Who are the cemetery gate keepers?

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Boston Common Cemetery, photo by Kamil DziedzinaThe lore of cemetery gate keepers comes from many traditions, such as Traditional Witchcraft, Hoodoo, Vodou, and some folklore traditions of the American South and Southwest.

There are many spirits you may work with on your path of magick. Some of those spirits are ancient deities that are known from thousands of years ago. Others may be the nature spirits that are in your own backyard. But there are also the spirits of our ancestors and the magical dead. Our ancestors can be honoured in our homes, or we can honour them in the place where their bodies are laid to rest: in cemeteries.

Cemeteries are sacred grounds that we must respect when we are working with the spirits that reside there. Before we can do any serious spiritual work in a cemetery we must honour the gate keeper, who can be found in all cemeteries.

The gate keeper is said to be the spirit of the first person who was interred into the graveyard. With this belief, simply by being the first body laid to rest in the cemetery, you are obliged to be the spiritual caretaker of all other souls that are placed in hallowed ground. In my workings with the dead, I have not found this to always be the case. I have found that the gate keeper is the spirit of the person who feels a great responsibility to become the caretaker of other spirits. Sometimes that person was a doctor or leader of some sort during their life, and after death, they kept the same characteristics they had in life. Those who are called to help the living in life are often also called to take care of the dead after their own death.

The gate keeper is not a warden that keeps the spirits trapped in the cemetery; rather they take care of and nurture the spirits. They energetically keep the living from desecrating graves or doing magick that may harm the ancestors. I have also found that they are able to act as a conduit or battery for spiritual energy to empower the graveyard. If you have ever done energy work in a cemetery or simply “tuned-in” to the spiritual energies, you can feel the power that flows through the roads and the graves. The gate keepers also can help you find the graves of spirits who may be able to help you upon your spiritual path.

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The gate keepers usually resides in some sort of vessel. It is very similar to how the energy of a god can reside in a statue to await offerings from devotees. The spirit of the gate keeper can dwell in a statue, a grave stone, or tree. They may even reside in the entrance of a mausoleum. More often than not, I have found them in a statue or grave stone near the entrance of the cemetery. Keeping this in mind, it is easy to find the gate keeper. They are almost always in the very front of the cemetery, near the gate or they are close to the middle. Simply by “tuning in” to the gate keeper, you will be able to feel their presence.

In the spiritual tradition I was trained in, one never asks for help from a spirit without an offering. The offering can be food, libations, or simply your own energy. Traditional food offerings can be bread, honey, beans, sweets, or cakes. Libations include water, wine, milk, or ale.  Spirits can use your own energy as food, as it gives them strength and power. You can do this by taking a breath and on the exhale send energy from your heart, down your arms, out your hands to the spirit.  The gate keeper will appreciate any offerings you have to give no matter how small.

When we give offerings to the gate keeper it is important to tell them what your intentions are. You can say something like, “I wish to work with the spirits of my ancestors so I may have a better understanding of who they were,” or “I wish to work with the spirit of someone who can help me on my spiritual path.” By doing this you are giving a clear intention to the gate keeper. This will help build trust between you and the gate keeper. Once the trust is built, the gate keeper will guide you to the graves of your own ancestors, as well as the graves of other spirits who may aide you.

Gravestone in a cemetery, photo by William Murphy

I am what they call a “Death Walker.” A death walker is a shamanic term for someone who has the ability to help lost spirits cross the veil into the after life. When the trust in built between me and the gate keeper, they may lead me to the grave of someone who needs my help crossing over. Sometimes they are confused and do not understand why they are in this beautiful park and they want to go home. I will then aid them in crossing over to their new home of the land of the ancestors.

When I was first learning to this kind of work, I would visit my local cemetery quite often. I was in my training phase, so I did not always remember my teacher’s warnings of spirits who sometimes fallow you home. In the spiritual world, shamans, witches, and mystics have a very bright aura. Spirits are very attracted to that bright light. When I got home I noticed one of the spirits was hanging out with me. It was not frightening but I knew they did not belong in my home. I knew I had already established a connection with the gate keeper, so all I had to do was visualize the gate keeper’s statue and explain that I had an unwanted guest in my home, and instantly the spirit was gone. The gate keeper had summoned the wayward spirit back to the cemetery.

Working with the spirits of the dead is very rewarding. By connecting with the gate keeper I always feel like I have a teacher in the cemetery who I can turn to if I need their assistance. The gate keeper has helped me learn more about the dead, as well as about the cemetery itself.

Image credits: Kamil Dziedzina and William Murphy

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi. There my name is Alexis and I have been going through this faze since I can remember I see so many spirits and I hear them but it’s like I can’t understand what is going on I need to know more of an understanding and can help if that’s what’s there asking I want to know basically why I see what I see and what Im able to do

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