It was perhaps one of the early signs of my future witchiness that graveyards have not only never been frightening to me but they have been positively fascinating. I used to wander in the Church of England's graveyard in the Black Country village I grew up in, fascinated by the decaying yet still opulent Victorian tombs of the rich. Of course I had no way of knowing that in years to come I would end up a priest of an ancient Greek death goddess, but perhaps my early lack of fear of the resting places of the dead was an indicator of a current that I was already 'plugged in' to.
Graveyards are, of course, one of the places archetypally associated with witches. As usual the fictional magical practice of doing things like raising the dead do not chime with my experience of the death current and graveyard magic at all. In my experience the dead either hang around places of significance to them or around people for similar reasons. Personally there are a few scores I intend to settle when I'm dead. Some of these people are attracted to the witch because they themselves need something - usually just reassuring that it's OK to move on to what comes next, some of them are so tortured.
The work in the graveyard in my experience is quite different. It seems so obvious to me that the dead don't hang around graveyards and hence they are not necesarily the point of the magic (I must note here that my practice and experience is quite different from some magical traditions, particularly African ones, where there is much more empasis on ancestors). On an energetic level graveyards are not that different from crossroads - they are places where exchanges are made, judgements are made, and, ultimately, peace is sought.
Naturally as a priest of Hecate, her invocation is a major part of graveyard work. I often wander up to the graveyard in Park Street with a sacrifice of black sesame seeds and come away with things resolved and solutions found. The nature of the graveyard is about death and destruction and so a sacrifice of some sort is particularly effective. Despite what I have said above, there are some dead people around that part of the city I am friendly and go and have a chat with, but on the whol my work is with the Goddess. And one of the signs of the Goddess's arrival in the graveyard is a particular sort of silence. No matter how busy the road is, a strange silence comes over things when she is invoked. I think of it as literally the silence of the grave, a silence in which things are changed and exchanges arranged. Have I said before that this blog is about real witchcraft and can only be expected to be a bit blood curdling? The magic of the graveyard is some of the world's most ancient magic and is truly the real thing.
Two better known cemeteries in the city centre are those at Key Hill and Warstones Lane: I have written about both of them here before. I find the atmosphere of Key Hill rather stultifying: the atmosphere is redolent of worthiness and nonconformist morality - while it is redolent of previous generations of my mother's side of the family, it doesn't chime with me now. I rather prefer Warstones Lane - although in my experience the rumours that it is a wild gay cruising ground are wildly over-stated. I can however claim to have been in the catacombs there. It was in the early nineties and even then I was having a wander. The entrances to the catacombs weren't properly sealed and I did step into one. I have no recollection of what it was like inside except for being dark and the knowledge I had even then that entering an underground place which was poorly maintained, alone, with no safety equipment and no means of contacting anyone, wasn't the most sensible thing I could do, so I just stepped in and out again. I do remember feeling frightened, but I think that was because of the danger rather than anything wanting me to go away.
The catacombs at Warstones Lane are the resting place of Baskerville, whose wandering corpse I have written about before here. They are also rumoured to be wildly hauntedm and so I will allow myself a ghost story below, which is actually only one of many about that corner of the city:
In terms of ghosts, a woman dressed in 1930’s attire has been seen many times, and has shocked onlookers by walking through walls and parked cars, even causing a moving car to screech to a halt only to smile at the driver and promptly disappear. Accompanying sightings of this lady, people claim to have noticed a smell of pear drops, which is what Arsenic is said to smell like after it has been swallowed. This dangerous substance was used in the jewellery quarter at one time, which leads us to believe that this lady was killed by arsenic poisoning.
Another witness claims to have spoken to a young man in an army style trench coat near the catacombs. During conversation, the young man referred to the Dudley Road Hospital as “The Infirmary”, a name not used for the hospital since 1948. When the witness walked away and turned to look again at the young man, he had disappeared.