Appealing to your ancestors

In a recent Immersive Reading I did for a client regarding a problematic spirit relationship, one of the potential solutions that came up for dealing with her situation was to appeal to her ancestors and the gods of her bloodline for assistance. Since she had questions about this, I’m thinking other people out there might, too.

Yes, I know the topic of ancestor work can be a controversial one in the pagan community, because so many of us have deceased family members we wouldn’t call on if it was the last option open to us. For example, if your late Uncle Mort was a child molester, chances are you don’t really want to be inviting him into your home. Also, as many of us are first generation pagans in monotheistic families, we might feel alienated by some of our immediate ancestors, feeling that they can’t possibly share very much with us and unsure why they would want to help with our relationships with pagan deities, demons, spirits, or what have you.

But we all have bloodlines that go back more than just the few generations we might know about. Whether you know it or not, whether you can trace it objectively or not, you have a bloodline that reaches back into the pagan past, into the depths of antiquity. Depending on what country your ancestors came from, what ethnicity you are, you have ancestors who worshiped Odin, or Cerridwen, or Isis, or Ogun. Some of our ancestors, granted, return to the “primordial soup” that provides a source for new souls at the birth of children. Of those who qualify as Mighty Dead—those who managed to distinguish themselves in life in some way—some may be reborn as themselves (with their individual spirit intact), in a new body; some may choose to dwell in the spirit realms and join groups of spirits such as the Wild Hunt. But every bloodline has one or two who qualify to be ranked among the Mighty Dead and who choose to remain attached to their own blood lineage, to watch over their descendants. These are the people to turn to when you get yourself into a sticky situation with a god, demon, or other entity who you seem to be stuck in an abusive relationship with (assuming you have tried to work things out directly with that entity and it has failed, or it isn’t possible or advisable to deal directly with them for whatever reason).

“But Beth,” I can hear you saying, “what if I’m adopted and I don’t know who my ancestors are?” Well, that’s the beauty of working with your ancestors: you don’t really have to know who they are—not at first, anyway. (Chances are they will tell you, in time.) I was adopted myself (in a black market baby-type situation where I’m unlikely to ever know anything about my real lineage), but I do know what countries/cultures the bulk of my ancestors hailed from; I know this from family gossip and my physical characteristics, but if you aren’t sure, there is always the option of getting your DNA tested to find out. I know, for example, that the gods of the Anglo-Saxons and of Scandinavia are my ancestral deities, and that there are probably a few Gallic deities thrown in there too. I know that, somewhere back in my lineage, there were pagans who lived in those countries and worshiped those gods, and I can appeal to those people if need be.

Why bother? Why should they want to help you, when you may not even know their names or who they were? Well, the ones you’ll be addressing have specifically chosen to remain attached to your particular bloodline, which means they have chosen to help you and people like you, their blood descendants. This is the Job they have signed up for, as members of the Mighty Dead. They have a vested interest in helping you because, whether or not you or other descendants remember them by name, you carry their blood forth into the world, you are the physical presence of their lineage on earth. Any help they give you reflects well on them in the spirit realms and thus increases their power—especially if you then begin a devotional practice for them to thank them for their help.

What if you can’t hear or interact with them the way you can with the gods? That doesn’t matter; I mean, it would be nice, and may happen down the road, but you don’t need it to start a relationship. All you need to start with is a place to set up a petition candle and leave offerings. I offer the setting of lights as a spiritual service in my shop, but in this particular case, the petition is really more powerful if you do it yourself, since you’re the one related to them. Simply choose a person or a lineage to petition; for example, say you were told in a reading once that you have an ancestor who was a witch or powerful in some way; maybe you were even given a name. If so, write that name on your petition paper and inscribe it with a pin or a sharp pencil on your candle.  If not, write “whoever can help me from my lineage,” and if you have a particular lineage in mind you might write, “Whoever can help me from my Scottish lineage” (for example).

You can use almost any candle for this, either one from my shop—I would be happy to make a custom candle for you to use for this–or even a simple white seven day candle from Walmart. Under the name, write your petition; for example, if you need help with an entity, write “Safely sever ties with _____________.” (Or whatever your objective is.) Now, using a sterile lancet from the drugstore, put a bit of your blood—just a couple of drops—on the paper and on the candle itself. Place the candle on the paper, light it, and burn it for a couple of hours every day for seven days while praying to your ancestors about the problem you need resolved. I would also suggest giving offerings while doing this; you can light incense, or offer liquor or food you surmise your ancestor would have enjoyed (based on their culture), but at the very least you should offer a glass of clean water, and change it for a fresh glass daily.

This is enough to start a base bones ancestral practice, with the caveat that if your ancestor does help you, it is only good manners to continue making offerings to them afterwards and keep up the relationship you’ve started. During this process, don’t be surprised if insights come to you regardings ways of dealing with the problem; this is your ancestor helping you by offering suggestions, and you should seriously consider taking whatever advice they offer (providing it is legal and won’t harm anyone innocent).

This same process can be used to petition a deity from your ancestral line. The deities of your bloodline have less of a vested interest in helping you than your own ancestors do, but They most likely still hold a proprietary interest in your bloodline in at least a general way (since generations of your ancestors worshiped them, possibly even in a priestly capacity at some point). This is another controversial topic in paganism, and please understand that I am NOT suggesting you can only work with gods your ancestors have worshiped; I firmly believe that the gods call whom They will, regardless of race or national origin. However, the blood still has power, and even if you have not worked with Odin before (for example), if you are English or Scandinavian you have a blood tie to those who once worshiped Him, and, through them, a tie to the god Himself. Deities who have an ancestral connection with you are more likely to consider helping you, even if They are otherwise strangers to you, and They can be petitioned using the same procedure I shared above. (And it’s even easier to figure out appropriate offerings for deities than it is for ancestors whose names and likes/dislikes you have no way of knowing.) Again, I offer a setting lights service in my shop, where I will make and burn a petition candle on your behalf if you’re nervous about approaching a deity who is new to you or if you’d just rather have someone who’s done this before do it on your behalf. (I’ve been a wife of Odin for more than ten years and a Witch for almost forty; I have extensive contacts in the spirit world, and am more than happy to use my access on your behalf.)

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to at least some of you. There is more to say about ancestor work than this (including the topic of spiritual lineage ancestors—such as my group of Disir, the Queens), but this is enough information to get you started. If you have questions, hit reply and let me know; I may not have the time to answer each question immediately, but at the very least I will try to cover them in a future post!

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16 thoughts on “Appealing to your ancestors

  1. I’ve been wondering about ancestor work; my grandfather has appeared in my dreams a few times, and I’ve seen him around the family farm. But he was a devout Catholic in life, so I’ve never been sure about approaching him.

    “The deities of your bloodline have less of a vested interest in helping you than your own ancestors do, but They most likely still hold a proprietary interest in your bloodline in at least a general way”

    So *that* explains why Odin was around right before I oathed myself to Anubis. I was wondering why he’d show up then leave again a few days later.

  2. I’m glad that you posted this. My own feelings about ancestor work are complicated – I can’t deal with my own immediate, recent ancestors, but awhile back I started honoring Clan MacLeod (I’m MacLeod-descended on my mother’s father’s mother’s side, and Clarence The Elf is one of the MacLeod clan guardians) – I didn’t start off thinking of it as ancestor work, but that is actually what it is. I think a lot of us think of our ancestors as being within the last few generations and don’t realize that it can go back further than that – I know a few people who are descended from Ragnar Lodbrok, for example. While some might have reincarnated, there is bound to be someone on that line who will answer The Ancestor Signal and say “oh, OK, I’ll help you” or has good will towards you. I also think it’s good to practice gratitude, and for those of us who have shitty families, it can be helpful to remember that not everyone in your bloodline is shitty. 😛

  3. Adopted ancestors are still ancestors. You may not know your bloodline ancestors, and that’s okay too, but don’t overlook that the family who adopted you is also now your legitimate ancestors.
    Adoption counts.
    Marriage counts.
    -E-

      • I actually honor several layers of Ancestors. I’m not adopted, mind you, but my parents and my grandparents remarried, so there are plenty of family-by-law people to account for. But I also have found that people who were dear to me while they were alive are still connected, people whose great works have inspired me, or significantly affected the world I live in… there are many reasons for honoring an Ancestor. Blood is merely one of them.

        Of course, none of this is to discount getting to know your distant Ancestors through your blood!

        But I do think Heathenry sometimes gets stuck on that a bit, to our own detriment.

        -E-

        • Okay. This might not be your intent, but I’m feeling a bit lectured-at, here. I did note at the end of the post that there was a lot more to be said on the topic of ancestors, including ancestors of spiritual lineage (as opposed to blood lineage). Yes, there are different layers of ancestors: blood, choice (ie people you admire or who have “adopted” you in some way), adoption, marriage, etc. My post, though, was written specifically on the topic of how to call to ancestors of your bloodline who will be inclined to help you specifically because they have appointed themselves guardians of that bloodline. It was also intended to point out to people new to ancestor work, who may not have gotten into it because their immediate past few generations of known ancestors may not feel very friendly or sympathetic to them, that they can reach beyond those immediate ancestors into the distant past to potentially find kindred spirits. I wasn’t really writing this from a generic/heathen “this is why blood ancestors are teh most important ever” viewpoint; it was more from a spirit work “this is how your bloodline can be useful to you in helping you out of sticky situations” viewpoint. It was not intended to be a comprehensive post on ancestor work, period. (I am actually planning to follow it up, at some point, with posts discussing some of the other types of ancestors.)

          • Sorry! No, I wasn’t trying to lecture you, just continue the conversation. (Alas, if I were trying to lecture you it would have been a lot longer and more pedantic. ;p)

            I like your post. I don’t think we could possibly fit comprehensive information on Ancestor work into one post anyway, really.

            -E-

            • You know, this is the second time in a few days that I’ve come across wrong like that, in totally unrelated contexts. I really need to figure out what about HOW I say things is having that affect… -E-

              • I was pretty sure it was unintentional. 🙂 Sometimes I can fall into a similar mode myself, without meaning to, when I’m very impassioned about a topic. I do see your point about ancestors by marriage or adoption, though, (Just ask Jo; I have a very persistent Jewish grandmother.)

                • Ha! My grandpa (grandma’s second husband) was of Jewish descent, and it was still clearly part of his culture, even if he died a member of a Methodist church. He was QUITE vehement, even in death. 🙂 -E-

  4. Beth i have the same trouble as you, but one generation back. My mother was adopted from abandonment, and I’m trying to find out about that side of the family, now, but hitting nothing but dead ends. __Supposedly__ her family was (she thinks) French so I have a possible link to the Gauls that I’d like to confirm but who knows if we can? So, I’d say there’s no reason to rule out pure interest in a line to finding your ancestors. The other side of my family is Italian, and my dad insisted we go back to the Roman era, and possibly Pompeii. (Oh, if that were true!) But that other side I still have no idea about. I *do* know my father’s mother has told me in no uncertain terms, “Honey, I don’t care if you’re not Catholic, I have my eye out for you.” and if I never get any other true inkling of my other ancestors, I’m good with just that connection. 🙂

  5. I’m one of those people who don’t have a known ancestor I’d feel comfortable calling on. However, I firmly believe a deceased in-law looks after me. He pops up in my thoughts often and words of wisdom come from him, affirmations about actions I take that have the form of a feeling without words often.

    I even have a deceased writer [Kurt Vonnegut, who’s in heaven now]I believe looks after me now and again simply because in a book he wrote he said he hoped some poor wag would say he was in heaven now, when he passed away, although he’s an atheist. Lol. I also suspect he and my father in law play cards and have other dealings with each other-theyre both so alike.

    I feel my brother’s presence less than those two but his picture is on my altar all the same. Luckily for me I have no pesky or destructive entities right now. Maybe that horrible, bootleg nag champa i bought and burned cleared them out. Wouldn’t surprise me if both Odin and Loki made themselves scarce that day, lol.

  6. Reblogged this on Sable Aradia, Priestess & Witch and commented:
    Great post! I think it’s more important to work with your ancestors if you’re estranged from them, rather than less. It may give you the opportunity to heal generations of wounding and give you a sense of place. I have done some of this work with my own ancestors; my father was raised by his uncle and aunt, it was tense and to say he was “estranged” would be an understatement. My mother came from an alcoholic family. And the ancestor work I’ve done has been incredibly healing, because negative patterns can remain for generations. If nothing else, it can bring you to a place of forgiveness and acceptance.

  7. A few points.

    1. I agree with you 100% on the power of ancestors and the deities and spirits our ancestors honored. In the beginner’s class Hemet (Rev. Tamara Siuda, head of the House of Netjer, for those who do not know her) encourages people to start an ancestral practice. Her teaching also includes that you can work only with your ancestors, spiritually speaking, having no dealings with others Gods and/or spirits, and still do just fine. They’ve been incarnate. They GET what living is really like. And while I am not at all folkish I think there is a power to be found in knowing your ancestral deities because that is your history. Not because some Gods (or blood, or genetics, feh) are more powerful than others, but because of the tie. I still associate closely with the Aesir because for me it seems to be as much ancestral obligation as anything, even though my primary oaths and connections are with Netjer.

    2. Back when I was going to Trothmoot, Winifred Rose-Hodge presented a few different years about parts of the soul. One year she mentioned that in some sagas people report seeing the same person in different worlds. Her theory was that it was indeed possible, because it was different souls living there. (This came about through linguistic research, and I think she did find that different words for soul were used for the same person in different places.)

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