My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Monday, 11 January 2016

Graveyard Etiquette

In my last post I mentioned graveyard picnics, and it got me thinking about being respectful in graveyards. Something I have come across is a perception that Goths are disrespectful to cemeteries and graveyards, or that we will vandalise them. I even know someone who was removed from a graveyard simply because of how they were dressed. This is mostly a prejudicial attitude that comes from a general perception of Goths as delinquents, but sadly there have been instances where members of the Goth community have damaged graveyards - most notably the situation in Whitby where Goths and opportunistic photographers have caused an issue with the local cemetery due to people clambering on the stones to pose on them for photographs. There are sometimes occasions where "Satanic" or "occult" graffiti appears in graveyards, and this is often presumed to be the work of Goths - I doubt that it actually is, but again, this is a thoroughly wrong thing to do. 

I would say, from my experience of Goths, that we tend to actually be a lot more attached to graveyards and cemeteries, especially ones that don't contain the last resting place of a loved one, than a lot of more mainstream people, who generally avoid them. We're more likely to be interested in things like the symbolism in the carvings, the history of the place, and suchlike, and we are also more likely to visit them for some peace and quiet (I have actually written ::this:: post explaining why I like visiting graveyards, because a lot of people, mostly mainstream people, think it is weird), and as such, I think a lot of Goths find it very upsetting when someone desecrates or vandalises a graveyard, and as such would never do anything like that themselves. 

There are, however, those amongst all groups of people who are not very respectful of their surroundings, sometimes just out of not thinking rather than actual malice. I definitely think there is an issue when it comes to people not being respectful or thoughtful when doing graveyard photoshoots. I've been both the model and the photographer in graveyard pictures, and when doing such, try to minimise my impact and do so respectfully.

An important distinction is between historic and contemporary graveyards. More recent graveyards are often arranged with roads within them wide enough for a motorised hearse, more accessible paths (e.g paved or gravel, etc.) and the monuments are usually in better condition (but don't climb on them), however they are also in active use, so people will be visiting them as mourners visiting loved ones, and it is even more important to remain respectful of other cemetery-goers, and not to do anything that could impact on its use. Historic cemeteries often have very interesting and sometimes quite large and elaborate statues, mausoleums, tombs, etc. but they also tend to have less accessible paths, and the monuments can be in a state of disrepair; I know several locally where some of the mausoleums are in such a dangerous state of dereliction that they have to be fenced off with warning signs, and others where some of the graves have sunken downwards - in such places, keep to marked paths if possible, and avoid entering the mausoleums, especially if they look unstable or are closed off. I know they're enchantingly gorgeous, but that's not worth ending up as a permanent resident... 

There is also a difference between municipal or council-run cemeteries and ones attached to a place of worship. Obviously, if you are in a graveyard associated to a church, cathedral or chapel, one should be respectful to the place as a religious place as well as a place of rest for the dead. The church may well still be in use, even in historic graveyards with no new graves and is important to both be respectful of those attending the church and not to do anything that might disturb them; do not be noisy, for example, especially when there is a service of any sort in session, and remember that services are not only on Sunday mornings! 

So here are my guidelines to cemetery behaviour. This is based around my experience in the UK, and other cultures have different etiquette for visiting graveyards.

1) Do not clamber on the statues/grave-stones/grave-markers/tombs. From a practical standpoint, you could damage them. Yes, a lot of them are made of stone, but stone weathers with age, and not all stones have the same sort of strengths. A lot of times it is the details of carvings which become fragile, and some stones become soft, friable or flaky with weathering. Acidic rain from the industrial revolution onwards has had a very depressing impact on specific kinds of stone, especially. 

From a perspective of being respectful, these are people's burial places and it can be considered disrespectful to those interred and their families to be using their markers as props for photo-shoots, something to clamber on, etc. 

