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Saturday, April 17, 2010


Methods by which one pays for graveyard dirt vary from worker to worker, but the principle is always the same. You have to get in touch with the ancestral spirit and make a respectful application and payment. Beyond that there are numerous details -- whose grave, the kind of death they died, where the grave is located with respect to the cemetery gates, whether you dig from the head, the heart, or the feet, whether you leave dimes or pennies or whiskey or a combination, and how you place the with respect to the grave.

Because i collect graveyard dirt quite often, i have had the opportunity to try ewach of the different forms of the ritual that i have been taught -- and i have found them to be equivalent in practice, with one exception: i have come to appreciate the advice to get dirt from the grave of a soldier, because such dirt is from the grave of one who was unusually strong and obedient.

I believe that uou will learn more and do more effective spiritual work if you do not think of what you plan as "capturing" graveyard dirt but think of it by the term that it generally called, namely, "buying" graveyard dirt.

There is a huge difference between capturing a person / spirit (which is unlawful enslavement) and offering to pay for the person's / spirit's services (which is an honest transaction of employment).

I recommend that after you enter a cemetary, if you have no particular grave in mind to visit, that you let yourself be spirit-led to the grave that attracts you. If you wish to learn more about the spirits in a particular graveyard, i suggest that you go to each grave site in turn, individually and respectfully. I would place a small offering of flowers first, keeping other offerings, such as coins, in reserve for possible use. I would speak to the spirit, *listen* deeply to what was offered or denied, and then i would comply with the wishes of the deceased, which may differ from grave site to grave site.

There are basically three ways that Graveyard Dirt is employed in hoodoo: in spells of protection, in enemy tricks, and in coercive love spells . Despite its inclusion in such harmful formulas, graveyard dirt is not evil per se, and it has uses all its own that reflect its venerable stature in the African religious practice of ancestor veneration.

In African-derived magic such as hoodoo and Obeah, graveyard dirt is an important "magical link" (in the Crowleyan sense of that term), because of the powerful culutral beliefs centered around the role of the dead in rituals of invocation. This was and remains especially true in the Kongo, from whence most African-American slaves came, and in West Africa, where most Afro-Caribbean slaves came.

(You may find veneration of ancestors rather misleadingly called "ancestor worship" by earlier Western scholars, and you will often see it referred to in that way in books published in English prior to the 1990s, but American and Eurpeoan scholars have recently come around to using the more accurate African term "ancestor veneration," due to their contact with Africans who have entered academia and gotten on the internet .. and still practice ancestor veneration.)

In Palo Mayombe, a mostly Cuban and Brazilian survival of Kongo religio-magical practgice somehwat admixed with Catholicism, the dirt from graves is kept in a "prenda" on an altar.

In hoodoo, as in African magic and in Palo, graveyard dirt can be used for good or for ill. There are several well-known love-spells that utilize graveyard dirt, and just as many spells to hold someone down or restrain them in some way (what British people might call a "binding spell".

In hoodoo, the ritual of collecting graveyard dirt -- by the practitioner him- or herself -- is called BUYING graveyard dirt. The usual payment in the US, since the 19th century at least, has been a silver dime, preferably a Mercury dime (this brings up thoughts about that earlier thread about Mercury / Hermes / Eshu / Nbumba Nzila / Eleggua). Customs vary, but generally the dime is offered to the dead in the entire graveyard or to the specific spirit from whose grave one will dig the dirt.

If one wished to do harm, one might buy the dirt of someone who "died badly" -- before their time, through execution, or so forth, because their spirit, once invoked, would be inclined to perform evil deeds with little compunction. If one wished to bring about love, one might buy the dirt from someone who loved one in life (a relative or a deceased spouse, for instance) because their spirit, once invoked, would be inclined to help one achieve lasting love. Some workers prefer dirt from a baby's grave, because they say that the spirit thus invoked is malleable and biddable; but others say it is too weak, being young, and will not prove as effective as dirt from the grave of an adult.

