Everyone’s Got Troublesome Ancestors

This post is a little late in the making, but it’s something I definitely wanted to bring up after my earlier post on ancestor veneration 101.  If you missed out on that post or forgotten about the basics of working with your ancestors, take a look at that old post before reading this one.  Who knows, you might have some new insights along the way, even if you did read it before!

So, when you get right down to it, everyone’s got ancestors, and ancestor veneration practices are available to everyone in pretty much any way.  Every culture has some way to recognize ancestors, whether it’s nothing more than praying for the dead or culminating in a week of offering full burnt sacrifices at their tombs.  For magicians, priests, and other spiritual practitioners, working with our ancestor is a powerful practice that we can adapt to our own cultures and traditions that can yield huge blessings, often without much of the fuss or hassle that other rituals might demand of us.  After all, the dead live on through us, and we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us; working with our ancestors can often be mutually beneficial.  Before any god or goddess, our ancestors should be and often are our first go-to spirit allies for defense, prosperity, and succor, and their insights can help guide us throughout our lives in so many ways, including teaching us new methods of working or simply easing things in difficult times.

But…well, there’s always gonna be some hitch or difficulty inherent in a practice, innit?  Of course there is.  When it comes to ancestor veneration, sure, there’s always the issue of doing rituals inappropriately or offering them things taboo to them within the culture, or desecrating their memories, or any other obvious-as-hell mistake you can make, but there’s one issue that we’re all (quite literally) familiar with: that one damn relative we just don’t get along with.  Or two.  Or a dozen.  Or quite a bit more.  While we can often ignore these troublesome relatives when they’re alive, putting up with them politely once or twice a year when we have to endure their presence for holiday dinners, it’s a little more tricky when they’re dead and hanging out at your ancestor shrine.

So, what can happen when a particular ancestor is acting up and causing problems?  What sorts of problems can they make?  Honestly, the effects can be as varied as the number of ways they can make your life better; they can interfere with your personal relationships among the living, cause health issues, stymie progress in the things you’re working forwards, or other things all the way to causing actual mayhem and chaos which can result in your injury or death.  They might not do anything, of course, depending on how patient they might be with you or based on the type of relationship you have with them, but they might also just ignore your pleas for help when you actually need them to do something, or they can turn your other ancestors against you as well.  It depends on the specific ancestor’s temperament, how badly they’re offended, and how badly they want to bring your attention to the offense, but in general, when the dead are upset, it can cause any number of issues in your life.  Untended and ignored, the ancestors can become overwhelmed by wrath and anger and turn into truly fearsome beasts of spirits, potentially even becoming enemies of their own family that can cause untold trouble across multiple generations; it’s not uncommon for familial curses to be rooted in an upset ancestor that, essentially, curses their own bloodline.  It’s unfortunate, but it does happen; in such cases, the way to break the curse is to appease that ancestor or remove them entirely from the situation.  Essentially, upset ancestors can be a pain, and it really is best to deal with that pain as soon as you can so you can avoid more pain down the line.

There are lots of reasons why we might find a particular member of our ancestors to be a pain in the ass.  To rule out the most obvious case, there’s always a chance we could have done something to offend one of them.  For instance, if we promise a particular ancestor something, such as giving them a cooked meal or refraining from doing a particular thing, it’s not uncommon or unlikely that they’ll take offense to our having neglected or broken our promise, and we’d need to work it off and mend the relationship we have with them.  This goes for any kind of spirit you have a relationship, of course, which is why we can bring this up and set it aside first; as I’ve said before, try to refrain from making vows unless you absolutely need to, but even if you make a small promise of payment, a promise is a promise, and you’d best keep your word.

One of the most common issues for beginners that can result from ancestral work is the fact that, once they start to realize that you’re reaching out to them, they often flock to you like moths to a flame, especially if you have the ability to see, hear, and speak with spirits as opposed to simply making offerings and prayers in their name.  Not only can this happen with our own ancestors, but it can also happen with any passing spirit of the dead, whether or not we’re related to them by blood, tradition, or culture.  In short, some ancestors want attention, sometimes for an actual reason and other times because they miss being tended to or cared for.  This isn’t as much a problem in cultures where ancestor veneration is common, but in modern Western societies where we hardly ever tend to our family graves or make offerings to our dead, it’s increasingly a problem that we tend to forget our dead, and when they have problems, they can cause problems for us.  The simple approach here is to simply work with them as much as you’re able, not overextending yourself or draining yourself dry, but working with them as you can to make sure their needs are met.  In the process, you often learn more about your heritage and ancestry, you learn specific ways and workings from and with your ancestors that can make things easier for you and them, and you find newer ways to make your ancestor work more efficient and effective.  This can take any number of forms, but one major caution I’d recommend is that you set boundaries with your spirits; they may not be able to get everything they ask for, even if it’s just attention (especially if it’s just attention), and many of us can’t tend to our ancestry all day every day.  After all, we living have needs, too, and if the ancestors make big demands, then they need to give big assistance.  If all they want is attention, tell them (kindly, politely, yet firmly) to back off and enjoy what they have, and if they have a specific need, make sure you understand why they need it or if they just want it.  This sort of problem can develop or undevelop depending on the spirit, and sometimes it can be useful in situations where you need to pass along messages to the living in order to keep the living from coming to future harm.  Just take it easy, so long as you take your relationships seriously and take your work further as best suits you.