2) Do not drop litter. If you are having a picnic, or bringing any kind of food or something with a wrapper (even if it's just the plastic over a sketchbook, for example), either dispose of it in a bin, or take it home with you.  A lot of cemeteries and graveyards have bins provided, especially ones which get frequent traffic, and ones still in use, but even if they don't, that is no excuse to be slobbish and leave litter. 

3) Don't let your dogs foul the graveyard, and if there's a sign saying no dogs, then respect it. Personally, I wouldn't bring a dog into a graveyard at all, and if I did, I would keep it on a lead, especially if its liable to go chasing the squirrels or something, to preserve both the peace of the place and the statuary and tributes from getting knocked or damaged. If you do bring your dog into the graveyard, and it uses it as a toilet, please clean up after it. Just imagine the person who has to use a strimmer on the grass finding concealed dog faeces. 

4) Respect the peace of the graveyard as resting place. You do not have to keep to absolute silence, but using quiet voices and not being raucous or to bouncy is probably a good idea, especially in one where people have recently been interred, and where people might be visiting as mourners. Treat it as a garden of quiet contemplation, not a public playground. 

4) Don't let children play in the graveyard. Some children can be trusted to be well-behaved and quiet within graveyards, others can't. Don't let children climb on the stones, run around very excitedly, or otherwise behave in a manner that might damage the graveyard, cause injury to themselves (recently a boy was crushed to death by a gravestone as can be read about ::here::). Graveyards are not a safe place for play, especially as tombs can become unstable over time. 

5) Leave tributes alone - don't mess with anything anyone has put on a grave. Absolutely NEVER take anything left by mourners on a grave. The only exception I would see is if a real candle was lit and something had fallen or was in a position where it might cause a fire-hazard. 

6) Don't use it as a place to host your super-spooky 'ritual' or seance or whatever. Most graveyards are associated to a church, and it is disrespectful to them as hallowed ground places of Christian worship. It is also not a good idea to do this in municipal/council-run cemeteries, as many people would consider it disrespectful. You can do a seance in your own home. Sometimes ghost-hunting groups can get permission to engage in their practices with permission from whoever runs the cemetery, but do not do anything of that nature without permission. 

7) Pay close attention to the opening and closing times. Many graveyards and cemeteries shut at night due to problems with drunks and delinquents being a nuisance after dark, and if you stay too late, you run the risk of both being locked in, and being considered a miscreant. Don't try and jump the fence after closing; respect that whoever runs it is entitled to set their own opening hours. 

These are the 7 things I would give as 'rules', but also check to see if there are signs by the entrances specifying additional rules. Just because I haven't mentioned something, that does not automatically make it a good idea, and if in doubt, it's better to be safe than sorry.  

Notes for photographers
I would avoid are taking photographs of the text on markers; to me, that is the private details of whomever is buried there, and is for their family, not for everyone to gawp over, but that is my personal preference. As you may note from my photography, I tend to either photograph only a small detail, or the whole cemetery, rather than focusing on specific stones. 

I also would never pose, or act (in the theatrical sort of way) as a 'widow' or 'mourner' at someone's specific gravestone; that person probably already had real mourners, and it seems distasteful to play at being mourner when someone probably suffered real grief and pain over the person that was buried there. I would not encourage anyone modelling for me to do so either. 

In a similar manner, I would not encourage anyone to model, nor model myself, in an overtly sexual way. I think this would be disrespectful to those interred, and to those visiting, especially those who are going there for a sombre purpose.  Mix the iconography of sex and death, by all means, but don't be disrespectful in a cemetery to do so. 


  1. I definitely feel a connection to graveyards and cannot imagine how people can purposefully damage them! I have a huge respect for the dead. But I also think they don't mind visitors as long as they are respectful. In the city there is a very old graveyard people often photograph, walk their dogs through etc. Everyone, loves it,most of them "normal" people, and it warms my heart!

  2. Yes! As a parent, I love taking my little one to the graveyard. I also use it as a way to teach him about respect. He knows that whenever we go visit a cemetery, he has to be quiet and respectful. We do let him run up ahead of us on the walking paths but he knows not to run to a grave, not to step or climb on them either. He ESPECIALLY knows not to climb on anything or take anything off the graves (candles, photos, flowers, toys, etc) Great post, by the way!

    1. I'm glad you're teaching your son such good graveyard manners :)

  3. As a person who both lives by and care-takes a couple of historic cemeteries, I'm very much in agreement with your guidelines. If I may, I'd like to discuss your guidelines individually.

    It's my job to keep watch over these burial grounds and I always find it amazing how many people allow their children to climb up on the stone cannons that adorn the "Four States Monument" and for that matter, the monument itself. There has also been vandalism, which usually occurs at night. This creates a dilemma for me, because I must decide how to address children, accompanied by their parents, when they are being disrespectful or climbing over things. The question is, where do I draw the line. Then again, I must plead guilty to doing a photo shoot in one of the cemeteries after I received my Van Helsing/Vampire hunter cloak. I did indeed lie on top of a table grave, but the concrete covering had recently been restored. I don't believe that most of the goths at Whitby intend to be disrespectful, but sometimes people have to look at unintended consequences.

    As for leaving litter, local elementary schools have come to our cemetery and allowed the children to have lunch here. We do have a trash bin, but I pay the service charge for trash removal and because I recycle, I chose the smallest bin to keep down the costs. One day the school people left large plastic bags filled with trash outside our gates. Not only could I not handle it, but leaving those bags out would invite untold numbers of critters, raccoons, possum, and neighborhood dogs to the area. By morning that trash would be all over the place. Fortunately, I was able to remedy that situation and the school now takes their trash back with them.

    People do bring their dogs to the cemetery for the express purpose of allowing them to do their business. One person seems to pick up but the others don't. I'm not sure how to handle this as there is no rule against it. Since this particular cemetery is the burial ground for soldiers involved with the southern cause during our War Between the States, I find it best not to annoy the neighbors.

    As for tributes, every wreath the someone had left in the smaller cemetery was stolen about a week ago--and in broad daylight no less!

    As for spooky rituals, the management refuses to allow paranormal investigators to do their work in either of the cemeteries. Quite frankly, I wish these people were allowed because even I had a paranormal experience here one night. But I enforce the desire of the organization because...well, that's my job.

    People ignore our visiting hours routinely. Even though there's a sign at the front gates explaining that visiting times are during daylight hours only, far too many attempt to sneak in at night. About a month ago I heard screaming and shouting in there while I was watching a DVD. I went out and shined my light into the cemetery to find myself confronted with 15 to 20 young people. I shouted to them politely that it was after hours and they would have to leave.

    "We're a fraternity," they shouted back.

    I responded by informing them that it didn't matter; they had to leave.

    At that point a small group of them (all were obviously drunk) approached me in order to intimidate. When I reiterated my position they walked away but still refused to leave. Finally, I called the police, but by the time the officer got here, they had all left. He had passed them at the bottom of the mountain.

    There you have it HouseCat. The life of a Gothic cemetery caretaker is not a dull one.

    1. Actually, there's only one university in town, and it's the state university. There are several fraternities however, and this is where the mystery lies.

  4. Actually one should think these 'rules' should be on everyone's mind from the beginning but sadly yes there still are people who use graveyards as playgrounds, destroy graves or bug people who go there for mourning.

    Also for everyone who will show their pictures remember that some graveyards might sue you so you better read their signs before taking pictures...

    1. I've never heard of a UK graveyard suing, but I guess in some newer cemeteries, the statuary itself will still be in copyright. There will also be those where there's a specific ban, I guess, as a cemetery policy. All the ones I visit and photograph are very old indeed - with the exception of the one in Narbeth I wandered into by mistake! (But I did read the signs, and nothing about photography).


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