FYI: Ancestor Elevation Rite Purportedly of Cuban origin

November 14, 2014 at 5:42 am 20 comments

Some of my colleagues are participating in the Trans* Ancestor Elevation Rite that I (re)posted earlier. While I greatly support trans* rights, and honoring the dead, I decided not to participate mainly because I felt the need to learn more about the deceased individuals being honored (until I was putting together my Ancestor Calendar post, I did not even know the names of the person who started Trans Day of Remembrance (Gwendolyn Ann Smith) or the person who inspired her to start it (Rita Hester) and also figure out theologically & ethically where I stood with the practice of ancestor elevation. I certainly believe in & practice ancestor veneration but wanted to know more about the origins of this specific practice.

Well, it came to my attention on this forum thread that the Ancestor Elevation Rite is of Cuban origin. *Galina Krasskova has explained to us in the comments that she learned this technique from a friend/colleague/roommate and was given permission to adapt it for her own use.  Galina has since come out with her own book- Honoring Ancestors, a Basic Guide. Others have created the Trans Rite based on this material. Here is a post by GK acknowledging the Cuban origins of her ancestor ritual style. I am *not* accusing Ms. Krasskova of misleading anyone as she does state this on her blog. However, I was not sure other people involved in this ritual were aware of its cultural origins and wanted this to be clear.

I came to the decision some time ago that, aside from clearly blatant disrespect for other cultures, I would not be accusing people of cultural appropriation. While I do agree this is a major problem among Pagans and New Agers, and Unitarian Universalists, the exact definition of it, different limitations of different cultural knowledge sets and so forth are very complex, and I’ve seen too much in-fighting and division in the Celtic Reconstructionist community specifically over it. There are people who truly want social justice, and their are people with personal agendas, and it is tricky to tell them apart- especially on the Internet! Instead I will follow the policy of sharing information about where practices come from, and who is claiming to have what training and so forth, and their relationships (or lack thereof) with cultures of origin.Then the information is out there and people can make informed decisions, and people from these cultural traditions can respond.

I am not personally familiar with Cuban spiritual traditions, so I do not know the rules of transmission of their teachings, and how that relates to Galina Krasskova, and anyone participating in these rituals- both alive and dead. Anyone who follows Cuban spiritual traditions in encouraged to share their position if they feel comfortable doing so- others can respond to- but voices of Cuban people themselves will be need to be heard over others.

*Thanks to everyone for the feedback! Comments will remain open, civil discussion is good!


Entry filed under: Ancestors/Heroes, Ethics, Pagan Communities, Race/Ethnicity. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Covenant Theology & UUism- Intro Wandervogels

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rhyd Wildermuth  |  November 14, 2014 at 7:06 am

    I cannot speak to the Cuban origins of the process, except only that Galina makes incredibly clear in her Ancestor course (which I took) that we owe endless gratitude, debt, and solidarity to those cultures who’ve managed to continue their ancestral traditions while ours were destroyed. Much of the required viewing and reading for the course mandates understanding this.

    I can speak to (but not on behalf of) the folks who organized this event, as I was sitting on a chair in awe and delight as a group of leftist/anarchist trans-punk polytheists discussed their plans with Raven Kaldera at this year’s PLC. Raven had such a look of awe and delight that others had come up with such a ritual that I feel forever grateful to have been a fly on the wall witnessing this exchange.

    And I also live a few blocks from one of organizers of this beautiful thing and made brunch with them just yesterday, as well as having forged a candle for their use in the ritual. What they’re all doing is incredible, and I’m honored to help them in any way possible, including having offered a litany for anyone can use for it.

  • 2. Rhyd Wildermuth  |  November 14, 2014 at 7:50 am

    p.s. I appreciate your cautious raising of the question. Others are not being so circumspect.

  • 3. aediculaantinoi  |  November 14, 2014 at 8:38 am

    While I certainly take your overall point, and am concerned with the possibility that the terminology of “elevation” might be Cuban-specific (and the precedent for the process hasn’t been clearly marked as such by some who have advocated for it on a more universal basis), and I do not take the notion of cultural appropriation lightly, I do wonder if there is an important distinction to be made here between (respectful!) cultural borrowing, which occurs all the time when cultures encounter one another and is a regular part of syncretism and the development of all religions, and cultural appropriation, which involves fraudulent claims of lineage and a deliberate attempt to steal something that belongs to someone else without giving proper credit or having the recognition of the still-living tradition-holders involved.

    None of us are claiming to be Cuban or Santeros or anything (other than those who are legitimately those things and have been trained and recognized in those lineages); and, to my knowledge, the prayers and such that we are using in these rituals tend to be specific to us, or are new innovations within our traditions (like the ones that I posted). If all that then links these things to Cuban precedents is the term “elevation,” and a white cloth, some candles, and a glass of water, I don’t think that can be said to be “cultural appropriation.”

    • 4. caelesti  |  November 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

      I agree- I got paranoia about cultural appropriation drilled into my head by certain CR folks (and UUs sometimes are like that as well!) but I try not to be overzealous about accusing people of it. I think this is probably an example of ethical cultural borrowing, esp. with it being so simple. I just figured it was worth talking about. Thank you.

