Thinking Creatively about Ancestors
(Belated post) Happy Samhain, and Happy Halloween! Today I will mostly be celebrating Halloween, American-style, feeding the munchkins that come to the door, and playing board games with my partner & his brother. This weekend and next, I’ll be attending 2 different Samhain events. This is the time of year when we focus on honoring the dead, and I often hear from people of various paths, that find this to be a stumbling block. Often this is because they had (or still have) difficult, painful and abusive relationships with their family members, both living and dead (or the dead are “guilty” by association with the living relatives). This has often been a topic of discussion on the ADF lists, and people who were adopted often express awkwardness surround this. I am lucky in that I have a great relationship with my own family and a cordial one with my partner’s family.
Adoptive Family– if you were formally adopted, your adoptive family’s ancestors are yours. Adoption (especially by relatives) did happen in various ancient cultures, and all those stories about foundlings and orphans being adopted are not just stories 😉 Informal “adopted” parents, grandparents and aunts & uncles can also be honored. Search for your birth parents & ancestors if you so desire, but remember that it is not required to feel like a “Real Pagan”. If you were adopted from another country or ethnic background than that of your adopted family, adding symbols of that country or culture to a physical or online shrine and honoring cultural ancestors would be good ways to honor your heritage.
Ancestors by Marriage/Partnership– Your partner or spouse’s ancestors are also your own. Personally I find this can be a nice way to share one’s spirituality with a non-Pagan spouse and even their broader living family- you can gather pictures and mementos together to create an ancestor altar, without announcing to everyone that This is a Pagan Thing! It’s not just a Pagan Thing! Many cultures and religions honor their ancestors, and respectfully listen and learn if your partner’s family has its own ancestor-honoring traditions- Jewish, Mexican Catholic, Chinese Confucian, etc.
Spiritual Ancestors– in some traditions such as Feri, they are referred to as “the Mighty Dead” founders or influential practitioners of your tradition, or other thinkers that have been influential on your path. They can be part of a recent revival, or priests and shamans of long ago. This is a good category to focus on in ritual, since our groups are usually made up on unrelated people. Many people also see their coven, grove et al as being like a family.
Ancestors of Place– people who lived before you in your house, the land it sits on, the general area. This may blur with non-human spirits of place as well. In the U.S. and other colonized lands we often find it easier to acknowledge and honor European founders of our cities and countries, while steering clear of discussing the many victims of genocide and forced relocation. Understandably, if some of these spirits are present they may be angry with us. I’ll expand on this another time, as we get closer to Thanksgiving, but in short, dwelling on guilt is pointless, but acknowledging the wrong-doing of the past is important. I think what would be best in honoring these spirits, is to pray for healing and reconciliation between Native and non-Native peoples. Do not say prayers that “thank” the Native peoples for the land, when it was not much of choice for them to sell it. I would also suggest avoiding doing rituals near or on Native American burial grounds.
Ancestors of Trade/Profession/Calling– if you have a trade or profession, be it mundane, spiritual or a combination, you can honor deceased accomplished members of that trade, along with patron gods or saints, or perhaps the founder(s) of the company or organization you work for, or your union/trade association. Honoring activists of the labor movement would also be cool- I think this category would be even more appropriate for Labor Day (in September in the U.S.) or May Day, or a special day associated with your profession. If you are a student, trainee, or job-seeker of a particular field, you can also honor people of related professions. You can also honor deceased alumni of your college or high school, if you feel a special attachment to the school, especially at homecoming.
Queer Ancestors– If you identify as queer, GLBTQA+, or otherwise have an interest in queer history, cultures and civil rights, there are all kinds of cool people throughout history you can honor. Something to keep in mind however, is that the concepts of sexual orientation and transgender/transsexual are modern constructs, however gender fluidity/nonconformity and same-sex love and sexual behavior have existed throughout human history throughout the world. This is another reason I like the word “queer”- it is inclusive of anyone who has a relationship or gender identity that does not fit with the norm. Pinterest shrine here. Nornoriel has an inspiring tribute to Harvey Milk (one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S.)
Disabled and Neurodiverse Ancestors– as with queer history, the history of people with disabilities is also quite hidden, there are many famous people who had disabilities that we don’t talk about, and people who are not remembered because they were shut out of society in institutions. (Sometimes even members of our own families!) “Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.”-Wikipedia I like to use the term neurodiverse, because there are many historical figures that people try to post-humously “diagnose” with various mental conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome or bipolar disorder, and while we can make educated guesses we will never really know the truth. Thus we can include people with various diverse ways of thinking without giving them a specific label. Pinterest shrine here, Nornoriel has a lovely tribute to Helen Keller here.
Deities as Ancestors– Last but not least, in many traditions deities are our literal or metaphorical ancestors, and specific deities are said to be the ancestors of particular countries, tribes and clans. Illustrious ancestors are also often deified, or at least get a hero or saint-like status.
See Tutelary Goddesses post
Some people will of course fit into multiple categories! I will be writing more posts about these groups of ancestors, and individual ancestors as the Muses move me, and adding to the shrines, while trying (probably in vain) to not get too sucked into Pinterest!
Entry filed under: Ancestors/Heroes, Holidays, How-To. Tags: adoption, american holidays, American Indians, ancestor veneration, disability history, disabled ancestors, GLBT history, Halloween, Harvey Milk, Helen Keller, Native Americans, neurodiverse ancestors, neurodiversity, Pinterest, Pinterest shrines, queer ancestors, queer history, Samhain.