This practice of the individual buying dirt from a graveyard led early on in hoodoo to the root worker / herbalist buying the dirt and then re-selling it. No stigma is attached to this practice, but the re-seller may be questioned closely as to whether the dirt was properly "bought and paid for." I have ads in old catalogues in my coillection dating back to the 1920s in which graveyard dirt was offered for sale to the African-American community, so this is not a recent phenomenon. -- like most of the merchantile aspects of hoodoo, it arose as urbanization made the personal gathering of symbolic ingredients difficult to achieve. The price of graveyard dirt is usually nominal -- it's dirt cheap.

Neo-pagan authors such as Scott Cunningham have written that graveyard dirt is "just code" for certain herbs, such as mullein, but this is easily proven untrue by simply asking the average root-worker. In the African-American cummonity (if not the Wiccan community) graveyard dirt is dirt from a grave that's been ritually "bought and paid for."


It is important that those who propose to colect dirt from the graves of murder victims and those executed for crimes they did not commit understand that when dealing with the spirits of those who were unjustly put to death, there is no "one size fits all" approach that can be applied.

Some such spirits may seek vengeance -- especially against people of a particular surname, occupation, class, race, social position, etc. -- and they may be willingly employed as spirits of vengeance.

Other spirits may be filled with a strong desire to see that people currently alive -- perhaps their lineal descendents or people of their own former occupation, class, race, social position; or perhaps all people -- do not suffer injustices as they did, and they may be employed to bring justice to present cases.

Still other such spirits may be filled with the nectar of forgiveness and compassion and may be employed to bring harmony and unity of purpose to difficult situations.

Unless the spirit of a grave mentally reaches out to you first -- which often happens -- the only way to learn what that spirit will or will not do for you is to approach the grave, state your proposal, and *listen* to what you are told.

Graveyard Dirt -- along with powdered sulphur, salt, powdered snake heads or snake skin "sheds," red pepper, black pepper, powdered bones, powdered insects or snails, greyish herbs such as mullein or sage, anvil dust (the black iron dust found around a blacksmith's anvil), and magnetic sand -- is a common ingredient in Goofer Dust, and thence in Hot Foot Powder and Crossing Powder, all of which are materials used in harmful tricks.

In some Graveyard Dirt spells -- like similar tricks involving Goofer Dust, Hot Foot Powder, and Crossing Powder -- the intent is to harm someone, and the graveyard dirt is used to symbolize death to the enemey. Spells in which a doll-baby representing the enemy is placed in a miniature coffin and buried in a graveyard fall into this class, as do spells in which a black candle symbolizing the enemy is deliberately extinguished by turning it upside down into a saucer of graveyard dirt.

are quite African in character, deriving from African foot-track magic, a form of sorcery in which one "hurts" or "poisons" a victim "through the feet." Undoing the jinx may involve ritual bathing, floor washing, or sweeping to remove the Goofer Dust. Sprinkling salt in the corners of the house is also an antidote.

In harmful spells like the above, the dirt is best collected from the grave of a sinner or someone whio "died bad," that is, a criminal or the victim of a violent death. Some people like to use dirst from the graves of soldiers for such work, too, because they say that soldiers are brave and foillow orders.

The deployment of graveyard dirt in protection spells may specify that the dirt come from the grave of a family member or a friend. In these cases the spirit of that person is protecting you or your home. This is again a link to ancient African beliefs and practices, in which ancestor veration is a key component of how one relates to the spiritual world.

The third class of graveyard dirt work consists of coercive love spells in which dirt from the grave of someone who loved you is used to ensorcel and enthrall a living lover.

In 1998, Dana (missdanaj@geocities.com) posted this love spell to usenet:

You need green paper, vandal root, and dirt from a graveyard. You write your name and the guy's name on the paper, put the vandal root and graveyard dirt in the center of the paper, wrap it up and leave it under your bed.
I got this spell from a spell book published by Baron Blanc in Sydney, Australia. Please understand that (in the book's words) "it is one of the most powerful love spells and should be undertaken only after other love spells have failed. Not for the faint hearted."