      • 5. aediculaantinoi  |  November 14, 2014 at 10:31 am

        Oh indeed–the paranoia in certain sections of CR, which leads to “you can’t ever do other spiritual practices even if you separate them clearly from CR” kind of thinking is especially rife in certain sectors of the movement, alas. I was witness to some frontline assaults on the matter several years back, which lead to one of the major east coast/west coast CR schisms in about 2007/2008. Crikey…

  • 6. ganglerisgrove  |  November 14, 2014 at 8:50 am

    I would like to chime in here. I was NOT taught by Laura Patsouris. i was already doing this work for a good decade or more before she and I met. I learned ancestor elevation from a colleague, friend, and house mate (we shared an apartment for quite awhile — NYC rents suck) in the early 90s. He was a child of Oshun and working with a Brooklyn ile (lukumi house). He and his teacher explained the rite to me, and that it was originally drawn from Espiritismo/spiritualism and gave me leave to use and adapt it as I wished for the dead. I have done that, as you can see. ( “Weaving Memory” is an excellent book, btw, and I highly recommend it.). I would also like to add that I’m not the one organizing this mass elevation. I do however support anything and everything that leads to greater ancestral awareness and respect.

    • 7. caelesti  |  November 14, 2014 at 9:00 am

      Thank you for the clarification- I will correct that on my post. I was aware you weren’t the one organizing the elevation.

      Yes both your book & hers look very good & helpful- definitely on my wishlist! One of the things I enjoy about ancestor veneration is that it is an easy way to share our faith with non-polytheist family members.

  • 8. ganglerisgrove  |  November 14, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I find that ancestor work is a really good way to bridge the gap between polytheist and non -polytheist family. 🙂 I sort of think we’re hard wired to honor our dead, and we all *have* ancestors, and i think people can wrap their minds around the idea of paying respects or praying for them, even if they may not be able to comprehend engaging with them. It’s a good common ground, or potential common ground.

    Spiritism, btw is actually taken from the work of A. Kardec, who was a French teacher who lived from 1804-69. He’s known for his books on spiritism. It’s found it’s way into a number of traditions including the sycretized form of spiritism in Cuba, which is espiritiso. Espiritismo as it’s practiced today is an intact and whole tradition in its own right, but it’s technologies descend from the teachings of A. Kardec who provided a framework and a set of tech that has been adapted and adopted by many traditions around the world. This is related to the technology that gives the classic european seance.

    It’s best understood, imo, as 19th century european spiritwork. What he was doing is what led to the 20th century spiritualist movement.

  • 9. caelesti  |  November 14, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Indeed! That is really fascinating about the French guy- I figured Cuban traditions were a mix of indigenous, African & Spanish Catholic influences as with neighboring countries (I’ve lately been trying to learn more about Voudun & Santeria, especially with the animal sacrifice discussion) The spiritualist movement has had a lot of influence on later spiritual trends, along with Theosophy. (Now that one’s a crazy mish-mash!) Nothing is really “new” in New Age!

  • 10. finnchuillsmast  |  November 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. While I certainly believe in sharing of traditions, I’m wondering about the race of the organizers…you know, is this a ‘white thing’?

  • 11. Sylvan  |  November 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    As someone who has experienced “legit” espiritismo misas with initiated Olorishas, I can say this rite shares some things in common and many many things which are not. I believe this rite is well designed to come at it from ANY tradition, take the technologies presented, and make them your own for the common goal.

    Recently on a forum there was a similar discussion and I said, in response to the idea that anyone can petition a lwa I suggested perhaps so, but that act should be done in isolation.. not as part of some foreign ritual technology..:

    “So as to avoid what we commonly see of asking Papa Legba to open the gates, doing some “Lucky Mojo” brand rootwork, and calling it Vodou.

    From my perspective there are several things you are looking at when you are talking about “ATR’s”. One is a lineage of spiritual power and personalities connected to the spirits worked in the tradition. This is gatekept by initiations and direct connection to a lineage, which is often itself gatekept by your own ancestors. Another is an attitude about the spiritual world and how one interacts with it. There has been a number of attempts by uninitiates and younginitiates alike to adapt this attitude to their own purposes, such as people suggesting one work with the beings typically included in grimoires using techniques supposedly appropriated from Quimbanda.. which I find extremely dubious.

    Slightly less dubious is the use of certain attitudes and innovation in Golden Dawn ritual strategy by Aaron Leitch, who rightly took a lot of heat for the idiotic turn of phrase “Solomonic Nganga”, but had a genuinely interesting notion in giving food offerings to angels, particularly in order to offset certain astrological conditions which would make ceremonial ritual work otherwise unsuitable. Along with a number of other innovations by his wife, who is both an Olorisha and a ceremonial magician. Frater RO is kind of going off what they do, but the way he goes about making his goetic spirit pots misses many marks if he’s actually trying to imitate a technology instead of its outward appearance. Kind of like cargo cults making fake buildings that looks like planes in order to get more to come accidentally dropping tinned goods into the jungle. For instance say we look at the recent in depth post about Osian, what it contains, hints about how he might be made. And one wants to do some kind of work with Sandlephon that imitates the appearance of this technology, by making a hanging pot, a floor pot, and a statue. Not a terrible idea, but EVERY STEP needs careful consideration. And will not be anything like an Osian.”

