Connecting With Christian Ancestors

My thanks to Sannion who prompted this post with his own.

I have been working with my Ancestors pretty closely going on about four years now.  In that time a pair of ancient Ancestors, one a Disir, a powerful female Ancestors, and the other a Vater (German word meaning ‘father’ which I use in place of ‘alfar’ which can also mean ‘elf’) have come forward to guide me in my Work.  In the last two years my Catholic Ancestors have raised Their Voices and let Themselves be known much stronger than previous.  It seems now, in addition to speaking for my long-Dead Ancestors, that I must speak for and with the Catholic ones as well.

When They first began contacting me, it was a cacophony of voices, questions like “Why did you stop going to church?  Do you not like Fr. ___ anymore?” and “You can still pray with us, yes? (or ja?, dependent on the Ancestor)?” and many others.  Their Catholic identity was so strong and intrinsic to Their Being that They carried it over with some part of Them into Death.  If Their Catholicism is as deep, powerful, and purposeful a presence in Their life as Paganism is in mine, that it lasts well after They have crossed over, who am I to argue with Their spirits?

Part of engaging with the Ancestors is to encounter Them on Their own terms, regardless of how comfortable They make us,  but I take that only to a point.  That point for me is an abusive Ancestor who has been abusive towards myself and/or others that has refuted any attempts at reconciliation.  I do not have Ancestors who abused me while They lived, and for that, I am deeply grateful.  The point of working with our Ancestors is not to tear open old wounds unnecessarily, but where we can, to give comfort, healing, and connection to Them and to ourselves, the Worlds we live in, and the places They once lived.   In the case of an abusive Ancestor I advise contacting an older and/or closer Ancestor to you than that person.

I was deeply uncomfortable, especially at first, with the offerings my Catholic Ancestors wanted me to make.  They wanted me to go to church, to sing Them Catholic songs I had learned as a child, to read to Them from the Bible.  As with a lot of my Work I came to understand that really my comfort is secondary to doing what is right for my Ancestors.  For my Ancestors who still identify as Catholic, there is a profound peace, purpose, and love They find in the liturgy They have me read, in the songs I sing, in the love I show to Them by doing this.

There are certain things I will not do, such as attend church services where I directly participate in the Mass, i.e. taking Communion.  I would be lying to myself, my Ancestors, my Catholic Ancestors especially, and to Their God.  I would also be taking into my body the Body and Blood of Christ, and that I cannot do, for many theological reasons, chief among them being that I am Odin’s and so, I cannot proclaim the Catholic Mystery of Faith.  While I may go to a Mass for a family member, such as a funeral or a wedding, I cannot be part of it as my Catholic relatives will be.

What I do, instead, is do as my Ancestors have asked in concession.  I carry in my pocket a green Gideon New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs.  I may pray to the Ancestors out of it, sing from it, or, as They have had me do more recently, listen to Them with it.  I shut my eyes, letting the pages flow along my fingers until I hit a page and feel or ‘hear’ stop.  When this happens I let my fingers flow along the page until I feel or ‘hear’ stop again, and look at what the message from Them is.  It is especially helpful because it is a way my Catholic Ancestors feel comfortable with it, and it gives us a common connection.  I happen to find great beauty in the Psalms, especially 23.

I have also placed my First Communion rosary on the Ancestor Altar for Them, and a red Gideon New Testament like the one above, and keep it as I would anything else on the Ancestor Altar.  While I do not pray the rosary, given the Nicene Creed is part of it, it is there as a reminder, and a way of connection many of my Dead.  I need not pray the rosary to feel its influence in my life, particularly my Ancestors’ skull prayer beads, which brings me great comfort and connection.

The Catholic prayers I once prayed and sang, the many days I spent at prayer in church have had good effect on how I pray to my own Gods.  The process of learning to sing, clearly and in more-than-ordinary language, lends itself to the altered states of consciousness, the mindfulness I hope to achieve with Them.  I learned “Adeste Fideles”, otherwise known as “O Come All Ye Faithful” in first grade, and loved the Latin language.  I was required to know what I was singing, and why I was singing it.  To know not just the words that the Latin translated into, but what they meant to those I was singing them to, and for me, given I was singing solo.  Rote prayer has a power with me because it is what I grew on.  Intellectual investigation of the source materials for my religion, and constantly questioning was appreciated by my priests, and it is one of many things I carried with me into my Paganism.  An appreciation of spiritual gifts and mystic experiences was given to me at a young age, where I had an experience kneeling before the Tabernacle during one of my Confirmation classes.  I prayed for two hours, and experienced Christ in a deeply personal way, His Voice, His touch.  It is from these deep wells of learning, from then and more recently, that much of my devotional Work is culled from.

Working with my Catholic Ancestors is rebuilding a bridge between us I had long thought burnt to ash.  When I became a Pagan I spoke with Yahweh, explaining that my choice to follow the Goddess, then Brighid, was not to hurt Him or betray Him, but a following of my heart for what called me, and I recognized that the Voice was not His.  I thought in this I would have to cut most,  if not all ties to my Catholic family, Ancestors included.  I am deeply happy to be shown that is not the case.

