Of all the publishers I have had the pleasure to work with over the last decade, Hadean Press holds a special place in my heart due to their decision to print my first professionally submitted article way back in 2013. While Cities of Life and Death may have been a personal milestone, it definitely lacked the polish that would make my subsequent work easier to read. This heavily updated article is a sequel of sorts and again featured in an edition of the Conjure Codex, specifically the gold themed one that hit the shelves in mid 2020. All in all this essay outlines many practical aspects of my ongoing necromantic pathworking, and should prove useful for those who like to dabble with the dead.
Treasures of the Grave
A Practical Guide For The Aspiring Necromancer
By Gavin Fox
As a modern necromancer my personal path is one centred around respectfully working with the actual energies of the dead, the memetic concept of death as a social construct, and the inherent life force in all things as well. This multi-faceted approach owes much to the wider discipline of chaos magick, and allows a great deal of flexibility for me to do as I wilt in developing a viable methodology all of my own. Considering that I have nothing but the greatest respect for those who have journeyed to the lands beyond the veil, my continued exploration of the entropic arts is steered by a well defined moral code. I would never wish to popularise or condone the practice of digging up human remains, nor do I find any value in stealing artefacts from inside the grave itself. Not only would such trinkets would be next to useless to any necromant wishing to follow my footsteps, but there are easier treasures out there just waiting to be harvested anyway.
Growing up in London I was lucky enough to have access to a number of shops that were dedicated to providing supplies for the wider occult community. But as any urban magickian will tell you, all those pre-packaged inks, powders and candles can only go so far. As soon as you deviate from the usual circle and sage methodology you are bound to find it hard to find what you are looking for, even online. Especially if, like me, you are more interested in the dead than the living. And yet necromantic supplies are freely available within a few miles of your home, if you have the tenacity to go find them. Every city has its graveyards, and every square foot of their overgrown and neglected floor plan is a treasure-trove of ingredients for the seeker and adept alike.
If you have any real interest in connecting with either the death current or the unquiet dead in general, you will need to acquire some grave dirt. A mainstay of the necromantic paradigm, this soil allows you to bring a piece of the cemetery home with you and helps create a connection to the underworld within an otherwise mundane space. It can also be used in any general working dealing with the discarnate, and a small freshly harvested bowl left in your magickal laboratory or on a more traditional ancestor altar will keep it tuned for months with little extra maintenance needed. That said, it works best as an ingredient in more complex blends, and the extra time spent hunched over the mixing bowl tends to be worthwhile in the long run.
The first magickal recipe I have decided to share is something of a workhorse. At its core lies an amalgamation of innocent ingredients freely available in pretty much any town with both a supermarket and a graveyard, but it soon becomes potent beyond measure when combined in the manner I describe. Infinitely adaptable, and easily stored for months at a time, foxfire powder is my first choice for hands on banishing, cleansing and purification, though it smells beyond terrible and will stain if mixed with either oil or water. The liquid version also kills plants and repels animals who rely on scent to navigate the world around them, though this aspect is generally of limited use to the necromant unless they have a long running feud with next door’s dog.
The most basic foxfire blend involves mixing equal parts grave soil, good quality sea salt, unmagnetized iron filings, dried garlic powder and powdered chalk in a large resealable glass jar, before placing it under the earth for a full lunar month. This step is designed to be symbolic of burial, and as such a short funerary service involving the underworld godforms of the necromancer’s choice should be intoned as the container is lowered into the ground. Thankfully, this process does not need to be undertaken in a cemetery to be to be effective, and as such the magickian should be able to avoid the risk of getting caught by less enlightened individuals while working on a fresh batch.
The necromancer can further elaborate upon the blend by adding secondary ingredients such as coffin nails, grave glass, frankincense resin and silver sixpences; or spring water and extra virgin olive oil should the liquid version be preferred. The mixture can then be carried in pouches and bottles for protection or poured through funnels to draw circles and sigils as needed. Foxfire is a pretty forgiving material to work with, aside from the smell, and it should retain its effectiveness even if time constraints negate the possibility of allowing the powder to properly age in the womb of the Earth before use.
While there are a few professional brands of grave soil on the market, as with anything mass produced and sold for a premium it is better to find your own. This is by far one of the hardest items to get a hold of without getting caught, however, but a small sandwich bag full is easy enough to smuggle past the graveyard attendants if you are discreet and confident in what you are doing. Pre-planning comes into play here, as it is essential to know where to dig without being seen. Understanding the history of the grave you are harvesting from is useful as well, though this preliminary research can be skipped should supplies run low and a familiar burial site becomes unavailable. That oversight will have a direct effect on the potency of the powder or outcome of the ritual that you undertake, however, as every internment has a flavour all of its own.
