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!

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.

Ancestor Cult is Not Saint Cult (And Other Stories)

ancestors - gallery

I talk about the dead a lot. Not because I’m a morbid fucker, but because death, dying, and what happens next are important topics to grapple with. After all, we’re all going to die someday, it’s one thing (along with shitting) that all humans have in common. So we may as well get to grips with it all now.

ancestors - bird
“Tweet tweet, motherfucker! I’m a new series of posts!”

(This is the sound of a new series of posts being born.)

But we’re not all that great with this stuff. Talking about death is still somewhat taboo, and ancestor veneration among European-descended Pagans and Heathens suffers from poor modeling. There are also a lot of misconceptions that don’t seem to exist among people who follow traditions that still include ancestor veneration.

So what’s going on? Why do we mostly suck when it comes to ancestors?

And that kids, is going to be the topic of this post. So grab yourselves a snack and buckle in, because I’m going to learn you some shit.

European-Descended Pagans and Ancestors

But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Why do we get it so wrong?

Well once upon a time (or more accurately the 6th century), Pope Gregory I wrote a letter to the Abbot Mellitus about his mission to spread Jesus like Herpes among the Heathen Anglo-Saxons. Instead of the usual message of “burn it down like a latrine full of spiders” though, pope Greg advocated repurposing holy sites and co-opting rituals for Christian worship. I mean, they were even

Ancestors -letter
“I really liked those English lads, so don’t go burning their shit down. I really want them to be on ‘Team Jesus’.”

cool with cow sacrifices at first, as long as they were cow sacrifices for Jesus (bet you never learned that at school, right?). This and similar policy is probably why you see so many Christian sites on former Pagan sites all over Europe.

(Fun fact, but there’s an anecdote that pope Greg’s eye was quite taken by a couple of fair-haired English boys at a slave market in Rome…and if that’s not the most Catholic story ever…wow.)

Unfortunately, this also meant that the church took control of any and all rituals pertaining to the dead (something the Vatican is still flexing its muscles on in modern times), making themselves the (weirdly conical) intercessors between the living and our dead kin (Lee 105-106).

Is it any wonder we don’t really understand the ancestors or what to do anymore? We let a middle man take over and change our ancestor traditions, then got rid of the middle man!

When it comes to ancestor veneration, we lack the basics, and it shows in how we think of and interact with the dead. If anything, what we have is like a strange mishmash of Hero Cult, Cult of Saints, and what scholars refer to as “memoria”.

So what are the top three basics of ancestor veneration that we’re probably missing?

1. Individualism vs. Collective

The most important concept we need to get to grips with is this idea that the ancestors are probably best thought of as a collective (with individuals that pop out from time to time to give messages and such). This is pretty much how it is in the vast majority of cultures that still have living ancestor veneration traditions.

It’s also the most practical view of ancestor veneration. Because when ancestors are a collective, a big, burgeoning mass of power, then a few shitty dead are no longer a barrier to practice. Moreover, it also allows for a belief in rebirth (ask Olaf Geirstad-Alf about that). Because when your ancestors are a collective, then what matter if some in the line are being reborn and others are staying dead?

However when you think about it, it also makes sense within a European historical context. (Well okay, I’m going to be focusing on Northwestern Europe here because that’s my jam, you Classical kids can sort yourselves out).

I mean, could you ever imagine worshipping only one of the Matronae? Or thinking of the Wild Hunt as a bunch of individuals? It sounds strange, doesn’t it? And yet these are ostensibly ancestral or at least associated with the world of the dead. The same goes for elves too, albeit within certain contexts.

So where did the idea of focusing on individual dead come from?

Truth be told, we’ve always worshipped some individual members of the dead. But these aren’t ordinary dead people. These are big or greater in some way. These are the dead who were possessed of some intangible quality that made them an ælf/álf. These were the dead who were worshipped in the mound and thought to be able to bless the people and land around them.

Guess what people were probably reminded of when the cult of the Saints came around?

Like elves in their mounds, martyrs/saints (because what even was the difference back then?) inhabited their tombs and were considered able to essentially bless the land and people. And as with elves, people would feast

their tombs in the Pagan fashion – except more Roman-like. Because they were actually in Rome, and it was the 4th century, and it was all cool until Augustine of fucking Hippo went all ‘ixnay on the sacrificial mortuorum’ (Lee

ancestors - elves
E L V E S

116).

