On a shelf in my alter-bookcase (literally what it sounds like…a bookcase where some of the shelves serve as resource + supply storage, and where some of the shelves serve as alters) sits my great-grandmother’s candy jar. It’s a common thing, made of depression glass, but it’s pretty. I remember it on our kitchen growing up, holding conversation hearts near St. Valentine’s Day. When we moved into our current house I rescued it from thrift store donation, knowing its new purpose as I brought it inside. So now it sits on a shelf in my alter-bookcase, and holds ancestor dirt. Probably not what my great-grandmother ever intended, but hey, at least it’s still hanging out with family!
It took me years to begin using ancestor dirt in my practice (for reference, I am 35. I started practicing magic in high-school, and it’s been a winding process with pauses and sprints and changes of directions all along the way. It’s still that way. And I’m okay with that… but more on that another day). And I certainly didn’t waltz into a graveyard one day and just grab a handful of dirt and be on my way. When I started entertaining working with ancestor dirt I had already been paying respects by helping tend some of the family graves for years. One branch of my family ancestors are highly concentrated in a small-town cemetery in central Washington. There are hundreds of, if not over a thousand, living family members in the surrounding areas. But there are only a handful of us who go out yearly and tend graves.
So by the time I committed to working with dirt as a form of working with energy (as opposed to exclusively working esoterically with energy), I was already familiar with the physical site, who was where, familial relationships, and the energy strengths and weaknesses of my resting family. And now when I tend graves, I am the only one who brings gifts other than flowers (not that I am docking flowers at all–my living relatives that also tend graves bring flowers from their gardens, including roses started from the bush our matriarch brought from Germany over a century ago. That’s pretty witchy in itself).
I am lucky to have record and knowledge of these things. I know who to ask for dirt if I am looking for feminist glass-ceiling breaking energy. I know who to ask for dirt if I need strong empathy. Or need some help buckling down and doing hard work. Or creating strong foundations at home. Or who is simply not going to be OK with their dirt being used. Like, EVER. All of this comes from years of chatting with my ancestors as I pulled weeds from around their headstones and brushed dirt from carved names and inscriptions.
I’ve also learned to not take more than I need, to ask, to listen for answers, to spend some session just tending, and to bring libations to offer. I’ve learned that although I have blood relations I work with, ancestors, or the energy from the dead that I might choose to work with do not necessarily have to be blood relatives. They just have to be someone I have a relationship with, either before or after death. And a solid relationship at that, based in tending and learning + remembering. I’ve learned to walk out of graveyards backwards, sprinkling salt on the threshold as my feet cross, as a form of respect. And to bathe afterwards, which i usually do after most magical work. working with my ancestor’s energy through dirt has been, like all things witchy for me, a slow and reflective path, but so very worth it. And it’s helped me to recognize being a witch means to not always work in safety and comfort. And that’s how it should be.