Miss Dana's post provoked long discussions in usenet concerning why someone would use graveyard dirt in a love spell , so i'd like to add some commentary:
I myself have never used this love spell , but i can tell you that it does have quite a bit of historical basis behind it and there are people who say that it has worked for them. The trouble is, the spell as related in Miss Dana's book just calls for any old graveyard dirt, and the way i was taught, that is not quite right.

The man who gave me my version of the Graveyard Dirt Love Spell -- and he was no "Baron" from Australia, but an African-American candle store owner in Oakland, California, back in the 1960s -- said to use the dirt from the grave of someone who had loved you in life. He said, "Your grandmother, mother, father; your lover, husband, or wife who passed on before you -- you get dirt from THEIR grave only, and not from anywhere on the grave either, but from over the HEART."

When i told him that all my relatives who had died were buried far away and i could not get to their graves, he said, "Everybody has had at least ONE person to love them, even if it was just a little yellow spotted dog." I told him i had once had a cat who loved me and that i knew where she was buried. "Then you can use the dirt from her grave," he said. I never did it, though.

The idea behind this spell is that the dead one who loved you will work on the live one who does not love you yet, and will set their mind to thinking of you. That's why you want the dirt from over the heart of one who loved you -- you want their spirit on your side, working on the mind of the one you love.

The vandal root called for in the spell is a root with alleged powers to aid in establishing contact with the dead and it is said to create spiritual contacts with the other world. This reinforces the idea that the graveyard dirt should be from a grave that holds meaning for you, not just any old grave.

In the 1930s, Harry M. Hyatt collected information about hoodoo from 1,600 African-American informants, and one of them gave him a variation of the Graveyard Dirt Love Spell. It is simpler than Baron Blanc's version, in that it does not include the Vandal Root, but it is also much more direct because rather than hide the materials under your bed, as Baron Blanc suggests, you sprinkle the graveyard dirt on yourself when you go to be near the one whom you wish to attract. This is the way i was told to do it, too.

You can find this 1930s version of the spell collected by Harry M. Hyatt -- in the informant's own words -- on my web page about goofer dust. It is spell #659, but i suggest that you read the entire page first; don't just skip to that part.

Incidentally, the person who gave this love spell to Hyatt noted that it only works as long as you keep using the Graveyard Dirt. In other words, it only works while the spirit of the dead person is helping you.

In fact, the use of Graveyard Dirt to force someone to love you is so well known in the black community that it was specifically described in the blues song "Conjured," recorded by Wynnonie Harries on August 6th, 1964 in Chicago, Illinios. Here are the lyrics, transcribed by Eli Marcus (emisme@inter.net.il).

by Esmond Edwards
as recorded by Wynnonie Harris
Chicago, August 6, 1964 (Chess CHV412)

You said it was love made me stutter when I talk,
But is it love that makes me stagger when I walk?

The Gypsy woman told me, "She's got you conjured, son"
Well, somebody's lyin' -- you are that Gypsy one.

You said I was jealous when I didn't go to work,
You sprinkled my shoes with graveyard dirt,

The Gypsy woman told me, "She's got you conjured, son"
Well, somebody's lyin' -- you are that Gypsy one.

The whiskey you bought me, I was afraid to unscrew it,
The Gypsy woman told me it was embalming fluid
You got a Black Cat Bone and a Buzzard Feather,
A John the Conquer Root and they're all tied together

The Gypsy woman told me, "She's got you conjured, son"
Well, somebody's lyin' -- you are that Gypsy one.

(repeat last verse and chorus)
A more coercive love spell using goofer dust or graveyard dirt to force a person to love you is called "Love Me or Die" -- and it does not specify that the dirt must come from the grave of a loved one.

So, you see, although these are unusual love spells that not everyone could or should use, they have a long and legitimate history in African-American folk-magic. The origin of these spells lies in African religious beliefs about the dead, especially beliefs that came from the Congo, where contact with the spirits of the dead is strongly emphasized and their help is sought on behalf of the living.

