Graveyard work is not for the faint of heart—more because people worry about getting caught than about dealing with the dead. In this, I think they have it backwards. You will not likely get arrested (though you may get thrown out and / or banned) for digging up a fistful or two of grave dirt. But you might seriously piss off the shade of the person whose grave it is, the spiritual leader of the graveyard, and / or any number of death entities (gods, spirits, daemons, you name it). So it’s important to follow a consistent respectful entry protocol and only work on certain days. In this post, I will give my basic approach to graveyard work. In a following post, I will talk about more advanced issues.
The first thing to do is determine why you want to work there in the first place. It shouldn’t be because graveyard work feels “edgy” and you therefore hope it will be more powerful than comparable non-graveyard work. That is plain stupid and reflects magical immaturity. Whenever something in magic seems dark and spooky, take a step back and think critically about it. Usually, you’re either suffering from clever marketing or your mind and your heart are out of balance. A good magician knows how to be rational and irrational, how to think critically and intuitively at the same time.
Good reasons to do graveyard work might include feeling spiritually called to practice necromancy; feeling guided to such practices by patron deities, ancestors, or entities; practicing a form of magic in which graveyard work figures prominently as an aspect of the system (hoodoo, ATR magical-religions, some grimoires, styles of magic dedicated to particular entities); or needing to do a particular sort of magic that involves death, graveyard materials, or the act of burial / exhumation.
Assuming you have a good reason to undertake such work, the next step is determining what you need to do in the graveyard. Are you creating a mirror box or a coffin spell? Are you paying for some dirt? Are you performing devotional service? An old-school necromantic operation? All of these will have different preparatory requirements. Here, I’ll keep it simple and talk about paying for dirt because that is what I mostly do when I go.
In hoodoo, you buy graveyard dirt from particular spirits. You can also buy it from the graveyard in general. You would use this dirt as a magical ingredient to make things like goofer dust, mojo hands, sachet powders, as a way to draw sigils or veves (note that “veve” is a Voudu term that I use here only for convenience—hoodoo and Voudu are related in many ways but still distinctly different), or even make types of incense or magical condition oils.
When you get to the graveyard, you can just walk in but, in my tradition, this is rude. Instead, you make an offering to your death entity (the highest you know) at the gate. Mine usually consists of 9 pennies (or pence, if you’re in England) soaked in red wine. If I’m spirit led to toss these inside while saying a small invocation of thanks, I will. Otherwise, I’ll respectfully leave them in a stack by the gate. Follow this practice long enough and you will notice a serious difference in the feeling you have when you walk in.
Once you’re inside, you need to find the right grave. If you’re sensitive enough, you can be spirit led to it. Otherwise, you will look for the grave of a spirit who would want to do the kind of work you need. Soldiers, cops, statesmen, thieves, murderers, artists are all useful. Even the spirits of innocent children who died young can be very powerful. This means you will have to learn about the history of the region, who lived and died there over time. That is another form of offering to the dead, who notice and appreciate that you have done your homework when you arrive asking for help.
When you find the right grave, you talk to the spirit and ask for its help. Hopefully, the spirit is around. Not all shades of the dead are connected to the place of their burial. If you can “hear” them, you only have to listen and talk. If you aren’t that sensitive (yet—this work tends to develop such capacities in a magical practitioner), you can use a pendulum for yes-no answers. The point is to talk with the spirit, bargain for some of its dirt, and offer something in return. Again, I like to offer 9 or 13 pennies. Spirits can use the energy of real money in ways we don’t anticipate. Pennies are far more valuable to them than to us. Sometimes, it’s good to pour out some whiskey or rum as an offering, too.
Once you strike a bargain, you can take some dirt. There are a lot of hoodoo / folktales about the part of the grave from where you should take the dirt but, in my experience, you should go with what feels right and with what’s convenient. Dig up a few spoonfuls at most and put them in a container. Then pay the spirit and respectfully go. When you walk out of the graveyard, thank the controlling spirit / death entity for letting you safely do this work.
You’ll find that when you do this often at the same graveyard, the spirits will get to know you and will sometimes follow you home. This is very good. It’s the beginning of a strong necromantic practice. You’ll also eventually have the experience of being rejected by a spirit (for whatever reason). And you’ll come to realize that it’s not all just in your head. But I leave those experiences to you to have. The important thing here is to realize that this is strong serious work. Graveyards are no joke, but they can be very helpful to us when we need them.