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

Haunted Helrune |Spooky Interlude

About a week ago on my Facebook page, I asked if any of my friends would be interested in reading posts about some of the many (many) spooky things that have happened to me over the years. The answer was a resounding “yes”, and so this post is the first in what will hopefully become a collection of spook-tastic stories.

The problem though with coming up with such an idea, is choosing which stories to tell. It’s easy to think of them when you’re in a conversation or watching something about similar events, but when you’re sitting in front of the cold, unforgiving screen of your computer, it’s quite another matter.

This week, we’ve had (what we believe to be) a plumbing issue stemming from mains work done in our area. At first, we just noticed that the bed shook, and I don’t know what it says about me that I was both simultaneously glad that our bed is heavy as shit, and pissed off that something might be messing with us just as I was turning off my kindle to get some sleep.

Back in my late teens, I did a semester on parapsychology at junior college as part of my psychology A-level. I also used to belong to a paranormal investigation group in my home town, and so while I do see and experience a lot, I also have this instinct to investigate and debunk. So, out came my hands, feeling different surfaces to try and isolate a source for the shaking – the headboard – it felt like it was coming from the headboard and shaking down the bed. When my husband got up to go to the bathroom during the shaking, the shaking intensified and so I got up, turned on the light and began to video it. The bed didn’t touch the wall, and as far as we knew then, there were no pipes behind that wall. I put my hand against the wall, but it felt less intense than the bed. As I videoed the shaking though, and began to film down the crack between our bed and the wall, it stopped.

“Of course you fucking did.”, I said to myself. Because how many of us have had things happen only to stop when you’re getting evidence?

We climbed back into bed and slept until morning with no further issues. As I wasn’t getting the creep factor, I didn’t bother worrying about it. Until the next night when we were shaken awake at 5 am. That day, I pulled up the mattress and looked to see if somehow, some kind of animal or rodents had managed to slot themselves in between the under bed drawers without the dog and two cats noticing.

Nada.

To cut a long story short though, it was the next night that I saw the drywall moving and my concerns shifted to far more mundane (and less exciting) issues around structural integrity. Regardless of this though, the shaking did remind me of something that happened to me over a decade ago.

I’ve never really been a fan of being in houses or apartments when you’re in the process of moving. They feel too liminal and open to me, like anything can just walk in. When you’re moving, you’re either relinquishing a claim on a place, or about to be making a claim. In truth, this is why I tend to avoid taking down all of the shrines for as long as I can, and they’re among the first things that are set up in the new home.

I’d been living in this two-level apartment for about three months when this happened. It was the final evening and I was yet to pack, but I wasn’t concerned as I was living out of a backpack at the time and packing in those days took an hour at most.

I’d spent the evening watching TV alone as my housemates were either at work or had gone out for the night, and it had all been very uneventful until it came time to go into my bedroom and begin to pack.

In my experience, with the exception of pure poltergeist phenomenon (in which you only have moving items and literally nothing else going on), there’s always a vibe that accompanies a haunting. It may begin with the sensation of being watched, or simply just a sense of something ‘building’ up in the atmosphere around you. If you ‘see’ things as I do, you might perceive a disturbance in the air around you, an amping up that looks not too dissimilar from ‘snow’ on an old TV set. Except all around you. Making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Often, there’s a preturnatural cold, and if you have any pets, you might notice them beginning to behave very oddly; either trying to escape or barking aggressively at ‘nothing’.

This is what I felt as I began the process of turning off the TV, turning out the lights, and going through the motions of washing my face and cleaning my teeth. There was this sense of ‘building up’, and like I was no longer alone. Knowing my housemates wouldn’t be back for hours and that I really had nowhere else to go, I resolved to get my packing done, and then just go to sleep and ignore it. After all, you wouldn’t believe the amount of weird things I’ve ignored and just gone to sleep on. I’d imagine it’s the ghost equivalent of giving someone a handy J and then stopping right before they come.