And yes, I realize that I just conflated saints with elves, deal with it.

Elves.

Fucking Augustine.

When the church began to take over burial rites and rites for the dead in Northwestern Europe though, something that scholars refer to as memoria came into being as an alternative to feasting the dead at the grave. This term referred to every kind of rite in honor of/for the care of the dead created by the church. There are no parallels in Jewish ritual, and so the likelihood is that the concept was in some way descended from or inspired by Pagan rites – only with the Paganisms removed as much as possible.

ancestors - relic
“Coming soon to a church near you – our new and improved, porta-Elf! (Now with added Jesus)”

For a long period of time, these memoria – or rather individual memoria – and the Cult of the saints were closely associated (Lee 116). It’s not hard to see how we came to view ancestors as individuals from whom we expect the highest ideals. It was after all, a very slow separation between the individual memoria and the Cult of the Saints.

But for all of the individual memoria, a prayer referred to as Pro Anima Kari in the 8th century Bobbio Missal suggests that the ‘dead-as-collective’ thing wasn’t entirely…dead. Designed as a prayer to aid the dying, the Pro Anima Kari called upon all of the descendants of Adam who were deceased – basically all human ancestors – and if that isn’t a collectivist view of the dead, then I’ve got some hang glider engines I’d be happy to sell you ( Lee 109-110).

2. The Cult of the Dead vs The Cult of the Ancestors

The next thing to be aware of is that the Cult of the Dead and the Cult of the Ancestors are not the same thing. Okay, so they both pertain to the dead. But when you look at ancestor veneration around the world, it’s like you have different grades of “dead” (that go beyond “fresh” and “not fresh”). In some cultures, the dead are guided through ritual processes that formally install them or acknowledge them as part of the collective ancestors of the group. In other cultures (such as Japanese Shinto), the dead are thought to gradually merge with the generalized group of family dead. The newly dead (shirei), take on characteristics of new buddhas, then buddhas, then ancestors (senszo), then kami (gods) over the course of 35 to 50 years (Klass 63-64). Regardless of how it takes place though, there is the sentiment that the recent dead are not the same as ancestors, and that some form of elevation takes place.

However, what would that process look like in a Northwestern European context?

Well, as far as I know, we don’t know. However, older traditions such as feasting the dead at the gravesite (a practice known as Dadsisas) are suggestive of a Cult of the Dead that took place at the graves of the more recently deceased (Lee 113-114). We may perhaps also infer from the collective terms mentioned above (such as the “Wild Hunt”, “Matronae” etc.) that some form of elevation also took place for at least some of the dead (although the picture provided to us by source materials is far from clear).

Regardless of how much we don’t know though, the concept of elevation provides us with a useful model for beginning to understand the different kinds of dead we may find ourselves dealing with, and the ritual remedies required as part of our cultic revivals.

The Unwell or Angry Dead Can Fuck With The Living

There are reasons why the dead are generally feared, but mostly it’s because

Ancestors - outhouse
Haunted outhouse, the worst. Will literally scare the crap out of you.

when the dead are unwell or angry, then that’s generally bad news for the living too (Oesterdieckhoff 585) . Because I mean, if the big dead are able to influence the land and people for good, then why wouldn’t the angry or unwell dead also have this capability – especially en masse? So for many humans around the world, it’s considered to be kind of in our interest to care for and remedy the matter of bad dead via ritual. (And no, I’m not talking about magical murderhobo-dom here.)

Final Words

Ancestor veneration is something that many of us of European ancestry find difficult to get our heads around, or find our rooting in. However, as we have seen above, there are some excellent reasons for that disconnect, and a general lack of understanding. This is a real shame, because research has shown that even just thinking about our ancestors can have positive effects. I truly believe that healthy ancestor veneration can be one of the keys to happier, more rooted, more connected, and more compassionate lives.

In the next blog, I’m going to ramble some more about the dead – possibly about some of our issues with ancestor veneration.

But just for today, pick a dead family member or older ancestor who you know went through some shit, and take a few moments to think about them. Think about what they endured or overcame, and reflect on that badassery. You’re here because of that badassery, and shades of that badassery are in you. How does that make you feel? Now try to imagine how much badassery your ancestors collectively have.

That’s one hell of a deep well, isn’t it?

