The Dead are everywhere.
People say this but don't seem to delve much deeper into the meaning of it. They say that they work with "spirit", as if this is something that is not the dead. There is not a square inch of this planet that isn't permeated with the Dead. With Spirit.
In Alchemy there is the concept of Azoth, the great sea of mind which exists as a reflection into creation of that Great Mind that is un-created and the source of existence. We find that man is a reflection of that same mind into physicality; it stands to reason that the dead are a reflection of that Mind into the world of spirit. The world of Spirit--the realm of the Dead--teems and boils and churns, and permeates all things. Where it coagulates into life we have matter, always pregnant with the Dead. Life is a coagulation, and death a Sublimation. There is only one thing, though. One thing upon which these changes take place.
There are permutations of the dead that play varying roles in the life of the person, and even more so that of the alchemist/sorcerer.
The Ancestral Dead
These are our near-dead. The dead who are often closest conceptually and spiritually and are most accessible to us and amenable to our requests. These are the dead that stand at the threshold of life and death, for us; they are the first dead we address for protection, for wisdom. They radiate from us and inter-penetrate us. Their nature in spirit makes up our closest spiritual "atmosphere"--location-wise they are the internal dead; the vulgar ideas about bloodline and how it affects fate are rooted in the ancestral spirit and the effect on our environment their combined nature and virtue has. Like attracts to like.
If we look to the Greeks, we can see great concern over the fate of improperly buried ancestors--the agony and displeasure experienced by that spirit, who would be close to his relatives, would coagulate into the lives of it's family members. This impression in the Azoth would attract manifestation in accordance with it's nature, and these manifestations would express themselves in the locale of the Spirit, which in the case of the Ancestral Dead is the body and lives of it's line. The wisdom and pain of the ancestors is expressed within the coagulation of their natures, which is their living descendants. Their bodies, their lives. Our lives. There is no understanding the dead without coming into understanding of the importance of the ancestors. Their nature has a direct effect on the well-being of the person. The relationship with the ancestral dead can be expressed as "fate". It can tinge the life of the person in a beneficial or negative fashion. It's here that the nigromancer begins to work the fates.
The Ambient Dead
In Palo Mayombe our bilongo ("workings") are concentrated substances of a particular virtue. Just like in our classical European magics, Hermetic principle applies. Like is attracted to like. This is the same principle that fundamentally powers hoodoo's practical work as well. We gather a range of ingredients that "heat" the dead and attract a certain potential or effect. The dead are this potential, and they are the root cause of the effect.
For instance, a hoodoo powder for getting rid of an enemy (a hot-foot powder) could be made using Graveyard dirt (to attract/effect the Dead--spirit), red pepper (to "heat" the dead and make them volatile), Dirt Dauber nest (so that the dead will sting and harass the enemy) and sulfur (it's hellish associations used to attract dead of a certain sort.). This powder is then laid across their doorstep, blown into shoes, placed in their food...it's made to permeate the spiritual atmosphere around the enemy, and change the nature of the ambient dead that surround him.
This atmosphere boils around the enemy, the dead that surround him, the spirit, is continually working to coagulate and manifest. This is the impetus given the dead by the Sulfuric Fire that permeates them. The Sea of the Dead--Kalunga--interpenetrates and surrounds the coagulated Salt, the Earth. Our bodies and all other matter. The Fire of Heaven, the Sulfur is only communicated through the medium of the Water, as the Water carries the Fire. The Dead bring the fire to ground--they are a Vital force-- and their very nature affects the nature of the World that they permeate.
The circumstances that arise in our existences are intimately affected by the dead that surround us. This is why we cleanse and purify, this is why the call "HEKAS, HEKAS, EST BEBELOI" was wielded by the wise old Goets of the Western tradition. Understanding the nature of the dead surrounding us is key to growth as a theurge or thaumaturge.
The Ambient Dead are the dead (the Spirit) that permeates a given area or person. It is a sea of consciousness. The dead that are in our homes, our food and drink, the air we breath, the tools we use....when we consecrate our tools, we change the nature of the Dead within them so that they are permeated with the virtue we require.When we make a talisman, the dead within an object are given a consecration of meaning and virtue that work for the effect we desire. This concentration in virtue tinges the nature of the Sea of Dead we are permeated with, so that the desired thing is drawn toward us.
Dreaming, the Moon
It is with the ancestral and ambient dead we contend with when we sublimate from our bodies, and enter into the Sea of Death for a time in our dreams. In Hermetic work we find this realm represented by Luna, through whom all other spiritual forces must pass in order to manifest on the physical. The realm of the dead is truly like a sea, it has tides and fluctuations that can be tracked by the state of the moon, the same way we observe changes in the other powerful natural forces by viewing the heavenly bodies in Astrology. Dreaming is a steeping of ourselves within that Sea; oftentimes powerful messages from our ancestors are communicated through them. Sometimes we find ourselves viewing the life of another, who has since passed into the realm of death and is ambient to us. Powerful spiritual work that concentrates virtue in a given room is often observable in dreams; the Sea of Death in the area has been tinged by the work, and the sublimated person experiences it. We find our fears manifest in the realm of dreams, our constant worryings and brooding having tinged our atmosphere. The concentration of the mind and spirit is a powerful thing, and the dead are a malleable and liquid substance.
The Holy/Heroic Dead
Here we have Saints, powerful Spirits and entities that are old and concentrated. The greater the Fire within a concentration of Being the more powerful its ability to mold the Sea around it and manifest it's nature into the physical realm. The Holy Dead have, in their perfection, refined and concentrated the fire of life within them beyond that of the average person/thing. There are powerful Dead that don't come from humans; they have among them representation from every thing that exists, and therefore make up entire realms within the Sea of Death.
Here we find our great amalgations of Spirit, our Goetic Kings with their followers, our Angelic Beings and their Hierarchies, all within the great Sea.
Like attracts like, so within the Sea there are realms of heavenly and beautiful things, and also of dark and terrible things. Concentration of Virtue, which can be seen as places, but also as entities in and of themselves.
The Powerful Dead
These are entities like Gods--things that are direct expressions of the fundamental creative force. Even they, in all their power, must express themselves in the world through avenue of the dead. They are a pure Fire, a pure Virtue an incredible concentration. They are often acquainted to natural forces (mpungo in Palo) which are physical manifestations of fundamental spiritual forces. Here we have Love, that is Venus, that is Aphrodite, that is Gravity when fully coagulated. We have Time/Space, that is Saturn, that is Chronus, that is physicality and matter. And so on. The Sea of Death is full of dense concentrations of principle and consciousness, and it must be understand. In my opinion.
There are, of course other opinions on all this. If you have on of them, please share in ye olde Comments section! This subject must be addressed, I feel, and there is too little proper understanding of it.