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Cemetery Customs

Visiting a cemetery is not something I take lightly. Like many people, I go with purpose - either to visit someone buried there to honor their memory, or to reflect on life itself studying the tombstones to get a glimpse at what the deceased were like in life. When I was a kid, I dreaded cemeteries because somehow, I felt like the dead were screaming out at me. Now, as an adult and having honed my abilities and doing the work to understand myself, it is something I actually enjoy doing. It is poignant and sentimental, yes, but also a way to gain perspective.


It also comes with several customs that must be observe



These customs vary culture by culture, and while each are valid, I observe a few specific ones as a means of respect and reverence for those who have passed on.


I never come emptyhanded. I always come with something. If I am carrying a water bottle at the time, some of that water will be poured on the soil as a libation to give strength to the dead. Another customary offering is to leave a coin, reminiscent of the ferryman who rows the souls of the recently deceased across the River Styx to their new home in Hades - for the price of that coin. I do this either on specific graves, or at the entry gate. I also may come with bread or appropriate fruits like pomegranate arils. For many people, flowers are the go-to to present to the dead. Many do so without realizing it is an offering. Make sure you do not bring things that are offensive to most spirits, like salt or iron. Most cemeteries in the West have cast-iron fences anyways - this is believed to contain the essence of the burial ground, a place of death, in one place and away from the living.


While I will visit a cemetery in my daily garb, I try not to step foot into one with sandals or open-toed shoes. This is more of an intuitive thing that I've picked up. Your feet are what take you places. Even if you revere death, you still need to remember that you walk the realm of the living, the physical. It makes sense to not traipse that energy about, let alone take it home with you. That boundary still needs to be there.


While counterintuitive to some, wearing a protective amulet on your person is ideal when visiting a cemetery. You may be visiting your family plot, but their eternal neighbors may not be so nice. Shield yourself from that like you would the jerks in your life.


As I write this, I unlocked a memory. I was about 5, and this was within a year after my Nonni died. I remember visiting the grave with my mother. She was looking down at her stone, but I noticed something else - toys strewn about on the ground with flat stone markers distributed across this one plot in the grass. I asked my mom why they were there. I even remember trying to pick one up, thinking I could play with them. My mom leaned down and pulled it away from me, telling me not to. I didn't understand, but then she told me it was a children's cemetery plot and these were left for them. I didn't think too much of it, but years later, I realized just how profound that was. It is very sad to think about the idea of parents, having lost children, leaving toys and books for them as offerings and in their memory. Last October, after many years, I used my memory of this children's burial plot and its location as a means to find my Nonni's burial, but to no avail.


Also, that leaves me with the last thing - common sense, really - don't take things from people's graves. Someone or something is always watching, and you will pay your price for doing so.


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