Sources

Christina Lee – Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals
Dennis Klass, Phyllis R. Silverman, Steven Nickman – Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief
Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff – Why Premodern Humans Believed in the Divine Status of their Parents and Ancestors

Witch Wars: Minimizing the Damage

Witch wars - tarot devil card

Which Witch War?

There are two kinds of “witch wars” in the Pagan world, and most of the time, it’s the gossipy, bitchy, war-of-words kind that is the most common. This blog

witch wars - praying skeleton
“Oh West Virginia Jesus, please don’t let me be misunderstood!”

post isn’t about that – largely because I suck at them. I just don’t have much investment in the kind of social fuckery that allows an actual honest-to-West-Virginia-Jeebus negative social campaign to form. In short, I’m not the droid your looking for when it comes to advice for surviving a social shit storm (but this droid might be helpful, and also this).

I am however, the droid that can give you some helpful tips on the second kind of witch war: the magical kind.

An Evil of Ego

To put it simply, this kind of witch war is usually an utter clusterfuck. Like the social shit storm variety, it usually comes about because one person gets their pants in a twist over some ego-related matter. They can come about quickly, Witch wars - tarot devil cardor they sort of ferment over time. In my experience of these slow wars, you usually have about 2-3 years of fermentation punctuated by relatively minor periods of being poked at before hostilities fully escalate.

The magical witch war can be soul-destroying, and can wreck your whole life in otherwise unbelievable ways. This is especially the case if you take the position that this shit just doesn’t really happen and so are perhaps not as vigilant as you should be. Moreover, if the attack is particularly bad, the aftermath can be quite difficult and take some serious recovery time .

Hands down the best way to deal with this kind of witch war though, is to avoid it in the first place.

But how can you avoid something that hasn’t (hopefully) happened yet? The simple answer is that you can’t. But there are some relatively easy precautions you can take to reduce both access and effectiveness that go beyond the usual wards and shielding.

Reciprocal relationships

One of your most important lines of defense against nastiness, is the reciprocal relationships that you nurture and maintain with your numinous powers. Sometimes it may be gods who help you, and sometimes Fair Folk. However, mostly it’s going to be ancestors and house spirits that do the bulkwitch wars - land spirits of the heavy-lifting here, so these are the relationships you really need to cultivate.

That’s not to say that the gods and Fair Folk wouldn’t get involved though, or that it isn’t worth taking the time to develop reciprocal relationships with them too. It’s just that they have less reason to be involved than the aforementioned groups, and unless there are already signs that you have their favor, their prices tend to be much steeper.

When you have good reciprocal relationships with your ancestors and house spirits, detecting, diagnosing, and dealing with magical attacks become much easier. Because when you have those relationships, you can get a lot done by simply calling to them with some offerings and checking in. I recommend checking in in this way on a weekly basis (at least).

Cleanliness

This is where I tell you to clean your house! No really, regular cleaning is one of the best steps you can take to create a layer of protection from some major whammy.

witch wars - cleaningYou see, sometimes witch wars involve sending asshole spirits to mess with you, and those asshole spirits tend to gravitate to the shitty, cluttered areas of your home like mosquitoes do to buckets of water. (This is pretty much why paranormal teams get people to clean up as part of the solution.)

Another reason why cleaning is an important activity (you know, aside from regular old health, hygiene, and decency), is that if you are in the slow moving kind of war, then you may find items planted in your home that come with…extra ‘gifts’ (in the German sense of the word). Regular cleaning keeps you familiar with what’s in your home and what doesn’t belong.

Lastly, and most importantly, there are layers of protection you can build into your cleaning regime. You can clean with apotropaic herbs and washes (especially if you make your own cleaning supplies like I do), and you can get into the habit of regularly fumigating your home to cleanse it. This helps to prevent a build up of magical nastiness over time, which is useful all the time, but invaluable if you ever end up having the misfortune of dealing with a protracted campaign.

To Gift is to Connect

One of the worst things about witch wars, is that most of the people you are likely to end up in magical altercations with, will have likely started out as friends. They are usually the people you’ve “talked shop” with, considered working with, or maybe even worked with. This is part of why your slow-moving witch wars are like car wrecks that you can see coming in the distance – you can see the wreck coming, but there’s also this desire to try and prevent it if you can. I don’t mean to be the plot spoiler here, but most of the time you really can’t. Because it’s usually not about you or your friendship, but simple ego and dominance, and that’s an ill that lies solely within the person that witch wars - giftstarts the war.