But as soon as I stepped into my room – a room that had been completely fine before then – all thoughts of ignoring it were gone as I was physically shoved across the room. Righting myself to the sound of my furious heartbeat in my ears, I scanned the room around me, trying to see what had just got me, while trying to control my adrenaline and fear enough to start protecting myself. As I turned though, before I could get a hold on myself, this voice that was more like an air canon sounded in my ear.

“BOO!”

I ducked as though I could avoid the force of the word, which was emitted with such pressure it was almost tangible.

And so it went for as long as it took me to pack. Shoves punctuated with words punched into my ear and seeming to come from just over my shoulder. For my part, I simply tried to get a grip of myself as I packed desperately as the *thing*, the interloper that was taking advantage of the transience, mocked and promised me that moving wouldn’t get rid of him.

By the time one of my housemates came home, I was seriously shaken – on every level. Until that point, I had never had anything actually physically hurt me in that way. But my 23 year old self was nothing if not resilient – if a lot less disciplined than now – and I soon shook it off after I moved the next day.

Thankfully, whatever it was, did not follow.

Ancestral Shores | A Story Snippet

One Immigrant’s Story

On the day she came home, they’d been happy to see their daughter return. Communication had been difficult at times, sometimes even impossible. Like every child out adventuring out in the world, there were times when she simply hadn’t even remembered to check in, to let them know she was ok. But that was ok too, because she always did eventually. Full of life and happy to see home again even for the short time she’d be there before the next adventure.

This time though, things were different. When she’d arrived this time, they’d worried as she coughed, a dark shadow falling on her chest like never before. Watching her struggle to climb hills and moors that she’d climbed hundreds of times before with ease, they felt only sadness. But she always was a stubborn one and she’d carried on walking uphill regardless. They’d gone with her to see the doctor a week or so later, her coughing…no asthma had gotten so bad.

“I remember how bad that was for me”, Violet had said, “Marvellous what they can do nowadays with medicine.” Lillian had simply stroked their granddaughter’s forehead as she breathed in the nebulizer and her breathing stabilized.

Eventually though, she’d gone again, got onto the plane with her husband and left.

And after a few hours they couldn’t feel her anymore.

Late at night, when most people are comfortably ensconced inside, they would meet on the beach, the sometimes stormy Irish sea before them. Something about that direction, that place made them feel ever so slightly closer to her, their errant family member. Sometimes Lew would make comments like “She gets that from me, you know!”, and his sister and wife would slap him on the shoulder and tell him not to be so daft, and that he’d never literally disappeared before.

One of those nights, when the surf was up and they could almost hear what sounded like her voice on the wind, story - ancestral shoresJames came to the conclusion that this not being able to hear her thing had to have something to do with the sea and then the ocean beyond that. After all, she *couldn’t* be in Ireland, they’d know. They had family and blood there. At one point, Peter had even stood on the opposite shore and called to them that she absolutely wasn’t there. Thanking him, they’d engaged in a bit of banter before going back to keep an eye on the rest of the family.

It was finally when William was sitting next to his son, in the living room of 35 Primrose street that he’d heard Val say something about her being in America. It all made sense to them now, but still they missed her.

“It’s probably best if you go to Southport when the tide’s up” said Ken, he still wasn’t comfortable in his new role in the family, but he was doing well even though it hurt him to see his wife still so sad. “Take it easy, son. These things take time.”, his dad had said. He knew better than most how it was to go through that kind of separation, and Ken had always been the kind of big brother to take his responsibilities to his siblings very seriously.

So it was that they came to be sitting there on the beach during what was a horrible storm (for those that could still feel that kind of thing), straining their ears and trying to hear their long-lost daughter, they sat. They had all but given up, when they finally heard it, her voice weak on the winds.

It was their names in prayer, asking them to do their best to find her.

And right then and there, they decided that if the wind could find a way, so could they