Graveyard Dirt and Etiquette
Warning for personal experience and slants! This is not the be-all end-all to grave work.
This post is written primarily in a deathwork/graveyard work/Fleur de la Mort context, but contains nothing particularly exclusive to any of those. So let’s get started.
The Procurement of Graveyard Dirt
Let’s start here. This is a deceptively simple set of instructions to give:
- Learn the name, boundaries, and history of the graveyard if you can.
- Cross the threshold of the graveyard, in a proper way (not over a fence or what have you, but through an official or designated entry path). Pay your respects to the spirit of the graveyard as you enter.
- Procure your graveyard dirt according to your requirements.
- Pay another, informal respect toward the spirit of the graveyard as you leave.
- As you leave, do not turn or look back until there is either a barrier between you (such as a car door or a house wall) or the graveyard is entirely out of sight.
A lot of these instructions rely on context, though. The first step, for example, is a matter of etiquette. Not only will such information help you understand the character of the place (much like knowing an area’s history will help you know its land spirits), but it can also clue you in to any red flags or warnings. Are the bodies buried there the bodies of particularly angry or upset spirits? If so, and you have reason to believe that’ll be a problem, then choose another cemetery. Would you be unwelcome among the spirits there? A protester of communism might not like a communist; a prosecuted man might not take kindly to a descendant of the person who prosecuted him. If you have reason to believe you’ll be unwelcome, then at least consider finding another cemetery. I’ve not found any of these warnings to actually make me abruptly change my destination in practice, but it’s worth knowing and taking note of, just in case.
Step two: Why put such emphasis on entering (and leaving) properly, for one? Again, and this is more important in my opinion than the preliminary research, etiquette. Etiquette is everything in the graveyard, 99% of the time. You wouldn’t enter your neighbor’s house through their window and you wouldn’t enter a graveyard by climbing over its wall.
How do you pay respects to the spirit of the graveyard? Well, it depends on the graveyard and the spirit in question. I typically find that a few copper pennies are a good offering/appeasement, if you’re procuring graveyard dirt. Note that I don’t mean that every time you enter a graveyard, you should provide an offering. However, if you’re going to be taking something—like dirt—or doing something that might disturb the spirits of the graveyard or of the dead—like a ritual—then you should give something in exchange. Other offerings that might be acceptable, depending on your practice, are flowers, flags, libations, oblations, or dirt from elsewhere. I find libations and oblations can be hit-or-miss, because some spirits of the dead want food and drink and others have no need for it. Dirt from elsewhere is worth taking note of if you or your local spirits hold that spirits can’t travel: it’s like bringing them a little refreshing piece of elsewhere. Coins, though, haven’t gone wrong in my experience.
Procure your graveyard dirt, or do your ritual. This can go a lot of different ways and so it’s very hard to make generalities, but here’s a few:
- If you are obtaining graveyard dirt for general, protective, or benevolent purposes, then gather it from the side of the yard, not over any actual graves, in such a way that the landscape isn’t noticeably affected/it isn’t too obvious.
- If you are obtaining graveyard dirt for a curse, acquire the dirt from the side or back of the yard. When you leave, walk out backwards (see below).
- If you are obtaining dirt for necromancy purposes, consider your brand of necromancy. If it is to summon a general, ambiguous “spirit of death,” try dirt from a side of the yard or, if there is one, the most well-worn path through the yard. If, however, you are trying to summon the spirit of a dead body in the yard, take the dirt from directly above their grave. If you think that the summoning may be traumatic toward them, or think that they may be violent and wish to appease them in advance, you may wish to leave an additional offering at the grave itself.
- Dirt obtained from the entrance to the yard can call upon the power of the spirit of the graveyard itself, or the power of death itself, but shouldn’t be taken too often, or too much.
- Use these guidelines also for where any rituals should be performed.
As you leave, you need to offer another quick thank-you or blessing, if they will receive it, to the spirit of the yard—not another physical offering, but just a brief verbal indication that you are leaving and appreciate the spirit’s permission and presence. If, however, you gathered the dirt for the purpose of a curse, or if you performed a ritual which could be easily interpreted as violent or cursing or similar, then it is traditional (and perhaps wise) to instead walk backwards over the threshold as you leave, supposedly so that the spirit at the threshold cannot see your face and follow you home. Depending on the character of the spirit and just how worried you are, you might find that wise. You could also try a very large appeasement present, or trust in your personal protections. Either way, it’s worth considering.
Finally, why is step five important? Again, tradition. This is a tradition I’ve always personally felt compelled to comply to, however, regardless of my actions while in the graveyard. Perhaps it’s a matter of etiquette; I’ve always felt that, again, it keeps spirits from following you where you go, and that it effectively dissociates you from that graveyard, severing any sort of connections that the spirits within might have attempted to make. Use your best judgement here, as you like.
So What Do I Do With This Dirt?
There’s a lot of contemporary judgement on what to do with it. Death workers may feel it makes for a good ingredient in protections or protection spells, or personal empowerment spells. But—and this is despite my seeing other people cite it as a good protection item for everybody—I would say that unless you’re attuned to death in such a way, it won’t be as powerful for you, if it works at all. Graveyard dirt keeps the dead at rest, encloses their bodies, and holds their spirits sacred; in much the same way, for the death worker, it keeps you at rest, protects you, and empowers you. For anyone not so attuned, however, using it as a personal empowerment tool might hurt you, and using it as protection probably just won’t do anything. (Like burying yourself up to the neck in a graveyard, the result will probably just be “????”)
That’s not to say it’s useless to anyone who isn’t a death worker. To the contrary, it’s fabulous for anything and everything that has to do with death, from curses to certain types of healing to banishing spirits. Curses: killing curses, yes, but also metaphorically “killing” someone’s happiness, strength, charm, or good looks. Healing: kill a tumor, a virus, an illness. Banishing: particularly nice for banishing ghosts/the spirits of the dead, but also anything from demons to thoughtforms to monsters and beyond. And beyond that, summoning death spirits: certain kakodaimones, energy-draining beasts, violent or angry spirits attuned to the energy. General-use dirt can also be adapted to summon the spirit of a dead person, if the dirt from that person’s grave can’t be attained. It’s also a good ingredient in pouches, bottles, etc. that are meant to attune its owner to a god if the god in question is a death god or a psychopomp. And so forth.
So, in effect, that concludes a VERY VERY basic summary of graveyard dirt and etiquette. [taps chalkboard and pushes glasses up nose] I will field your questions now, please.