But in those early days of friendship before you get to know a person, it can be really easy to gift freely. However, until you know how things are going to roll out (or oaths are in place), it’s important to be careful with both what you gift, and also what you accept.

To give or receive a gift is an act of trust, especially among magical practitioners. Gifting connects and provides either leverage, or a way into someone’s life (the Trojan horse principle). Because when you gift – especially if that gift is something you made or have had for a long time – you’re essentially giving them something they can use to connect you to them in a spell. Alternatively, the gifts you accept can come with some added…”extras” that can make for some really unpleasant times.

So be careful who you give gifts to, and what presents you accept from others. If you really want to give gifts in those early stages of friendship, opt for gifting by Amazon or another online service. They still get the gift, but none of the “you” to leverage.

As an aside, I always learned to never accept salt from another witch. I don’t remember where I learned that now (it was a good two decades ago now), but it’s a taboo I’ve kept to. Your mileage may vary.

Personal Concerns

Even worse than a gift though, is when a rival gains something of you. The term “personal concerns” is quite delicate-sounding for what is being referred to here, but basically, it’s your hair, nails, blood etc. Any enemy practitioner (or practitioner yet to out themselves as an enemy) that gets access to any of witch wars - hairthese things, gains the keys to the kingdom. There is so much more that they can do to you with this stuff- trust me on this. Because there was this one fun time and it literally nearly fucking killed me.

Protecting your personal concerns requires both cleanliness and diligence. Don’t leave hair brushes, toothbrushes, or anything else with your hair lying around anywhere where any guests can get to them. Be extra careful with sharp objects when others are around. If you cut yourself, pocket any tissues you use to staunch bleeding and take them home. Count them as you pocket them and keep track. Try to wash away any blood spilled with whatever is to hand. Got flyaway hair? Tie it up or cover it while meeting with new folks. Get the idea?

Basically, adopt the level of paranoia a hated Roman emperor would have found admirable.

Final Words

Witch wars of this variety are thankfully relatively rare, and it can be all too easy to become a little too paranoid. There is a balance to be had here, and in the next post I’m going to discuss some of the things you can look at to try and discern whether or not someone is working against you.

But for now – and most importantly – don’t give this topic too much space in your head. Stray thoughts can be dangerous things for people who use their emotions, visualizations, and will to change reality.

A Magical Go-Bag Tour

magical go-bag - hag stone

In my last blog I talked about the process of putting together a magical go-bag, and some of the reasons why a witch might want to. In this post, I’m going to give you all a tour around my main magical go-bag to give you an idea of some of the options that are out there when putting these bags together.

My Magical Go-Bag: A Backstory

Call me paranoid, but I’ve always carried some kind of magical supplies on me. I’ve just had that kind of life. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been the proverbial poop pile to the supernatural flies, and so always having some supplies on hand just makes sense. However, the impetus to create a dedicated bag for going out on the battlefield (or whatever else I’m up to) only came last year. Before then, my bags were all repurposed, or small bags that I’d just shoved into other, bigger bags. Last year though, things changed

To cut a long story short, working more intensely with the dead led to other spirits showing up. One of those spirits was a crane-dancing woman who told me to create a what was essentially a magical go-bag. Jokingly, I called it a “crane bag” (because it was a crane-dancing woman who told me to make it). However, the connection between the crane bag of Irish lore, and the Irish analog of the Welsh god who has played a pivotal role in my battlefield work also did not go unnoticed.

So off to the internet I went to scroll through endless pictures of “crane bags”. But none of them worked for me, and soon became clear that the best option was to make my own. So I did.

I knew from the outset that it had to be grey and hardwearing. The inner fabric – which could be softer – was a chance find that I chose for the deer in the pattern (an animal that’s long held significance for me). I came across the giant crane-patch by chance while searching for fabric, and well, the idea of a “crane bag” with a giant crane on it gave me a chuckle, so naturally I slapped the ‘purchase’ button.

Making the Bag

I’ve never been a good (or even competent seamstress). I don’t know what happens but I can start off with a perfectly good sewing machine, and then it all goes wrong. The tension decides to do its own thing, then the thingie in the bottom is also like “fuck you”, and in the end, it’s raining, the earth is falling in, and I’m about ready to pitch the machine out of a window. So the prospect of creating a go-bag was daunting to say the least.

