How to Use Grave Dirt in Pagan Magic and Rituals

Hands Holding Soil
Do you ever use graveyard dirt in magic?.  WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

Mention graveyard dirt in a magical context, and chances are good you'll get a lot of strange looks or questions. After all, it sounds a bit creepy, right? Who in their right mind goes around scooping up soil out of cemeteries?

Well, believe it or not, many people do. The use of graveyard dirt isn't all that odd in some magical traditions. In certain forms of folk magic, for example, the magical connection of the dirt to the deceased person buried beneath it is more significant than its being from a grave. Dirt from the grave of someone you loved can be used in love magic, while dirt from the burial site of a very wicked person might be incorporated into malevolent workings or curses. In other words, grave dirt is a physical object that possesses the traits of the person it was used to bury.

Historical Uses

The use of soil from a graveyard isn't anything new. In fact, ancient texts indicate that the ancient Egyptians may have used dirt and other items from funeral sites (such as bones) as part of their magical practices, particularly when it came to matters of cursing and necromancy.

Professor David H. Brown of Emory University writes about such practices in the context of African American folk magic in "Conjure/Doctors: An Exploration of a Black Discourse in America, Antebellum to 1940":

"If graveyard dirt could be used to serve individual goals and possibly to harm, authorities within the slave quarters, on the other hand, according to Jacob Stroyer, used it to serve the collective ends of social control. Thieves were presented with a mixture of water and graveyard dirt-and here the double-edged understanding of the substance is thrown into relief–with the warning that they would burn in hell if they had, in fact, stolen."

However, it wasn't just negative magic where graveyard dirt came in handy. In fact, its use in love magic and protection spells has been documented among the communities of enslaved Africans in the Americas. According to Jesús C. Villa, in his thesis "African Healing in Mexican Curanderismo":

"Enslaved Africans also used grave dirt in erotic and commanding medicine. One enslaved African woman named Mariana 'confided to a friend that the earth in her bag was from a grave and that she used it to give to men "in order that they may love me"'...In 1650 CE, another enslaved African named Mariana was accused of serving her slave owners 'powders of roasted bats and grave dirt in order to tie them, or prevent them from mistreating her.'"

Where to Obtain Dirt

How do you get your hands on grave dirt? It would be easy to just meander into the local cemetery with a trowel and a bag and start scooping, but it's better to be more respectful than this. First and foremost, it's important to choose a gravesite correctly. The best choice is to use dirt from the grave of someone you knew in life, such as a family member or friend who has passed away. If the person is someone you cared very much about, and who had a positive impact on your life, dirt from this grave could be used in any number of positive magical workings.

The second option would be to use dirt from the grave of someone who you may not have known personally, but who is known to you. For example, soil from a famous writer's grave could be used to inspire a creative spark. Earth from the grave of a wealthy person might be incorporated into a working for prosperity.

No matter whose grave you choose to collect dirt from, it's important that you do so in a respectful and honorable manner. Ask permission first—and if you begin to feel uneasy, as though the person buried beneath you is unhappy about what you're doing, then stop. It's also a good idea to leave an offering or small token of appreciation. Only take a small amount of dirt—no more than a handful. Finally, be sure to say thank you when you're finished.