There can often be a problem where it’s not so much with our relationships with our ancestors as with the fact that we simply don’t know who we are.  Unless you’re big into genealogy or have good connections in your family with genealogists, we simply may not know who it is we descend from, especially in our modern age when keeping up ties with the extended family is becoming more and more difficult, as well as more and more uncommon in Western culture.  While I won’t say that everything’s fine, this won’t necessarily cause you problems; if you know even one name of your ancestors, such as a grandparent you vaguely knew who passed away, that can be your key to learning more about the rest of them.  That particular ancestor can act as a gopher and go-between that can bring you in touch with the rest of your ancestral family.  Working with this single ancestor can open up the door to working with all the rest of them and bring you into a closer relationship with those whom you might have forgotten or never knew about.  Genealogical research is only a boon in this case, and I highly recommend everyone be able to trace their ancestry back at least a few generations if not further; this may not always be the case due to records that were lost, destroyed, or suppressed, but information is information, whether you get it through historical research or spiritual investigation.

A special case of this is were someone is adopted and has no ties with or knowledge of their blood family.  In this case, hope is not lost; for all practical purposes, the ancestors of your adoptive family become your own ancestors.  Although kin is primarily determined by blood, it is also determined by name; being adopted means being made part of the family into which you were adopted, and being accepted into a family means that they accept you from now all the way back into time.  It can often be a painful shame for those who are adopted and truly have no means of connecting with their blood family, but again, just as with the other case of not knowing who your ancestors might be, you’re not bereft of ancestors just because you may not know who they are.  Family is family, either way; ancestors of the adoptive family can just as easily bridge the gap between you and your blood family just as a known blood ancestor can connect you with your unknown blood ancestors.  As above, information is information, whether you get it through historical research or spiritual investigation.

One particular issue with our ancestors that often arises is that we simply might not like them or agree with them on important philosophical, spiritual, or political views.  For instance, it’s a common issue where many outcasts in our day and age are cast out by their own family for any number of reasons, such as converting to another religion, being queer of some sort, differences in views on human decency and bigotry, or other relationship-breaking things that can cause us suffering in life when dealing with them personally as well as in death when we have to deal with them spiritually.  I can attest to some of these things myself; coming from a European American family with roots going back to the founding of the country, I have proud slaveowners and slavedrivers in my lineage, and not all my ancestors from those lines care for the fact that I’m initiated into an African diasporic religion and affiliate myself so closely to the faith of those that they subjugated and thought subhuman; other of my ancestors find the fact that I’m gay to be confusing and problematic for them, if not disrespectful to their notions of tradition and righteousness.  It’s unfortunate that they think this way, but in general, once people die and get used to being an ancestral spirit, I have noticed that their viewpoints tend to soften somewhat; they might hold on to particular strongly-held views, but they do tend to be more accepting in death than they were in life.  At points, however, these issues can be difficult to overcome; in those cases, I work with other of my ancestors who do like and accept me to either facilitate relationships and communications with them, or simply pay my respects to the ancestors who dislike me and move on.

That’s one of the core methods of working with troublesome ancestors, by the way; even if you don’t like them or if they don’t like you, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still their kin and descendant.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as supportive as anyone else about the whole “blood doesn’t determine family, your love determines your family” notion that’s common among the youth of today, but there’s still something to be said for blood ties that really does matter spiritually and physically that Platonic or romantic bonds alone cannot approach or approximate.  All ties to your ancestry are indelible and unalienable, and no matter what you might think of your ancestry or heritage, whether you’re proud or ashamed of it, you cannot change the fact that they lived and did whatever they did.  No human alive or dead was wholly good or wholly evil, and all of humanity of the past, present, and future has a particular dignity that we need to recognize and appreciate.  For the mere fact that their works contributed to the world we live in today, for good or for ill, and that their lives contributed to the possibility of your own, I claim that your ancestors should be honored across the board and unconditionally.  I consider it to be an obligatory form of filial piety that crosses the boundaries of life and death.  In my case, of course I despise the fact that my ancestry played a direct role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and supported the inhumane institutions of slavery, and I am ashamed of it and for their propagation of racism that still blights my country today; however, I cannot help but honor the fact that I am related to them, and without them I would not and could not live, and that even amongst their works that I consider evil and baneful to the happiness and health of humanity, there are also good works that encouraged those same things.  In seeing the good in them, I can help bridge what might otherwise be an unsurpassable chasm that would only cause problems, and perhaps swing their viewpoints to see how their actions caused both harm and help in their time and in my own, maybe even remediate them to help correct what I see as negative.  If not, oh well; I pay my respects to them all the same for what can be respected, and ignore the rest of what can’t, and move on to the spirits that don’t cause me such conflict.