I used this tutorial at the recommendation of my mum (thanks mum!), and although it didn’t quite work out (because: me), I came away with a serviceable bag with the custom pockets that you can see here.

magical go-bag - crane bag

magical go-bag - pockets
Custom knife pockets ftw.

Once made, I consecrated it in a small ritual to Manannán Mac Lir as it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  And in the end, I think it was the right decision as it triggered the dream experience that you can read about here.

So that’s how, and the why of creating my go-bag.

My Essential Items

Now here is where I finally get to the things I consider essential for how I work, But as I mentioned in my last blog on this topic, your mileage may vary.

Hag Stone

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

First on the list (but not necessarily in order of importance) is the hag stone or holey stone. These are stones that have naturally occurring holes through the magical go-bag - hag stonemiddle of them, and although I haven’t really found good scholarship on them, my experience has been that these are both effective tools and apotropaics. They’re protective against the Unseen, and allow you – again, in my experience – to see through glamours and things that are normally unseen if you look through them.

You can sometimes find them along rivers, but they are also readily available to purchase online. I would advise caution when purchasing these online though as some unscrupulous vendors try to pass off drilled stones as genuine hag stones.

Black Salt

Function: Hardcore apotropaic.

Next up is black salt. Salt is a great addition to any magical go-bag in magical go-bag - black saltgeneral because it has so many uses. You can use it to salt boundaries, protect, and banish. But black salt is just taking regular old salt and leveling it the fuck up! The addition of iron, ash, and (in my case) ground wolf bone, makes black salt an excellent addition to a go-bag. It’s like an apotropaic powerhouse!

Even better, if you make your own black salt, you can build in extra layers of apotropaic magic into the creation process! Why just scrape some iron from your pan when you can use your pan to burn prayers asking for divine favor with some protective herbs, then add that to your fire ash before scraping the pan for iron? I have a dutch oven that I use specifically for ritual work so that I don’t have to wreck my cast iron cookware; it was $10 from a thrift store – bargain!

Spindle and Fiber

Function: Tool and offering.

I use a lot of spinning in my magic, and especially when it comes to working with spirits. Spinning in a space can trap both dead and leftover remnants of magical go-bag - mini spindleenergy that might “grow up” to get its own ideas and start its own trouble. Spun fiber can provide a bridge, delineate space, and serve as an offering in its own right. I have two spindles that I typically use in ritual work: one is a collapsible spindle that fits in my bag; and the other, magical go-bag - large spindlemy large one, was a gift to thank me for help given. I adore my large one because it feels weighty and authoritative – like a wand. It’s something I’ve wielded in ritual before now when opening portals and working my will. The collapsible one lives in my purse (yes, it’s that small) along with the sheep knuckle I use for yes/no divination.

Railroad Spike

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

This is something I tend to swap out with my black-handled knife. There’s a magical go-bag - spikeresonance to this item that just works. I’ve engraved it with words of power (which I won’t show here), and it’s one of my favorite spirit weapons for subduing, setting up some hardcore protective space, or for when things go bad. I don’t know whether it’s wholly iron or steel (which is mostly iron anyway), but it’s kickass anyway.

Red Yarn

Function: Apotropaic, tool, McGyver goodness.

magical go-bag - red yarnThis is one of my more McGyver-type items. Red thread can be used to bind and protect, or create new items (like a crossroads effigy or protective rowan cross). It can also be used for knot spells, marking off space, and much more. The yarn I use is hand spun with intent and then ritually consecrated.

Offerings of some kind

Function: Offerings, because being a magical murderhobo is bad.

And finally, because being the magical equivalent of a D&D murderhobo is not something that any of us should aspire to, I carry offerings. So many situations can be avoided or calmed by just communicating and making propitiatory offerings. Easy offerings to carry on the regular are cornmeal, tobacco, water, cedar, and small sealed butter or cream packets. Just please, take any trash home with you so you don’t ruin any of your good work by doing anyone the disrespect of leaving trash in their space.

The Ancestors Bring Blessings

ancestors - skulls

Several years ago, I had a dream that people told me couldn’t possibly come true. There was simply no way, it was too unlikely, and though it had left me shaken for the entire day, it was really nothing to worry about.

