WORKING WITH THE DEAD: BASIC GRAVEYARD ETIQUETTE GUIDE

Introduction

The end of life, the moment when our ethereal spirit disconnects from our earthly bodies, is a subject I find most people avoid. Working with the Dead, be it our direct ancestors or some adopted spirits can have substantial benefits to us as Pagans. It reminds us of our own mortality, teaches us the sacred act of communing with the spirit world, and also provides us with a view of what lies beyond the grave. Are you interested in learning more about necromancy? 

Let’s start with graveyard etiquette.

The graveyard is a special place for those who are interested in working in the spirit world. Cemeteries are liminal places between life and death. They have an energy unique from any other land you’ll work with and the benefits of maintaining a connection to these places are far more than can be listed in a single article. There’s a bit of protocol to learn when working in graveyards, so I want to educate folks with the mundane standards as well as the magickal aspects of working in a graveyard.

Enter bravely, choose wisely, tread carefully.

Each graveyard has a different vibe. What do I mean by ‘vibe’? Well, some graveyards are more receptive to folks coming in to work Magick and commune with spirits than others. Before you enter, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself with those you will be working with and to the land, because it has a spirit which dwells inside of it. 

I always bring a few coins, present them to each direction and then toss them near the entrance of the cemetery. I begin with a small prayer, 

“I offer these coins to gain entry into the land of the spirits. I walk between the worlds of the living and the dead. I enter with no ill intent present within me. I ask whatever spirits who are willing to work with me to come forward. Spirits who would have ill will against me, you are banished from my space. Thank you for allowing me to enter.” 

If the graveyard I’m entering is a new place, I generally stop and take a moment to reach out with my senses. A few slow breaths of air and I am listening for birds, the creaking of the trees as the wind moves through the leaves, or anything which would give an indication of how I am being accepted. If there are any feelings of anger, sadness, or depression – which has only happened on rare occasions, I leave. If I am greeted by the breeze or leaves swirling around my feet, I enter. If there is silence, I may only stay a short time as I am being watched. Consider this a kind of interview with those who have passed on. 

Offerings, offerings, and more offerings! 

When I enter the graveyard, my first priority is to make offerings to the friendly spirits, the graveyard guardians, and whoever else may be lurking in this domain. In English and Scandinavian folklore, The Church Grimm (a large black dog) is given a dried pig’s ear or dog bone. I give offerings to Ankou, the ancient northern French spirit who resembles our secular version of the Grim Reaper. If I am working with a particular death deity, I make sure to bring offerings which appeal to them such as Fireball whiskey for The Morrigan. 

Offerings come in all shapes and sizes. I recommend experimenting a bit with the spirits to see which offerings bring the best results. A general rule is you can never really go wrong with strong alcoholic beverages such as whiskey or rum, chocolate candy, coins or paper currency, or luxury items such as tobacco. All of your offerings should be biodegradable. 

Take care not to put these offerings anywhere near graves which are regularly tended. Why? Well, consider the family of those who have passed on. Imagine you, a witch or Magickal person, standing over a grave and talking to it when the family of the deceased comes to visit. Odds are they aren’t going to be Pagan or like-minded and this could cause some serious issues. I generally leave offerings off the beaten path under a tree or shrub. 

House cleaning 

Another offering people don’t necessarily consider is cleaning up the graveyard. You’re building a relationship with the Dead, so why not tidy up a bit? The caretakers of the graveyard certainly won’t have an issue with you picking up trash. Leave the offerings others have left on the graves alone since the families are already maintaining those graves. 

Exit, stage right!

When I exit a graveyard after working Magick or communing with the spirits who inhabit the land, I generally travel a different path from the one entered. This tradition is practiced by many cultures, and generally is used to confuse spirits who have malicious intentions from following you home. I also carry a bit of Poke root, Hyssop, or Angelica in my car to banish spirits who might want to ride home with me. In 22 years of working with the dead, I haven’t had any bad experiences and I think this is due in part to treading carefully, being respectful, and building a rapport. Keep the mindset of being humble, don’t challenge spirits with arrogance, and mind your senses and you’ll be in good shape! Happy Necromancy, folks!

Thank you for reading this brief guide. This is by no means a complete guide to working with the dead and is intended to help supplement those who are interested in expanding their understanding. I plan on writing a few more guides if folks are interested in learning more on how to communicate with the dead. I’m also open to folks asking questions about working with spirits. If you would like to read more on the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment here or reach out on FB! Please follow me over on Instagram for more content! – Shining Quill the Unicorn.

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