Working with Ancestors
“What you are given shall you repay as one day you are called to be the harvest. Likewise, honor the ancestors who paved the way for your arrival. You are a future ancestor, treat your time here as such for your descendent's will look to you for answers. They shall inherit what you are, what you are to become. The corn mother told you, you are a future ancestor, What you are, is the food of generations.”
The Ancestral Altar
The ancestral altar is a place to formally revere the ancestors and invite them into your life. This is a separate altar from that of a practitioners other work. Those ancestors may be called to aid I a working of significant importance, it is not always appropriate or respectful to involve them in every working or operation. You will have to learn to trust your own judgment here, however if you would not involve certain living relatives in the situation for their own safety or innocence or because of their temperament, it may be prudent to be selective of which ancestors you call.
The altar is to face west as this is the direction of the dead in most traditions. If your tradition places the dead in another direction, pace the altar accordingly. Alternatively if you wish to face the direction of known burial, do so. Just maintain an awareness of why your altar is set up the way it is. This is not an altar kept out of sight, but placed in a space of living to invite the ancestors in. If for whatever reason it would not be safe to do this, your situation may call for different placement. While tradition is often very clear on this, if the atmosphere is such that the ancestors would not feel welcome then the point has been missed entirely. In these situations you may have to make extra effort for them to feel welcome.
If in your practice you are used to there being two candles representing polarity on your altar, such as god and goddess candles, it is not out of place to have candles set up in this manner representing the line of your father and mother, or the parents of the household. You're representing their line which is embodied in them, not them specifically. This brings up a note of caution. do not have pictures or candles for those living lest ye count them among the dead. You may have a candle for them, asking for the ancestors to guide them but your intent must be clear on this. Don't include them in the honoring of the dead.
Good offerings for the ancestors include tobacco, coffee (lt. a cup of Joe), their favorite alcoholic beverage, and generally things of this world which are now a commodity to them. Things that are sensuous. In time you may even draw them into you that they may experience these things through your senses. Also, anything that meant something to them in time, especially something they can be updated regarding. Examples include the growth of grandchildren, how time has affected their favorite places or the state of a charity, organization for group they were dedicated to. A glass of water also, with it's connections to life and to the cauldron. In some traditions they even go as far as to have nine vessels of water. 9 being the number of Yesod and also, of Oya, an Orisha of the dead.
Graveyard Dirt and Body Parts
Dirt from the grave o f an ancestor, if possible, is often used to help establish a connection. This should not be taken without due respect, with ones intentions given and an offering should be left. Baby teeth and other remains might also be used. Graveyard dirt in general is considered an aid in working with death and the dead. Great care must be taken in acquiring graveyard dirt so that unwanted shades (souls and parts thereof) do not become involved.
Baron Semedi, Papa Legba, Qayin-Azazel and Hekate are entities who aid in the communication of the dead. Which, if any, you work with are going to depend on your background. Any entity associated with the underworld, the dead, the central gate or world tree should be able to guide you ad your ancestors. Another guide, though often overlooked, is the land spirit, or genis loci of where your ancestors are buried. Alternatively, your animal guide can lead you through the western and southern gates. Deep, still bodies of water and caves are entry points into the underworld. Lastly, certain herbs such as Tobacco, Mullein (Hags Taper), Wormwood, Dittany of Crete, Yew (Death Tree), Apple, Mugwort, Willow, Elder (Guardian of the road to Hel), Asphodel and Sycamore aid, in various ways, the communication with shades. These are also personified at times as guiding entities.
Religious Conflicts Among Ancestors
If your ancestor was of a certain religion, you can honor them with a symbol of that faith even if you yourself are not of that path. Now getting ancestors to get along is not always easy. You'd think in passing they'd be a little wiser when it comes the nature of the path... and often they are, but sometimes they just aren't feeling it. If you're aware of these conflicts don't be discouraged, your doing it "right". You'll work through it. Usually you'll have an ancestor or two who helps keep the rest of them civil and who will help you work through the conflict. As you do this you'll likely find less conflicts with the various aspects of who you are, within your own self.
If you are adopted, were taken from your family or for whatever reason are unaware of your origins, start with what you do know, even if vague and see what unfolds for you. You're likely being guided in ways you are unaware of. This has been the experience of many, who went looking for a foundation they did not have, or which was fragmentary just come full circle to their roots. You may want to work with one of the entities mentioned to make contact, this is fine but it's still good to have some bearings.
Blood Rites and Adopting
When we are talking about ancestors we mean blood relatives. There may be somebody adopted into the line or whom had such an impact in-restoring the line to a healthy state that they are considered a patriarch or matriarch in their own right. It may be someone who led you to understanding the importance of knowing your ancestors. It could be someone who laid down the work that is your practice. It is not wrong to honor these people here or even to have a general altar to the dead or even acknowledge them as a ancestral forebearer to who you are. However it is important to recognize what kinds of connections these are and that your blood ancestors run through your blood. As such when it comes to ancestral workings there are situations where it would not be appropriate to call a non-blood relative. We must recognize that there are some ways in which another's path must be separate from our own, and that certain rites would bind them to a causation that is not of them.
To bring a non-blood relation into an ancestral blood working is to bring them into a blood oath and covenant. It becomes a binding ritual, by blood. Marriage in this way is a blood oath as you are adopting eachother into your families and asking your ancestors to guide you together, and lend their medicine to your relationship and offspring. A blood oath then is to be adopted into a bloodline.
Blood, Personal Power and The Ancestral Blade
-Image of Shelg coming soon-
There's a huge connection between working with the ancestors and your own personal power. This will become apparent in time if it is not so now. Just as an Athame (the black handled knife) is used to direct the will and power of an idividual witch and magus; the Shelg or “Blood Athame” (red handled kife) is used to direct the power of blood and bloodline. Though there are two forms of Shelg, your basic bloodletter, and..the Blood Athame, for calling on the will of your bloodline in your operations.
It is made with the same specifications as the traditional athame except that the handle is blood-red and additional characters are engraved thereon. These characters are the stang mark (top left on handle), denoting witchblood and the owl (below stang mark) denoting sexual life force. Whereas one generally abstains from allowing the Athame to taste blood the Shelg is dedicated to it.
“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who... looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space... on the infinite highway of the air.” - Wilbur Wright
“Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Our ancestors are totally essential to our every waking moment, although most of us don't even have the faintest idea about their lives, their trials, their hardships or challenges” - Annie Lennox
"A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors." - Edmund Burke
The man who has nothing to boast of but his illustrious ancestry is like the potato - the best part under ground. - Thomas Overbury
“There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked. “Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
Questions to Ask Yourself
I. What has spoken to you here?
II. How do you work with and/or acknowledge your ancestors?
III. What ritual or tradition needs to be brought back?
IV. Who are some people you consider ancestors (by blood, legacy or insight?
V. What wisdom of your elders have you ignored at your peril?
VI. How are your ancestors speaking today? Are you making the time to listen?
VII. What ancestry are you hoping to leave for those who come after you?
“And now, may we have faith in life to do wise planting that the generations to come may reap even more abundantly than we. May we be bold to bringing to fruition the golden dreams of human kinship and justice. Thus we ask that fields of promise become fields of reality.” - V. Emil Gudmundson