After all, how likely were pitched battles on the streets between Nazis and non-Nazis? Moreover, the dream had taken place in my hometown and I no longer lived there, right? But dream works differently, what is detail in life is symbol in dream, and I remember that dream all too well after the events of this past weekend. Nazis bearing swastika flags, spewing messages of hate and throwing projectiles, armed and deadly on unwelcoming streets. The harassed sounds of police horses and the clip of boots covering the feet of hastily deployed soldiers.

The sound of rounds being chambered.

And in the background, or maybe superimposed – who knows, dream is like that – was the voice exhorting the masses to rise up for ‘Queen and country’.

My friends had been right, it was highly unlikely back then, and yet it filled me with a sense of horror and dread. I can’t help but notice today, that aside from the police horses and setting in Lancashire, it wasn’t too far off what did happen in Charlottesville, VA. Not that I’m claiming my dream somehow predicted that, I’m not. But I do think it was a warning of what was then a coming wave.

Tea With the Dead

The Dead have always played a role in my life and practice. I grew up in a family that was very nominally Anglican, and not so ‘nominally’ Spiritualist. I grew up with a dad whose family had cut their teeth in Spiritualism in post (and presumably during) wartime London. Though I never knew either of my grandmothers and only one of my grandfathers, I had the benefit of a great uncle who still lived down in London, and whom I would go visit with my father as a kid.

My uncle Lew and auntie Ada were incredible people, always laughing, and they could drink enough tea to sink a ship. Like the rest of my father’s family, they’d also spent a lot of time around the Spiritualist circles, and that sense of otherness was palpable in their home. There was nothing threatening there, but I never quite felt like I was alone even when there was no one else around. Our visits there were mostly spent laughing over countless cups of tea – I loved them dearly.

But uncle Lew and auntie Ada also had stories to tell, and some of them were quite dark. You see, they’d been of an age to be around for WWII, and as Londoners -or more specifically Cockneys -they’d experienced the very worst of the Blitz.

Amazingly, most of their stories about this era were told with humor. They told stories of a world on fire in which no one knew if they would survive or not, and so they’d decided to enjoy what they could anyway for the most part. They were a people who had learned to dance on the knife’s edge, living as though every day was their last. And all of that might have sounded like bravado but for the heavy shadow that fell upon some of their words, that though delivered in such a matter of fact manner, had all the impact of a gut punch.

I often think about what they’d think had they lived to see the days we live in now. Would they recognize in us the same descent they experienced? Did the Dead scream in warning as loudly to them in the build-up to the war as they do to some of us now? Are we on the path to similar or worse?

The Use and Abuse of History

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984

As I’ve written previously, to know the past is to be able to predict the future. Divination in the Heathen period played many roles, but it was never about getting a set answer about what was going to happen next. It was for ancestors - memediscerning the will of the gods (and perhaps receiving a heads up from them about the future), for finding that which was lost, and for discovering past and present events that were not yet known to the enquirer. To know what was past and what was yet unseen was to be able to have a greater chance of predicting the future.

But what if you do not like what the past holds, or the world around you promises? What if none of that fits the model that you would like to see become dominant in the world?

Then you smash the statues, you break that link, and you harass anyone who presents evidence that contradicts that. Oh you claim to care while making those appeals to history/tradition/authority/science (all often incorrectly), but ultimately the people who would go down this route have no real respect for any of it. They simply recognize the truth that George Orwell expressed so succinctly in the quote above.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

This is why history, and perhaps to a lesser degree, memory matters. History shows us the patterns that are best off never repeated again, and a memory that is clear and true is the best protection against the hazards of the Overton Window.

One of the names I go by online is that of “Seo Helrune”, an Old English term that Pollington translates as meaning ‘one skilled in the mysteries of the world of the dead’ (Pollington 51). Though we do not know much about the actual magical tech employed by a Heathen period Helrune, this term still feels fitting for me. From the family I was born into, the kind of magical practice I do, and the history I voraciously devour, the dead and their world have always been a part of me. As strange as it sounds, I find a form of holiness in history; for not only is it in a sense the ‘world’ of the dead, but I believe it also contains the keys to creating a better future for my descendants. Put a pin in that thought though for now, I’ll return to this idea later.

To Conscript a God

Unfortunately, the dead and their world are not the only powers to have been pressed into service for the traditionalist cause – the gods have also fallen victim.

Or rather one god in particular has, and it does not go unnoticed that he is a god associated with the dead and the mysteries of their world.

