Pluto’s Gate was a cave that led deep underground, surrounded by bubbling hot springs. Priests would lead animals into the cave as offerings. Onlookers heard the animals panic before a loud thud, and the priest would drag out a dead cow, goat, or lamb. Birds that landed on the cave would eventually suffocate and die. Only priests could enter, and when they did, they experienced visions of the Underworld and the dead.
It’s no wonder why people assumed that this cave led to the Underworld. But in 2013, Italian archaeologists found another explanation. The nearby hot springs emitted toxic gases, specifically CO₂, which made up 91% of the air in the cave. This much CO₂ is deadly and causes vivid hallucinations.
Although Pluto’s Gate has a scientific explanation, it still portrays a universal trope in folklore: real-life locations that lead to the land of the dead. Some cultures call this the Otherworld, Heaven, Hell, or afterlife; I’m going to use the term “Underworld” for simplicity.
There are many other locations that are said to connect to the Underworld, where witches and magicians can more easily speak to the dead. I am going to cover many of these locations here, and how you can use them.
Crossroads are commonly known as a “thin place” where ghosts, faeries, witches, the Devil, and other spirits appear. You can find stories of the crossroads in Denmark, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Greece, Brazil, and the Kingdom of Kongo. In spirit work, crossroads are so prevalent that the ancient Greeks dedicated a Goddess to them--Hecate.
Some rituals require people to visit the crossroads at certain times, such as at night or on All Hallow’s Eve. Whenever the magician arrived, they usually performed divination. Crossroads were said to connect people to ghosts and tell magicians when people will die.
According to Welsh folklore, if you stand in a crossroads and listen to the wind in the trees, you will hear the names of people who will die. People in the Scottish Highlands would sit on a three-legged stool and wait for ghosts to whisper these names into their ears. In Denmark, practitioners made a triangle with their horse cart and called a ghost by name. They could then ask the ghost three questions.
Because of its associations with the afterlife, crossroads often appeared in funeral processions. In Finland and Wales, the deceased was carried across crossroads during the funeral to protect it against witchcraft and prevent the spirit from haunting the living.
Nowadays, many people visit crossroads to practice spirit work, especially in traditional witchcraft and Hoodoo. Many leave offerings for spirits at crossroads, while others go there to practice divination. Some say that you can dispose of spell ingredients at crossroads, while others go there to perform certain spells, such as hedgecrossing and traveling to the Underworld.
Cemeteries and Graveyards
We all knew that cemeteries and graveyards would be on the list, but I have to mention them. Many, many cultures speak of ghosts that walk around in cemeteries. In ancient cemeteries, everything from the iron gates to the type of trees planted were meant to prevent the dead from haunting the living (see: Trees in Cemeteries).
In traditional necromancy, otherwise known as reanimation necromancy, practitioners aimed to put a person’s soul back into their body. According to authors such as Ebenezer Sibly, necromancers needed a fresh body to do this, usually no older than three days. The necromancers would approach the corpse at sunset, midnight, or on a full moon. They would cast a circle, light (usually poisonous) incense, and perform rituals to reanimate the body and speak to it.
Most people do not practice this anymore because (1) digging into a grave is illegal, (2) entering cemeteries at night is usually illegal, and (3) it’s just flat-out disrespectful to the deceased.
Instead of performing necromancy at cemeteries, modern-day practitioners go there to collect graveyard dirt, speak with local spirits, clean graves, and give offerings. I’ve covered these topics already in these posts: Magical Uses for Graveyard Dirt and How to Commune with Spirits While in a Graveyard.
As you could probably tell by the Pluto’s Gate story, caves are often linked to the Underworld. After all, many of the ancients believed that the Underworld was literally right under their feet. Necropoles, graves, and burial sites were all underground--as are caves.
Stories of caves leading to the afterlife date back to ancient Babylon. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh entered a cave on Mount Mashu to cross the Sea of Death and enter Paradise. Across the world, the Mayans performed religious rituals in caves along the Yucatan Peninsula, believing that they connected to the Underworld. When a person was born, they emerged from the Underworld; when they died, they returned to it.
One thing to note is that, in most cultures, caves are perceived as dangerous, not just physically but spiritually. People who entered the Underworld were unlikely to return. In Ireland, caves were not only houses for ghosts, but for fae. The ancients warned children not to go near caves, or else they could get kidnapped by the fae. In England, people carved “anti-witch” marks into caves to prevent witchcraft, many of which still exist today. Because these spiritual sites were so risky, the only people who inhabited them were shamans, priests, or oracles.
Although records upon records of folklore associate caves with the Underworld, modern practitioners do not use caves as much. Certain caves see practitioners arrive for a ritual, but other than that, not many people use caves for magic.
In Germany, Russia, France, Italy, and many other countries, bridges are viewed as a “thin place” that ghosts frequent. Most often, the bridges that attracted practitioners were called Devil’s Bridges. These stone arch bridges had an unusual shape, and the ancients claimed that the Devil himself built it.
Some believed that witches and other magical practitioners would cross bridges during the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt was a procession of spirits from ghosts to fae that occurred many times throughout the year, usually around Yule. Because bridges are seen as routes to the Otherworld, many people use them for hedgecrossing or astral projection.
If you’re familiar with Greek mythology, then you know about the river Styx carrying souls into the Underworld. But the Greeks were not the only culture who associated rivers with the afterlife. In Japanese Buddhism, souls have to cross the Sanzu River to reach the afterlife. The ancient Egyptian Underworld, Duat, included rivers similar to real-life Egypt. In some traditions, Mesopotamian Underworld, Kur, also had a river.
Now, rivers leading to the Underworld (like Styx) and rivers in the Underworld (like the other four rivers in Hades) are two very different things. Nonetheless, a lot of people associate rivers with the realm of the dead. Many who have hedgecrossed to the afterlife describe rivers, and I knew one death witch who used her bath to travel to the afterlife.
Unlike other locations on this list, Underworld rivers were not usually equated with real-life locations, like the Nile. They were deemed to be entirely different rivers, possibly similar or identical to the physical world, but in another realm.
That has not stopped people from experiencing hauntings around rivers, especially in the U.S., where many rivers were sites of Civil War battles. You might have some luck connecting to ghosts by rivers; at the very least, you will meet local land spirits there.
In many cultures, rainbows connect the living to the dead. From Germany to Hawai’i to Australia, many cultures viewed rainbows as a way to connect humans to spirits and Gods.
In terms of deceased souls, folklore from Austria and Germany said that children’s souls ascended to Heaven through the rainbow. Unborn children also reached the afterlife through a rainbow serpent, according to Australian Aboriginal mythology.
Nowadays, the rainbow holds many other meanings, from gay rights to miracles to God’s promise after the flood. Some practitioners perform certain religious and spiritual rituals during rainbows, or use the symbol of the rainbow in their work. Others gather rainwater when a rainbow appears, believing that deceased loved ones send them a rainbow to let them know that they’re okay.
Other Notable Locations
While I was researching, I came across some other locations that are associated with ghosts, mainly through urban legends. There is not enough information for these to have a full section, but I want to include them because they’re interesting.
Many ancient civilizations perceived real-life locations as connecting to the Underworld, including caves, rivers, rainbows, and bridges. These places were known as a “thin place” where people can more easily sense ghosts.
Modern practitioners can use this to their advantage by performing divination there, giving offerings to local spirits, or gathering tools from there such as graveyard dirt.
Is there any location that you associate with the dead? Or do you go somewhere to practice your Craft? Let me know in the comments below!