Spirit work is something that people make a big deal out of. To many people, spirits, especially anything we think of as gods, hold this high place. The biggest thing with spirit work that I see is actually fear. People are afraid of spirit work. It's commonly taught that spirit work is an advanced practice. Now, not everyone wants to do any kind of spirit work. For those of us that do however, I would say that it's not advanced. It's probably the most fundamental thing you do in your practice.
Now I don't mean by this anything that's super deep and intense, I just mean the basics of spirit work. The spirits you'll be working with actually teach you everything else if you learn to listen. With that said, how do we do it then?
Fundamentals of Spirit Work
I think the largest thing you need to remember is that spirits should be treated exactly like every other interaction that you have with someone else. Yes, of course, things like pantheon or origin matter. They matter because they speak to the cultural roots of a spirit. Especially in the world of symbols and magick, culture matters as a touch point for symbol. The closest way of thinking about it is probably thinking of it as the spirit picking up habits or patterns in the same way as people do based on culture.
That means that some things become important because of that sure, but that's hardly the most important thing when dealing with your other friends. It shouldn't be the most important thing here either. I think of spirit work as having a visitor. There's some formality to it sometimes, more on special occasions, but also people can get way more casual over time. When you make an offering, it's not any different than asking someone if they'd like a cup of coffee or something.
Coffee as Sacrament
Yes, when you're doing spirit work, it's important to determine what kinds of things the spirit likes. I've always thought it's more fundamental to be a good host. One of the first things we do when we invite someone new over to our house, at least where I'm from, is offer your visitor a drink. Usually this is a hot beverage, like coffee. Coffee is funny, because it's both basic, and widely customizable. Now, if you don't drink coffee, you can do the same thing with tea. Tea is probably better in some ways, different types of teas can bring different herbs and such into the equation. I stick here with coffee to start with because I usually have it anyway.
Spirit work requires us to slow down, and breathe. You need to take time to be quiet, slow down, and listen for responses from the spirit. Frankly, it doesn't really matter at first if you actually notice what they're saying, just that you slow down.
What I do is this. Starting with contact with a spirit, I'll just pour them a cup of coffee. When first starting, it's just black coffee. I usually do this once a week or so with a new spirit, unless we're going right into working together. Then I'll sit with my coffee, and just have coffee with them. I'll talk, and it's a time for reflection, almost meditation on them. Often I'll sit with my playing cards, so I can ask questions of them, and read to see the answers. This is also a great way to learn to listen without them. This was something that I learned to do in part to learn to listen. Every time I do this I'll tweak the coffee a little bit, and see what they say. It takes some time, but instinct will guide you into the things that the spirit likes.
Learn to listen
An important part of this is that a relationship with a spirit should be a 2 way street. It's not enough to just talk, but to listen as well. Over time, you'll learn to listen with an inner voice, and an intuition. I suggest allowing that kind of intuition to guide how each spirit wants the coffee, to work on developing that skill. That said, often we need more clarity than that can provide for a long time. I've been doing this a long time, and I'll still need more clarity sometimes.
This is when I turn to divination. I use the same divination tool to talk to any individual spirit as I use in normal readings, but some folks like to keep a different divination tool just for spirit communication, as they feel it keeps things more pure. Really, I sit with my cards while I have coffee, and I'll ask the spirit I'm sitting with questions, and throw cards for answers. Doesn't need to be complicated, although you'll notice the different "voices" in the cards. I would say you need to learn your divination tool pretty well to hear through the voices, but they'll also help you learn that skill too. Anything you already do works of course. I have a basic guide to playing card divination if you don't have a divination system you like well though.
Coffee as community
This also gives us a key into why coffee as a holy beverage works in more places than just spirit work. Coffee is the grease that lubricates the engine of our society. Even if you don't drink coffee, you understand the workplace significance of coffee. In many ways, coffee has come to symbolize our life, in the way of the things we do to fuel life. I've spoken a bit about the back porch, and the kind of community I found when studying magick. How that relaxed way of sharing information drove my learning in a way that real classes wouldn't do. That was also driven by coffee. When you do coffee with a group, it's one thing, that everyone modifies to fit their taste. In many ways a good representation of magickal practice itself.