Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved going to the cemetery. I’ve always found it to be quite peaceful and mystical. It is no secret that us witches acknowledge Death differently and oftentimes feel drawn to the realm of spirits. We go to cemeteries or graveyards to visit our loved ones who have passed (like any other person), do paranormal research or perform magic. The main difference between us and nonpractitioners is that they ignore that there are certain rules that must be followed in order to guarantee visitors and the dead a pleasant experience. To ensure this, I bring a Samhain 2022 special: in this article, you’ll find some guidance on cemetery etiquette to pay a respectful visit to the dead during the time of this ancient Celtic tradition.
Even though I’ll be focusing on other kinds of rules and rituals, it is worth mentioning that every establishment has its own conditions for the people who visit and they should be followed just as any other. This involves not playing loud music, shouting, running, stealing offerings, etc. Remember, you’ll be entering someone else’s residence, and they are welcoming you in there.
Before going in
You may have permission from the caretaker, but you should also ask the Guardian of the cemetery if it’s okay for you to go in, whether it is Cerberus or any other gatekeeping spirit. Ask the question either out loud or to yourself and wait for the answer, it may come as a thought, an image, a voice or a feeling. You can also use divination methods such as a pendulum, Tarot cards, dowsing rods or any other tool of your choice. Once you have confirmation, imagine that a white glowing protective light embraces you and keeps you away from unwanted energy. At first, picture it as a spark, and then make it bigger and bigger until it swallows you whole. This is important because some spirits might feel jealousy towards the living, especially those who have unfinished business, and can attach themselves to you.
Along the same line, please avoid visiting if you’re feeling strong emotions, such as anger, or if your state of mind is rather compromised because you’ll be either disrupting the peaceful energy of the place or, in some cases, feeding the entities that wander the cemetery.
During the visit
Be respectful towards all the spirits, not just with those you go to visit. It is quite possible that some of them haven’t had visitors in years or they have unidentified stones. You can always do something nice for them, like leaving offerings for them or cleaning their place of rest if there’s litter lying around. You can leave a small bouquet of white chrysanthemum (for grief), hyacinth (for sorrow), lilies (for condolence), and rosemary (for remembrance) for the lost wandering souls to let them know that you feel sorry for their departure and that they are remembered and loved. If you can’t find these in particular or can’t afford them, you can look up other flowers or plants that represent similar meanings.
As you walk around, you might come across animals that roam the place, especially cats. You can leave food and water for them as well. It is said that cats can be companions and travel between realms, as well as absorb negative energy, which in extreme occasions can lead to problems in their health. So, you can look after them by making sure they are fed and hydrated, and why not, also play with them.
If you happen to make contact with the dead, remember to be respectful of their boundaries, as some of them can carry heavy trauma from their time on Earth and could feel triggered. Do not push if they’re not willing to answer and, if they do, treat them nicely. I’ve seen many paranormal researchers being quite insisting when they don’t get the response they’re looking for, which ultimately turns out to be triggering and annoying for some spirits. Remember that they were once living people like you, just because they’ve passed, it does not mean you can forget about kindness and empathy.
As witches, we can perform spells in the graveyard (although I don’t suggest beginners try this) and it’s important to take care of the place that surrounds us. If your spell needs elements from nature, such as dirt or plants, don’t forget to ask for permission first. To do this, you can go back to the methods I mentioned at the beginning. Along those lines, it must be noted that you are not to take anything that does not belong to you or that you weren’t granted permission to use; that is, items or elements that other visitors left for other spirits.
Warning: cemetery dirt is said to hold an immense amount of power; if you require some for your spell, make sure you’re careful and don’t take any more than what you need. Once you’re done, clean everything up and dispose of the ingredients in an appropriate way.
Leaving the cemetery
Once you’re ready to leave, it’s time to say goodbye to the spirits and thank them for welcoming you into their space. Remember the protective orb you summoned before you went in? Well, now it’s time to do the same process in reverse: imagine how it slowly detaches from your body and it starts to shrink. Give thanks for the protection granted and specifically ask for nobody to follow you home from this point forward. It’s important that you do this because, as I mentioned earlier, spirits can attach themselves to you and feed on your energy.
When you’re already out, you can leave some coins near the entrance as a last offering. In Hellenic Paganism, it is believed that each spirit has to pay Charon, the ferryman of the Underworld, for traveling across the Styx in order to be judged by Hades. According to Greek Mythology, the souls that can’t afford the trip are doomed to spend a hundred years stranded at the shore of the river. It doesn’t matter how much money you leave for the spirits, what matters is that such a small deed can be what grants them the opportunity to rest peacefully for all eternity.
Essentially, remember to always be protected and be respectful towards the dead. Don’t forget that they were once people like you, and their souls still carry memories from their time on the earthly plane. So, treat them with kindness and they’ll receive you in the same manner. Most importantly, let them know that there’s still someone who remembers and cares about them.
Do you remember when the last time you went to the cemetery was? Do you visit regularly? Do you have any rituals or traditions you follow? Let me know in the comments!