Home > Devotional Works, Spiritual Experience, Spirituality > Paying Respect to My Ancestors

Paying Respect to My Ancestors

In my way, I’m not just related to people by flesh and blood; their spirit, whether we’re talking about the Wyrd they’ve passed on to me, or the kinfylgia, (the spirit-guardian of a family, or the spiritual energies of a family line) or their soul, is part of me.  They made me who I am, whether I am talking about my blood Ancestors or Odin, my spiritual Father.  In paying respects to my Ancestors, I cultivate a closer relationship with Them.  Why wouldn’t I?  They helped to make me; I owe Them that much respect at least.  They gave me the life I have.  That, and several of Them are really personable and cool once you get to know Them.  My great-grandfather emigrated here just before World War I, leaving behind the life he knew and entering into a world he really didn’t.  He joined his family in Michigan, and much of my bloodline on my mother’s side ended up settling there.  My folks haven’t left Michigan, so I have about two or so generations of roots in Michigan depending on where you look.  Considering the economic ups and downs the state has been through, that’s pretty good.  Damned brave, I’d say, especially when times got really rough in the Great Depression.

My great-grandparents and grandparents figured out how to tough it through hard times; my grandfather had to be put in a shoebox in my great-grandfather’s chest of drawers to keep him warm as a baby.  There’s a lot to learn from my Ancestors, not just survival, of course.  How to thrive as a family when you disagreed, especially when times were tough.  How to keep love alive and burning bright when everything else was so cold.  So many beautiful lessons, and so many beautiful relationships to have.

There are, of course, some Ancestors who want nothing to do with me for my religious choice, but my Ancestors’ religious affiliation in life or death does not stop me from honoring Them, or, in my experience, from Them speaking back to me.  There are simply some Ancestors who don’t agree with me and won’t speak to me, and others who do not care.  Like any other family, sometimes you reach an impasse and don’t speak about certain things.  Yet, there is a baseline respect I have for Them, because we are related.  I might not mention Them by name, but They still get offerings all the same.

I venerate my Ancestors because, beyond being worthy of that respect, I want that relationship.  I floated for awhile without that as a Pagan, and given I’ve cut a lot of my roots off after leaving Catholicism, it helps ground me with my blood and spiritual families in ways I would not have credited it.  I didn’t do Ancestor veneration until Odin called to me about four years ago.  During the first year I read a lot of books, and again and again the concept of Ancestor veneration kept popping up, especially in books by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova.  Well, I thought, There’s got to be something to this.  I’ll give it a shot.  Soon after I was offering incense and some water, and I think, some bread to Them on my altar.  I could feel my Ancestors as I prayed for Their Presence, and something like hands on my shoulders, and beyond that, a feeling of welcome.  I didn’t have a representation of Them at the time.  I just had my heartfelt prayers, a slice of bread, and a brass chalice full of water.  Yet I felt Their Presence as strong as I do when I offer incense nowadays.  Maybe They’re just happy I’m paying homage and paying attention; either way, They are happy, and willing to talk.  Sometimes a lot.  Other times They’re really quiet and we sit together in that quiet just enjoying one another’s company.  Overall my relationship with Them is pretty peaceful, and good-natured.  I’ve only ever really encountered anger when I stopped talking to Them and stopped doing right by Them.  Having your Disir (powerful female Ancestors) sit down and give you a what-for can be scary, considering not only is this your family, but these women in particular have a good deal of pull in it.  Some were shamans themselves, others simply strong-willed women whose echo through the family lines reaches right down deep into mine.

Part of the challenge I have found doesn’t come so much from my Ancestors, but from Hyndla, the Jotun Goddess of Bloodlines and Geneology.  One of them is that I need to find out more about my Ancestors, and another is to learn from Them vital skills.  During my Nine Days on Yggdrasil, I had an ancient Ancestor contact me who taught me how to use the fire-bow method of making fire.  It looked like the Rune Naudhiz as I looped some braided yarn around it, and set it into a dry log.  I have never set a fire like this before, and never was in Boy Scouts or anything else that would have trained me for it, so I was coming at this fresh.  Under her guidance, my Ancestor helped me to make the start of a fire three different times.  I didn’t have any dry fuel, so I wasn’t able to actually keep it going, so I have no idea if it would have caught and built, but I felt accomplished for having done that much.  If my Ancestors can impart this bit of knowledge to me in the course of about three hours, there is so much more They can teach.  This is a survival skill, one that could some day be necessary to saving a life, or making it one more day in a bad situation.   Perhaps that in and of itself is humbling: my ancient Ancestors know more about the bare necessities, the absolute basics, than I as a college-educated adult do.  I can only imagine what else my Ancestors have to teach me.  I look forward to learning, though.

When I say I honor Odin as my Father, it is because that is what He revealed Himself to me as.  I denied it for a long time; I found it unnerving when He first told me shortly after we began to work together.  I thought This isn’t real; how is that possible?  I’m just bullshitting myself.  The Old Man wouldn’t let it drop.  He challenged me to examine the lore, to examine my own heart, and why I was denying what He was telling me.  To go out and get confirmation for myself.  After a number of Rune readings, and readings from totally unaffiliated people to my practice at the time, and some introspection and reading of the lore I eventually came around.  I freaked out about this for a full year before I finally settled down and accepted it.  Something that calmed me down was reading The Lay of Rig, and of the experiences of other people who, like me, were told of or found their connection to a God or Goddess.  Granted, a good chunk of these people that I have read about are God-spouses, but some have found lineage with different bloodlines of the Northern tribes.  Sometimes, not being alone can be a great comfort.  You feel a bit less crazy.  There are still times where I look at it and go How fantastical does this sound? but then I think to the Lay of Rig and all those people.  It helps, too, that not everyone will simply write you off as nuts.  After all, how many religious people say “We are all sons of” this-or-that God/dess?  Odin was supposed to have breathed the breath of life, Önd, into our Ancestors.  Spiritually, He and His brothers gave us life in the first place.  I am always tied to my son by the life I gave him; how is Odin any less with me?  Sure, my son may fight with me some days, may do things I don’t like, but I love him and he is still my son.  Perhaps the Gods know us this way too.  I no longer have an issue with calling myself a Son of Odin, but that is because I took the time I needed to accept it.  Odin, mercifully, gave me the time I needed to accept it.  I am sure that many more are out there, sons and daughters of Gods who have only to embrace their relationships with the Gods.  In honoring that, we can honor ourselves and our deep connections to the Gods.  In honoring our Ancestors, we fulfill what I feel are some of the best lines of the Hávamál:

75.
Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die, —
fair fame of one who has earned.

Source:  University of Pittsburgh

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