For reasons of cultural incompatibility, the use of graveyard dirt in folk magic spells can be quite upsetting to some people of Northern European and Native American ehtnicity. This is because their cultures teach that the remains of the dead are taboo, frightening, or unclean. This has led to laws against "graveyard desecration" in some areas. When Anglo-American spiritual suppliers are asked by African- Americans to supply Graveyard Dirt, some of them -- either afraid of legal reprisals or sqeamish about dealing with the dead -- provide substitutes in the form of talcum powder or powdered herbs. Some of them have even claimed in their catalogues that these substitutions are traditional, when in fact they are anything but.

Additionally, some Anglo-American authors have promoted these substitutions in books about herb magic or folk magic, even going so far as to claim that the term "graveyard dirt" is an ancient European witchcraft code term for powdered mullein leaves. For instance, in the year 2001, a woman named Connie Gilbert poosted the following to a usenet newsgroup:

Merry meet all, [...] In old spells, usually ingredients are in code and usually the ingredients are really herbs. Graveyard dust can be powdered Mullein or Mugwort. Graveyard dust is not really dirt.
With no intent to offend, i must object. Mullein is known as "graveyard torches" or "witch's candles" because it grows well-spaced in dry, waste ground and if dipped in oil or lard, the stalks will burn like torches.

That story was started in the 1940s by suppliers who wanted to make money but were afraid to violate the laws regarding tampering with corpses or graveyard desecration, especially in interstate commerce. The earliest catalogue in my collection that mentions mullein as graveyard dirt dates to World War Two. By the 1960s, when i was coming up, you could still buy real graveyard dirt from any small occult store -- but ALL the mail order houses and the stores that stocked their mass-produced products sold you either talcum powder or powdered mullein leaves for graveyard dirt.

The commercially-originated falsehood that "graveyard dirt" is somehow an old witchcraft code term for mullein was later picked up and carried as an urban myth extensively in the white Anglo-Saxon neo-pagan community. It actually forms part of the myth of the "burning times" in that it perpetuates the historically discredited notion that witches must speak in code or risk death. (But if you are trying to avoid being burned at the stake, why use something ILLEGAL like graveyard dirt as code for something innocuous like mullein leaf???) This myth of a witchy "code" is still perpetuated through the books of well-meaning but ignorant people and it is just ... well, not true.

Against a few modern white authors claining that "graveyard dirt" is a secret code for mullein herb, we have evidence that the folklorist Harry M. Hyatt interviewed hundreds of black people in the late 1930s who told him the proper ways they knew to collect and pay for graveyard dirt -- and NONE of them mentioned mullein.

Take the dirt from the seventh grave from the gates, they told him, or from the third grave on the left, or from any grave; make sure you get it from the grave of a murderer, from the grave of a baby, or from the grave of someone who loved you; collect it at the foot of the grave, the head of the grave, from the head and foot both, from over the corpse's heart; pay for it with a dime, with three pennies, with a measure of rum, with a measure of whiskey; dig it with a silver spoon, dig it by hand only and use no tools -- their instructions vary, but they ALL are speaking quite frankly of literal graveyard dirt -- some even calling it "that old yellow graveyard clay."

Hyatt wrote six very large books on magic and herb lore as it existed in the early 20th century, before the onslaught of the mail-order houses and the neo-pagan fad for cutesy rewrites of traditional witchcraft as a form of goddess-worship. These books as a whole comprise a grand total of 5,500 pages on which are printed 23,000+ individual magical spells collected during interviews with about 2,300 actual practitioners of witchcraft and magic. Harry M. Hyatt made up nothing. He preserved the TRUE SPEECH of our elders -- and all the contemporary book authors in the Llewelyn stable with their mullein and mugwort cannot erase those words.

The following documentation on the varied rites for collecting and using Graveyard Dirt comes from "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork," a 5-volume, 4766-page collection of folkloric material gathered by Harry Middleton Hyatt, primarily between 1935 and 1939.


Luna said...

Very interesting lesson...I did not know many of these things :)

Anonymous said...

I love these posts. I learn so very much. Thank you :)