It can be exceptionally difficult for some people who tend to their ancestors, however, who were abused by them in life or were close to those who were abused by them.  Consider the case where a young child was abused by their grandmother they lived with, or where someone was raped by their uncle; having grown up and with the abusive relative now dead, how might the person approach this situation?  It’s difficult, I admit, and I feel somewhat at a loss to discuss this particular topic because I haven’t been the victim of family or domestic abuse; in lieu of or in addition to my own thoughts which I offer here, I bow to the guidance and advice of those who can better speak to such a situation.  The pain from being emotionally, physically, sexually, or spiritually abused can often never be forgiven nor forgotten, and I don’t suggest that the abused should simply move on with their lives and pretend that everything is hunky-dory A-OK now that their relative is dead and hopefully enlightened; I know some people who would sooner condemn their parents to the bottom pits of hell with bell, book, and candle before uttering a single good thing to their name for all the abuse they put them through.  There are different approaches you could take in this case, depending on where you are emotionally and spiritually.  If you’re at a point where you can offer forgiveness or are looking for closure, then you could do exactly that; you might not work with that ancestor as an ally or treat them as you might your trusted, close-knit dead, but you could offer them forgiveness and acceptance for who they were and what they did, and work with them so as to bring to them the pain they brought you so you both can work towards bringing it to an end so that you don’t have to carry it anymore as a burden in your life.  Alternatively, if you’re not at that stage yet, simply don’t work with them, don’t call on them, and don’t try to give them attention if doing so brings you more pain than peace.  If such an abusive ancestor starts acting up and demanding attention, have your other ancestors cut them off and protect you or to help you figure out how you might placate them at arm’s distance so that, if nothing else, you aren’t pained by them any more with their wants when they didn’t do a damn to help you.  In other words, if you find that you can’t work with them in a good mutually-beneficial way, don’t work with them at all.  Even if all humanity has good and bad in them, if all you can see is the bad, then not only should you refrain from attempting to work with them for good, but you’re rendered unable to do so because of the hurt that you’re still healing from.  Take your time; you’re not responsible for the abuse they gave you in life, and you’re not responsible for their amelioration in death, either.  Work with abusive ancestors only as much as you’re capable of doing so, and work with your other ancestors instead to help you with your own healing as well as working on your behalf to isolate, remediate, elevate, or otherwise correct the patterns of abuse that might be present in your ancestry.

If you’re in a relationship like a marriage or otherwise long-term arrangement, especially where you’re living with a partner, there’s a particular issue that can crop up that might not otherwise be expected.  It can sometimes be the case where you and your ancestors get along great, as do your partner with their ancestors, but your two ancestral courts have a feud or other issue between them.  Think like what would happen if the descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys of American fame got together, or if Shakespeare’s Juliet of the House of Capulet and Romeo of the House of Montague got married instead of killing themselves overdramatically; even if the living descendants of these families made up and ended their feuds, the dead ancestors of these families might still have beef between them.  Such problematic ancestors might cause issues for the living couple in ways that might threaten to break up the relationship, if not start the feud anew or prolong it in dangerous ways for the couple or their respective families.  Breaching such a problem can often take the involvement of both you and them, as sometimes trying to convince the ancestors in question to make up and play nice can be trying at the best of times, especially if the beef is one-sided and you happen to be on the opposite side (and therefore considered an enemy).  Protection works can help, as can getting your ancestors who do play nice with the other side set a good example for facilitating peace between your different courts of ancestors; other magical works similar to happy marriage or peaceful home workings can be done on your ancestries much as you might get two quarrelsome people to play nice in life.  If the feud was caused over a particular event or item, it might be good to repair that breach in familial relationships by giving in to the demands made of the offended party, whether symbolically or in actuality; for instance, if the feud was started over a stolen horse, giving a representation of a horse to the offended spirit or dedicating a horse’s growth and training in that ancestor’s name can often repair the feud and break any further hostilities.

You might start to see see something of a trend with all these solutions to these problems, dear reader.  All the problem-solving, diplomatic, political, and interpersonal tactics and strategies we might use in life among the living to solve problems are often the most realistic, approachable, and effective ways to deal with sorting out problems with the dead.  Our ancestors, after all, were human just like us, and just because they’re dead doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve forgotten how to act like humans, because in almost all cases, they still are.  That said, we’d still need to approach them how they might expect to be approached; I wouldn’t approach my ultra-Orthodox Jewish Ukrainian ancestors from way back who died well before my parents were born the same way I might approach my more recently-deceased bacon-eating gentile cousins whom I knew personally and familiarly, and those who come from radically different cultures will often find that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  Still, once you understand the rules and nuance of culture, the problems often present solutions of their own accord.  Treat your ancestors as human with human wants and human needs, and you’ll often figure out that the best way to deal with problems is an extrapolation of how you’d deal with the living, just in the realm of spirit.

This can’t always be done, however; there are times when problems get too big to handle for simple solutions, such as when the spirit of an ancestor degrades or transforms into something much more wrathful and dangerous than a powerful human spirit, when an honest-to-God generational curse is involved, when whole branches of the family declare you an enemy to your own kin, or in other particular situations.  There are ways to deal with these, but these go well beyond what might be expected for simple solutions, and often require investigation, divination, and multi-pronged approaches that bring in other entities of your spiritual courts for direction, protection, elevation, or isolation unique to the particular situation you’re in.  Every problem has a solution, of course, and it’s rare that an issue caused by an ancestor is a predicament and not a problem.  Just as your ancestors should be your first line of defense and line of aid because of their once-human status, it’s often the case that the best way to approach and work with them is as humans, both in times of peace and in times of conflict.

Do you have any particular stories of working with troublesome ancestors?  Are there any techniques, tips, or tricks you’d like to share when figuring out or fixing up problems with them?  Is there any advice you might like to offer to know when a problem might occur and how best to deal with it?  Let us know in the comments!

