Legal Employment for the Dead: Gathering Cemetery Dirt for Magical Purposes from the Hoodoo and Santeria Perspectives

Hoodoo Payment: Candle and Whiskey (coins not shown in the photo)
Hoodoo Payment: Candle and Whiskey (coins not shown in the photo)

It must have been nearly three decades ago when I had to gather dirt from a cemetery for the first time; it was nerve wrecking to do so because I am not really fond of cemeteries. Besides, I felt like the whole planet was watching every single step I took on that morning. Little I knew back then that I would have to repeat this operation many times in my life. Well, it does get easier when you know what you are doing and why and not just following someone else’s brief instructions and getting it done, because it has to get done.

Let us begin with the ethics of cemetery-dirt gathering. Do it with a purpose, do it respectfully and without enslaving spirits. Let me address point by point these two guiding principles.


There are some practitioners of magic that simply go about from cemetery to cemetery collecting dirt from famous graves just to have them in their arsenal in case the needs arises to use them.

Here is what I think of that practice. Would you fill up your pantry with food that will expire and ingest it no matter what a decade later? I happen to think that when you operate with a purpose, an immediate purpose, the dirt you gather has more power and it will yield more effective results. If you do not believe me, then test it out yourself. Gather dirt, let it sit on a shelf and then, when the need arises, say 5 years later, use that dirt and see if you can solve the situation at hand just as effectively. There is a process of conscious gathering of strength and momentum as you prepare a magical working which should not be interrupted; it is like putting together a cake. Would you mix the batter and let it sit on a shelf a day or two before putting it in the oven? It could very well be that being a dirt collector is just your thing, ok then so be it, but the purpose and energy behind each collection must then be carefully catalogued and noted so when you finally decide to use that dirt you can recall that particular state of mind and get again into that groove to impart the working with the appropriate energy.


There are procedures on how to gather cemetery dirt and they vary greatly according to what your practices are. If you are Hoodooist, there are ways to gather dirt and pay for it. If you are an Olosha, there are ways to respect, and if you are—to cite a third practice—a Palero, then you should know I won’t get into any details because as a Palera I respect my pacts and I don’t go about discussing what I learned from my Tatas with non-initiates.

So let’s address two common practices that make no bones about how to gather cemetery dirt: Santeria and Hoodoo.

The Hoodoo Perspective

From the Hoodoo perspective, to gather dirt you must make a payment for services rendered. You are in a way providing legal employment to a selected dead person. It is useful to be able to do some quick divination on site to determine if the spirit is the appropriate for your working, the divination tools would vary from practitioner to practitioner. Some do not use divination at all. But in general Hoodooist take with them some whiskey, cigar, flowers and/or some coins and use then to pay the dead to carry out a service.

The offerings are usually placed at the gravesite and some like to leave some coins at the entrance of the cemetery as they enter or leave.

A simpler offering, coins and candle.
A simpler offering, coins and candle.

There are those who gather dirt from the area where the head would be buried, the feet, the hands or the heart depending on the purpose of the working. Selecting a particular spirit to carry on your working also depends on the aim of your working. Some folks prefer soldiers because they are bound to be obedient, some may choose a prostitute for her trade or because it is relatively easy to buy favors from her, some may chose an innocent (child) to carry on their bidding as they operate with pure intentions—but don’t discount the likelihood of having said innocent become distracted or mischievous. In any case, a bargain needs to be agreed upon and payment must be rendered.

Hoodooist in general can be dirt collectors and esteem dirt from famous people or people of power because they can use that dirt in sympathetic workings or to obtain some of the things/powers that person had in life.

There is much more to be said about gathering dirt a-la-Hoodoo, but those are the basics. The idea here is that the dead is being paid to carry out a task, not that you are going to the cemetery to buy a soul and take it with you or to enslave a spirit with no payment. Those indeed are the realms of the necromancers and not the aim of this essay.

The Santeria Perspective

Gathering dirt after placing offering Santeria style
Gathering dirt after placing offering Santeria style

When digging out cemetery dirt, Santeros overall are a bit more ceremonious in their process, at lease I am. I like to research ahead of time who is buried in that cemetery so I know exactly the year of birth and death and if possible the reasons of death. In other words the more I know, the better my bargain and agreement with that particular spirit to carry on my bidding. Granted, Santeros do not like to talk about using dirt from a cemetery but it is used and in many instances workings are also buried at cemeteries or discarded there.

Entering the cemetery requires ritual; I like to be dressed respectfully. No shorts and shirts showing off bosom. Long skirt, head covering and discrete attire is a must for me. I also like to be protected against the spirits that like to wonder cemeteries and are looking to catch a ride back home with you to create all sorts of havoc and get attention. Placing a leaf of Siempre Viva on your belly button, along with a bit of cascarilla and a piece of cotton is a common practice for many. Some like to wear a belt made with nice colors of ribbon or a red sash around their waist. It all depends on personal preferences and on instructions from spirit guides that may work with a particular Olosha. Upon entering the cemetery 9 pennies are deposited at the gate in payment to Oya, Queen of the Dead and owner of cemeteries.

Offerings used by Oloshas may include but not be limited to: Rum, cigars, flowers, candles, coins and coffee. Normally a set of coconuts can be used to determine the agreement with a spirit to carry on a mission and to gather the necessary dirt for the working. The amount of gifts depends on the Olosha, but the basics are rum, cigars and candles. Coins are always given to Oya, as you can see from paying at the entrance, and again at the gravesite for the spirit if the pact you enter includes coins in exchange of services.

