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!

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.

Re: The Otherworld Is Bleeding Through

Re: The Otherworld is Bleeding Through

On the 9th of June, Patheos blogger John Beckett wrote that the Otherworld is ‘bleeding through’, and that even though his awareness of this is a more recent thing, he’s of the opinion this has been going on for longer.

Although that might sound like crazy talk (after all, how many people have believed themselves to be living in pivotal times?), it’s no surprise to the people that know me that I agree with John.

I would say it’s been going on for a while – years even. Back then I was foolish enough to email a famous paranormal investigator for their input, to see if they’d noticed a rise in cases, but as I wasn’t mailing about a potential opportunity for publicity or financial gain, I was called ‘unprofessional’ and sent on my way. Back then it felt more like flood and ebb, there would be periods of crazy activity and periods of relative calm – or at least it did to me. It was around late August last year though when things really ramped up. After asking friends on Facebook if they were noticing or experiencing anything, and receiving affirmative replies from people who typically don’t experience the strange, I really began to take notice.

Not that I didn’t take notice before, but generally when the people who don’t usually get that kind of thing happen to them start to get that, well, it’s far more compelling than when people like myself (for whom these things tend to be ten a penny) get them.

Friends told me of white dog apparitions that lurked at the edges of the woods, of dreams of the dead that felt far more prescient than dream, and premonitions that came to pass. As time has gone on since then, more ‘woo’ friends have told me of hauntings returning that hadn’t haunted for years, of the return of spirits lain years before by exorcism, and of sighting the Slúa of all things.

At first I worried about what could be going on. I ritualized and performed divination after divination, and kept getting the same message back. That the ‘Other’ was now here, that they were rising up and coming back, and couldn’t be happier about it. This was to be our new normal.

In this, John Beckett and I are in agreement. Curiously, this is something the Fairyist survey seems to also be bearing out in that the sightings that people are reporting – at least of the feeorin – are far more in keeping with the view of centuries past rather than more modern ideas of fairies.

In January I wrote my posts about upping our collective game as witches, pagans, ritualists, or whatever sweet label we go by. This is a big part of why I wrote that post, because in spite of all the fake being sold as real that flies around, the real shit is there too – and really *close*. Regardless of whether this situation is temporary or permanent (I’ve seen some debate on that) though, we need to be bringing our A-game because things have the potential to get far more real, far more quickly than before.

Even outside of the more dramatic encounters, on a more day to day level, the sensitive people in our communities are already suffering in this current climate – that’s if the communities my friends are involved in are anything to go by. I’m seeing and hearing about a lot of sleeplessness and nervous issues cropping up right now among many, and I’d like to address some tools for dealing with this.

Right now, I would say that we need our gods, and to honor the reciprocal relationships we keep with the beings we keep them with. People looked to the gods for order and keeping the destructive forces outside of the inner yard, I would say that that’s a good thing all the time, not just when woo woo shit is going wild.

We need to make sure we ground and center often, and if you don’t know how to do that, now is the time to learn. We also need to work on our protections, to getting them down so they’re automatic – preferably tied to some kind of physical action so that when things get overwhelming, the muscle memory can take over and pull you back where you need to be. Muscle memory is powerful and often overrides emotional and/or mental states. We need to come up with back up plans for whenever we’re working for the ‘just in case’, and take hard looks at our liturgy to make sure we’re being smart with our words too (I’ll take a look at this in a future blog post, I think). Words in sacred space have weight and one can invite a whole host of trouble when words are used without thought.

We need to dust off the old tales and charms. Folktales can often provide us clues and ways to interact with or survive interaction with the Otherworld. Most of the etiquette that you see going around about how to interact with the feeorin (fae) for example, comes from these folktales; simple things like not thanking them, calling them honorific names such as ‘The Gentry’, or not letting them know that you can see them come from these stories. The old charms are often the most effective too. Iron carried upon the person or under the pillow can lead to more peaceful nights and costs far less in the long term than melatonin after the initial outlay. Shoes can be utilized as ‘spirit traps’, hung on bedposts, or stuffed on ledges up chimneys. Rowan crosses bound with red thread can protect against the feeorin, salt can be poured over thresholds, and multiple types of herb can be hung/burned/sprinkled in the home to clear or protect.

 

Admittedly, some of the old practices can be downright dangerous (probably even illegal nowadays), especially to Otherworld - Troll Crosschildren, but can be made safe with some adaptation. For example, the opened iron scissors hung over a crib can easily be a forged iron troll cross (or anything else that’s iron and not sharp) stuffed under the mattress of the child’s bed (or hung on the wall if the child is old enough), and we really don’t need to go back to testing our children to make sure they’re not changelings (by incidentally torturing or killing them).

But most importantly, we need our human tribes, our families, our friends, and our trusted people. We need to look after each other, because while things may not get horrific, we may be in for a bumpy ride while we adjust.