Working with Christian Ancestors

When I last gave a workshop, and when I talk with others on the subject of Ancestor worship and veneration the topic of Christian Ancestors comes up.  I have had to confront it in my own work time and again.

So what do you do?  If your Ancestors were abusive and you cannot talk to them, whether religion was involved or not, work with someone older than They, or closer to you.  You do not have to work with abusive, or formerly abusive Dead.  After Odin, the first Ancestors who made Themselves known to me were ancient ones.  Then my much more recent Dead began turning Their heads to me.  For other people their most recent Dead might grab ahold of Them first and ask to talk with them.

1)  Establish Contact

Whether using an Ancestor altar, such as a white cloth with a candle and a glass of water, a rosary, a photograph, a picture of a coat of arms, or something else from your Ancestors, even just your breath, establish contact.  It can be as elaborate as a full ritual to honor and invite Them to share your life, or it can be as simple as a spoken prayer or a hello or a cup of coffee.  At least once a week make contact with the Ancestors, and take care during the week to especially contact the Ancestors that want your attention.

Perhaps an Ancestor had a favorite prayer, or enjoyed a psalm or song.  Perhaps that is, for your work with Them, ‘Their’ song.  As with other Ancestors, learning a favorite dish They enjoyed, or other offering may be the key to hearing Them, or feeling Their Presence in your life.  Sometimes just getting a name from a relative, or doing your own genealogical research is the key you need to establishing contact.  For myself, I wear Ancestral prayer beads, among other necklaces, that I carry with me wherever I go, and I now carry a red New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs book at my Ancestors’ request.  Listen as best you can, do what research you are able, and give space in your life to hear Them, whatever road you come to Them by.

2) Ask for a Representative

When my Catholic Ancestors began to pipe up the first thing I asked for was a go-between, an Ancestor who would help to cut down on the ‘noise’.  This is very likely going to be a Disir, a powerful female Ancestor, or a Vater, a powerful male Ancestor.  Sometimes our Ancestors can give us contradictory requests or confusing divination answers because there are so many Ancestors clamoring for a spot to be heard.  A Disir or Vater can help get your Ancestral ‘House’ in order, and give some semblance of organization,  if not overt organization; some of my German Ancestors seem to like things “NEAT UND TIDY!”

Remember, many of our Ancestors have had silence rather than regular offerings for quite a while.  Even if you do not ‘hear’, ‘see’, etc. or are completely ‘headblind’, asking for a representative voice for the group(s) of your Ancestors can help divination sessions, mediumship work if you go that route, and give better signal clarity on what is desired overall from and for you.

3)  Determine Boundaries

What do you feel you can actually deliver on?  This is something to be mindful of with every Ancestor, but especially with those who may ask things of you, particularly if They were Christian.  In my case my Catholic Ancestors like it when I read from the Bible, or sing Psalms or church songs to Them.  Where do I draw the line?  Taking Communion for one, particularly because I no longer can say the Nicene Creed, and I would be lying to the Church, which dictates you must be a believer to receive Communion, and I imagine Christ and Yahweh in the bargain.  Given all that, I would have to refuse if an Ancestor wanted me to take Communion.  Would I step foot in a church again?  Certainly.  I still have Catholic family members who may well be married in a church, and I would be in attendance.  I also had a very, very good, gentle, and wise holy man for a priest, and it would be a real treat to meet the good Father again and see how he is doing.

4)  Gebo

Gift for a gift.  When I do my prayers for my Catholic Ancestors or read a passage I do it so They are happy, They are near, and as a gift to Them.  They give me the gift of Their Presence, Their happiness, and I can hear Them clearer.  I have also found the little New Testament They asked me to carry around with me to be a source of contact with Them; all I have to do is shut my eyes, let the pages flow along my fingertips till I feel the urge to stop on a page, then let my index finger find a word or passage.  The meaning so far has been pretty clear, especially since I read the Bible quite a lot as a child.

Not all of the requests our Ancestors make are easy; certainly, many of my Catholic Ancestors wished I attended Mass once again.  Some have fallen out of that, with Death having given Them a wider perspective.  While I will not meet all Their requests, my Catholic Ancestors seem to be pleased with things as They are, and more willing to lend Their hands to what needs doing in my life.  Doing this, for me, provides a bridge back to Ancestors I thought would have abandoned me, or at least would have remained largely hands-off.  While some still do, a great many express a renewed interest in working with me, in hearing me and answering.  How can I do less?

I may no longer worship my Catholic Ancestors’ God, but I can show respect to Them, honor Them in word and deed even if my lips never uttered another song or verse.  Perhaps your experiences with Christianity and/or its adherents were so abhorrent that they left deep scars.  My way of doing things would not be for you.  Perhaps in that case asking your Disir and Vater to calm or explain things to your Christian Ancestors, so that old wounds are not reopened is best.  These are, like all relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, between Them and you.  Above all, give Them the time and space where you are wholly concentrated on Them, whether They raise Their voices or otherwise make Themselves known, or not.

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.