Soldiers and police will work best for protection blends, for example, while murderers and criminals are especially tailored for hexing. For the least squeamish, the graves of friends and family can be sought out and thus their occupants invited back into your home for a variety of reasons. Fresh burials may be easier to harvest, but older ones have soaked up more energy, ageing like a fine wine until they hum under the magickian’s fingers and signal their readiness. While the ground is usually a little harder to break, the pay-off tends to be worth it in the long run. A few inches should be deep enough to get what you need, and the drier the better; you’re harvesting grave soil, not swamp mud after all.
Taking some dirt can leave a neat little space to place something else that needs charging by the death current for retrieval at a later date, such as an amulet, crystal or figurine. These are best left for a lunar month, new moon to new moon, and will hold said charge for another month or so once removed from the grave. It is worth taking into account the very real possibility of another necromant digging it up by accident while harvesting their own grave soil, however, so less valuable the better is a good rule of thumb here.
Next we come to a personal favourite of mine, grave glass. Not those annoying little candles you see kicked to pieces all over the place when you go to walk among the dead, but the multicoloured chips that cover the tops of graves in more modern cemeteries. While glass in general is not crystalline and has therefore been traditionally overlooked by magickians and pagans alike, it can still be put to use in a ritualistic context. Regardless of colour this particular tool behaves much like one of the buried items mentioned earlier, and is best harvested around the time of the new moon. Due to the long term saturation by the death current, in certain cases in excess of twenty or thirty years, it will retain its charge almost indefinitely and very rarely needs replacing unless drained deliberately.
Grave Glass Cookies
Whether you choose to create either the classic repelling grave glass cookies or the more necromantically minded attracting version, the construction methodology is pretty much the same. First take enough air drying terracotta modelling clay as is needed, denoted by the individual size and overall amount of cookies that you desire, and slice it into roughly equal portions. Roll these between your hands until they are round, and then gently flatten them against the greaseproof paper with your palm. Ideally, you will need to leave the clay at least an inch thick, perhaps a little more raised in the centre, so that it can receive the items that you will be pressing into its surface.
For the repelling cookies, first press either a bloodstone or obsidian chunk into the middle of each flattened piece of clay. Then working outward, add five iron nails; pressing them upward through the underside of the cookie or downward through the top depending upon your preference for sharp or blunt tips. Finally, apply the shards of grave glass in a similar fashion, forming the final ring on the very outermost edges of the clay disk. These should face upward in line with the position of the nails and again either sharp of blunt depending upon the style chosen for the previous step. The attracting cookies are made in exactly the same way, but this time the central stone should either consist of smoky quartz or amethyst, the iron nails being replaced with fragments of animal bone in an effort to invite memories of physicality in the unseen interloper and hopefully entice it to stay. Once the modelling material has hardened, place the cookies facing the doors and windows of your home and await the results.
Grave glass has a number of uses aside from creating cookies. In hexing operations it can be pressed through a clay effigy or photograph of an enemy, stimulating the release of concentrated death energy within their body at the locations punctured through sympathetic magick. And of course, it can also just be left in the necromancer’s laboratory to add its unique resonance to that of your other magickal trinkets and tools too. It does not grind well, however, and unlike the more versatile grave soil must be used whole for the best effect. Whether that limits its usefulness really depends upon your imagination, and ingenuity when putting such rituals together for the first time.
If you who do not wish to disturb those that were once human, or do not follow a path that has much to do with them, cemeteries still hold a host of useful treasures. Feathers are usually easy to find, as are animal bones, especially if there is a skulk of foxes or groups of other predatory animals living in the area. For me at least, such items are always a nice surprise when walking those winding, ivy shadowed pathways for other reasons, and it is recommended that a small cloth bag be taken on such day trips just in case the opportunity to make up a doggy bag presents itself. Human remains, even those exposed to the air by the natural degradation of the burial plot itself are best left where they are, though fragments of marble from grave markers and rusted coffin nails are of course fair game.
A relatively involved use of found items, such as the aforementioned feathers and animal bones, is in the creation of an Altar Beast. This is an empowered thought form specifically designed to protect your ritual space from outside forces that would seek to disrupt its day to day workings. The actual make up of the creature depends largely on the materials gathered by the necromant and their ingenuity in sculpting a viable likeness of the tulpa in the mundane world. The entity itself is then named, programmed with the laws that govern its function and finally birthed by the magickian through a process of intense visualisation and repeated applications of the necromant’s own blood.
While it does not need to be a work of art in the classical sense, the necrotic modelling wire and ersatz cadaver creature that forms under the magickian’s fingers should be a viable representation of the initial idea, and reflect its purpose as watchful guardian of the necromancer’s working laboratory. It goes without saying that this physical body is but an anchor point in the material realm for an entity wished into being in such a way, and not animate. It will never actually get up off of the altar and run around with a kitchen knife and a tiny little hockey mask, more’s the pity, yet this in no way diminishes its effectiveness as a viable last line of defence when dealing with the unreal reality in which a conduit of the death current operates.
A related methodology presents itself for those who either lack the skill required to create a tulpa, or who prefer to work exclusively with the spirits of the recently departed instead. In this respect the altar beast serves not so much as a focal point for the creation of a synthetic astral being, but instead a portal through which an ancestor can be incited to return and commence its silent vigil over the necromant and their family. The magickian utilises items and trinkets belonging to the person to be contacted in this way during the creation process, and programs the sculpture by overlaying it with feelings and memories relating to them while they were alive. It is, however, not to be seen as a prison for the resident spirit; if mistreated or disrespected they will no doubt abandon their task at the first available opportunity, perhaps even turning on the necromancer in the process.
Depending upon your location and time of year, many different plants and flowers can be found growing wildly within the cemetery walls as well, adding to its otherworldly bounty. This is especially true at the usually poorly maintained edges where no one really goes unless they need to pee. Roses long since left to grow as they wish vie for space with numerous forms of ivy and holly, punctuated by the occasional thistle and poppy. Plus acorns, conkers and seed pods, leaves and fallen branches all drop in abundance, especially in autumn and early winter. This adds a distinct rhythm to the interactions between a necromant and their favourite graveyard similar in many ways to the pagan wheel of the year.
Those seeking wood to craft a wand or cut for runes can do far worse than look to the trees in their local cemetery, especially the ones growing out of a grave or tomb. Indeed, any plant that has germinated above a burial and then laid roots down within the remains of the dead becomes a natural conduit for the death current. When taken in concert with their obvious ties to the forces of nature as well, we see a unique blending of life and unlife within a single material, and an obvious choice for the discerning mage looking to exploit both forces to their fullest potential.
It goes without saying that bringing ritual implements and other associated trinkets within the boundaries of most inner city graveyards Is almost impossible during the busy daylight hours. Access to these spaces after dark is also limited, and as such the cover of night is not usually available for even the most daring magickian to take advantage of either. This should not actually be an issue, however, as no tools are required when working within the cemetery itself. The gateways to the underworld yawn wide in the places of burial, and as such are capable of providing more than enough empowerment to achieve any given entropic goal. Thus the land beneath the necromancer’s feet becomes the most valuable treasure of all.
There comes a time when every necromant will inevitably find themselves in search of guidance from the other side of the veil. When this need arises a field trip of sorts is undertaken, involving the magickian approaching the dead on their own soil for help and advice. Devoid of the regular tools and trappings of their art, the necromancer is forced to face the the steely gaze of the discarnate entities who populate that sacred space empty handed, gambling that their strength of will alone will prove strong enough to see them through the trial that lies ahead.
All the necromant requires to begin a gateway meditation is a shady spot under a large tree, preferably one which sprouted from a burial and that sits far enough away from the general flow of traffic through the cemetery that they remain undisturbed. The magickian then sits with their back pressed against the cool bark of the corpse gorged trunk and, while resting their palms gently on the soil at its roots, begins to meditate on the dual nature of life and unlife. As their concentration builds they will perceive the world slowing down, and an icy chill creeping up their spine. At this point, the necromancer is channelling the very death current itself, and sitting on the cusp of two very different worlds. Shades will start to gather, questions can be asked and answers gained, before the spell is broken and normal consciousness sluggishly reasserts itself.
The more the necromancer experiments with this altered reality, the more adept they will become at channelling the death current, as well as dealing with the denizens of the unseen world as well. During these experiments there is a very real chance of the magickian shifting from sticky fingered interloper to honoured guest within the cemetery grounds, their resonance with the icy flow of entropic power growing until they become a true mage-priest of the dead. Theirs is now the mantle of go-between for the real and unreal worlds, and a symbiotic relationship forms with the spirits who offered them the chance of such a chilling rebirth in the first place.
As this article highlights, there is much more to the modern necromancy than simply digging up the dead and stealing their skulls. At its unbeating heart it can be best viewed as working with the essence of place as opposed to the physical remains of those who have long since passed beyond the veil. While many less enlightened people will sneer at the idea of walking out of a cemetery with a bag of soil or sack of animal bones, such actions are undertaken with reverence and clarity by the true necromant, who realises that there is little real value in desecrating human remains. Thankfully, none of the aforementioned treasures of the grave are particularly tricky to acquire once you have found a quiet corner to begin your work, and doing so should have little or no effect on the ecosystem of the cemetery whatsoever.
A final note of warning, however; be mindful of those coming to visit the graves of the recently deceased. Odds are your reverence for the undertaking that brought you to walk amongst the dead in the first place would be of little comfort to them should they find you with your fingers in their newly planted family tree. Remember, as with any other source of magickal materials, once you find a viable burial plot that is capable of providing for your needs long term it is best to do nothing that might jeopardize your ability to harvest there. Stupidity and waste are not the virtues of a competent necromancer after all, nor do they bode well for your continued survival within a very dangerous paradigm.