I’ve resisted an ancestral practice for many reasons. Many of them involve a great deal of dissatisfaction with my family and our more immediate Dead. The more recently Dead would not generally approve of who I am and what I do or want to do with my life, and I’ve heard enough horror stories about their bigotry, emotional abuse, and more that I have no real care.
However, I’ve heard in many places the benefits of ancestral practice, and I’ve heard proponents argue that, even if your ancestors are rubbish, you can still find “ancestors” amongst the Dead. I’ve also done some research regarding my families. Most of them emerge out of a wonderful mélange of British and Germanic ancestry. What interests me, and has been suggestive to me, is that my family surnames probably emerge out of cunning and magical traditions. One surname comes out of Old English wǽrloga (that is warlock), and the other comes out of Gaelic for fire, really. I kinda suspect some cunning, witchy something back a ways.
But then, that’s probably true for everyone.
So I decided recently to start something. And as I went through my end of day routine that would see me going into my practice and would see me initiating ancestral practice, I kept imagining my Grandma (rather than my Granny or my Grandmother, who are different dead people). She kept coming to mind. She had died several years before, suffering from senility while her kids quarreled against each other (mostly, brothers led by the oldest against the sisters). And as I was taking care of my routine, I found myself thinking about her, and I realized, there was probably a reason for that.
I’ve been realizing that magic and the Otherworldly is actually far more up against our minds on a daily basis, and sometimes you or they are trying to get your attention based upon what images or notions keep coming to mind. I realized she was waiting, willing, eager, interested.
Now, there are other people—also dead—who I had planned and have previously offered veneration and prayers for before. Artists and persons I respect and whose works greatly shaped and inspired me and which continue to have a profound effect on me. So I planned to make introductions, call to the blessed cunning Dead and these three, including my Grandma.
And indeed, once I had finished opening, aligning, and my usual ritual business, I moved on to greetings and offerings to my ancestors.
Now, in the build up to the opening of the night, I’d seen/imagined my Grandma in the Woods where I usually find myself, and as I actually came closer to the Woods then, she changed. I remembered a friend-of-a-friend visiting after her mother had died, and I had the distinct impression of her mother’s spirit shining forth and the mortality sloughing off of her like mud in the rain. (I kept such observations to myself at the time!) And soon, Grandma reminded me of old photos of my mom when she was young and pale and blonde, and even the one photo I’ve seen of Grandma as a young girl.
After all—if you can look however you want, and once you know you can look however you want, however is even realest for you—well, I think many folks would opt for youthful vitality with the maturity of the Dead and the immortal memory.
And, well, it was off to the races.
One thing I have wondered about over the years is how much we may do a disservice to the Dead by assuming they don’t change. I think there are enough stories about angry ghosts, or ghosts caught in their mortal shells and egos, to demonstrate that many of the Dead (or a part of the Dead, at least) remain much as they were. But the Dead who can realize themselves—much as we aspire to—well, they’re there, as well. Or they can be. Arguably, one of the points of ancestral practice is perhaps to help the Dead do so. And I imagine there are squabbles amongst our ancestors, lines drawn, family feuds. And so on. If nothing else, though, as Chris Bradford has noted, ancestors have “skin in the game.”
I also think there’s a consequence of lack of ancestral practice at the cultural and political level, especially when the role of ancestral work is displaced to abstract notions of DEITY. However, I note who continues to receive ancestral veneration in our culture in the West: the powerful, the aristocratic, and the civic ancestral cult.
Anyway, I also noted how quickly the gods started conspiring with the Dead. So. The races.
Image: Reading the Night Sky; Is There Love in Space; by Dean Kavanagh