”Sometimes even he called the dead out of the earth, or set himself beside the burial-mounds; whence he was called the ghost-sovereign, and lord of the mounds.”
(Ynglinga 7)

Again the theme and story repeats.

The god of course, is Odin/Woden/Wotan, and he now finds himself figurehead of a very 21st century phenomenon, the ‘meme war’. What a demotion! From having one’s names on the lips of actual warriors and kings, to being the figurehead of a fucking meme war comprised of keyboard warriors and internet personalities.

However his role does not end with ‘figurehead’, but he also fulfils the role of sacrificial victim too – sacrificed at the altar of ‘the white race’, or ‘folk’.

Consider these words:
”Now, I happen to have been a follower of Wotan, under his name of Odin, for some 45 years, and my personal experience is that He is utterly real, if inherently mysterious. But I don’t expect my Christian, or Atheist, or Agnostic, or Other friends to agree on that. Instead, I invite them to think of Wotan as Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, did: Namely, as an inherited symbol in the collective unconscious of the Germanic Peoples. Either way, as God or as Archetype, Wotan is a source of immense power, and we need to call upon that power to stir the European Peoples into action.” (From: here)

The only ‘god’ here that this worldview has room for is race, like a friend of mine says, My religion is gifting, theirs is white people.

And while I know that historically leaders and kings sought the favor of deities in their various campaigns, the difference is that they did not use them as tools in quite the same way. The rituals were expressions of do ut des as opposed to PR (though PR almost certainly played a part, as it does with any savvy leader), and they knew how to gift.

ancestors - odin
I don’t know that for sure, but this by Laura Tempest Zakroff is just brilliant – stickers available here:
http://www.magodjinn.com/stickers.html#psodin

The Ancestors Bring Blessings

Modern people, at least in our society, have a problem with death. We do not like to be reminded of it, it is taboo. The majority of us no longer lay out our own dead, or even see anything other than a sanitized version of death when we do. An entire industry exists to relieve us of those final duties to our kin, and it is an industry that has become adept at occulting death from society in general.

All of which I believe helps to draw a big, funerary black curtain between the dead and ourselves in terms how we understand our ancestors.

Don’t get me wrong, we do very well with remembrance, but it can be quite a surprise to us that our Heathen and Pagan ancestors didn’t just engage in rites to the Dead for the sake of remembrance, but for tangible gains too.

“it should be noted that the ancestors, as part of their ongoing concern for their descendants, are thought to bring blessings to family, flock, and field. This is why the Hunt was believed to be propitious, and why people welcomed it despite the chaos and even danger that came with it, an attitude as Höfler, Meuli, Wolfram, and others have amply attested. The *koryos brings increase for the same reason it brings order: because it makes the ancestors present among their people. And so, while the fertility aspects of the cult became all-important, after the conversion, among the country people who kept up these practices, they were always present.” (Kershaw 34)

Presumably what must be propitiated may also be offended, and consequences reaped.

”Three features, writes Meuli, govern the primitive’s conception of the dead person: He continues to live. He is powerful. He is at once well-disposed and malicious (Meuli 1975: I, 303).” (Kershaw 23-24)

Over the past few days, I’ve seen lots of people declare the deeds of their ancestors. Stories of participation in D-Day or at Dunkirk. Stories of liberation and blood, of freeing holocaust survivors and the long deep hatred of Nazis that permeated the words and minds of our more recent ancestors. Are we to think that the rise of this ideology once more, though touting the cause of ancestors would somehow be acceptable to those of our lines who fought those battles?

I suppose it all depends on your ancestors, but I know what mine would think. Tea and memories in a small house in a London suburb have seen to that.

The rhetoric of the far right is often framed in terms of survival of ‘the white race’. We see that ideology condensed into fourteen infamous words:

”We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
(Source: Wikipedia)

As one might expect in a movement with ideology such as this, women are both exalted as bearers of the future generation and excoriated for not having bred enough. The obsession with the womb, that long-time obsession of those who would exert a far greater degree of social control than any of us should be comfortable with, is a key feature here.

One would almost think that were they truly representing the will of the Holy Powers, that the ‘white race’ would be experiencing a fertility boom, right? (Well you know, if those lazy white women would just accept their role as childbearers…)

As much as I hate to be *that* person pointing this out though, perhaps that is simply not the case?

Sources

Kris Kershaw – The One Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-) Germanic Männerbünde
Stephen Pollington – Leechcraft