criminals and enemies of the state, but people who were marginalized by their societies for any reason (especially those who died because of said marginalization/oppression). And then, since the original ritual itself was specifically meant to help the “unmourned” dead move on, with only the spirits who chose to stay and work with me staying, most of the Outlaw Dead I currently work with fall under the “outlaw/outsider” category, rather than simply “unmourned”. For this and other reasons, the Outlaw Dead are great to call on for magic with an activist bent. They’re also great to ask for help in general; I’m still regularly surprised by how quickly, and how much, they help when asked. Other witchy people I’ve had over have remarked on the positive energy they sense from their altar, especially during and after rituals.
In this post I’m going to first give some general advice on working with them safely and respectfully, and then share some specifics about what I do.
If you already have a tradition, consider looking up what they did to honor their ancestors before copying what I’m doing here. Most religions have some kind of ancestor veneration, and the whole point (originally) of the ritual I did was to give some kind of mourning ceremony to the souls who weren’t properly mourned. If you have a tradition already, think of which kinds of people traditionally wouldn’t have been mourned, and make the required adjustments to make those souls the target of your rites. If you’re a strict recon, this may not be for you, as I have yet to find any prominent traditions that included veneration of specifically “outlaws” to their own culture. Working with them has also caused some run-ins with other deities; I’m pretty sure that Hermes, for example, wanted to bring more of the Outlaw Dead to the other side than wanted to go, and I suspect there was some sort of argument between him and Set about it. (Sorry, man. I guess I owe you a beer, if I ever visit a Hellenic’s altar and they’ll explain to me how Greek offerings work.) Heru and Tyr have both claimed that the chaotic/outlaw energy and goings-on can sometimes make their space uncomfortable to be in, so at the very least, separate the spaces where you venerate them from orderly, lawful entities.
Keep in mind that when you decide to invite the Outlaw Dead into your home….you are working with at least some spirits who did not, in their human lives, follow the rules. Be prepared for them to not do what you say right away, as you’re going to probably need to bribe or threaten at least some of them at some point. If you don’t want them to stay, tell them so, and be prepared to do banishing rituals if they don’t leave…although, whatever psychopomp you know best should be available and willing to help you carry any stragglers to the light for you, as an alternative to magical violence. It isn’t required to have a god or more powerful spirit in charge of the whole operation, but it’s what I do since I still don’t consider myself a particularly experienced or powerful witch, and therefore wanted to have the Set backing me up in case of emergencies. To their credit, though, the only real problems they’ve caused were political in nature; they haven’t ever, to my knowledge, gone back on their agreement to abide by the rules I gave to protect myself, my roommates, and our cat.
If you want them to stay, though…set ground rules immediately. Explain why the rules are there; “because I said so” doesn’t cut it. Bind them with your intent, but give them plenty of opportunities to escape if they so please. It’s not a bad idea to give them specific jobs, for example, the daily upkeep of your wards and protection of your household, since when I first started working with them I got more frequent requests for jobs than offerings. It’s also likely that if more than one or two are staying, they’ll want to be put into factions; in which case, it’s a good idea to give them specific ‘anchors’ in the form of pretty rocks or trinkets that you can move around as they request. I’ve taken to sometimes carrying a few of them (who’ve consented via divination) with me after asking them for luck, or protection. For more formal spells, though, I generally just use the sigils I made for them rather than their anchors.
Here’s the contract/binding words I used, after outlining the rules of the household and what I would expect from them while they stayed and received my offerings and veneration:
“And finally, I bind you with the description of our praxis:
From each according to their ability,
To each according to to their needs;
And so long as you harm only those who must be harmed,
Do as thou wilt.
With love, admiration, gratitude, and solidarity,
-[my real name]”
I made sigils for the 14 distinct “factions” of the Outlaw dead I work with, which I am including here with their permission. I don’t think that it would be necessary for anyone else who wants to honor the Outlaw Dead to use the same symbols, but these ought to call on the ones I work with when activated. They’re divided into either functions or identity markers, and I asked them each which faction they’d like to be in when I added eight more factions for a total of 14 a few months ago.
(From left to right, respectively, starting on the first row: the Outlaw Dead as a whole; Serious Business/Bureaucrats; Warriors; Nature Lovers. Second row: Sick and Mad; Girls and Women; Poor and Starving; Heretics and Religious Minorities. Third row: Indigenous People; Team Edgy; Party Crowd; Idea Outlaws. Fourth row: Racial/Ethnic Minorities; Enemies of the State; Queer and LGBT+.)
I don’t think that it’s actually necessary to use any specific ritual to summon the Outlaw Dead, but as this is the one I used that got such surprising results, I’m choosing to include a variation of a ritual Devo posted last year from Eternal Egypt: Ancient Rituals for the Modern World by Richard J. Reidy (with a few more slight changes I’ve added since the last time I posted it) in case anyone is curious.