Ancestors are for Everyone

I realize that lately (and for some time now), the general trend on my blog is to talk about either geomancy or philosophical topics involving spirituality and the occult, with only the occasional ritual thrown in.  Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not; I personally feel like I’ve shifted away from talking more about specific rituals I’ve done or some of the concrete results or distinct messages that I’ve obtained, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  After all, this blog has been up in one form or another for going on eight years now, and things have changed from those first days I started talking about XaTuring or how awesome Fr. Rufus Opus’ coursework was.  While I still consider myself young and woefully inexperienced, I can also say that I’ve done a fair bit.  I still have more than a fair bit to do, of course, and I strive to continue learning and practicing as much as I’m able to, and I would like to keep sharing what I do as much as I can to document my own progress and path, and if that helps others with their own works, all the better.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that the general feel of the occult blogosphere has kinda changed.  Again, it may just be my perception, but many of the old blogs I’ve used to follow are pretty much defunct, some having been wiped off the internet for good.  Back when I first started blogging about magic, you couldn’t swing a cat without coming across an occult blog.  I guess these things come and go, but I feel like there has been a notable drop in people talking about the Work.  It could just be that people are moving onto bigger and better things, or simply are at a level where they can’t really talk much publicly about their works and rituals, or it could be that for some people, they got in, got what they needed, and got back out.  It’s fine in any case, I suppose, but it does make me feel a little wistful and nostalgic.  There are some of my friends who I would’ve liked to see keep blogging, but that’s entirely up to them.  After all, in conversations with them, I know they’ve been kept busy, it’s just that writing about their business (and busy-ness) isn’t in the cards anymore for them.

Which then got me to thinking, what about myself and my own writing?  Even though I follow the maxim that one should never apologize for the rate of their own writing on their own blog, I know I have my slow periods, and I’ve noted that I typically don’t write as much when I’m not doing much.  After all, without the Work that acts as my inspiration, I don’t have much to say besides just throwing my thoughts out into the open, which…I mean, let’s be honest, thoughts are cheap to the point of worthlessness.  You can ask anyone for their opinion, after all, but I assume people visit my blog for more than just to see me waste electronic ink on something that may or may not be related to their lives.  And from what I hear, people come here for inspiration and guidance in their own Work, not just moral or ethical guidance (such as it is) from my pontification and soapboxing on whatever debacle or outrage du jour I see on Twitter or Facebook.  And, while I may extol the virtues of the art heavily, not everyone is interested in geomancy.

I assume, dear reader, that you want things that empower your practice and your life, and that that’s what you’re most interested in.  So, let me reintroduce you to a basic practice you may or may not already have heard of: ancestor veneration.

Everyone has ancestors; there is not a single person alive who didn’t come from other people who have already passed or eventually will pass.  If it weren’t for our ancestors and forebears, we literally wouldn’t be here.  It is because of all their labors, efforts, works, and lives that we can exist.  Their blood flows in our veins, their breath fills our lungs, their thoughts and hopes and dreams help shape our own.  More than just our own lives, though, our ancestors have collectively formed the entirety of all human civilization to date: every prayer we recite, every machine we use, every language we speak, every plant we harvest, every building we enter, every philosophy we debate, every thing we use was developed, cultivated, maintained, and passed down to us by all those who have gone before us.  In truly every sense, we owe everything we are, everything we have, and everything we do to our ancestors.

This isn’t a new concept.  Even going back before the Paleolithic era, we find evidence of burials and rituals that honor the dead, and ever since then, every culture has some sort of practice that does just that.  Sometimes there are full-blown ancestor cults, sometimes there are religious specialists who practice specific rituals that interface with the dead, and sometimes there are just passing rituals that mark the passing of someone from life into death, but death is about as universal a thing as anything else could be for the human condition.  After all, every living thing must die, and there have been quite a few living things that have died before we were even close to incarnation.  We honor and respect that passing, even if we struggle to understand it and even if we have no proper way to fathom what may come after, because we know that one day every one of us living will also pass over and join with the rest of the ancestors.

Because of all this, and because we all have a bit of the dead in us that give us life, we all already have a natural connection and relationship with our ancestors.  Especially for people who are new to the Work, honoring and working with your ancestors is a fantastically wonderful, beneficial, useful, and fulfilling practice that pretty much anyone and everyone should be engaging in.  In so many ways, ancestor veneration (or ancestor work, or family necromancy, or however you want to call it) is all but necessary, and is almost always critical for so many people to engage with that it’s a true misery and failing that it’s all but fallen out of the popular Western modes of occulture (pace, Signora LaVaudoise, I know, and I adore the things you share and write about Italian folk magic, as should every-goddamn-one else, so if you’re not Signora LaVaudoise, clicky-click on her name and go to her blog).  There’s been a recent surge in necromancy this and that, sure, and ancestor veneration is definitely related to necromantic practices (you’re still working with the dead, after all), but it’s also so important to so many religions and paths around the world that it’s honestly surprising that it wasn’t one of the first things preserved, or one of the first things redeveloped, in the modern West.  There are cultural pockets where it’s kept alive (such as it is) and well, especially in Caribbean, Latino, African, Asian, and so many other practices, but unless you’re coming from such a community, you’re typically not going to be aware of anything more than the notion there’s something deathy going on around Halloween.

Even a basic ancestor veneration practice is something that I recommend at least as much as I do meditation, a personal daily prayer routine, learning divination, frequent spiritual cleansing, and any other fundamental practice because ancestor veneration itself is often so fundamental to so many other practices.  We already have a connection with these spirits, and almost every possible case, these spirits are already willing to communicate with you; after all, you’re their progeny, and they want to see you do well just like how they hoped their own children do well when they were alive.  You are their continuation and living representatives, and they want to reach out to you as much as they want you to reach out to them.  Not only that, but they’re willing to help you to achieve your goals, because it ties into that “we’re happy if you’re happy” thing.  Between their readiness to talk with you and work for you, there’s another thing that they can do that makes all the difference in the world: they’re able to teach and guide you as well.  After all, by plugging into your ancestors, you’re able to literally get in touch with honest-to-heaven-and-hell literal ancestral wisdom, countless generations of the experiences and stories and tales of full lives lived and led from start to finish.  Recall how, say, you had your first heartbreak when you were a teenager, and you felt that nobody else in the world understood the pain you’re going through?  Then recall how, ten years later, you saw such a teenager was going through their first heartbreak, and understood how it felt and how it would turn out?  For every single problem in your life, your ancestors have already lived through it in every possible permutation countless times over, and you can draw on them to teach you how to fix any problem, deal with any predicament, sort through any crisis, and guide you through every decision you need.

