Our Ancestors are a vast sea of those who have come before us. Ancestors of blood are just one grouping; we have ancestors of heart, of spirit, of lineage (spiritual or professional or social). Among those we can claim as ancestors are those who honor and love the same Gods that we do.
During this Samhain season I’ve decided to do some work to aid my ancestors and help to connect them to the blessings of the Gods that I honor and that are close to me. I see a few reasons to do this:
Our Ancestors Help Us: Our ancestors help to lift us up, connect us to others, help to support and empower us, especially when we call on them and are willing to work with them. They bring us moral support, they bring us blessings, and they can help us more directly in many ways than the Gods can. So merely from the standpoint of mutual support, bringing blessings to the dead is valuable; the healthier and better-equipped your Dead are the better they are able to help you and their other descendants.
Gratitude and Right Relationship: Your ancestors are literally anyone who is no longer alive that has contributed to who you are as a person. There are many hundreds of thousands of generations of humanity as we know it, and probably many more as we trace our ancestry back along the homind tree and its side branches. They have all culminated in you. Are you reading this on a computer or mobile phone? Ada Lovelace, a pioneer of computer technology, has affected your life and in some way is your ancestor. The people who pioneered irrigation, the people who mastered basic stonework, the people who have practiced the same crafts as you, the people who have written books that have touched your heart and guided your life are all your ancestors. And those who have brought you good things deserve thanks for helping to make you the person you are.
Forging New Spiritual Connections: There’s something to be said for spreading the blessings of your Gods. Creating new spiritual connections is something that we can do as incarnate humans in ways that discarnate entities cannot. (Which is not to say that I don’t think that they can do it on their own, but humans can and do serve as excellent bridges for this sort of work). If your Gods want to participate in the process itmay well set up new connections to different ancestors, which may help them in manifestation and establishment of modern connection and lineage among their descendants. In addition, your Gods and your Ancestors are both forces that guide your life; having them in relationship with each other will help them to coordinate.
So all of the above are some reasons why; lets get into how.
I’m a devotional polytheist and an animist so this is based off of many of the assumptions that accompany those models. If those aren’t your paths and you find a way that this works in your model or paradigm, awesome. If not, I still encourage you to find ways to connect to your Ancestors that work in and with your worldview. It can be a beneficial experience for anyone.
If you don’t have a spot for your dead yet, a simple thing a lot of folks to do is leave out a candle and a glass of water on a nice cloth. Images of your personal dead folks and heroes, symbols of your lineages, and symbols of your Gods are all good things to do add.
Invite your Ancestors into that space. Call to your lineages, your families, your peoples. Call to them and ask them to come into that space; offer them the light and warmth of the candle, the water, and any other offerings (food bits and incense are good). Invite them to hang around that space for the duration of the rite. Say prayers to your Gods; whatever you use for regular devotions. Say prayers to the Gods of your ancestors if you can handle doing that (it can be hard for modern Pagans and Polytheists; I’ve personally learned way more Christian prayers working with my dead than I have prior in my life but it wasn’t easy to get past the bias). Tell your Ancestors that you will be calling to the Gods you honor and that any who are open to it may partake of their blessings.
Go to your other shrine spaces or altars (or shift your attention or however you handle it) and call to your Gods. Especially call to ones who bless your lineages and who work with the dead. Call to them, light incense for them, make offerings to them, say whatever good words you say to call their attention and please them.
Then reach out to them individually. Ask them to bless their followers among your Ancestors (because if you worship them, others who worshiped them in the past are technically your ancestors as well). Ask them to pour their blessings on any of your other Ancestors that will accept them. This is important; there are those among your Dead who didn’t know of these Gods in their lives who might be interested in their blessings and holy connection to them in this context. It is also important to emphasize consensuality: “May your blessings fall on my ancestors who are open to them.” There will be none of doing the polytheist equivalent of forced postmortem conversions.
Then make an offering the the deity you are speaking to specifically on behalf of your ancestors. You have asked them to bless your dead; your dead may not pour wine or mead or honey for them but you can. State that you are making this offering to this particular God on behalf of all of your ancestors who wish to be part of it. Again, consent; any of your dead who are interested can get in on it but there is no harm to those who do not or can not. The offering is also important; making a material offering on behalf of those who cannot will help the spiritual connections being forged and is a sacrament in multiple ways.
Spend some time feeling and listening. You may sense the flow of power between the Gods and the Dead; you may hear messages from either or both or “hear” or feel their interactions. It will be a blessed experience regardless.
When you are done, put out the candles, thank the Gods and request that the Ancestors return to their halls. Always do some cleansing after doing work with the Dead, as well. Their energy tends to be heavy and potent and can be overwhelming.
For The Season and The Future
I’m going to be doing this in place of my regular devotions for the Samhain season. Most of the year I make offerings and prayers for myself and my living family; for this month it will be in support of those who have come before me. As modern polytheists we have access to a wealth of information about both our Gods and our Ancestors and are in a unique position to forge new spiritual ties and connections that did not exist in the past. I invite you to try this or something similar; I do believe that it may be of benefit to modern polytheists as it may strengthen the connections between the Gods we love and the Ancestors who love us and bring us into better relationship with all of our holy Powers.