    Obviously I am talking about far more complex technologies than ancestor elevation. Having and maintaining a relationship with your blood ancestors is the first step in almost any African-descended practice I can think of, either in my immediate experience or in terms of research. I could say, in terms of the above discussion, that it is likely the most productive and least ‘offensive’ trait one could appropriate from this tradition into other ones. My lineage of witchcraft has never shied away from appropriating useful technologies.

    However I must also speak as a low initiate of one of these traditions (coming from Brazil) that there is also an influence of Allen Kardec there and many details are similar (in particular the use of glasses of water) but the situation in terms of the history of each lineages practices etc is obviously very complicated.

    Also, I should mention I am a cisgendered participant in this rite ( and used the aforementioned technology to confirm the participation of my figurehead successfully. To be honest, decrying the technology of ancestor worship as cultural appropriation seems to be a strange way around questioning the integrity of this rite. It is teaching me all kinds of things. I can tell it will change my life, and others, for the better. There is it’s integrity for me.

  • […] I noted in my comments here, I find that ancestor work is a really good way to bridge the gap between polytheist and non […]

  • 13. Alex  |  November 15, 2014 at 4:02 am

    While it is quite important to know where your ritual comes from, what gives me much more pause is that consent of the dead to the participating in the process was not addressed in the write up of the rites until it was brought up by other and even then was treated as sort of an afterthought. For a working aimed at dead who were exploited and mistreated in life, I find it incredibly painful that a key part of the rite was NOT asking them whether or not they wanted this. My honored dead are almost exclusively trans and gender variant in some way and some of them don’t want to he tied closely to their mortal existence in any sort of way because it was so incredibly painful to live. Some of them don’t want to be remembered at all–there is a prominent queer dead person who has expressed that they ar very, very tired, as their name has been invoked all over the place because of how they died, and they would just like to rest without any further remembrance. If they were brought into this project, I can’t imagine how sad and unhappy they would be to be once again dragged out from their rest.

    I think the idea is fantastic and the organizers have come up with a great thing, but recognizing the autonomy of the dead–particularly those who were stripped of it in life–needs to be much more of the foundation of such a rite than it was/is.

    • 14. ganglerisgrove  |  November 15, 2014 at 4:14 am

      Actually my understanding is that they *did* ask consent via divination. Good point though.

      • 15. Alex  |  November 15, 2014 at 4:47 am

        I only saw mention of divination after the rite had been announced. I’m glad that it was mentioned at all and that they did it!

      • 16. Alder Knight  |  November 15, 2014 at 6:17 am

        We weren’t diligent in divining on whether individuals were interested in being called by many participants in the open rite, which was a huge and disrespectful oversight on our part. However, these honored dead are ancestors we have established working relationships with in our existing practices, and we did have their blessings for the rite in its smaller form, before we made it public.

        I do feel deeply chagrined that we didn’t inquire about the larger version sooner. Thank you for sending us that ask, Alex. We weren’t on our game and that’s not okay for something like this.

  • 17. ganglerisgrove  |  November 15, 2014 at 6:21 am

    Alder, I’ve made errata like this in the past. We learn and hopefully this, in being so public a rite, is a chance for all of us to deepen our understanding of what this type of engagement means, and also to better our practices. I appreciate you being so upfront and courageous about where you erred. I think we can all learn from that and in the end, that will benefit our ancestors too.

    • 18. Alder Knight  |  November 15, 2014 at 6:47 am

      We planned to launch it months in advance, but I got brain-sick and spent two months doing nothing but going to work and trying not to kill myself, which meant we were rushing in the end and that meant we fucked up without time to catch it. I’m still frustrated about it. We’ve checked in, and no harm was done, but that’s still really bad form.

      Thanks for your kind words, and for all your help at and after the PLC.

  • 19. caelesti  |  November 15, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Brain-sickness is something I understand 😦 Yes I feel the need to know something about any individuals I honor and have an idea of what their spiritual preferences might be. I prefer “quality vs. quantity” so I may just pick a few people that I can find info about to honor. For the most part though, I think y’all are doing good work.

    • 20. Sylvan  |  November 16, 2014 at 3:17 am

      That is probably wise. I knew this wasn’t going to be a picnic, but the way this rite has effected my dreams has been unexpectedly intense. I am soldiering through it, but I am fortunate to be part of a tradition that has ways of dealing with miasmic, troubled, and hungry spirits in aggregate. I am very glad to have had people make a point of doing ritual work to protect and strengthen the participants and recipients of the rite. To be honest I am worried for people less experienced, or more directly affected by transphobic violence. Strength and blessings to all participants and allies. Take care of yourselves.


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