Approaching the Shrine:
Awake in peace, Lord of the Red Land, awake in peace.
I come to you, your servant, your son, I come to you.
Your beautiful scent, it calls me forward.
And upon you filling my nostrils
I, your servant, your son, I come to you.
I have made my way and I enter into your presence.
I am one of you.
Do not repulse me on the god’s path.
My feet are not impeded, I am not turned back from the god’s place.
I have looked upon you. I know you.
Your mighty Sha have enclosed me.
I have entered this place with ma’at in my heart
In order to honor the Akh of the Outlaw Dead upon this day.
*Step forward, or open the shrine, depending on your setup*
I open your temple. I come to you.
Your warmth and beauty surrounds me as I enter. I am not repulsed.
Behold, I have come to you to offer Ma’at,
to make sound the Eye for its lord.
Presentation of Light:
The torch comes to your ka, O Set, Lord of the Oasis.
Here comes he who promises the night after the day;
Here comes the two sisters from Ra;
Here comes she who was manifested in Abdju.
For I have caused it to come to you.
Even the Eye of Horus comes to you
Because I have made it so.
*Light first wick*
Come to this Eye of Horus, Great Set.
Let its light renew your youth in peace.
*Light second wick*
Come to this Eye of Horus, O Numerous Akhu who hear my call.
Come to this light and let it renew your youth in peace.
The Eye of Horus is your protection, O Weary One.
It spreads its protection over you; it defeats all of your adversaries.
Truly, your adversaries are fallen.
The Eye of Horus is your protection, O Akhu.
It spreads its protection over you; it defeats all of your adversaries.
Truly, your adversaries are fallen.
The Eye of Horus comes intact and shining
like Ra on the horizon.
The four torches go to your ka, O Set.
The four torches are your protection, O Lord of Ma’at
You are truly Enduring because of their protection.
It is Set who causes a torch to be bright for the potent Bas in the Duat and beyond.
May you make the living Ba of each and every Akh within your Domain
to be strong with their torch so that they will not be
repelled or turned back from the portals of the West.
Through your Rebellion and Strength,
Each and every akh in your Domain flourishes.
They are restored to their true shape and form
As sure as the sun crosses the sky every day.
Purification of offering space:
*Take up water bowl/pitcher*
O water, may you remove all evil,
I give you essential water, O Destroyer of the Damned One, a tide in your time.
I bring the flood waters to purify your sanctuary.
I bring you the flood waters to purify your temple
and your statue in your place.
*wet your finger and touch the four sides of your shrine, offering table or plate, etc.*
O Set, your altar is cleansed by the water;
Your altar is purified by the incense;
You are cleansed by Horus;
You are purified by Thoth.
Water invigorates your body;
It is I, your servant,
who comes to you in the palace where you reside.
Presentation of Libations:
These your cool waters, O Set
have come from your nephew, Horus.
I have come to you having gotten Horus’s eye,
So that your heart may become cool with it;
I have gotten it under your feet.
Accept the outflow that comes from you:
So that your heart will not become weary.
*Pour the water into first cup or bowl*
This water is the Eye of Horus,
take it to your countenance,
that it may brighten your face.
O Set, take this Eye of Horus
Which has been given to you by your son
So that you may live in Eternity
Glorious and pure.
*Pour the water into second cup or bowl*
O Glorious Spirits, take this Eye of Horus
It parts your mouth so that you may you taste its taste
Accept this Eye so that you may live in Eternity
Glorious and pure.
Presentation of Offerings:
Oh Lord of Power and Strength, stand up and sit down to a thousand of bread,
a thousand of beer, roast meat, your rib-meat from the slaughterhouse, “pulled” bread from the broadhall.
*place first offering*
As you are provided with a god’s-offering, these akhu are provided with bread.
You have come to your ba, Set, ba among the akhs,
in control of all that he sees, He Before Whom the Sky Trembles.
I have given you Horus’s eye, I have allotted it to you: may it endure for you with you.
*place second offering*
O Glorious Akhu, stand up and receive this your bread from me.
O Great Spirits, I will be an attendant for you.
O Enduring Akhu, accept Horus’s eye, your bread-loaf, and eat.
As everything is for those under your protection,
let everything be for the bodies of the Outlaw Dead.
Grow aroused, you Great Akhu
Take this Eye of Horus and become uplifted.
In your place of Completeness you do not hunger. You have no thirst.
Your contentment is all you know in the land of the Duat.
Your heart becomes awash with joy
And your hearts fill with ma’at.
