by Ya Sezi Bo Oungan
We are the Priests of our ancestors, and how to begin being the Priests of our ancestors.
When each one of us was born, we were initiated into the cult of our ancestors, the initiation weather planned or surprise, is officiated by the priestess of your ancestors, our mothers, and that through the rites of water and blood are we baptized and enter into our life, aware that we are alive, unaware that we are to be the next priest of our ancestors.
To be a priest is a lot of things. It is knowing the rites and ceremonies, it is knowing or understanding the nature of the world, the people, and the unseen world, it is knowing that while maintaining the knowledge of what has been done before, it is also having the wisdom, to stop the practices of some ceremonies, rites or practices, and to start new rites, ceremonies and practices for the times you live in.
There are lots of rituals we all do without considering them rituals especially here in the protestant west where ritual is something Catholics do, something that has become so uninterested with that it has been reinvented in other ways. Cooking meals, or treats during the holidays, birthday traditions, celebrations, and the things we do when mourning the passing of someone or welcoming a new life. While these may seem, mundane there is at the root a powerful spiritual symbolism. The things we take for granted today, tomorrow we will cherish the memory of. Some of us whose families are problematic, it may be the things our friends’ families may have done that we were included in, or the things we did on our own, nevertheless these ceremonies are important and should be respected as such.
As the priest of our ancestors we have the responsibility to learn the stories and the lessons therein of the people who we were born to, or raised by, even if the stories we lived through or learned are salty, and tearful or sweet and sumptuous. It is important to know where you are, where you were, and where you could go, it is important for you to know, so you yourself can avoid what needs to be avoided, and develop what needs to be developed.
You are the priest of your ancestors by virtue that you are the product of your ancestors, if we were to look before us and saw a line of all the people responsible while knowing, or not knowing that we would be here today, the line of people would meander far off in the distance beyond sight. Don’t hyperfixate on the problematic ancestors, or the traumatic ancestors, they are but a few among the many who support you. Build relationships with the ancestors of your trade, your spirituality, and other areas of your life, to build a foundation you need, where one may not be present.
We who are alive and draw breath are in the driver’s seat of our ancestral vehicle, we do not have to pay attention to the backseat drivers that are the problematic, or the longings or wishes others had for us that at no point in our lives did we ourselves want for us. Some of our ancestors made regrettable choices, or have interacted with unwholesome or unhelpful things. Correct these things, amend what you can, be better than them as a choice to be an example of what can be instead of what was.
You be the priest, and change the cult of your ancestors, build a better future for the new ones, build a brighter hope for the old ones. For the ones who need some help with this i offer you….
The following is an article i published with the Irish pagan school:
“One of the most challenging things to confront in the personal practice of ancestor veneration is dealing with the toxic, and challenging recently deceased. It’s all quite fine to romanticize about the long lost dead. But what about the troubling ones, the disappointing ones, the toxic or abusive ones? It’s not our job to “fix” abusers, but it is also not our job to take on the emotional labour of reconciling these relationships while trying to interact peaceably with your spirituality.
For many, family isn’t a positive experience and is not a helpful place to start. I would like to offer these suggestions of ways of interacting with the dead, and ancestors that have been helpful for both my self and clients in the past. These are not set in stone and so you should feel free to customize as you see fit. Ancestor veneration is also not set in stone, there is indeed no one way that is correct. There are perhaps some ways that are better than others. Personally I know a lot about my Ancestors, on both sides of my family. In my spiritual journey, my ancestors presented a lot of challenges, however the cure to this was not ignoring them and pretending like the problem in the relationship did not exist. The solution began when I took up the matter within my personal power to form and shape relationships just as I would with living breathing people, or the Spirits, Gods, and Guides within my own practices, and tradition.
Ancestors as a monolith, ancestors as the rock of ages:
This is advice I recommend to people who have been orphaned early or late in life. To have knowledge of your ancestors is helpful, but not exactly necessary. We all know what humans needed to live, anywhere where humans are to be found. Namely water and light, an occasional meal and shelter. It’s ok to not know where you are from, just as it’s ok to not have a connection to the most recent dead. Each human being walking the earth now, drawing breath and reading this article has ancestors spiraling back into time immemorial.
Amongst all these souls, dreams, and individuals there has to be at least *one* (more than likely more than one) that wants to see your journey successful and fruitful. Have you ever considered, why you a modern Pagan is paying so much lip service to Christian ancestors who do not expect, anticipate or even want the kind of devotion you are prepared to give? Why torture your self over how to deal with an abusive, destructive or unhelpful individual? Perhaps focus on the concept of your ancient ancestors, or your ancestors by virtue of your trade or occupation, or simply by the virtue of you being alive today. This can be accomplished in the way of the veneration of a single stone. Find yourself a stone, any stone will do, (don’t take them from sacred sites, nor do I recommend any from a federal/national/provincial/national trust sites either) – my first stone came from one of the many defunct railroad tracks that criss-cross the United States, and many people who have followed these instructions have gotten their stone from landscapers heaps. You have a lot of options, I recommend not spending too much time picking the stone, there is something to the random selection of this stone, much like the random selection that happened to each of us to our present circumstances.
Take your stone home, gather the following:
- Water (tap is fine)
- Candle, or other safe holders of Fire
- A small clay plant tray, a saucer
Sit in your most comfortable spot, and hold the stone, feel it’s rough spots, smooth spots, all the spots, sides corners and edges. Hold the stone till you can feel the warmth of your body, or heartbeat however so slight. Breathe deeply, focus on your breathing, and heartbeat. Tapping gently on the stone, begin to call back, to your earliest ancestor, the primal grandmother, and grandfather, the ancient mother and father, who your life would have been a wild dream too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, call the names of your chosen deities, guides, and other spirit helpers or trusted folk who have passed on who you know would have your back. Call on the forces you trust to make this possible, ask them to help you reconnect with the ancient source of you.
Sit with this energy a while, do this several times over with the same stone. Find a place of honour & respect in your home: for me and others I know who keep full on ancestor shrines, the kitchen or living room is acceptable. If you have a challenging relationship with your ancestors, consider leaving the stone with a trusted divinity, spirit guide, spirit helper or other predetermined sacred space for some trusted entity who can act as a mediator or caretaker of this new bond between you and them. You can even go so far as to leave them at the entrance to your front door.
Ancestors are in your blood, and bones; they go with you. Wherever this place is, consider doing the following. With the stone on your plate, dish or other receptacle, pour a little water on the stone, and set the water vessel near the stone – I aim to refresh this water once a week or when it starts getting murky. Start with water, its cooling, basic, and neutral. If anything, it may make your interactions with the ancestors more chill. If you can, light a candle (it does not need to stay lit, it just has to be on long enough to acknowledge them). If you cannot have a candle lit in your living space, you have the glorious power of the living and vivid sun!
While the ancestors I’m sure can discern what you are doing without words, I encourage you to speak out loud to them, tell them what is happening, and why, tell them what you need. Make them do some work, to meet your work halfway. It’s never wrong to ask them for what you need. Start with the basics, “food, water, electricity, rent for shelter”, tell them about the troubles you may be having at work, or school, or in your social or romantic life. Don’t worry if you think they agree with you or not, honestly, who cares? You are the one who’s alive and in the driver’s seat, they may have power, but that power is also from you. If you can’t think of anything to say or are uncomfortable with asking, sing a song, say a prayer, just say something. A few words, water and light may seem little to us, but it’s everything to the deceased.
Elevation of the dead is a special side effect of a weekly observance of water, light, and meaningful words that connect you to them. Ancestors don’t have to be a daily practice; they can be if they prove themselves worthy of that attention, but weekly is also very fine, and acceptable.
Ancestor veneration doesn’t have to be hugely complicated or a headache. It’s simply acknowledging your relationship with yourself, and the ones who came before you. Before you doesn’t have to mean logically, it just means prior to you. The venue of the ancestors is in you. The actions of a few don’t spoil the wholeness of where you are from, just like not having knowledge of your origins doesn’t change the intrinsic value of you being here and present today.