Between the benefits of working with your ancestors, there’s also the actual skills you can develop in the course of building a relationship with them that can serve you well in any later magical endeavor.  All these boil down into two main benefits: you learn how to communicate with spirits, and you learn how to deal with spirits.  For people who struggle with communicating with spirits or who don’t know where to begin, working with your ancestors is a fantastic kick-off point because you’re not reaching out far into the ether to connect with some ancient god or struggling to make sense of the messages from a tutelary animal spirit who doesn’t speak even any sort of human tongue; your ancestors already have a connection with you and you with them, they’re already used to communicating human things in human manners, and they typically already speak your language.  You don’t have to reach out nearly as far or try nearly as hard to listen to your dead as you would other things, so learning how to communicate with your dead is an excellent way to build up the ability to Listen to spirits and how to sense when they’re trying to communicate to you.

As for dealing with spirits, I literally mean making deals with them.  When you put your ancestors to work, you get to learn and have a feel for what’s appropriate to ask for and what’s inappropriate; for instance, even though my deceased grandmother would love to give me the world and the Moon, I wouldn’t ask her for guidance on computer programming, because that wasn’t in her skillset or expertise, and she’d be more than happy to say so, but for matters of cooking or learning how to account for documents and records, she’d be glad to share her wisdom.  More than that, you get a feel for when spirits can just help you when asked, when they need something to help them in the work, and when they expect payment for services rendered.  If a particular spirit says they need something, like a shot of whiskey or physical representation of a tool they used in life to do the work you ask them to, I invite you to try to make them do such work without giving it to them, and then see what it’s like when you give them what they need to do the work.  Sometimes they ask for too much, and they need to make do with either nothing or something pared-down; sometimes you need to negotiate and bring the price down, so to speak; sometimes you need to figure out whether it’s just a temporary thing they need to use, or if it needs to stay with them for a longer period of time as a permanent representation of them so as to stick around closer to you and do more and better work.  All that works as well for up-front provisioning as well as after-the-fact payment; sometimes they’ll say “I’m more than happy to do this for you gratis”, but just as often (if not moreso), they’ll want something as a token of your appreciation or something to repay them for the effort they put into the work, just as any human would expect it.  After all, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” is a language everyone and everything understands.

Assuming your family, culture, and religion doesn’t have one of its own, or if you’re detached from your ancestral practices to the point where you’re not familiar with them, then what do you need to get started with ancestor veneration?  Not much, honestly.  For a general template of practice, the bare minimum (and what’s sufficient for most people) that I recommend is:

  • A small, clean surface that you can cover in white cloth
  • A white cloth to cover said surface
  • A clear glass of clean water
  • A white candle

That’s it.  You don’t need anything more than that.  There are other things you can add, of course, like photos or paintings of your ancestors, religious symbols or holy texts held in high esteem by your family, jewelry or perfumes or other tchotchkes owned by them, up to eight other glasses of water for an odd-numbered total, a pot of dirt harvested respectfully from their graves mixed with the ash of their photos and names, and so forth, but you don’t need them, and after a certain point, the more cluttered things get, the more awkward and nasty it is to maintain.  As in so many other practices, it’s best to keep it simple unless you have a distinct need otherwise.

If you can afford to have a table, stool, or pedestal to set your ancestor shrine up on, awesome!  If not, a shelf, corner of a desk, or other surface will work just as well; I prefer to have something that I can sit at and see comfortably, and out of respect for the ancestors I prefer to have the surface be at least waist-high, but those are just my preferences.  So long as it’s a space you can keep clean, quiet, undisturbed, and unprofaned, it’ll work quite well as an ancestor shrine.  Clean the surface off thoroughly; if you have holy water or Florida water, this is perfect to use for this purpose, but if you have any other altar-preparation method for cleansing and preparing a shrine, go ahead and use that.  Cover the surface with a white cloth; it can be a fancy never-before-used new tablecloth if you like, but a simple piece of unstained white fabric in good condition is all you need, so long as you can dedicate it to the use of the ancestor shrine and don’t use it for another purpose.  When the cloth gets dusty or dirty, remove it, wash it, clean the surface of the ancestor shrine again as you did before, recover it with the cloth, and set it back up.

Set the white candle and glass of water on the surface.  Light the candle and dedicate the light of the candle to the empowerment, enlightenment, and elevation of your ancestors.  Let it burn out on its own safely, if you like, or burn it when you actively sit and work the shrine.   Dedicate the glass of water to your ancestors that it may refresh them, nurture them, please them, and quicken them.  Refresh the glass of water on a frequent basis, never letting it dry out completely and keeping it clean every so often.  Try to avoid using that glass for any other purpose once you give it to the ancestor shrine.  If you’re just starting out, I would recommend getting some glass-encased seven-day or novena candles, and keeping one burning all the time for the first month or so or while you’re getting your ancestor-working-legs under you, refreshing the shrine with both a new candle and a new glass of water whenever the candle goes out.  Once you and your ancestors settle into a comfortable relationship, you can change how that works or set up your own routine.

So how do you actually develop a relationship with your ancestors this way?  Literally just spend time at their shrine.  Talk with them; don’t whisper, don’t mouth words silently, but actually talk to them like you’d talk to anyone human sitting across the dinner table from you.  Call them out by name; if you have a genealogist in your family, ask them for details on the full names of those from whom you descend.  The more names you know of your ancestors, the better off you’ll be in developing a relationship with them, but if all you know is one or two, that’s sufficient; the unnamed rest will still listen to you.  If you know of one ancestor who passed over while you were alive whom you knew and loved, that shade would be a perfect person to start with, by calling them specifically to help you learn how to communicate, talk with, and organize how to work with the rest of the ancestors.  If you’re young and fortunate enough to not have had anyone close die in your lifetime or living memory, then ask for a particular ancestor to step forward and act as your primary contact, and see who comes forward.  In all cases, whether you’re working with an ancestor whom you knew in life, an ancestor who died long before you were aware of them, or any mix and match of both in any number, just talk with them.  Share your concerns, your worries, your hopes and dreams, your grievances and sorrows with them; talk about yourself, how you’re doing, how your living family members are doing, and your plans.  Literally treat your ancestors like family catching up at the dinner table of a family reunion, because that’s literally what you’re doing.  And just like how hanging out and talking with your cousins more makes them more than just people you’re kin with into friends and allies, doing the same with any of your ancestors will bring them closer to you into a tight-knit relationship that not even death could mess with.

What about prayers?  If your family’s faith and religion has any special prayers or songs they use for remembering and honoring the dead, like the Mourner’s Kaddish for Jewish dead or the Chaplet for the Dead for Catholic dead, those are gold to start with.  Heck, there’s even an entire Wikipedia article on prayers for the dead in different religions and traditions.  Other simple prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for anyone of Christian descent or familiarity, are fantastic to recite at the shrine.  Beyond that, any other prayer you find appropriate to pray at the shrine for your development as well as theirs is good; as in all things, pray from the heart.  You don’t need to invoke this deity or that saint unless you want to, because this shrine is for your dead, regardless of whatever psychopomp, gate guardian, or hieromartyr saint your traditions or faith may link with them.  And even then, you don’t need prayer at all for this shrine unless you want to; the purpose of the shrine is to act as a seat and home for your ancestors in your life, and the real prayer is just talking with them.

Are there any specific times to work the shrine?  Sure, I suppose; if you put faith in the notion that “the veil between the worlds is thinner” at certain times than others, then you might do special works during Samhain, Día de los Muertos, the Ghost Festival, Setsubun, Parentalia, or other culturally-appropriate seasons.  Other dates of importance could be the birthdays and deathdays of particular ancestors for whom you have the records for, especially those whom you knew and loved when they were alive.  But, really, even considering all those, the best time to work the ancestor shrine is literally any time and all the time.  After all, every day you live is one you owe to those who went before you, and every day you live is one they support you and guide you.  They’re always ready and willing to talk with you, so any time is a good time.  You don’t need to wait for a planetary hour or astrologial election to do something unless you want to, and even then, most of your ancestors probably won’t care about them anyway unless you make a point of it.  Daytime or nighttime, waxing Moon or waning Moon, whenever you want and whenever you can, just sit down and start working with them.  If you’re comfortable doing a daily offering and chat with them, like first thing in the morning or right when you get home from work in the evening do it; if all you have time for is a ten-minute chat once a week, do it.  The only thing I would recommend is that the more frequent you do so, the better your relationships will grow, the better your work will go, and the better your results will turn out.

Are there any other disposable or consumable offerings you could make besides candles and water?  Sure!  All you need to do is ask them what they might like or prefer.  If you know that one of your ancestors was fond of a particular meal or type of food, try giving it to them as a nice gift to show that you’re thinking of them.  Whenever you cook a large meal for your family (holiday dinners, like for Thanksgiving or Christmas, are prime choices for this), set aside the first spoonful of whatever you make for the ancestors by putting it on a plate and setting it on their shrine overnight.  Flowers are always a good choice, and occasionally a cup of coffee (black or sweetened, whichever you prefer to give or however they prefer to take it) or glass of rum, whiskey, beer, or soda can go a long way towards keeping them happy and content.  A cigarette or cigar, or some incense lit for them, can also do wonders for establishing contact or getting them closer to you, as well as giving them a little extra spiritual oomph.  Of course, you probably would want to avoid things they hated or stuff they find taboo; I wouldn’t give my Jewish ancestors a plate of absolutely un-kosher fried pork belly, after all, no matter how delicious it might be.  You don’t need to spend oodles of money or time to make them offerings, and you don’t need to be wasteful or go all-out every single time.  In fact, giving modest offerings is often better than lavish ones; the more reasonable of your ancestors will probably be overwhelmed by too much, and the more greedy of them will wonder why you didn’t bring more this time like you did last time.  You don’t need much; whatever’s nice, pleasant, and simple to offer them is all that’s needed to keep their space beautiful, their hearts happy, and their minds reminded that you know them, you recognize them, and you’re thinking of them.

As for the rest?  Spells, works, rituals, ceremonies, protocols, languages, decorations, arrangements, whatever?  It’s literally up to however you want to take things, and how far you want to take them.  If you just want to give your ancestors a seat in your house and keep things relaxed and low-maintenance, do it.  If you want to spend time with them every day in preparation for a full necromantic practice with your ancestors at the helm of your spiritual court, do it.  If you want to make them work for you to keep your blood and bloodline healthy and whole, do it.  If you want to simply venerate them and consistently offer them sustenance and honor for its own sake, do it.  There are no real guidelines besides you doing what you feel is appropriate with them, what they agree to and desire from you, and whatever can inform your practices based on your cultural and religious ties to the past.