The impassable wall that I feared I had built between myself and my family seems to be much less a solid wall than one with many gates, some shut to me, and others wide open.  Ancestor Work is one of those wide open gates, and there are Ancestors freely coming to many of my rituals, Catholic Ancestors and otherwise.  Sometimes we must be the ones to raise that gate and acknowledge our Ancestors.  Sometimes They will come to us and invite us to meet between, acknowledging us on our path, still extending love, and connecting with us.  It is, as with all things, Gebo.

12 thoughts on “Connecting With Christian Ancestors

  1. Wow. Thank you for writing this (and thank you BarkingShaman for the link) – my partner is Catholic and my Ancestors are a variety of different flavours of Protestant, and this really helps me relate to them better.


  2. I have only recently begun honoring my ancestors in hopes of working with them more closely; for the longest time I had been very resistant to the very idea of ancestor veneration. I have in my short time found peace both with my dead and with my living family, which is what has spurred me on. Seeing how honoring my dead has help me find peace with my living family has been an amazing affirmation that I have been doing the right thing.

    I have been wondering how other people dealt with their Ancestor’s religions. My family that I can remember have never been particularly devout, however I come from a strong Roman Catholic/Italian lineage (with an interesting mix of folk tradition particularly from my Sicilian family!). In many ways, Catholicism was almost more cultural than religious. Part of it were just Things That You Do. I knew I was not Catholic from a young age, and had a rather traumatic break with the Church that left me far, far to angry at too young of an age to deal with it appropriately. However, after that I became a funeral director and spent more time in church than I had ever before in my entire life; and even though its not *my* faith, there are times its still comforting, if only because of how rote it can be. I have no tokens of my past Catholicism; though I do have at least one Bible (I’ve been meaning to pick up a new NIV as well) because I do enjoy reading it occasionally, the way I enjoy the stories of a variety of cultures.

    One thing I’ve found that both They and I enjoy is having the prayer cards from funerals displayed on my Ancestor altar. This is something I’ve seen my older female relatives do as well; they all have a collection of prayers and Saints up on their bedroom mirror for our family dead.

    Something that has come up recently is a nagging feeling that I should do a St Joseph’s altar, which is something that no on in living memory in my family has done, though my Sicilian Great Great Grandmother had one until she could no longer cook. Essentially, a special altar with special foods is prepared on the feast day, and the hungry are invited to come eat it. From what I understand, its still common in New Orleans for people to have large St Joseph’s altars and invite the community to come and share; and others have pot luck auctions where the money goes to feed the poor. I’m not comfortable at all with the idea of having a traditional feast like my Great Great Grandmother did, and I’ve been working on finding a middle ground; feeding the hungry I can do, if that is what they want from me (I do that already!) but worshiping St. Joseph, not so much.

    The feeling isn’t quite as strong now that the feast day past (which I hadn’t even realized was this month!), however this is, so far, the strongest sustained interaction I have felt from them. Perhaps an ancestor was particularly close to St. Joseph, perhaps my Great Great Grandmother is reaching out, or perhaps I’m just feeling an overwhelming seasonal Italian urge to Feed All The People!, as that does happen. Either way, I’d find it more disrespectful to discount it out of hand simply because its a Catholic ‘thing’, because, to me, its obviously something important to one of my ancestors, which is important to me.

    I also have far less anger towards Catholicism now that I did in the past. I was thinking today how nice the chats I have with a very Christian school mate of mine that we have through Facebook have been; we both obviously are working hard to create bonds and devotion to our God(s), to honor them, and to live rightly. How can I discount the experiences she has had out of hand, knowing how she knows Jesus has touched her life, when I know how deeply and personally my Gods have touched my life? When both of our Gods have helped us grow up, to be come better, stronger women? When I see her working just as hard as I am, just on a different path?


    • I am absolutely blown away by your story. Thank you, thank you for sharing it.

      Even though you may not do it as your great great grandmother did, the fact that you are looking at how to work a feast of St. Joseph into your life is a powerful working, and I pray you find a way to set it right for Them and you.

      Thank you for coming here and sharing the stories of your family, your Ancestors, with us.

      It is funny how life throws you plenty of curveballs that you never see coming, especially in regards to your work now as a funeral director. Good and holy Work.

      *laughs* In response to your point on “Feed All the People!” sounds very much like my family, a good portion of which is Dutch and German. It seems to be a common thread in my families as well. There’s always someone asking if you’re hungry, got enough to eat, and so on.

      The points of you last paragraph are exactly why I can have a wonderful friendship with a Christian friend of mine who is in process of becoming a minister. We have great talks, especially about religion, and the works of Tolkien, and a regular part of our friendship has been to exchange books on Norse mythology at our birthdays and Christmastime.


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