Grovedaughter Witchery

Graveyard Dirt
Notes on Properties, Collection, and Use

Before we get started, let me just say this:

Graveyard dirt and the use thereof deals directly with the spirits of the dead. There is no way around it. If you want earth from a grave, you must deal with the person or people buried there. If you are squeamish about gathering the earth or not comfortable with the idea of dealing with the dead in your craft, I suggest steering clear of the use of graveyard dirt as a component.

Firstly, crossroads are different from graveyards and cemeteries in that they might not have spirits that need to be appeased. However, if you choose to leave or take something from a crossroads (such as dirt), leaving a little something is probably a good idea. Hedging one’s bets is usually wise when it comes to such things (translation: always cover your ass).

Secondly, if you take dirt from anywhere inside the gate of a graveyard or cemetery, whether from a grave or not, it is likely considered consecrated or “hallowed” ground and thus, it’s a good idea to leave something as a thank-you. There are some unconsecrated burial grounds, such as potter’s fields and possibly some family burial plots (not a good idea to take earth from there unless it’s your own family, since these are usually private property), but most of the public ones you see have been consecrated. If you see a chapel or a church anywhere on the property, it is DEFINITELY consecrated ground. And as graveyards go, the older the grave, the more oomph in the dirt.

Before you go about collecting your graveyard dirt, you may want to make a quick obeisance at the gate. Let the dead know what you’re there to do, that you intend to make payment, and that you mean no harm or disrespect.

If you take dirt from a grave, it’s a good idea to know something about the person who’s buried there. You don’t have to look up their life’s story, but it’s good to know who you’re dealing with. Generally, saving the name and dates from the stone will give you something to go on. Some stones will also list professions.

Whatever grave you pick, make sure you ASK PERMISSION FIRST. Call the person by name, ask politely if you may take some earth from their grave, state what you want it for and what you’ve brought them in return, and then WAIT. If you don’t get a prickly go-away feeling after a minute or so, you should be all right. Manners count for so much when you’re dealing with the dead or with spirits of any kind, especially since taking dirt from a grave is asking for the assistance of the person buried there. As in life, a good first impression can make a big difference.

Thirdly, there are lots of offerings you can leave in exchange for graveyard dirt. Here are some of the most common:

  • Coins (preferably silver-colored and reasonably shiny)
  • Bread (any kind will do)
  • Fruit (apples are preferable, but most any kind will do)
  • Milk (any kind, and local is nice if you can get it)
  • Liquor (some spirits may like wine or beer, some may like hard liquor like whiskey; use your best judgment)
  • Incense (a cone or stick burned graveside; practice fire safety)
  • Tobacco (especially in the American South)
  • Flowers or Potted Plant (any kind will do; you can dig a hole and plant the potted item and use the pot to carry the earth away if you’re concerned about strolling off with a baggy of dirt)

If you can’t afford anything listed above, you can leave your own saliva. However, if you choose to do this, spit into your palm and lay it gently down on the earth. Spitting directly onto a grave is incredibly disrespectful and will more than likely garner a bad reaction if the occupant takes offense. Also, any bargain where your own bodily fluids get involved is a much more binding one, so be sure that you’re up for that beforehand.

If you want to go with an herbal angle for your spirit work, instead of or in addition to graveyard dirt, there are many plants that have associations with ancestor veneration and spirit work. I must caution you: there are a fair number that are poisonous. It’s a good idea to pick up a field guide to wild plants or a medical book on herbs to help you avoid any pitfalls. If you must go gathering or handling dangerous herbs, please wear gloves. Exercise caution and common sense at all times.

Here are some common plants for spirit work (* = poisonous):

  • Acacia
  • Alder
  • Amaranth
  • Apple
  • Balm of Gilead
  • Belladonna*
  • Bluebell
  • Chervil
  • Cypress
  • Dandelion Leaf
  • Echinacea
  • Elder
  • Foxglove*
  • Lilac
  • Myrrh
  • Pomegranate
  • Straw Flower*
  • Sweetgrass
  • Wormwood*
  • Yew*

Keep in mind that while these plants have many of the same effects as graveyard dirt in basic spellcraft, they will not have the same effect if you’re seeking to employ the help of the dead. That is best done with earth from a grave.

It’s also important to note that in many states in the continental U.S., taking soil from churchyards or cemeteries may be regarded as vandalism, and entering the grounds outside of normal hours may be regarded as trespassing. Check your local laws for the specific rules regarding burial ground and if there is the possibility of legal repercussions, take especial care or get permission from the church that owns the grounds beforehand.

For addition information, raven-conspiracy has an excellent post which I have reblogged here detailing how best to approach the gathering of graveyard dirt. I also have a post by bloodyboneshaker (whose url appears to have changed) on the same subject here. I recommend reading both for further tips.


The views expressed on this website are the Unshared Personal Gnosis of the witch known as Bree NicGarran. They are not intended to be taken as absolute truth, nor are they intended to invalidate the religious views of the reader. They are meant only as a suggestion and are limited by the knowledge of the writer. Please always be sure to double-check your sources, refer to medical texts, and read critically before using any information in your own practice.
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