While there may be a whole slew of techniques and methods and rules one might follow based on what flavor of ancestor veneration you’re doing (Kardecian spiritism, and especially its developments into Caribbean and Brazilian Espiritismo, are fantastic resources to learn and draw from), all the above can be so individualized and customized and personalized in so many ways that it’s almost pointless to go over them here.  The real thing is to develop a strong relationship with your ancestors and learn from them, and they’ll take it from there.  Ask them questions; ask how to listen better to them, how to get dreams from them, how to pray, what to offer them, what offerings they like, when certain times to approach them might be, when you should undertake that particular project, how to enhance your own skills and trades, and so forth.  Ask who they are, what their stories are, what their specialties are, and just generally how they’re doing.  Ask if they have any problems or have any needs that you can fulfill on their end to make sure that they’re not only resting in peace but able to rise in power.  Ask if there’s any difficulty between you or them, or if they foresee any problems or dangers in your life that they can help protect you from or guide you away from.  Talk with them, chat with them, learn from them, grow with them.  Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they’re not family, and just because they’re discarnate doesn’t mean they don’t want to be part of your incarnate life.

Your ancestors are almost always going to be the first spirits ready and willing to help you, and they have always formed the first foundation for everything in our lives, so it only makes sense that they should be among the first petitioned for any problem you may have spiritually or materially.  So what are you waiting for?  Go on and give your great-grandmother a seat at the table and have a chat with her.  I’m sure she’d love to learn the latest gossip from this side of the river and share some of her own tips and tricks when she was young.

What about you, dear reader?  Do you have any ancestor practices you follow?  Are there any special rituals you do above and beyond the usual that honor your blessed and mighty dead?  How do you work them or work with them?  Share some of your experiences below in the comments!

New Altar, New Work, Same Space (also hi, Saint Cyprian!)

Alas, I recently had to dismantle my beloved MaGOS altar, though not because it failed its purpose.  Rather, it’s been a fantastic bit of magical machinery, and it taught me no small amount about orgone and magical energies generally, as well as applying modern magical methods to traditional systems.  No, I had to dismantle it because I needed the space.  I swear, I’m going to be ecstatic when I move into a new place where I can get a whole room all to myself for use as a temple and have all my magical shit lining the walls without having to worry about things like beds or desks or porn.

Why did I need the space?  Because I needed to set up a new altar for a new spirit.  Of course, I don’t erect altars for every spirit I work with; my two big altars, my devotional altar where I make the majority of my prayers and my magical altar or Table of Manifestation where I do some of my  Work, suffice for most of my purposes.  The other altars around my room are for big-name deities, like Hermes and Dionysus, or for my ancestors. The other spirits I work with I make occasional offerings to at my devotional altar or dedicate a bit of jewelry to them and wear it in their honor every now and then.  No, altars for me are where I do major spiritual work at, and if I have to set up an altar for something, it’s going to be for a long-term good purpose.

So, who’s this new altar going to?  Someone with whom I should’ve probably called on long before now: Saint Cyprian of Antioch, the patron saint of magicians and necromancers.  He’s been undergoing a resurgence and reemergence as of late, which is no bad thing, and I’ll leave you to do the clicky-clicky on the linky-linkies and read up more about him if you’re unfamiliar.  Of course, he’s not officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church anymore, but that hasn’t really stopped him from playing a significant role in the lives of those who call upon him.

Why this good Saint?  I’m working with angels and calling on the name of Christ, as well as getting involved with paranormal investigation and spiritual counseling, plus getting plenty of further integration and connection with various Central American African diasporic religions.  The fact that this saint is a Christian magician, the archetype of many such magicians, plus a Faustian figure (if not the archetypal one), gives Saint Cyprian a special resonance with the work I already do.  I mean, I’m no Christian in name, but I’m certainly not opposed to chilling with Christ or calling on his name, especially since my work is leading me in a direction that is parallel or even meeting up with him.  Beyond that, though, Cyprian is especially good at working magic with spirits, especially those of the underworld in their many and sundry varieties, and working with the dead is becoming more of a focus in my work than I had anticipated, either with my own or with that of the areas I visit.  Demons, too, which is still going to be a project of mine when I get the time for it, are something Cyprian works nicely with, and having this extra help for me is no bad thing.  Perhaps most importantly, however, Saint Cyprian is mostly known in Central/South American, Hispanic, and ATR circles nowadays, and has major associations with a number of their gods (e.g. Babalu Aye of the Santeros, in addition to Saint Lazarus).  It’s not that I want to work with these deities, necessarily, but it will help bridge a gap between what I do and what some of my associates do, especially in the necromantic department.

It’s weird, but I get nothing but good omens for working with him.  Besides, having someone on my side lower than the angels is a good thing, especially when I get around to doing work that’s lower than what I normally do, anyway.  Once I get a few more supplies (prayer cards for an amparo, saint medallion, yet another incense burner, etc.) and make a few initial charms and things, I’ll start working with Saint Cyprian of Antioch in the coming weeks.  Deo volente, I’ll be able to get into another side of the magic I already do.

If you already work with Saint Cyprian of Antioch, what have some of your experiences been like?  Do you have any advice for others who want to learn more about working with this saint?

Psychopompery

As part of my work with Hermes, and as an exploration into a field of magic that I want to get into but am suggested to not delve into too deeply, I’m going to try my hand at being a psychopomp, or leader of souls.  It’s one of Hermes’ classic jobs, leading the souls of the departed to the afterlife (whichever it might be, depending on the soul in question), and it’s traditionally a skill belonging to necromancy.  However, priests and religious officials of all kinds usually involve themselves in some ways with the dead, and proper funerals have the effect of laying the dead to rest and sending their souls on their (maybe not quite) merry ways.   As a magician, I’ve got the nice benefit of working with the dead in some way, even if it’s just as another source of spiritual allies; however, not all spirits of the dead are suitable for forming allies or helpful in my own works, and it’s often just as good to send them onto the next part of their paths.