I hope this helps to give you some perspective on the interesting practice of dirt-gathering and opens the conversation to see what has worked or not for those who read the article and like to share their experiences.

Oní Yeyamá Achagbá

7 Replies to “Legal Employment for the Dead: Gathering Cemetery Dirt for Magical Purposes from the Hoodoo and Santeria Perspectives”

  1. Great post! Very informational! My question is, what are the procedures for someone who is going to a cemetery to pay respect to a loved one that passed away and not leaving with dirt. My best friends father had passed away not to long ago and I had a good relationship with him. I want to visit his grave anytime that I am in town but like you said one has to be cautious with what you walk out with. So do I pay my fee at the door to Oya and then enter? Is there any fee to pay on the way out? Also, what would you suggest would be good offerings to someone that has passed who isn’t related to you by blood? Thank you!

    1. Hello Scipio

      I think here the matter is simple. You may opt to pay your respects to Oya upon entering/exiting the cemetery. I desbribed on the blogpost how to do so. I would cover my head as I enter the cemetery. There is no particular thing you need to do. You may bring flowers or nothing at all because your purpose is paying respects, the act of you going there is enough.


  2. Hello there I am a frequent reader and I am not sure if you got my email before but I been reading the fact that the topic that there’s initation mills and people will tell you things to put fear in you to push you into iniations for money and now I am questioning my madrina and the validity of what she’s doing. I received my collares earlier this year which was fine, she told me I had eggun issues and I needed to do six misas for a fee, and she told me In my reading my problems is the cause of others, which is true most of the time, and people try to feed off me and so I needed extra protection she suggested I be scratched. I brought a friend of a mine to the ile as well she reiceved her collares, my so called friend stole money from me and spent it on a stripper and I ask her to pay me back .my god mother stepped in and said take the loss and move on and she also said instead of getting upset at my former friend/godsister I should attack the man who abused me. My thing is I may be a beginner but is this behavior acceptable in ile. The money my former friend had to pay me back so I could buy my school supplies. She wired it to our madrinas husband behind my back. My madrina says we both need to be scratched but as I read homosexuals cannot be scratched. Could I be getting scammed? And I am located in los angeles could you refer me to an ile, I don’t speak spanish yet. But I think my god mother abdandoned me.I don’t know what to do because she says I needed to be scratched and basically my god sister started drama lying to her , playing victim but my madrina won’t listen , she basically said have a nice life

    1. Hello,

      I did get your email, however, I prefer not to address individual emails because I would never have enough time to keep up with those and the blog. Besides, when I respond to something here, it benefits you and many other readers as well. So here we go to address your note. There are several issues here:

      1. Your godparents are meant to deal with spiritual situations. They should not be meddling in your personal affairs, unless you request help or you are engaging in conduct that creates osogbo (bad luck). Your godparent should not have to be placed in a situation to be an referee between you and other godchildren. It is not fair to any party.

      2. Misas should not have a fee associated with them. Here I am old school. When I learned about Spiritism, I learned about faith, hope and charity. Where is the charity if we go about charging for misas? I have never charged for a misa. I will never charge for a misa. People do need to bring materials, afterall, candles, florida water, flowers and other basic staples are not handed down free of charge at the stores. Also, it is polite to offer something light to eat after a misa. I expect attendees to do their part and bring items to share, potluck style.

      3. It sounds to me like you just got yourself into an initiation-mill house where you are just another way to pay the monthly bills. Maybe I am wrong, but I have been there and seen that too many times to ignore the warning signs.

      4. Homosexuals indeed are not allowed to get initiated into Palo. Any person who does this is breaking traditions and dishonoring their Munanso. If you want to read more about it, dig into the articles posted on the blog. I have a feeling that you already have.

      5. Big lesson for you. We find something we consider valuable, we want to share with ‘best buddies.’ Well as you can see, when we are so generous, we end up being screwed. Take your time to really know people before getting any more initiations. Learn Spanish. Only when you are sure of your position within an ilé, you bring someone along–if you have to.

      6. No. I have no one to recomend in LA. To be honest, I have some folks I know from reference, but I have yet to meet them in person. Until I do so, I rather not send you from the pan to the fire.


      PS. There is much you can research on your own. Pray to your eggun to open the way. I think they already are helping you.

  3. Thank you so much , you are spot on. I feel so used because my school supply money went to this woman and I’m at the last minute scrapping around trying to get it. I will definetly research a lot more before I join another household as this is my first. I was thinking how is it that I am being rushed to pay for to be scratched and I haven’t got my warriors at all. Something doesn’t seem right. I have been reading more and I didn’t realize that how dangerous it is to receive a ceremony that is not even valid.especially when are rules being broken. And at first I was paying for misas she quoted me 600.for 6 misas then after a while money wasn’t being asked for . In that house hold I’ve only been to two drummings and I haven’t had much one on one time so you’re spot on its time for me to leave.

    1. You are welcomed. Lets get one thing clear, being initiated in Palo is not a requisite to Orisha practices. There is in most cases no need for a person to serve two masters or two religions, however complimentary. This is a mistake often made by practitioners that have their heads confused and follow blindly what they have observed without questioning.

      Logic should dictate a fair amount of choices in life, particularly when in tune with gut instinct and proper use of reasoning and information. Remember, the head rules the body.


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