Here is another classic portrayal of Witches and Pagans; walking through a graveyard in the dead of night, gathering bones and graveyard dirt whilst talking to the spirits of the dead. The Witches cabal dancing through the grave stones, disembodied voices singing the Black Mass; the figure in black floating between the headstones. These are all images burned into the consciousness of society by historical persecutions and Holywood alike.
Let’s take a bit more of a balanced look at what may be going on here (without encroaching on future questions too much)
Ancestor worship (and by extension necromancy) features prominently in most modern witchcraft and pagan traditions and where are you going to most likely find the earthly remains of your direct ancestors? In Graveyards. Some Wiches like to visit the resting places of their ancestors and/or spirits they work with to strengthen their connections and make offerings in person.
Although I will be covering this subject more in the coming weeks it is important to note that Witches do not believe the dead are hanging around their grave until oblivion comes. Witches and Pagans have a defined concept of the hereafter and would consider the burial place provides a location at witch neutral communication can take place.
This concept of neutrality blends into the liminal nature of the Graveyard. This is a space where the dead reside (or at least their physical remains do) and living walk. It is here when the dead are laid to rest and their journey continues in what ever way. Some Pagans perceive graveyards as a place where the veil between world’s is thinnest, second only to crossroads. This proximity of the material world and Otherworld makes communication between the two much easier and as a venue a Graveyard may be used to facilitate deeper communication with the other side.
These traditions are not “Witchcraft” traditions per say, having complex histories blending Catholicism with African traditions, amongst other things, to create a unique tradition which I am not (repeat not) part of. I only mention them here because of the way graveyards feature in it.
Graveyard Dirt is a common component in Vodoo preperations, gathered from the grave of a loved one or someone who is known to the practitioner. Great respect is used in collection of this ingredient, with permission sought and thanks and offerings given in return. The range of spells and operations which include Graveyard Dirt is wide, for a more detailed look I suggest Lucky Mojo’s section on the subject.
Solitary, Silent and Two Fingers Up
There are many legitimate reasons for Witches to consider visiting and working in a graveyard or cemetery, not least of all the atmosphere. These locations, with all their liminality and power, are not exactly hives of activity after dark and provide a secluded space for activities to take place in.
Sometimes, however, the choice of venue has more to do with rejecting mainstream religion and expressing a sense of counterculture. There is a fine line between practicing in a space with respect for both the dead and the living and doing so for the kicks and two fingers up at Christianity. Once that line is crossed its then a rapid descent into disrespect and desecration.
Graveyards are usually a religious space, even if that religion is not your own it should be treated with reverence and respect. They are also usually a space for nature and for both reasons the maxim “leave only footprints; take only memories” applies. Whilst I don’t for one moment think that anyone reading this blog has the intention to damage headstones or daub signs and sigils everywhere it is important to remember to take any ritual equipment which cannot by absorbed by nature, particularly candles, home with you. Its always possible that the area you are working in is visited by living relatives and finding a scatter of candles ribbons and crystals may be distressing. Leave the area as you found it as much as possible and be discrete in what you take and the offerings you leave.
You’d think, as a Devotee of Hekate, that I would be a regular stalker of graveyards and in daylight hours I have been known to wander the rows of the dead but that doesn’t leave a great deal of opportunity for ritual. Going out at night is prohibitive for a couple of practical resons, not least because my local graveyard is located next to a main road and pub and very small so secrecy is not possible.