That’s where being a psychopomp comes in.  It’s something I want to learn, and despite having a good psychopomp friend, it’s hard to learn exactly how to do it.  My friend says that it’s as simple as pointing to a part of the astral realm and telling some wandering spirit “go that way”, but I have my doubts, at least for how I might accomplish it.  Hermes has suggested something probably a little more comfortable in a Hellenic standpoint: make a small feast to the dead (wine, red meat, honey, grains, sweets, incense, and the like) with some coins, and direct any spirits ready to cross over to the next place they should be.  To help with this, I made a simple cane out of a long walnut dowel and rubbed it with spirit oil and a Mercury balm I made (olive oil, beeswax, and eight herbs associated with the sphere of Mercury) to use as my own kind of caduceus-type wand; this will help me direct and guide spirits much as Hermes’ own caduceus leads others.  To act as a focus for directing the dead, Hermes gave me a sigil that he says can act as a portal-key to the afterlife, or at least a halfway-house where spirits can better get to their next destination.

Also, this was something I had been waiting for for a while to do, but Hermes wanted something special from me, first.  I had been planning to work with Hermes in a very close vein for a while, and decided on getting a caduceus tattoo on my left arm (the same hand Hermes carries his caduceus in).  A week and a half ago, I went to a fantastic little parlor (specifically by Tim at Wild Style, up in Glen Burnie near Baltimore, MD) and got my very first tattoo.  Hermes was buzzing for hours around me (though that could also have been me on my endorphin high), and with this gave his approval to work as a psychopomp.  This is why I originally made that balm of Mercury I mentioned above, to assist in the healing; using this with A&D ointment for a week with prayers to Raphael and Hermes is turning out fantastically for my tattoo.

So, with last night being Halloween, I got my gear out, got some offerings, and made the rounds to the local graveyards with a friend to act as a second pair of eyes.  I made offerings to the dead at each graveyard consisting of uncooked steak, fresh cheese, barley and oats, myrrh incense, dark wine, various sweets, old coins, a candle, and the like.  I praised their good natures, offered my laments and sympathies for their passing, and honored them for having the courage to have gone before.  Depending on the graveyard, this would also involve ritual walking, like circumambulation, around some focus or central monument.  After this, I called out to the spirits at each graveyard and asked if any were prepared to move on and out to the next world.

For those that came to the call, I constructed a portal in the astral using the sigil Hermes gave me, and guided the spirits to it.  Before guiding them through it, I made sure they had no business left that needed taking care of; if they were happy and ready to move on, I sent them through and shut the portal once all the spirits who wanted to leave did.  For those that didn’t come to the call but seemed pretty chill, I poured them a little extra wine, since they were obviously cool enough to deserve it and didn’t care to pass on and out.  As for the spirits that definitely weren’t at peace, I attempted my hand at some cautious placation with some rosewater and prayers.  I’ll try to make a trip to the local graveyards for a similar psychopomp trip monthly or bimonthly to catch up with the spirits and see if any more need guiding on, probably coinciding with my monthly Hermes adoration.

I didn’t use any specific prayer or words for this besides supplications to Hermes for help in working this, but having something ready would be helpful in the future.  For those working in an angelic or Christian current, you might find a little supplication I made useful (both in Latin and in English).  It relies on three angels associated with death in different ways: Azrael who delivers death’s touch itself, Raphael as the guide and leader (much as Hermes guides souls), and Auriel as guardian of the Gates of Paradise.

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti
Azrael tibi pacem perpetuum donet
Raphael te ad terminum tute ducat
Auriel te in Paradisum complectat
Ad gloriam piisimi Dei qui vivit et regnat per saecula saeculorum
Amen.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
may Azrael give you everlasting peace,
may Raphael lead you safely to the end,
may Auriel welcome you into Paradise,
for the glory of the holiest God who lives and reigns, forever and ever,
amen.

Fun with Medieval Latin, Necromancy, and Lead

So I’ve been having a good time reading through Kieckhefer’s book on the Munich Manual, and he’s got a lot of great insight on the topic of the manuscript and putting into the wider occult context of its time.  He offers a lot of thoughts and suggestions about where the original author or authors might have learned this stuff and their intents for their rituals, and he also offers a good analysis of the rituals, demon names, herbs, and circumstances behind the rituals themselves.

Although Kieckhefer translates some parts of the Manual for use in his analysis, the whole thing has not yet been translated into English, so a good number of parts remain unheard of in my native tongue.  However, since I love new chances to translate Latin, I’m going through parts of the book and translating them into English, much like how I did the “De Responsione Spirituum” earlier this summer.  I’ve made a new section under the Ritual menu specifically for things translated from the Munich Manual, and have already uploaded my translation of the Bond of Solomon, a lengthy exorcism and binding on unwieldy spirits.  I’m starting the translation a long stretch of rituals and lists from the Manual about astrological magic and the conjuration of planetary angels and such, but that might take me a week or three to finish.

If you’re interested in the same set of conjurations while I’m getting my translation up, check out Asterion’s old blog, Practical Solomonic Magic, where he offers his translations of the conjurations of the days of the week and comparisons to the Heptameron (on which this section of the Manual was likely based or with which this shares a common ancestor).

In other news, I’m melting down lead for talismans today.  Yay!