As you take in the Eye of Horus
You shall become as complete as every NTR:
your head as Horus of the Duat—an Imperishable Star;
your face as Eyes-Forward—an Imperishable Star;
your ears Atum’s twins—an Imperishable Star;
your eyes Atum’s twins—an Imperishable Star;
your nose as the Jackal—an Imperishable Star;
your teeth Sopdu—an Imperishable Star;
your arms Hapi and Duamutef—when you demand to go up to the sky, you go up;
your legs Imseti and Qebehsenuef—when you demand to go down to the undersky, you go down;
your limbs Atum’s twins—an Imperishable Star.
O Great Akhu, become clean through Horus’s Eye and
Make your bones firm.
O Great Akhu, become Whole through Horus’s Eye and
All of your obstructions will be removed through Set’s mighty Sha.
You will not perish, your ka will not perish
As Set lives, you shall live.
As you live, Set lives.
Sun and Thoth, take each and every akh with you,
that they may eat of what you eat of,
that they may drink of what you drink of,
that they may live on what you live on,
that they may sit where you sit,
that they may grow powerful from what you grow powerful from,
that they may sail in what you sail in.
The booth of each and every akh is plaited of reeds;
the flood of each and every akh is in the Marsh of Offerings;
their feasts are among you, gods;
the water of each and every akh is wine, like the Sun.
They will circumnavigate the sky like the Sun,
They shall course the sky like Thoth.
And both akhu and NTRW shall live in peace in the Duat.
Whole and Complete. A million times effective.
Reversion of offerings:
O He Who Makes the Sky Tremble, your enemies withdraw from you.
Heru has turned himself to his Eye in its name of Reversion-of-Offerings.
These your divine offerings revert;
They revert to your servant for life, stability, health and joy.
So that you may flourish for eternity.
I don’t do this ritual every time I offer to the Outlaw Dead, but when I have time and something special to offer or ask for, I try to. I’ve also decided to make it a custom to do this ritual on the first full moon of January, or the Wolf Moon, as that’s the astrological anniversary of my meeting them.
When working with them more casually, the process is as follows:
- Designate an altar space/ritual space. Mine looks like this:
- Light a candle for each faction you’re working with. This is the mains source of energy and focus for the corresponding spirits to dwell in while the ritual is in progress.
- Set out offerings.
- Play music. I always play this song first, and then put on this playlist.
- Greet the Dead.
- If you are going to perform magic or a ritual with/for them, describe it to the Dead and ask for their permission before beginning.
- End the ritual by blowing out the candles and turning off the music.
My process for performing spells calling on the Outlaw Dead for help is as follows:
- Using your divination method of choice for yes/no answers, obtain consent from specific factions to be used for a spell.
- Describe the spell to the Dead.
- Create a sigil for spell, incorporating the sigils for the Dead you’re calling on along with the object of the spell.
- Charge and activate sigil with preferred method.
- Spell jars can also be left on the altar for the Outlaw Dead to work on; adding sigils to the decoration of the jar describing the factions called upon and the spell itself recommended.
While I’ve added a bunch of warnings, and I do try to err on the side of caution when I work with them (as with all astral and spirit work), I would consider it unfair to say that these are particularly unsafe or malicious spirits. There have been some conflicts (such as the aforementioned issues with Heru and Tyr), but on the whole, they’ve been an overwhelmingly positive, generous, and helpful addition to my religious practice. I’m posting this with their permission and input because I hope that they can find more people to honor and work with them in the larger kemetic and pagan communities. I’m not sure anyone who asked for this post a year ago is still interested, but hey -better late than never.
It’s also a good idea to remember that “Outlaws” also includes the souls of people you, personally, would consider despicable. Personally, I just expect them to follow the ground rules I’ve laid out, and try not to inquire into exactly what kind of “outlaw” any of them were beyond the faction they requested to be sorted into. If you prefer, though, you could always add an aspect of your spell that bars, for example, the spirits of violent criminals from your space. I choose not to do this because I feel my role in my work with them is not to judge them for what they did when they were alive. The point of the practice is, as I wrote above, radical love, admiration, gratitude, and solidarity. No shortcuts to make myself more comfortable with the moral gray area all of us, especially “outlaws”, live in.
It’s not just about getting magical help and feeling like a particularly edgy necromancer (although I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of why I enjoy it). The core of this practice is about appreciation for other people, in particular people who it can be dangerous or inconvenient to be associated with, or hard to love and forgive because of the mistakes they’ve made. In this case, it’s dead people, but the practice of “radical love, admiration, gratitude, and solidarity” has improved my sense of empathy for other living humans, my sense of responsibility toward them, and lit a fire under my ass vis a vis activism and getting my life together so that I can one day have the power to defend the human rights of living outlaws as well. For this reason most of all, I sincerely hope other pagans find this post useful, and incorporate some level of veneration for the Outlaw Dead into their practices.