Last Monday I visited my favorite cemetery in Portland.
Since it was a weekday morning, the cemetery was fairly quiet, except for one jogger and a school group on a field trip. I’d come straight from a stressful appointment, and the quiet shade under the cemetery trees let me breathe again.
The longer I walked among the headstones the more at ease I felt, and I wondered again why I feel so much more relaxed and content in a cemetery than I do just about anywhere else. I don’t even want to be buried in a cemetery. I’ve already told my wife I want to be composted https://earthfuneral.com/, and I’m hoping when I go it will be easy to arrange.
But I love cemeteries, and not just in October. I don’t find them the least bit spooky. I find them soothing, wrapped in a gentle hush that encourages contemplation and rest. At Lone Fir I’ve met the occasional lingering spirit. One of them likes to be sung to, especially old timey hymns. The others seem to have their own agendas and aren’t interested in me. But all of them have been quiet, peaceful, and maybe a little sad.
It’s nothing like the sensationalism of television shows where the cemetery is full of the spirits of the dead who were buried there. I think the idea that the dead are tied to their bodily remains is a common misconception, not supported by my (admittedly limited) experiences. I don’t know why a handful of spirits linger when the rest have gone elsewhere: I’d guess the reasons are all personal, but I’m no expert.
The cemetery reminds me of another sort of common misconception in contemporary paganism, that somehow the country is more magickal than the city, or that it’s easier to be a witch in a rural setting than an urban one. If I’m being honest, I’d rather live somewhere more rural. The city is overstimulating and triggers my anxiety every time I leave my house. But for all that, it’s no less full of spirits and sacred spaces than the countryside. There is magick aplenty in urban environments, though the many distractions a city throws at us can make it harder to sense.
Cemeteries provide a good opportunity to pay attention to the spirits and energy of place. They’re usually quieter than other places in the city. There are rarely running, laughing, screaming children, or booming stereos. There are no people grilling or tossing a ball among the headstones. The living humans who frequent the cemetery are usually either visiting the graves of relatives, interested in the history of place, or, like me, looking for some quiet in the midst of the noise and hustle of urban life. There’s just enough stillness among the dead to make it easier for us to engage our subtler senses.
If you are city bound and struggling to tune into your awareness of the land as a living being, or to sense the presence of the spirits around you, I definitely recommend the quiet of cemeteries as a place to practice. Over time, hopefully, each witch will strengthen their ability to sense the unseen wherever they are, but there’s nothing wrong with finding a place where it's easier to hone our skills.
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