Bel Deering 2011

University of Brighton, UK

Dark Enchantment or graveyards as places with the power to charm

Cemeteries and graveyards can intrigue, entice and transport the visitor. With their contradictory qualities of being open and yet closed, harbouring life and death, and bringing nature and architecture into close proximity they foster a sense of mystery; they have the power of dark enchantment. Enchantment comes about when a person is entranced or captivated by an event or place. The simple juxtaposition of the extraordinary within the quotidian can, arguably, bring about a shift or transformation from a disengaged to an enchanted state. In this paper I extend Jane Bennett’s thesis about the capacity of place to enchant and propose the idea of the dark enchantment of burial places. At first glance a graveyard might not seem to be a place of seduction or captivation, being more obviously associated with death, loss and despair. Looking behind this veneer of sadness, however, reveals that they are places with a rich and complex matrix of narratives that can embrace grief and melancholy alongside joy and excitement. Building on accounts from research participants I explore how graveyards can stir and bewitch the visitor both through their unique sensory landscapes and their slipperiness in being a link between life and death. This characteristic of being neither one thing nor another, of having a co-mingling identity, is what makes cemeteries so potent. I argue that where enchantment co-exists with death, and despair, so dark enchantment takes hold.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract