Hellier 2: Familiar Paths and Thoughts (Major Spoiler Alert)

Hellier: Initium

‘Initiation’ is a funny old word, isn’t it? It’s something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I finished watching Hellier season two.

There are a number of threads that need to be teased out here, but the one I will follow for now is the one that came after a number of occultists messaged the team to let them know they were taking part in an initiatory ritual writ large (as well as a hypersigil, but we’ll get to that later).

‘Initiation’ may be a funny old word. But words are ‘funny’ in of themselves; each one carries both meaning(s) and baggage.

The word ‘initiation’ carries a lot of baggage, largely bringing to mind (human) initiates and (human) candidates for initiation. So it’s entirely unsurprising that when the various occultists contacted the team to let them know they were taking part in an initiation, that they began to think of themselves as candidates for initiation.

But in its earliest Latin form, initiation is simply the beginning of something, and when it comes to Hellier, I think the better question to ask here is “initiation of *what*?” (rather than “initiation of/by whom?”).

Portals and Tones

It’s easy for me to come along after the fact (and away from the intensity of the Hellier Project), and act like this stuff is obvious. But things like this often aren’t obvious when you’re in the middle of them. It’s only afterwards or with the aid of outsider perspective that they become so.

To my mind, it’s the tones revealed during the Estes Method experiment with Dana and the talk of the door/gate during Karl’s trance session that make the best sense for the ‘underlying story’ of what was going on. Because in my opinion, the ‘initiation’ is initiation in the oldest sense of the word, and the beginning the kind of beginning brought by the opening of a way between.

Gates and doorways are symbolically rich structures, creating both liminal spaces between that are neither here nor there, but also delineating axes wherever they are constructed. What remains behind a closed door is always a mystery until it is opened, and what may lie on the other side of the door/gate/portal is not explored as fully in Hellier as it perhaps should have been. There is also little in the way of discernment with regards to the spirit contacts made, but that is another matter.

For my own part, I find it curious that the residents of Pulaski county (the location of Somerset) are so well-represented in the local mental health institution, and I see a parallel here with the delusions associated with the more mental symptoms of elf affliction recorded in the Old English magico-medical journals. That’s not to say they are what we would call elves (although some of their style of communication as relayed through Connor, with their use of color and weighty words, did remind me of some of my own experiences communicating with elves). However again, there is no way to know this.

Initially, Hellier has something of a Missing 411 feel to it. There is that paranormal Rorschach test vibe(as Joshua Cutchin would put it), however as the series goes on, the alien hypotheses are gradually abandoned (or at least the interpretation of what aliens are, modified). By the end of the series though, we find ourselves very firmly among the otherworldly as opposed to the children of other (extraterrestrial) worlds.

The Tunnel Rat, the Hound, and the Abyss

Also of interest here is the Terry Wriste thread, with the “UFOnauts” and Thelemic gematria angle. Terry seems to have played into the Orion/Sirius rivalry uncovered by Greg, hunting down non-human entities through the underworld of the US as he had when working as a ‘tunnel rat’ hunting Viet-cong. His performance of the Star Sapphire ritual (as well as the blue star balloons that showed up), is quite fascinating when considered from this perspective.

The Star Sapphire ritual is quite interesting on a number of levels. But the most curious to me is that the Thelemite commentary I’ve read suggests the *purpose* of the rite is something of a mystery. I am not and nor have I ever been a Thelemite and so I am very much spitballing outside of my wheelhouse here. However, from my completely unqualified view (and a few hours reading commentary), it looks like a possible method of ‘bungee jumping’ into the ‘abyss’ or somewhere else (I don’t know, because again, not a Thelemite) depending on which signs are made during what I would call the ‘cosmos recreation’ section of the rite. If this interpretation is true, then I have to wonder what Terry Wriste was doing and where he was metaphysically bungee jumping to.

Or perhaps not? From all accounts, Terry seems to have never left the tunnel rat life behind.

In the final episode, the team receives a major breakthrough in the form of Connor cracking the numbers that Terry gave them and that were previously believed to be coordinates. Instead, Connor reveals this mysterious series of numbers to be a chapter and verse reference from Crowley’s book of the law:

“Lurk! Withdraw! Upon them! this is the Law of the Battle of Conquest: thus shall my worship be about my secret house.”
Book of the Law, Ch. 3, Vs. 9.

This is something which Tyler quickly recognizes from Allen Greenfield’s book Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts and more specifically, the chapter believed to be written by Terry Wriste himself.

’11. How to Defeat the UFONaut Body Snatchers: The Law of the Battle of Conquest’

Here, Terry details (as the chapter title suggests), intelligence gained from communication with a spirit called Kyla (apparently of Procyon), and ways in which the ‘UFOnauts’ might be countered. These methods are both magical as well as physical:

‘Carry to the Alien Nest the Law of the Adepti and the Knowledge of the Portal and, as Andrews puts it, “ …in the Golden Dawn Enochian system, the Great King of Air is the appropriate intermediary to be called upon as a benign go-between in negotiations between Earthlings and extra-terrestrials.” The Great King of Air, in the Enochian Language, is called “BATAIVAH” and is invoked by the 2 = 9 Grade Opening in the System of the A.A. All Adepti know this. But a 9mm pistol in your pocket wouldn’t hurt either. ‘

This chapter also contains mention of the Star Sapphire ritual, of which Terry writes:

‘The ritual, called “The Star Sapphire,” is the revelation to the initiated of the key Secret of the magick of the conquest of the universe.’

The imagery of the blue star follows the team throughout the course of the investigation too. Allen Greenfield connects the blue star with Sirius (the ‘dog star’), and the team notes a sense of animosity towards dogs in particular from the kinds of beings possibly resident in the caves. Animal deaths  and especially those of dogs seem to be quite common in areas where certain types of paranormal activity is taking place. As a ‘tunnel rat’ that seems to have continued to hunt ‘UFOnauts’, there seems to be something very ‘hound of god’ about Terry Wriste and his continued hunts down in the dark, subterranean parts of the earth. I will be curious to see if Terry makes further contact with the team and what his feelings were on the ritual that was performed.

Familiar Threads

While watching Hellier season two, I found many threads that were all too familiar to a number of witchy types in my friend circles.  The themes of being guided to incredibly effective new (old?) magic,  star lore, appearance of Michael in relation to otherworldly beings (accompanied by similar possessory traits to those I have witnessed  IRL), and the deep deep roots of the beings involved, are all things I and my friends have encountered over the course of the past three years. I don’t necessarily track the green man history the same way as Greg does, but many of the beings who have shown up in my life since the otherworldly started to become more present are of similar ancient provenance (I believe). I see their faces in the ancient cave drawings of places like Lascaux as clearly as Greg did his.

The Spectator’s Role

Finally, there is the question of the show itself as a hypersigil, and the wider effects of putting something like this into the world.

Ritual is experienced on multiple levels, depending on the role played by each participant. Dana, Greg, Connor, Karl, and Tyler may have actually done the ritual in the final episode, but I firmly believe that rituals do not simply exist in one layer of time. A ritual is a layer of ‘law’ or story being set down in the well, and every successive repetition only adds to the continuity and strength of that ‘law’ or story. Even as spectators watching after the fact, the emotion and energy we put into watching the ritual adds to the layers, and in doing so, strengthen the story being told.

Which makes it important to understand the underlying purpose of the ritual if we are to participate in this way.

Final Words

I don’t think any of us will ever know for certain what the real initiation was during the ritual that was Hellier 2. But for me, it will always come down to tones being played in a liminal cave and a gate, and as a proponent of what might be termed ‘restoration’, I was fine with that.  Ironically, if I’m right, the ‘restoration’ effort may have gained a huge boost in the accessible nature of the Hellier Project. Fans are already stocking up on investigative equipment and beginning to make use of ciphers and other tools shown in Hellier 2.

As a final note, I write this with my not-yet-literate child by my side (she’s just getting over a nasty bug). It is, at least at first glance a peaceful scene. The day outside is bright and trees still blaze with their late-Fall colors. But I cannot help but notice the Rapunzel my daughter is coloring as I type.  Unlike myself, my daughter is enamored of all things pink and princess, yet her Rapunzel uncharacteristically has a green face and she’s colored the once-pretty eyes into round, purple pits.

What was it Karl said in trance about those green men again?

 

Heathen Talk: Our Broken Relationship with Odin

Heathen Religion, Then and Now

The funny thing about living in the world that we do, is that it’s pretty much impossible to avoid taking on the broken ideas of our culture and applying them to our deities.

For a lot of Heathens, the experience of finding Heathenry is one that is often described as a sensation of “coming home”. There’s usually a sense of rightness and a feeling of familiarity. However, in many ways, this feeling of familiarity can be a false friend. It can fool us into thinking that we have more in common with people in the Heathen period than we actually do. It can make us think that we somehow ‘get’ things that we likely do not.

There’s a saying that “the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”. Usually, we find this saying referenced when people are trying to justify the sins of the past, but it’s far more relevant here. A sea of at least a thousand years separates us from the original Heathens. To think we just automatically get things is possibly one of the biggest mistakes we can make.

The fact of the matter is that as Heathens, our gods come from vastly different cultures, and they were also subject to change within those cultures. This is not just a matter of nationality here either (although that does most assuredly play a part). The differences in time and politics are more than enough to make even those who grew up in those cultures, foreigners to the ways of their forebears. When we forget this, when we allow that false sense of familiarity to descend upon us, that is when we are especially at risk of interpreting our gods from within the framework of our own society as opposed to their own.

Over the years, this has led to a lot of twisted and even unhealthy ideas about the gods. Ideas that are actively harmful not only to the people who participate in them, but also, I believe, to the future of our overarching religious movement as well as the gods themselves.

Warlord, Leader, King

In my opinion, few deities are more affected by this than the Allfather. Out of all the Heathen deities, it is his cults that seem to become the most twisted and least hale. During the course of my years in Heathenry, I’ve seen people remake him in many images. In modern hands, he’s been the unwise leader who grasps at those beneath him, and an inspiration to countless young males in search of social standing. He’s been the sadistic dom who delights in the tearing of flesh and pain of his followers, a holder of ‘god-slaves’ to be subjected to ordeal after ordeal. He’s been a maddening force and whirlwind who would take the minds of his followers and leave them useless in the world. He’s been a justification for being an asshole to women and anyone with a lick of melanin. To follow him is to label oneself with ‘insert spear here’, and that’s all there is to it (so suck it up, buttercup).

So much for a god of wisdom!

The poison here is not that the Old Man is associated with leadership (for that is the central idea at work in all of these conceptions), but our modern ideas of what it is that makes a good leader.

Although for many he is the head of the Norse pantheon, modern scholarship by scholars such as Gunnell is lending further weight to arguments put forth by de Vries, Turville-Petre, and Ström that outside of elite circles and poets, the evidence of Odin’s cult is lacking in the land. The connection with leadership is still there, but it is not one in which he sits at the head of an Olympic-style pantheon (Gunnell, 2015).

To find the origins of this god, we must trace his spear south from Scandinavia to the warlords of Germania (though he is arguably not without his analogs in other Indo-European cultures)[1]. Here again, though, he sits both as a leader and as an example for leaders to follow.

But the leaders of Germania were not the leaders of today. Of the leaders of old among whom Woden may have grown, Tacitus gives us the following description[2]:

“About minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. [… At the assembly, when the multitude think proper, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears.”

The wise, the persuasive, those who could enthrall with words – these were the people who were heard. This is what made a leader great. Tacitus also tells us that “kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority.” As we can see here, the people themselves keep their own counsel in this. There is no expectation that they become mindless and unquestioningly obedient.  A far cry from what we see now, no?

And the point here is simple, the wise leader does not grasp or abuse. He does not demand mutilation without purpose or solely for his own pleasure. When we ascribe the dreadful and unwise behaviors we see in our own leaders to the Raven God – when we expect them of him – we do him a great disservice. More than that though, we insult him.

A God of Many Faces

“Ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda, lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin”[3]

Have we forgotten him as a god of healing? Or how about as a god who cradled logs on a beach to breathe the breath-soul into what would become the first people? The one who struck the adder, who healed the horse, the god who is the source of all speech, the god of incantation. Have we forgotten those faces too?

One of the best examples of Woden as a healer is the Second Merseburg Incantation. In it, we’re told a story about how Phol and Wodan were once riding to the forest, and ‘Baldur’s’ horse sprained its foot. Phol, as Grimm suggested, may have been synonymous with Baldr, and the previously unmentioned Sinthgunt and Frija attempt to heal the horse with magic. However, it was only when Woden stepped forth and worked his magic that the horse was healed and able to continue on its journey.

In many ways, our relationship with the Old Man as a religious movement, on the whole, is like the lamed horse from the charm. In making him a foolish and toxic being, we create an injury as surely as forcing a limb outside of its natural range creates a sprain or break. And as with Baldr’s horse, without healing, we are unable to continue along the path.

So I guess the question here is how do we heal this particular ‘horse’? What practical steps can we take to begin the process of moving down the road again?

Healing the Wounds

The first thing I would suggest is to begin a spider diagram with ‘Odin/Woden’ in the center and fill out all the things you associate with him. At this stage, do not try to edit or intellectualize. Don’t worry about sources or whether or not something is UPG. Simply write down what your associations are, and when you have your core associations, begin to fill out your associations with any concepts you listed. In other words, explain what you understand things like “leader” and “healer” mean.

When you have your diagram, take a few moments to look it over. Now ask yourself, what is the overall ‘view’ here? Do your associations all have a certain

Heathen - deity analysis
Here’s one I made earlier to illustrate both how to do this, and also how these ideas about leadership might play out.

‘theme’, and if so, what is it? Now, what about those concepts you filled out and their further associations? How old do you think those ideas about those concepts are? Try to trace them and see where it leads you.

The second activity I would suggest, would be to begin a research project. Take the key areas of influence mentioned above and research each of these ‘faces’. Don’t just stick to the Scandinavian sources either. One point that Gunnell makes in Pantheon? What Pantheon? is that the Scandinavian sources do not seem to reflect the actual ideas of Heathen period Scandinavians for the most part (at least outside of aristocratic and skaldic circles). Moreover, the narrative of who Odin is is one that has been subject to change many times over. Leaders have often remade him in their image in order to further their political ends. So try to read widely, then bring that knowledge into your liturgy and rituals (keeping only the wise and hale parts of course).

Finally, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, Odin has been subject to manipulation for millennia. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t counter that manipulation when it is used for nefarious ends. By making a deity into a toxic being, they take from that deity’s inherent holiness, and as the Tacitus quote above hopefully demonstrates, the older view could be far more positive than one might think.

Perhaps fittingly for a god of magic, Odin stands at the edge of a shifting landscape of reality manipulation. Some groups make him the grasping and cruel leader, other groups make him a dom that delights in blood, and other groups still make him a deity of only those who have the “right” blood. In all cases, this is deity as a tool, and these are not faces that we should allow to solidify if we would see a better future for Heathenry. That would be like binding the horse’s leg wrong and continuing anyway.

In From One High God to Another: The Acceptance of Óðinn as Preparation for God, Gunnell makes the case that the manipulation of Odin by the aristocratic elite to render him the high god paved the way for the monotheism of Christianity. It is worth noting here, that this Odin was made increasingly grasping and jealous, a usurper of other deities and their skills. Their horse too was lame, but they got rid of the people who might recognize that, bandaged it, and kept on going only to ‘kill’ the horse later in favor of a donkey walking on palm leaves.

If we are to create in Heathenry, a beautiful golden thing that our children may also treasure and be sustained by, then this is a battle I believe we must fight. But not until we have first healed this horse for ourselves.

“Ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda, lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin”

 

ancestors - odin
Created by Laura Tempest Zakroff, stickers available here:
http://www.magodjinn.com/stickers.html#psodin

 

 

[1] See Enright 1996, Kershaw 2000, and Puhvel 1987 for an overview of the relevant arguments.

[2] Germania (https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~wstevens/history331texts/barbarians.html)

[3] Bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, so be glued (from the Second Merseburg Incantation, Griffiths transl. p 174)

Sources
Griffiths, Bill (2006 [2003]). Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic. Anglo-Saxon Books.
Gunnell, T (2015) Pantheon? What Pantheon? Concepts of a Family of Gods in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions.

“What’s Your Lineage?”

Before I crack on, did you know that I’m holding an online class about magic circles? It’s kind of like this blog post but with a whole lot more information and discussion. So if you’ve got an hour or so (it’s probably going to be between 1-2 hours) on 9/15 at around 3pm, join me for a crazed exploration of the history, purpose, and ways in which magic circles can be tweaked. Can’t make it? The class will be recorded so participants can listen later!

I’m also producing a bunch of content on Anglo-Saxon magico-medical charms and how the magical tech can be deconstructed and re-purposed over here too!

Now, on with the show!

Do You Have a Flag/Lineage?

It began like so many conversations on magical Facebook groups – admin posts link, person replies, and another person decides that it’s a great time to start something.

The “Jolene Rogers”. Im told this is the pirate flag of middle-aged white ladies everywhere!

“Oldest” story on the ‘Book, amirite?

But it was the input of a third person that I’m going to focus on here. Because it’s something that I’ve seen again and again in Pagan and magical spaces since moving to the US.

“What is your lineage?”

Whenever most people ask this question I see that Eddie Izzard sketch in my head – “Do you have a flag?”

But Eddie Izzard sketches aside, the matter of lineage is a complex one in modern Pagan and magical traditions. For many, the idea of belonging to a lineage conveys a certain legitimacy (regardless of the actual abilities of the practitioner). However, depending on which tradition you practice, the existence of lineage in the sense that it is typically understood today may be completely unnecessary.

Lineaged and Unlineaged Traditions

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that all lineages are bullshit. But lineages are far from universal to every tradition.

Take early modern English witchcraft, for example. Most of the witches in the accounts became witches because they had an encounter with an otherworldly spirit (either a fairy or elf). This encounter was usually by chance,

“Oh Pyewhacket, be a love and steal some butter and shit on old Mabel’s bed, will you?”
“No”

and could either be with the familiar spirit itself, or with fairy royalty, who then gift the witch a fairy familiar if shown proper respect. In this worldview, it was not lineage, but the familiar (which could also be a member of the dead), that made the witch.

Having said that though, there are accounts of these otherworldly familiars being passed on from witch to witch (usually family members), and that could be considered to be a lineage of sorts. However, the otherworldly figure was still probably the king (or witch!) maker in this equation as they (presumably) had to agree to this transfer. Despite many modern ideas about the Othercrowd, they have never been at our beck and call. It simply does not follow that a being who is the source of knowledge and power for a witch would not be in charge. (Wilby 60)

And sure, we could argue that these ideas were the fevered product of tortured imaginations. But as I’ve previously discussed there is a continuity to this particular shape. Alaric Hall, for example, traces the pattern of witches working with elves back to Old English sources. I would even argue that given that one of the Old English cognates of Seiðr was ‘ælfsīden’ (as well as for a bunch of other reasons), elves were an integral part of Seiðr, and that that shape continued into the early modern period.

Kinda makes you look at that story of Freyja as the priestess of dead-Freyr’s mound cult in the Ynglinga saga a little differently, right? If ever there was an Eliade-esque “paradigmatic fix point” for this particular paradigm, that would likely be it.

But none of that takes from the fact that there are lineaged traditions in the world. Moreover, there are a lot of benefits (not to mention safety nets) from being a part of a lineaged tradition that has its shit together.
Notice that caveat there?

Because let’s not try to pretend here – some lineaged traditions are clusterfucks that just happened to have been started because (often) one person didn’t like something long-established about an actual lineage and decided to set up their own tree house. That’s not to say that all breakaway lineaged traditions are shit though. Plenty of breakaway lineages turn into actual lineages, but some…yeah.

Legitimate lineages (however they’re judged) can be excellent for a number of reasons though. Because not only do you have access to a far more systematic way of learning, but you also have the safety nets of more experienced elders as well as the lineage itself. If you are interested in a tradition that has lineages then you should absolutely do the work and enter in the correct way. In some cases, it can actually be dangerous to you if you don’t.
For those of you who are trying to live that early modern life though, keep flashing your sweet fairy/elf bait asses (and good luck)!

Okay, I was joking about the ‘fairy bait’ bit.

(Maybe. Just try to be the right kind of bait, okay?)

Lineage and College Degrees

In some ways, the question “What is your lineage?” (especially in groups of mixed practitioners who come from both lineaged and non-lineaged traditions) feels symptomatic of a far greater social issue in the US. Now I’m not going to get all Mike Rowe on you all here, but I feel like the obsession over college degrees for any old crap has kind of carried over into how we perceive magical capacity in others too.

It was one of the thing that first struck me when I moved to my current area. Where I’d lived before didn’t really have much of a magical community. But where I am now is like a fucking soap opera (possibly addictive horror series) with that shit.

When I first moved here, I was excited to come across so many other

“I got my completely unaccredited qualification! YAY!”

practitioners. But soon, I was relegated to some kind of ‘discard pile’ when it became clear that I didn’t have any lineage they cared about. Nor was I interested in learning from the main teachers in the area (a seemingly necessary ‘qualification’ if one is to be taken seriously regardless of actual ability). They just weren’t selling what I wanted, and frankly some of it felt ‘icky’ and even corrupted to me.

There’s a whole lot more I could say here, but I’m not going to. I think that was enough to illustrate my point. Despite my lack of lineage or connection to local big names though, I’ve somehow become the person people come to when things aren’t just getting bad, but really bad.

I’ve found myself thinking about this curious situation quite a lot over the years too. I’ve found so many talented people in my area who don’t have the qualifications people are looking for, and who get completely overlooked if they try to sell their services despite their talent. For example, I have a friend who is ridiculously talented – especially with the dead – and she has been “negged” by people who just happen to be better known or “qualified”. And part of it reminds me of how some jobs now require a bachelor’s degree despite never needing them before.

But part of it is also undoubtedly down to competition and the psychology of buying services. Services are always a greater risk to a customer than products. It’s far easier to see the quality of a product than a service before purchase. So we’ve evolved ways of making the customer feel better – more certain – when buying a service. (Incidentally, this is where “the customer is always right” comes from.) This is especially necessary for those who sell “less tangible” services, and especially those that go against the consensus (such as spell work, healing work, or exorcisms).

See what I’m saying?

In these cases, belonging to a lineage or having qualifications from the “right” teacher can give a customer reassurance (I say “right” here because I think the very concept of “right teacher”, especially in the context of a whole geographical area, is always debatable).

A Big Dog Party

Now I’m not saying that lineage is bad here, because it can be an overwhelmingly positive thing in a practitioner’s life. And before anyone says “oh she’s just bitter because she doesn’t have a lineage”, I do. (No I’m not telling any of you what it is because frankly it’s no one’s business but my own and that of those in my lineage).

What I’m saying here is that I can see both sides of the coin.

I’ve been that non-lineaged witch who gained a familiar through a chance encounter, and I’m now in a lineage and kicking names and taking ass there too (hopefully – I just wanted a chance to use that quote).

All I’m saying is that there should be space for both.

We’re a modern movement, but we’re massively diverse. Some of our traditions are lineaged and some not, and we need to respect those differences. Because at the end of the day, it’s far more important that we get off the fucking sofa and actually do.

(Just don’t do lineaged stuff if you’re not in the lineage).

And yes, that final subheading was from Dr Seuss ‘Go, Dog. Go!’

References

Hall, Alaric – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Wilby, Emma – Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits

The Land as Witchcraft Teacher

For today’s blog, I’d like to tell you the story of how I learned witchcraft, and some of the best lessons I learned from my first teacher.

Like many people who end up getting into witchcraft, I felt a draw to all things witchy. Most importantly though, the weird and otherworldly was also drawn to me. Which is good, because witchcraft without the dead and/or Other is just a party for one.

I grew up in a town on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England, and I was the weird kid everyone else came to ask about getting the “power of Manon” when the movie The Craft came out.

When I was first starting out at the (stereotypical) age of thirteen, our local library boasted only a couple of books on witchcraft. One was The Witches’ Bible and absolutely out of bounds because I knew the librarians would call your parents for taking it out on account of all the photos of naked Janet Farrar. The other was Z Budapest’s The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, and as it had no photos of naked people or overtly witchy imagery (at least on the cover), this made it the perfect candidate for withdrawal.

Now, I realize that Z Budapest is a TERFY dumpster fire, and I’m not promoting her in any way. Even then, her work wasn’t to my taste and there wasn’t really any discussion about transfolx to even have the language to describe a TERF. In my backwards hometown in the 90s, dumpster fire or not, she was about the only game in town.

But while Z Budapest’s book may have taught me how to cast my first circle, the moors were my real teacher.

My First Teacher in the Craft: The Moors

teacher - moorland
Wild, heather-covered moorland with clouds dropping to kiss the earth

The moors where I grew up are a wild place, windswept and barren with rocks littered across the heather and grass like broken bones. It’s a place where the clouds meet the land and modern people walk on ancient ruins. And it’s as dangerous as it is beautiful.

When the mists drop and you can’t see further than a couple of feet, it’s easy to get lost. The landscape is treacherous, and the weather can go from snowy to warm sunshine within the space of a half hour. Like Gullveig, the moors of my home county have burned and been reborn. Unlike Gullveig though, she’s performed this trick more than just the three times that Gullveig did.

“Gullveig” being reborn after yet another fire.

Then there are the bogs – the reason why a lot of people tend to stick to the paths.

But for all the danger and creepy stories, I loved them and would spend hours in the wild places up on the tops away from the paths with my little dog.

Some of my first rituals were worked up on those moors, and I’ve seen things up there that few would believe.

There I learned to map the hidden dimensions of a landscape, committing to memory all the places where the Good Folk lived when I found them, and building up relationships as I went.teacher - burial mound

There I learned to sit out on burial mounds.

There I learned to enjoy my own company and be happy observing the shadows of the clouds moving over the valleys below.

There I learned that no matter how badass you think yourself, some places are still best avoided after dark.

Teacher, Counselor, Friend

I haven’t had many teachers during my time, but the best teachers I’ve known happen to also have been friends who give good counsel.

When times were hard, I would take my pain and pound it into the earth through the bottom of my boots. Then (usually at the top of a hill), I would fall to the ground to thank the hills when the knots around my heart lifted.

Other times I’d bring her my magical problems, and I’d think about them as I walked until I happened upon the perfect piece of materia magica to work into a spell. Soon I was bringing back things like sheep skulls and working the teeth into amulets. It didn’t matter what she threw me either. When I got the sense that I was supposed to use a thing, I instinctively knew what to do with it.

From there, I began to think about questions I needed an answer to, and I would pick up nine straight (ish) sticks at random as I walked. Then when I had

Moorland ruin: Victorian era

my nine, I’d hold them between my hands to whisper my question before casting them to be read as runes.

At some point though, I began to think about the ‘why’. Why did she throw me those things and why did they work for what I needed to do? Why did I work in that way when working those spells and why did that work?

This is how one of my greatest magical interests was born – deconstructing magical workings in order to discover the underlying “mechanics”. And that kids, is how I got started taking historical accounts of magical workings and trying them out.

The Four Main Lessons my Moorland Teacher Taught

When you learn witchcraft from a land, much of it is going to be heavily localized and possibly even useless outside of that land. But the moors taught me four main transferable lessons that have stood me in good stead no matter where I’ve been.

1. Take a Place as You Find It

The first lesson is one that embraces impermanence. Places change, as do the beings that inhabit them. And a place and its inhabitants may be one way on one day, and completely different on another day. Even if you’ve been somewhere before, never assume that a place is going to be or feel the same when you go back there. Keep on top of your basic witchy skills, and always have your apotropaics and best manners to hand.

2. Avoid a Feeling of Ownership

This is a big one, and it’s something we humans (at least in Anglophone culture) generally suck at anyway. This idea of ownership of land (and all the non-human people on it) goes to the animism thing all the cool kids are talking about. And if we’re being real, as a group we’re still pretty crap at that there animism. I mean, how many of us actually respect the agency of non-human persons? How many people still see them as basically being some twee little vending machines for favors (in exchange for some pretty subpar offerings)?

(Clearly I’m using “us” in the macro sense here. I’m referring to the modern Pagan movement as a whole, so hold your knickers, Beryl!)

The truth is, we all come from a culture obsessed with individualism. A culture in which selfishness and cruelty are lauded as a twisted form of morality – and that kind of fucks us when it comes to the animism thing. Because when everything is already about you and you getting yours, that puts you on a terrible footing for interacting with the not-you. But when you bring a sense of ownership into the equation (of both the land and by extension the sentient beings who also live there)?

I mean hell, we can’t even get it right with other humans. Feeling a sense of ownership over anyone or anyland is one of the first paving stones on the road to hell.

Moorland ruin: Neolithic edition.

And this is not me saying ‘don’t buy property’ or that I’m coming to take your toothbrushes and make you use some communal, opossum-managed toothbrush (holy shit but I love opossums). No. Own on paper if you need to, but recognize that it’s just a formality for the stupid humans. Instead work to become a part of your land and grow the understanding of belonging to in your heart.

3. Try to Figure out Your Place in the Big Picture

Speaking of belonging to – this mindset sets you up to contextualize yourself within the bigger picture of the place you inhabit. You’re no longer an individual over but cohabiting with. Where are you in your “neighborhood”? Who do you need to avoid pissing off and who do you need to give a little more care and attention to?

If you consider yourself an animist, try putting yourself in the shoes (or roots) of a tree or plant in your community of lives. What do they experience on a daily basis? Who do they interact with the most? What problems do they have with their nearest neighbors? How do you help them (or harm them)?

An interesting thought exercise, no?

Every Land has its Stories and You Should Learn Them

When we were kids, we passed stories like schoolkids pass nits. Stories about

“Yes officer, I believe it was Granny Greenteeth, in the tarn, with some kind of eldritch magic.”

Granny Greenteeth, “Bannister Dolls” (don’t ask), black dogs, ghosts, and the occasional boggart tale all ran round our groups. Especially on the dark nights when we couldn’t find anything really to do but lurk on the streets and tell each other creepy stories (in winter it’s usually getting dark by four in the afternoon where I’m from).

But these stories are important because they’re what help you to fill out the hidden dimensions of a land when you first arrive. This is how you build your witchy map of a place and figure out where to start attempting to build relationships. Not only that, but they can also give you clues as to how to survive should you encounter some of the nastier parts of the local unseen.

For example, I now live in Maryland. There is an alleged cryptid here called the Snallygaster who is apparently the mortal enemy of the Dwayyo – a kind of huge, monstrous, wolf-like being. I’ve also noticed some interesting parallels between some of the circumstances surrounding the mysterious National Park disappearances and Jinn lore, and I know that wolves are also associated with causing Jinn to vanish. So now I include ground down (legally obtained) wolf bones in the black salt I make to carry in my bag of tricks.
See what I mean?

AMA Ancestor Veneration

Ancestor Veneration and Dead, Oh My!

A while ago on my personal Facebook, I hosted an AMA on Ancestor veneration. I felt like I had come to the end of what I wanted to talk about in my series of posts on ancestors, but that some kind of Q&A was needed to finish the series off.

Admittedly, I could have thrown the questions to a wider audience. But what the people on my friends list threw me was more than enough. I’m a busy person, and soon to get busier with some of the projects that I’m getting set up in the pipeline (I’ll have some news on some of that soon). There’s no way I would have had time to answer them all if I got a deluge! As you will see though, the questions I did end up with cover a lot of ground.

The Questions

What are your thoughts on time between being deceased and being an ancestor? At what point does that transition happen? Or is it instantaneous? Is there something that has to be done from a Pagan or Magical perspective to help them make the shift from deceased to ancestor?

Oh I have so many thoughts.

One of the comforts of belonging to an established tradition is that the answers to questions like this are far clearer. You have the supports of tradition and everything that entails. However, when it comes to modern Pagans, Heathens, and Witches, we kind of have to pick our own way through this landscape. These are questions that we’ll be facing a lot more frequently too as time goes on. More people are aging and dying within neopagan traditions, and other neopagans are trying to find ways to maintain the connection between living and dead.

So what can we do?

I’ve both thought about and worked with this a lot with losses within my own family. As is the case with seemingly everything for me nowadays though, it all boils down to story and communication, and these elements play out in all my rituals interacting with the dead regardless of whether or not they’re simply dead or an actual ancestor. When I sing the dead forth, I sing them through a storied landscape that returns them to now. Then when I send them back or guide them to where they need to go, I sing them through other landscapes depending on what I know of the beliefs – the stories they held to in life.

When my uncle died for example, I created rituals that painted the story of him making his way to ancestral halls and being received by the ancestors. In my prayers, I created stories of him being healed and the pain and memories of his illness and death being sloughed away. In my dreams, I saw him being reborn and performed divination to see what it had to say on the matter. There is no ancestralization for him, at least not in my rituals, as I believe he is reborn in the world somewhere in my family.

To put it simply, I think we need to see this as a kind of interactive process. One in which we guide, heal, and elevate with ritual story, and then look for communication to confirm what is or isn’t happening before adjusting our efforts accordingly.

What are the dangers of ancestor work?

It depends on what you mean by dangers! Work with ancestors that dredge up hurtful things and there’s one kind of danger there. Work too closely with the angry dead who want to hurt you, and there’s another. Oppression, possession, ill luck, sickness – all of these things can come from working too closely with the angry and vengeful dead regardless of family relationship.

Which brings me handily to the next question.

Are you obligated to abusive family members?

One of the worst things about abuse from family members is that it’s not supposed to happen. It’s horribly common, but when you think about what a family is supposed to be in all the stories we tell about them, family isn’t supposed to hurt family.

Yet it happens, and unfortunately death doesn’t erase the asshole in a person.

Moreover, when you consider the fundamental premise of ancestor veneration: that the ancestral dead can affect our lives for good or ill, this matter becomes a lot worse. Does that mean you need to spend decades trying to suck up to someone who hurt you deeply while in life and fix them?

No.

But it does mean that you need to take it into consideration that their ill probably didn’t end with their last breath and take measures to protect yourself and your loved ones from them. Sometimes, other ancestors can help with this. But other times, you need to crack out some more hardcore measures. The important thing though is that you figure out the deal with them and their continued effect on your life. Because ignoring them isn’t good when they’re disembodied and potentially have greater access.

The difference between specific ancestors and the ancestral whole…?

This is a really good question and one that I think about a lot. I mean, just what was the process for individual ancestors becoming part of collectives such as Matronae? (If that’s the question being asked here?) I honestly don’t know. But whenever I’ve seen the dead as a collective, they usually take the form of a large column of light stretching either vertically or horizontally depending on the space and setting. Again UPG, but I’ve seen individual ancestors step out of that column before now to speak to me, and these are usually “big” spirits in some way. There are a few that I consider ancestral guides of a sort that appear to me in that way.

Are there different ways you approach the ancestors that are “long dead” (thousands of years ago), the ancestors that are “recently dead” (in the last few hundred years), and the actual people you knew in life who have died? Do you venerate them differently? Do they get different offerings or different kinds of space in your magical working? How do you ally with the different groups.

Absolutely!! For example, I sing different stories when calling to the ancient dead than I do the more recent. I tend to go off what I know of their likely beliefs in life out of respect for them when creating these songs. But regardless of era, if I’m actually looking to bring them here (as opposed to just pray), I tend to make use of what I call intermediary technologies (I wrote a paper about that very thing that you can read here). I also use circles (which in this case also serves the purpose of recreating the burial mound) for protection (my family’s, not my own).

The long dead generally don’t carry the same sentiment towards me as the more recent (for the good and bad of that), so I tend to approach them with more formality and less familiarity. With dead I have known, I offer things I know they liked in life, but with older dead I go with more universal items: food, grain, sweet things, water, and alcohol (though I know that’s controversial in some traditions).

And, relevant to my personal interests right now, what do you do when someone from the Long Dead category volunteers themselves as an ancestral ally or helping spirit, in exchange for reciprocal work of course?

It depends on the long dead person in question and what they hope to get out of it. I mean, just because some long dead person pops up doesn’t mean I’m going to jump into a relationship with them! You need to take time with these things – wine them and dine them. No, just kidding. But you do need to vet them and make sure they’re not just some asshole that’s just looking to gain access to you for whatever godsforsaken reason. You also need to gain assurances and be super careful with any oaths you make. Also: “my long dead bae told me to do it” doesn’t really stand up well in court.

What’s your opinion on what or who constitutes an ancestor? Blood? Adoption? Initiation? Affinity? Other things? And do you maintain relationships differently depending on lineage/connection?

Because of a little thing called the Identical Ancestors Point/isopoint, if you go back far enough, every human alive before a certain date (around 5000-15000 years ago) is an ancestor. (Sorry, racists. Not.) If you have European ancestry, every human alive in the tenth century who had descendants that survived is your ancestor. (Congratulations, Charlemagne and every other famous fucker that had crotch spawn that survived is your ancestor!) So depending on how far back you’re talking, those people may technically be blood ancestors anyway.

However, blood does not always make a family, and humans have adopted, fostered, and fucked our way into bonds with each other since we first started to homo-sapien-it-up. If you were adopted or initiated into a group, you are part of that family. You share ancestors despite the lack of (more recent?) blood.

As for affinity and “other things”, this is most definitely where we move out of ancestor veneration and more into simply working with the dead. It almost feels like people feel the need for permission here and that calling it ‘ancestor veneration’ in a sense provides that veneer of respectability that “necromancy” just doesn’t.

But you can work with and create relationships with the dead you have affinity and “other things” for. They can be no less beloved, but at best they’re more like friends and teachers who just happen to be dead than ancestors.

As always though, be sure to observe common sense protection and purification practices when initiating these relationships and until they’ve proven themselves to you (keep the purifications up, it’s never bad when working with the dead in any capacity, especially if physical remains are involved).

RIP Blog Post Series

Well that’s that for that series! RIP posts, and may all who necromance you from the cyber grave-field benefit from what you have to say.

I hope these Q&As were helpful, and perhaps helped to clear up some disconnects for a few folks. I also encourage you to read my paper ‘Waking the Dead’ to find out more about those intermediary technologies I mentioned before. It’s focused on Old Norse technologies, but some comparisons with Ancient Greek practices are also made.

But until the next post, stay necromantic, my friends!

The Gold in Heathenry

heart - gold

I haven’t had the chance to blog for a while. I was going to do a whole Q&A about the dead and ancestor veneration. But sometimes, a topic comes up that is just so front and center in the old noggin that you just can’t ignore it.

I’d like to talk (rant?) today about Heathenry. Or rather the bullshit that drags Heathenry down and sullies its gold.

I’ve been a Heathen for a long time. Honestly, I’ve been Heathen longer than some of you good folks have been alive. I’m married to a Heathen too, and magical adventures aside, our collective hearth cult is predominantly Heathen.

For me, Heathenry is, as my friend Andrea would say, “a heritage of gold”. The stories you find in the Old Norse and Germanic sources hold true beauty and wisdom if you have eyes to see it.

But the problem is, not everyone has eyes to see that gold, and all too often, those stories become tainted by the toxic filters we ourselves can bring to those texts.

The Eyes and Hearts We Bring to Myth

In many ways, these stories can be like a Rorschach test that reveals the inner insecurities and fears of a person. This is what is really at the root of the incessant fapping off over Vikings, and toxic ideas about tribe and ancestry. The people who fall into these traps want to feel anything but what they actually feel. They don’t want to feel all those insecurities and fears, and so they try to mask it with what they perceive as “strength”. This is the core of what is at stake for a fascist. This is why they fight so hard against anything resembling sense.

In doing this though, they only achieve the opposite. It’s no kind of strength to run or hide from one’s feelings, or to hate people who look different to you. Hate isn’t strength. The ‘separate but equal’ nonsense that’s often dressed up as ‘I just want to be with “my folk” (but don’t really hate others)’ isn’t strength either. ( Hot tip: If that’s an explanation you’re going with, you’re just in the phase where you’re still trying to find “polite” ways of saying “POC scare me and/or give me an inferiority complex”.)

Whereas my Heathenry is expansive and wondrous, theirs is reductive and cuts out anything that discomforts them. Where they only see trees in tree - goldisolation, mine sees each tree as it is: connected through roots and mycorrhizal fungi to other trees. Trees that have been found to provide mutual aid to each other regardless of tree ‘type’.

In Völuspá, the story goes that people come from trees. This isn’t scientifically true but we could learn a lot from trees all the same.

Just don’t try to give me that tired old adage about how ‘a tree without roots will fall’, and act like it somehow sensibly explains the obsession with DNA and skin color. Because the Hávámál the far right Heathens like to quote so much says nothing about tree roots and ancestors.

You know what it does talk about though? Having people who love you:

The withered fir-tree which stands on the mound,
neither bark nor needles protect it;
so it is with the man whom no one loves’
why should he live for long?
Hávámál 50, Larrington trans.

Without love, every person falls.

The Groaning Tree

Yggdrasil shudders, the tree standing upright,
the ancient tree groans, and the giant is loose.
Völuspá 47, Larrington trans.

In all honesty, I’m tired of trying to keep the gold clean, but it’s important to keep trying all the same. This is a sacred duty, and for too long we Heathens have allowed the ill to define us. Worse still, when we form communities, we often do so by defining what we are not as opposed to what we are, and in this way they shape us too. I don’t know that this is the same in other parts of the world, but this has very much been my experience in the US Heathen scene.

However in my opinion, this is entirely the wrong way to build community and/or counter the far right elements in our faith.

We need to begin by naming these people for what they are.

These are not people who are hale and whole. They’re damaged and broken on the inside. They are not inheritors of that gold, and no amount of DNA-testing, ‘pure-blood’ anything will make them so.

the ancient tree groans, and the giant is loose

giant - goldThe word Jötunn is thought to come from the Proto-Germanic *etunaz, which is in turn thought to be semantically connected to the Proto-Germanic *etanan, or ‘greedy’, ‘voracious’, ‘gluttonous’, ‘consuming’. Although the above snippet from Völuspá pertains to Ragnarök, it is also relevant here.

Fascism is inherently greedy. It always requires an ‘other’ to sacrifice, then turns on people in the in-group who are not quite “in” enough to appease that greed. It is an evil Thurs, a ravenous spirit, and those in its thrall are equally ravenous.

This is how we should be naming this evil. They are, or are possessed of greedy, greedy, spirits who will never be sated and who can only be driven out.

Jotnar.

Þursar.

‘Þurs of wound-fever, lord of the Þursar! Flee now! (You) are found. Have for
yourself three pangs, wolf! Have for yourself nine needs, wolf!
III ice (runes). These ice (runes) may grant that you be satisfied (?), wolf.
Make good use of
the healing-charms!’

Runic healing charm from Sigtuna, Sweden.
‘Runic Amulets and Magical Objects’ by Mindy MacLeod and Bernard Mees

Have for yourself three pangs, wolf! Have for yourself nine needs, wolf!
These ice runes may grant that you be satisfied, wolf!

It’s not often we get usable models. We should probably take advantage of them when we do.

The Stone Turns at the Command of an Unjust King

There’s a story in the Poetic Edda that I’ve found myself thinking about quite a lot recently. It’s called ‘The Song of Grotti’, and in it a king takes two female slaves and puts them to work endlessly at a magical millstone, forcing them to grind out endless wealth with little thought for their welfare or basic needs. He is beyond all shadow of a doubt, an unjust king.

We too live in an unjust society in which workers are increasingly expected to millstone - goldproduce with little concession to human wants or needs. Productivity and profit have become king now, and people work like cattle but then struggle to survive regardless of their labor.

This is exactly the kind of environment that produces fascists. With the help of some already extant racial biases, it produced fascists in the 30s, and is producing them now.

Wealth let’s grind for Frodi, grind out happiness,
grind many possessions on the wonderful stone!
Let him sit on his wealth, let him sleep on a quilt,
let him wake to happiness! That is well ground out.

At first, the women sang their songs and ground out wealth for Frodi. But again and again he denied them pleasure, rest, and warmth. Over time, the women became angry, remembered their mighty deeds before being forced to Frodi’s hall.

Now we have come to the dwellings of the king
without mercy, and live as slaves,
mud eats away at our feet, the rest of us is chilled through,
we drag the calmer of strife; it’s dull at Frodi’s house.

But what do you think they did next?

Did one blame the other for the king’s greed and lack of compassion? This is essentially the option offered by fascism and does nothing to address the underlying issues that make people so miserable in the first place.

No. The women worked together and turned the magic millstone against Frodi, churning out woeful fate for the unjust king. (The Marxists among you will laugh at how they seized the means of production in this tale.)

Hands shall grip the hard shafts,
the bloodstained weapons, wake up, Frodi!
Wake up, Frodi, if you want to hear
our songs and ancient tales.

I see fire burning east of the city,
warfare awakened, that must be a beacon;
an army is coming here very shortly,
it will burn the settlement despite the prince.

You shan’t hold onto the throne of Lejre,
the red-gold rings, nor this magic grindstone.
Let’s seize the handle, girl, turn more swiftly!
We are not yet warmed by the blood of slaughtered men.

By the end of the tale, the king is dead and millstone destroyed. The women are now free from their endless labor

There are lessons to be learned here too, but it is the central lesson you find over and over again in these texts (along with punishments for bad or violated hospitality): stick together, work together, fight together.

And that for me is what Heathenry is about. It is a religion of relationship and relationality with human and otherworldly people alike. Of gifting and story. Of rainbow bridges made of fire, and a shared world alive around us. It’s a religion of magic too. In which people may send parts of themselves forth, speak prophecy, ensnare and bind, and break weapons with charms.

It’s a religion of beauty, the most precious of gold, and I’m asking you to help me keep that gold clean.

heart - gold

Ancestor Rituals – Magical Tech For New Rites

Well it’s been a while since my last post. I wasn’t intending on leaving it for about a month, but life has been pretty crazy round here of late.

Most of it is mundane stuff, but the strange and otherworldly has been rather active here too. And I’m going to be honest with you here, I think this is some kind of run-up to Midsummer. Still, if restoration is a thing we’re going to be invested in, we need to be ready for some pretty hefty bumps in the road. The Good Folk have not been treated well over the years, and a lot of them are very angry from what I’ve seen/heard/experienced.

But this blog post isn’t about restoration and the Other. The post I owe you is about ritual with ancestors. I just wanted to tell you all to look to your wards, make sure your apotropaics are good to go, and that a burnt offering of raw meat can go a long way with hungry spirits.

So that said, on with the show!

Magic vs Religion (?)

I’d like to begin by talking about a group of practitioners who lived a long time ago. They were people who served their communities, using their lamentations at funerary rites and guiding the dead to where they needed to go. They were also skilled in the art of evoking the dead, and purification. In many ways, they were the ritual specialists of the old chthonic cults. They were goen, and it is from them that we get the word goetia.(Stratton-Kent 123-131)

Nowadays, most people associate goetia with demons and scary looking diabolist grimoires from an era when the sauciest of texts came in the color blue. There’s this idea that magic and religion are two entirely separate things – a conception that likely didn’t exist for the original goen. To quote Jake Stratton-Kent, they belonged to ”a phase of culture wherein magic is not perceived as a specialized or marginalized sphere of activity, but permeated the whole of existence.” (Stratton-Kent 126)

In some ways, the distinction between magic and religion is entirely political. For example, the Catholic church rites of transubstantiation and exorcism are

A real den of magical iniquity.

undeniably magical in nature, and yet it they are not considered so. Why is this? Simply because the church (with its long history of clearly magical participation) doesn’t consider it to be so? And this is a line that is negotiated and renegotiated as the times change. How many people in the early modern period with witch bottles under their steps would have ever imagined it to be the domain of witches a mere three hundred years into the future? And yet this is overwhelmingly the case nowadays. It’s witches who bury the bottles now, few non-witches have even heard of them.

It’s not my intention to gripe about the politics of “magic vs religion” here though, I simply wish to make the point that magical tech can have religious applications too. And as I hope to demonstrate in this post, the inclusion of magical tech into ancestor rituals can allow us to flesh out the religious rites of the ancestor cults we wish to build.

Necromancy vs Sciomancy

But first we need to get some terminology out of the way, and some clarification of the two types of dead.

Historical accounts tells us of two types of dead: the revenant and the ghost, with one pertaining to the physical elements of the dead, and the other the

ancestor rituals - zombie
We’d like to avoid this, thank you very much!

non-physical. European cultures have believed in both kinds of dead at various times in their histories. Sometimes (as in the Heathen period Icelandic tales), it’s revenants or draugar that take center stage. However at other times, it is spirits.

Over the years, this has led to some Heathens arguing for a completely non-dualist view of the soul (ie a soul that does not separate from the body after death). However, I find flaws in this argument. For if we are to take the arguments that the Wild Hunt originated in the ancestor rites of the early Indo-European societies, and that the act of the masking transformed the young warriors into the ancestors (per Kershaw), then a belief in a non-physical soul is somewhat necessary.

Instead, I find greater sense from both a scholarly and experiential perspective in a tripartite schema of ‘soul’. One that is comprised of breath/spirit wind, a ‘free soul’ (the hyge), and a more passive soul that is confined to the body (mōdsefa). (The sharp minds among you may notice the correlation between these two soul parts and the ravens said to accompany Odin.) Those of you who are interested can read more about my take on this here.

The division inherent within the terms “necromancy” and “sciomancy” reflect these two types of dead and the practices surrounding them. That’s not to say that correlation is causation here though. Simply that true necromancy requires the physical remains of the deceased and may also involve the creation of revenants. The practices that the vast majority of modern “necromantic” practitioners are engaged in involving the non-physical aspects of the dead is more properly called “sciomancy. (“The Rain Will Make”)

Thankfully, it’s the latter that I’ll be dealing with here.

A Magical View of Ancestor Cultus

Now that we’ve gotten those definitions out of the way, it’s time to return to our central problem: how to make contact with our deceased ancestors in an effective way.

1. Story

A lot of people laugh when I tell them that magic is all about stories and the telling of stories. But this is especially the case with the dead because the stories we believe and allow to mold us in life, can so easily become what we are after death.

Think about the stories your family tells about deceased relatives. Where does your family believe they go? What is the likelihood that your ancestors thought the same thing? Finally, if your family comes from a number of different faith traditions, what (if any) common ground can be found?

I believe that it’s incredibly important to find that common ground too. As Pagans and Heathens we tend to take a kind of patronizing view towards the dead and where they may have ended up. We decide wholesale that they’re really in “heaven”, or “hel”, or (heavens forbid, fucking brosatru) “Valhalla”. But that may not be where they actually are or how it looks for them.

So I tend to take a pretty loose view of this part of ritual planning. Most afterlife beliefs involve the moving of the deceased to another place that is either good or bad, and often there are obstacles considered to be in the way. So rather than getting into details about place names, I tend to just go with generic terms like “peaceful lands” (pick one, whichever you want!), and with a standard three obstacles (as a repeating theme in European folklore). This usually allows me to work with both Christian and pre-Christian ancestors quite well.

And like the goen of old, I use lamentation (or rather a dirge) to call them forth. My chosen song is an adaptation of the old English song ‘A Lyke Wake’. Which is perfectly really, because it was designed to be sung over a corpse and effectively guides the deceased through the obstacles to the afterlife. You can see my adaptations here. The tune itself remains the same.

You will notice that there are both summoning and returning verses. Don’t be an asshole, do them the courtesy of singing them home if you summon them. This song can also be used to psychopomp stray spirits to good effect.

Permission?

Depending on your worldview (and the worldview of your dead), there may be permission required from whoever the “story” puts in charge of wherever the dead are. Again, I like to stay general here and make a polite address to whichever deities are in charge of the places where my dead reside. I call to them, ask permission, and make offerings. Manners go a long way in witchcraft.

Meeting Halfway

It can be hard for the ancestors to come and hang out with us, especially in a ancestor rituals - crossroadsmore present sense. So I usually suggest that we include ways to meet them “halfway” in our ritual design. Historical accounts and evidence give us multiple examples of these “halfway” places that can be recreated in ritual. Crossroads, water, pits, doorposts, and mounds – these are all places that can be helpful to recreate ritually when working with the dead. Your circle could be as a mound, crossroads can be made with sticks bound together, and most people have access to doorways and bowls of water! Symbolism is a language of ritual, so don’t worry if you have to symbolically recreate any of those things. The ancient Greeks had no issue with recreating the geography of Hades in their Nekyomanteia (orakles of the dead), and archaeologists of Old Norse culture are investigating similar ideas in the north too!

Some Safety Mechanisms For Ancestor Rituals

And speaking of bowls of water, let’s talk safety mechanisms. One of my favorite ways of contacting ancestors is the Art Armadel. As a technique it dates back at least to the Greek Magical Papyri, and is a form of scrying. Just with ghosts and other spirits summoned into the mix.
I mention this tech because it’s got a couple of really neat safety mechanisms built in (which is why it’s been my predominant form of having a natter with spirits since my kid was born).

First you summon a gatekeeper deity or spirit. For some people this is Hermanubis or Anubis, but I tend towards good old Draugadróttinn, Odin. (I ancestor rituals - circehave this whole bastardized ritual involving stuff I also found in a dream that would melt a purist’s head.)

Then you ask them to bring the dead you want to talk to (or whoever), and you basically scry the conversation you have. And I know, it sounds weird to have a conversation into a bowl of water, but it’s also great because the spirits are contained, and there’s someone bigger than you in charge of the whole thing. Moreover, you can do the whole ritual within a circle for an added layer of protection.

(Obviously this is a very simplified version of this whole thing. For a similarly bastardized but more detailed ritual, see Gordon White’s Chaos Protocols)

This kind of ritual tech is great for solo rituals, but what about rituals that are more public?

From my experience of incorporating some of this tech into public rituals (no joke – and they were right next to a civil war battlefield), there are one of two ways you could go with this:

1. Ask a deity to act as ‘gatekeeper’ for the rite.

2. Have attendees wear phylacteries (protective amulets – I usually make my kid wear one anyway).

There is of course the third option of simply not allowing anyone but the ritual specialists inside the sacred space for the duration of the working, but I’m yet to see any group actually do this.

Regardless of what you do though, be sure to pay attention to your wording of things and the kind of conditions and permissions you’re including (either intentionally or inadvertently) in your liturgy. This this is incredibly important when dealing with the numinous, especially if you use language of agreement (ie their presence is contingent on abiding by certain behaviors).

Lastly, be sure to have back-up plans (like a bunch of asafetida you can burn) and plenty of apotropaics. I would also advise including a purification stage after the ancestors have been sung home before the end of the rite.

Final Words

Around two thousand words of text and I’m barely scratching the surface here! Hopefully though, this post has given you some ideas for how you could incorporate magical tech into your ancestor/dead rites. I also promised some prayers but found myself hesitant to share the prayers that have become part of my family’s hearth cult.

In the next post, possibly an AMA on this subject to tie things up. In the meantime though, stay spooky my friends!

Sources (Not Linked)
Jake Stratton-Kent – Geosophia I
Gordon White – Chaos Protocols

Ancestor Veneration: Building a Shrine

shrine - ancestor shrine

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a kid we had a kind of unofficial ancestor shrine. Nobody called it that of course, but that’s essentially what it was. To most visitors it was nothing more than the corner of the living room.

shrine - photo
Someone’s ancestors (not mine).

It just happened to be filled with lots of photographs. However with our familial ties to Spiritualism, it had an extra layer of meaning for us (even if only subconsciously).

It was never worked like an ancestor shrine, but that doesn’t matter because it still did what it needed to. It provided a focus and gave them a place in our home.

Open Shrine or Closed? Some Considerations

My family’s unofficial shrine was open, any visitor could see it. However, you might want to take some time to think about how open you want your shrine to be. You see for some people, an open shrine is to be avoided. Visitors may not understand or respect it. They may even actively try to mess with it if they have a grudge. Some people feel that the ancestors prefer somewhere peaceful in the home, and some traditions simply prefer to maintain a degree of separation between the living and dead. Keeping your shrine away from more “public” areas of the home can be a way to protect and keep sacred what might be seen as the power of your family.

However for other shrine keepers, the shrine is best kept where it can serve as a daily focus for family rites. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who keep an open shrine don’t share the same concerns about visitors! However for these people, the focus is typically more on continued inclusion of the deceased in family life.

If you’re not sure whether to build an open or closed shrine though, it can be helpful to take some time to consider your perception of shrines and how they relate to the ancestors themselves. Do you believe they’re always present at the shrine or do they (hopefully) come for rituals/when called upon? Because if you think they’re always there at the shrine then you may want to opt for a closed shrine.

You can also take a mixed approach too, keeping an open shrine but with closed spirit houses/vessels. This is the approach I take. Others keep their shrines in public areas but cover them in some way.

Shrines as Storied Places

Ancestors are about story. We exist because of their stories, we build their stories into our lives, and we keep their memory alive in story. The ancestor shrine is no different in my opinion (though not all traditions agree). I look over at my family’s ancestor shrine and on one level I see a random collection of old photos and objects. However, I know that each of those objects aren’t just randomly selected, there are stories attached. So I guess what I’m saying here is that ancestor shrines can become quite busy. It becomes all too easy to add the old rosary of a beloved aunt or one of grandma’s crochet hooks. So be mindful of space. Unless you’re incredibly disciplined and/or already belong to a tradition that takes a more minimalist approach, you’re going to need enough space to really sink into this practice.

Directionality

Ideally in my opinion, an ancestor shrine should be in either the west or north. shrine - sunsetMy reasoning for this is twofold. First of all, both of these directions have traditionally been linked with the dead in various folklores and mythologies. For example, the Old Norse Hel is said to be in the North (Simek 1993, 137), and multiple European mythologies depict the dead going over the seas to the land of the dead (which for many were in a westerly direction) (Heide “Holy Islands”). Secondly, I’ve always had greater effect when working with this directionality while working with the dead. Your mileage of course may vary.

Typical Items

So you have your space picked out, now it’s time to fill it. Before doing so though, I would take some time to cleanse and consecrate your space in whichever way is typical for your tradition or way or working. Because regardless of tradition, one of the keys to working with ancestors is cleanliness. So make sure that anything you use for the ancestors is clean first, in all senses of the word.

Once you have your space and it’s ready, it’s time to remember those stories I

mentioned before. In the beginning, you probably won’t have any spirit houses or vessels – they tend to come with time and after working with the dead. But that’s okay. Because you can make a good start with photos of deceased (no living!), candles, offering vessels, an incense holder, and some stones or soil from ancestral sites.

If you have anything of your deceased – those storied items – add those too. One rule that you need to keep in mind though, is that once something goes to their shrine, it stays with their shrine. So you really need to make sure that the offering vessels don’t get mixed in with your living family crockery. This can be

shrine - matrioska
Matronae statues are hard to get, but matrioska are pretty easy to find!

a little confusing if you use everyday-looking items as opposed to more obvious ritual bowls.

My ancestor shrine also contains a couple of Matronae representations, and if your tradition has a group of collective dead like that, then you may want to create or add a representation of them to your shrine. It’s worth noting here that I also have other representations of the Matronae, but this second set are for the worship of a more locally-based collective of Matronae.

Shrine activities

Once you have your shrine set up, you’ll most commonly interact with it in three main ways:

1. Cleaning/Maintenance

As I said above, cleanliness is key to working with the dead. You know that advice that you see in literally every ghost show ever to clean up your demon-infested hole if you want to get rid of them? Well, there are reasons for that. Ancestor shrines can attract some opportunistic entities that will mess with you – especially before they’re established. Once your shrine is fully established though, the shrine and the ancestors represented can serve as powerful protection against all kinds of nasty things.

For example, when I was pregnant (and therefore under magical taboo), some individuals decided to try starting a witch war with me. Sensing it coming, I went to my ancestors and basically gave them the heads up. One night a few days afterwards as I was lying in bed, I noticed the outline of a humanoid figure in my kitchen (which I could see from my bed). I knew it was someone creeping and so started trying to think of ways that I could get rid of them without breaking my taboo. However I need not have worried, because the humanoid was very quickly surrounded by a red mist and the buzz of voices that amplified before disappearing with a snap. They’d been escorted out of my home by the ancestors!

That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about here.

So you want to keep your shrine clean. None of this “doing so much work that the dust doesn’t have time to settle” mentality here. That doesn’t work here in my opinion. Keep it clean, keep it light, and keep it bright.

2. Checking In

The second main activity is simply checking in with your ancestors. This can

shrine - cake
Holy hell, how good does that look!! Are those some fucking Johanesbeeren there too? Damn, girl! Y’all know how to get me coming out, never mind the dead!

be as simple as lighting some candles and then sort of keeping them in the loop like you would living relatives that live far away, or making them and yourself some coffee and sitting down for a full on chat/advice session. You may not get a whole lot at first in terms of communication, but remember, dead communication can be pretty damn subtle. So be patient. If you’re really struggling, pull out some divination tools.

3. Offerings

Feeding your ancestors in an important part of ancestor cultus, however it’s worth bearing in mind that different traditions consider different things suitable/unsuitable for offering. For example, in some traditions, you don’t offer alcohol to the dead because it’s “hot” and will lead to restless dead. You want to only offer “cool” things like water. However in other traditions, alcohol for the dead is perfectly fine. There are also different protocols for how long food and drink offerings should be left out. Generally speaking though, it’s a good idea to only leave things out for a couple of days. Remember that cleanliness thing? You want to avoid things going nasty and moldy on there.
And again, don’t consume what has been given to them.

However, food and drink aren’t the only offerings that can be given to the dead. Flowers, candles, incense, songs, crafts and prayers can all play their parts too! Depending on what you’re offering, you may need to either burn or submerge your offerings in water. By fire or by water are the traditional pathways through which offerings may be gifted to the dead. After all, if the dead can reach the afterlife via water or fire, then your gifts to them can most certainly take the same routes.

So be creative.

Final Words

When you’re not used to working with the ancestors, it can be all too easy to feel self-conscious. It can be easy to feel like you’re not doing it right. Don’t worry though, they’re pretty used to us fucking things up. In my experience, they’re just glad you’re trying. So keep trying. Work with your shrine. Figure out what gets the best responses. Go with your instincts regarding placement of objects, ways to approach or leave, and what kinds of offerings are appreciated.

Just experiment for now.

Even if all you can summon is a big fat “I haven’t a fucking clue what to say”. Just sit there anyway. Say what comes to mind. Confess your fears and worries. This stage is all about trying to create and nurture that connection. Give it a month of checking in and making offerings every couple of days at least.

In the next post, I’m going to look at the nuts and bolts of ritual with the ancestors. Prayers, songs, all that jazz. So stay tuned.

Communicating With the Dead

Magic With The Dead

I shuffled the cards as best I could, laughing at myself and my cackhandedness. I’ve never been able to shuffle, and my knowledge of tarot is rudimentary at best. It just never spoke to me in the same way as it seems to speak to every other witch on the planet.

I’ve always been better with runes and ogham – especially when I’m trying to do my periodic ‘drunken and completely inaccurate’ readings over on my personal Facebook. Things can get somewhat uncanny with that.

But this time I had cards, albeit Magic: The Gathering cards.

I was at a Samhain event, and had been participating in a discussion on tarot.

“I hear you can read anything” I’d said, as I tried to shuffle the cards. “I’ve heard of a woman who used to read beer mats like tarot while in the pub. She was apparently super accurate.”

A couple of cards tried to escape the deck and I simply added them back in, laughing to myself as I continued.

“Some people think it’s the symbols, but others? They think the cards are more like props, and that they sort of draw out the psychic impressions the reader is getting anyway.”

Finishing my shuffle, I laid out three Magic cards as though they were tarot.

“And if I had that skill, I’d be able to give you a full reading off of these bad boys right here.”

I laughed again, and without really knowing why snapped a photo.dead - magic cards

“But I don’t have that skill, so all you’d get out of me is that there’s something to do with a train and movement, then an hourglass, and then this guy here who looks like a right dick.”

(Conversation paraphrased, this happened a while ago.)

Someone else at the table made a joke, and I put the cards away.

Later that evening though, I’d look back on this tomfoolery with different eyes.

Under Darkened Skies

It was dusk when we came to do ritual – the perfect time really for this kind of rite. We’d gathered around a blazing fire and sang the dead forth using an old dirge with psychopompic elements. We’d adapted it of course;we’d wanted to raise the dead, not lay them. The night darkened, the temperature dropped, and there was the distinct sense that we were no longer alone.

We’d gotten some attention.

But then again, we were using borrowed necromantic tech in Gettysburg of all places.

We set out a place for the dead and shared mourning cookies, offered food and clothing. Then we’d set out a bread man as substitute “sin eater” for those who felt the burden of sin too heavily to move on. That’s not uncommon for those who die in battle after a certain era. For all the talk of “glory”, war continues to torture and torment long after the guns fall silent and lungs empty.

I perceived a line of dead coming from the passage of trees to my right. I watched them as they wound a procession around the fire, each man taking his turn with the bread man. The temperature dropped further, and there was the sensation of a small breeze where they passed. (I would later find out that they had come from the direction of one of the battlefields that sits only a mile down the road.)

The ritual progressed and we asked for an omen, and this was where things began to get interesting.

The Dead Opine

The designated seer for the rite had chosen tarot, as it was not only potentially more recognizable to the dead than runes or ogham, but she also has the gift I lack with that medium.

“Is there anything you wish for us to know?”

That had been the question (or near enough). One by one, she laid out the cards, carefully positioning them in the firelight so she could read them.

The first was the Chariot reversed, which I’m told speaks of movement that is out of control and a need to regain control lest the wheel falls off.

The second was Temperance reversed that further underlined the lack of balance and control first spoke of by the Chariot.

And the final card was the Hierophant reversed, the card of a despotic leader.

The year was 2016, and that was when I knew Donald Trump would win the election.

But the weirdness would not end there. Because after the rite, when we’d returned to the warmth of our host’s house, I realized something about the cards the seer had pulled.

The images were basically the same images as I’d pulled from the Magic deck earlier.

It would seem the dead didn’t just have a message but had been screaming it all day.dead - tarot

The Dead v Our Ideas Of The Dead

There was an oddness to 2016 that I feel in this year too – albeit somewhat different; 2019 has its own flavor. Death came for many at the birth of the year. Terrifying clown sightings filled the news as the northern hemisphere moved into Fall only to stop before the election. And political campaigning took a turn for the nativist, throwing out appeals to history with abandon.

“Make America Great Again”

Like the “good old days”, just like “how our ancestors lived”.

As the living, we like to put a lot on the dead and our ancestors. We like to try and speak for them, we like to try and act in ways we think they would approve of most (even if subconsciously).

Every time you use that old family recipe or wear the jewelry your grandma died clutching. Every time you gather photos or go tidy up a grave site. All of it is a form of either engaging with ancestors or in the cult of the dead depending on what you’re doing). We just no longer recognize it as such.

How many times have you heard or thought people expressing the sentiment that by doing an action, they would make (dead person) happy (if they could see them)?

You see? We invoke the ancestors often.

Anthropologists have noted that this tends to lead to a more conservative society – especially when the veneration of ancestors is limited to only a few generations (Lehman and Myers 283-284).

But the dead are often not what we think of or assume them to be, and depending on which group of dead, can differ wildly from us in what they approve of (as opposed to what we might think they would approve of).

The problem here is communication, and this is something that we need to talk about before getting into ancestor veneration proper.

So how does a person communicate with the dead?

Communicating With The Dead

Contrary to popular media, one doesn’t have to be psychic in order to have meaningful communication with one’s ancestors or more recent dead. Often times, you just need to be able to recognize that communication for what it is.

Dream

dead - dreams
No accuracy guaranteed!

In many ways, the dead are far easier to communicate with than most people think. Moreover, there are a lot of tools that can help and mediums through which they can communicate.

One of the most common ways in which the dead can communicate is through dreams. This is something you see in pretty much every culture in which ancestor veneration exists.

This communication may be spontaneously obtained or via incubation practices. For example, ancient Greek seekers would go to a psychomanteion/nekyomanteion for this purpose. The nekyomanteions are thought to have mimicked the geography of the afterlife in some way, and often involved tunnels leading down into the earth, and bodies of water. Those wishing to communicate with their ancestors (either via speaking with a priest-oracle or dream) would make preliminary sacrifices and/or ingest narcotics (depending on the sought experience) before entering the sleeping rooms or tunnels.

In some ways, this mimics the Northern European practice of sleeping the night on a burial mound in order to gain wisdom or poetic ability from the dead. In both cases, the seeker goes to a place in which the underworld may be accessed in physical or symbolic form in order to sleep.

This is something that we too can make use of in our practices even if we don’t live near any burial mounds or grave sites where we may sleep without getting arrested, but I’ll get into that in a future post.

Divination Tools

As we saw in the story above, the dead can also divination tools (either ‘official’ or improvised) in order to communicate with the living. This was one of my first methods of communicating with the dead while still in the

dead - cards
“One of 54 Devils checking in for your middle school necromantic needs!”

equivalent of middle school. Only we used a set of regular playing cards for our seances with the school ghosts, and the suits and their colors were how we derived our answers. As unlikely as it sounds, we had some fairly strange things happen while experimenting in this way, and it was enough to concern our parents.

Unfortunately, the substitute activity my father asked me to use (the key and the bible) never got the same results (so I stuck to the cards).

In my experience, tools often take on a chill when used for relaying the messages of the dead. That’s probably good to know. As an aside, this is not so dissimilar from the manipulation of modern tech in order to deliver a message.

Ouija Boards

This is obvious and also probably something I’m going to catch heat for. However, there are ways in which you can use a Ouija board safely, and conveniently, most of those ways also correspond with general spirit etiquette and psychic hygiene.

I’ll write more about Ouija boards in another post. But for now I’ll just stick with saying that if you’re absolutely terrified of these things, keep away from them. You already lost the head game.

(If you can’t wait until I finally get round to writing about ouija, this post is great.)

Synchronicity

When you start associating with different groups of ancestors, you might find

dead - clock
“Maybe it’s ancestors, maybe it’s Maybelline.”

things pertaining to them cropping up. For example, when I was working particularly closely with my Irish ancestors, I began to randomly win Irish-related things. Information that led me further into connecting with them better also just sort of landed in my lap. Often it can feel as though you’re being pushed along when this stuff happens.

Manifestation And Apports

dead - white feather
“Whatup sis! I’m doing good. Got myself some new threads and everything!”

Finally, sometimes the dead can be pretty direct. They can appear, and they can cause other things to appear. Like the white feather that appeared in the air and fell into my mother’s lap when she was thinking about her deceased brother and feeling sad. Or disembodied voices speaking with my native accent and dialect in a place separated by thousands of miles from any other speakers. Or that deceased relative stood by your bed when you wake up from an awful nightmare. The nightmare may have been awful, but when you fall asleep again it’s but a lovely dream.

Well, you get the idea…

Next Time

In the next few posts, I’m going to start getting into the meaty bits of this topic. First I’ll be covering the different conventions for setting up an ancestral shrine. Then I’ll take a look at the pros and cons of doing so. I’ll also be discussing some of the ways in which you can work at your shrine. This will include offerings, prayers, songs, and anything to help you get your dead on. Then, I’ll be taking a look at the different mediums through which the ancestors may be contacted.

Ancestor Veneration: Three Modern Pitfallls

An Uncharted (Ancestor) Land

When you think about it, modern ancestor veneration is kind of like trying to navigate a territory that was once known but long abandoned. Maps are not ancestor - mapeasy to find now, and the only thing we have in our favor is some acquired knowledge of similar landscapes. So it’s no wonder that we encounter pitfalls.

However, there are three main pitfalls in this ‘landscape’ that I can warn you of, and that is what I’m going to be covering today. (Warning folks, this is going to get pretty salty.)

1. A Lack of Proper Boundaries

The first and biggest pitfall in this Valley of Death is becoming overly familiar with the ‘locals’. The dead are not the same as the living, and while this valley can be undeniably beautiful and familiar-feeling, it is not a place where you can become too familiar.

Because those who become too familiar with it tend to become a part of it.

For the ancient Greeks, this was expressed by the concept that the dead were polluted, and that pollution could spread to the living (and eventually cause sickness and death). The Norse were more direct in their beliefs, simply believing that the walking dead brought disease. In both cultures, a level of separation (albeit differing) was observed between the living and dead.

ancestor - skull
Danger danger, high voltage!

It should be noted here though, that not all human cultures observe such separation from the dead. For example, while the Greeks took extensive precautions to ensure that separation, practitioners from cultures with non-dualist worldviews often frequent places thick with the dead to no ill effect. As always, consensus reality must be taken into account, and we inhabit a consensus which oscillates wildly between extreme taboo and over-familiarity towards death and the dead.

In other words, our boundaries here (as in so many areas of life) are FUBARed, and no one needs to go for a night out on the graves with non-dual checks their asses can’t cash.

So caution it is.

When it comes to the dead there is a simple rule to remember: the greater the proximity to physical remains, the greater the power and greater the caution required.

This means that those of you who are inspired to take up Cult of the Dead graveside practices, or work on battlefields filled with remains or burial mounds, will need to observe a greater level of purification than those of you simply honoring your ancestors at a home shrine with no physical remains.

Purification can be as simple as washing your feet off (you can leave your shoes on) with water when leaving a place of burial/death, or taking a pinch of salt between three fingers, then putting it on your tongue and drinking it down with clean water. I do both and recommend both as initial practices (trust me, you’ll feel better for it). You can also take a bath with purifying herbs, or showering with soap made with purifying herbs. This is also a good option, as is the use of récels (purifying smoke, incense). Good herbs to use here are mugwort, rosemary, vervain, juniper, and hyssop. I also make an oil of hyssop, rosemary/vervain/juniper + a little something from the Testament of Solomon oil for on the go that I’ve had great success (and great reviews for).

But if you bring nothing else with you to the place of the dead, bring water and salt. Those are your basic necessities. Something of iron is also good to carry with you – just in case the dead get a little…testy.

The home shrine is a more relaxed affair, but still some taboos are best observed. These can vary wildly too – in some cultures, ancestor shrines are kept hidden from all but family and closed off in some way. In other cultures, the shrines are open and a part of the home. This second model is the one that I follow as I have no physical remains and well, that’s just what I grew up with. Still, despite my more relaxed approach here, I observe certain protective measures. For example, I keep to the rule that what is used for and given to the dead is theirs and no longer for living use. I keep it clean, and don’t allow offerings to rot. And if I’m actively calling upon them for counsel, I do so using a variation of the Art Armadel (basically summoning their spirits them into a bowl of water and then scrying the answers) so that they remained more contained and manageable. Prayers are family events as the level of interaction is far less intense than when I’m actively engaging with them using more sciomantic ritual tech.

One final thing I’d like to mention before moving onto the next point though, is that when I’m done with my interactions at the ancestor shrine, I end by walking three steps backwards and bowing before moving on with my day. It’s something that my ancestors told me they wanted me to do, and it has become habit in other settings too. As I would go on to discover, not turning your back on the dead is a common practice among some groups.

The dead often lie, but the elevated ancestors often have good advice. Discernment is key.

Judging the Actions of Our Dead

For the vast majority of European-descended peoples, it’s an undeniable fact that many of our dead did some really shitty things, things that may make us have some pretty uncomfortable feelings. Some of us might tell ourselves that those things were “just the way things were”, or that “it was conquest, and that shit just happened”, and yes, that might ease those feelings somewhat. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, when we cling to excuses like that, we’re only doing so because deep down we know that what was done was wrong. We’re just seeking an escape from the feelings.

Now don’t ‘at’ me on this. As the daughter of a nation that fucked with all but something like 22 countries in the world (and adopted daughter of a nation currently racking up its own score), I know this one really well. And I’m coming to tell you that if you’re doing this, you’re only hurting yourself in the long run.

Why?

Because in order to cling to those excuses, you need in some way, to continue to hold the cultures that were harmed by the actions of your ancestors as being somewhat lesser – “deserving” of it maybe even. And well, where does that get you? That lands you on a train that will probably eventually take you to

ancestor - train

‘Racist Fuckhead Town’.

But here’s the thing about racism: it’s not about power. Well, it is in one sense – the sense of having power over somebody. You may even get that. But it doesn’t empower you where it counts, because people only usually want that kind of power over others because they’re scared on some level.

The sad truth about racism (if I’m being extremely charitable), is that the vast majority of racists are shit scared of people who are different from themselves. They cling to the differences and find ways to shift blame to recast themselves as victim. They cling to the things that enable them to avoid those negative feelings.

And they create a world of angry, sick ghosts in the process.

On the flip side, you have what is referred to as “cancel culture”, and when it’s applied to ancestor veneration, this is just another form of putting your head in the sand. Sure, these people feel the wrongs of their ancestors deeply. However, “canceling” those ancestors is nothing more than an easy way out. Humanity can be monstrous, we can be the most evil beings in existence. “Canceling” ancestors not only enables us to avoid grappling with the fact that we are all capable of some truly terrible things given the right (or wrong) circumstances, but limits our ability to engage with our feelings on the harms of our ancestors to a surface, mostly seemingly performative level.

“See?! I’m one of the *good* ones! I cut all the bad ones out!”

In my last post, I talked about the effects of our ancestors upon us. If they can affect our crops, our fertility, and prosperity (as people believed), they can affect us in other ways too. You ever wonder why we never seem able to move on as a society from the same old bullshit over and over again?

The dead affect us regardless of our feelings about them, and you’d better believe they have opinions and want to work their will in the world!

But you can’t lay those ghosts if you ignore them or take them for something they’re not.

An Obsession with the Ethnicity or Culture of One’s Ancestors

The final pitfall is something we see so much of in modern Heathenry (but also in other forms of Paganism), and that’s an obsession with the ethnicity and culture of one’s ancestors. This is the most toxic potential endpoint of ancestor veneration, and if I’m being truthful, we let it go too far and fester for far too long.

Okay, a bit of real talk here.

Modern Heathens spent way too long pretending that Folkish Heathenry was the weird (but kindly) uncle that said sort of fucked up shit at Thanksgiving that we’re all so apparently used to ignoring from relatives. Because of this approach, the rot took root, and it’s going to take an extremely concerted effort to kill that I honestly don’t see from most modern Heathen groups. We called it ‘folkish’ and ignored the racialist-then-nazi roots of that term. We ignored the work of people like Mattias Gardell back in two-thousand-and-fucking-THREE that demonstrated the nazi-fapping, white supremacist fuckery of it all. We pretended that it was ‘just a different POV’, and came out with the bullshit Jarnsaxa scale as though it was some kind of sexuality or gender spectrum instead of calling it for what it was.

And then we all screamed like it was a big fucking surprise in 2016 when the AFA came out of the white supremacy closet and opened the floodgates.

I mention all of this, because these people trade in a jaded and perverted view

ancestor - fantasy
The good old days!! *fap* *fap* *fap*

of ancestor veneration. It’s one of their biggest hooks in a society full of people looking to feel rooted and belong. They cloak themselves in cultures that are no longer theirs, and make themselves gatekeepers because some of their ancestors hailed from some of the places they associate with their favorite fantasy of “greatness” (which when you get down to it isn’t all that different from the sword and sorcery fantasies of the 80s).

But this isn’t really about ancestors or ancestor veneration. Because if it was really about ancestors then they wouldn’t fixate on the culture and ethnicity of a relatively small percentage of ancestors so much. (It’s a little “one drop rule” if you hadn’t already noticed>)

Ancestor veneration is about people, not race or culture. It’s a human story, and most of those humans in all of our lineages, when you go back far enough, had different levels of melanin in the skin, different languages, and different cultures. Moreover, we’ve been sleeping with whoever looked good since fuck knows when (which is how most of us have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA btw). Boom chika wow wow.

When we focus on anything other than that, when we extract and isolate our favorite bits from the story of our ancestors and make those small pieces the whole, we’re not engaging in ancestor veneration. That’s nothing more than wish fulfillment and yearning for a “halcyon” time (for white men mostly) that never existed because the modern world can be scary. That is not taking the ancestors as they are. That is not honoring them. That is using them as a tool.

An Uncharted Land is a Hard Land

As these pitfalls demonstrate, ancestor veneration is not an easy practice – especially in our broken society, and especially when you have a shitload of ancestors who most likely did some really awful things. However, we live in a world of ghosts – of dead who both affect us and have some pretty strongly held opinions about current events – and we lack both the resilience and ritual tech to mitigate their negative effects on our reality. In my next post, I’m going to share an account of an ancestor veneration rite in which the dead made their opinions on current events strongly known and share some ways in which you can begin connecting with the dead and ancestors.