About Ancestors: The Beloved Dead
Witchcraft generally divides ancestors into two broad categories: the Beloved Dead and the Mighty Dead. For this post, we're going to focus on the Beloved Dead, which are familial ancestors.
Who are the Beloved Dead?
The Beloved Dead are what most people think of when they hear "ancestors": family members who have long since passed. Although the Beloved Dead are often called the "ancestors of blood," they don't require blood relations. Familial dead also include adoptive families and in-laws. After all, family is family.
Some people divide the Beloved Dead into subcategories, such as the Ancestors of Milk and Honey (in-laws). For this post, I'll refer to all of them as your familial ancestors.
What if I don't know my ancestors?
If you don't know your ancestral line, don't fret. In my experience within the community, most witches ask ancestors to come to them. You don't need to have met your ancestors, or even know their name, to work with them.
Ancestors can be contacted in two ways: communicating with specific souls, or calling out whoever wishes to respond. I'll cover both of these methods later.
On Abusive Ancestors.
When discussing ancestor work, one of the main topics that pops up is abusive family members. In fact, this is one reason why people contact the Beloved Dead: to achieve clarity and healing for previous trauma.
If you're going to contact abusive ancestors, keep two things in mind: (1) the dead may carry their attitude with them, BUT can also receive clarity in death; (2) you don't HAVE to contact them. Communicating with rude or uncooperative spirits is emotionally taxing. Don't risk your health or happiness over it.
Sometimes, an ancestor may turn out to be rude, manipulative, or stubborn. Don't feel the need to continue with this soul. You are never obligated to heal or put up with taxing spirits. If a relationship turns too sour, don't hesitate to contact a different ancestor.
What if my ancestors have a different religion?
This is one of the most common questions I receive about ancestor work, and it's a valid concern. Most new spirit workers worry that their ancestors won't cooperate due to religious differences. While this is sometimes the case, I've learned that many souls--even hardcore Christian souls in life--are surprisingly lenient in death.
When I first worked with my grandfather, a devout Catholic, he was more than happy lend me graveyard dirt for my magic. To him, it was like giving me a sweater when he was alive. He felt happy to give his granddaughter presents again.
As you can probably tell, my ancestral line is Irish Catholic. While some of them refuse to partake in witchcraft, others gladly participate once they learn that it's for my own protection, healing, profit, etc. My main piece of advise is this: Don't decide whether or not they'll participate before they do.
How to contact the Beloved Dead
You have a closer link to the Beloved Dead than any other ancestor. As such, they're fairly easy to contact (in comparison to other spirits).
Much of spirit work requires a physical link to the soul, and ancestor magic is no different. One option is to use your ancestor's graveyard dirt (sometimes called ancestor powder). If you have your ancestor's ashes, these work similarly. Another option is to use family heirlooms. Old photographs, books, tea sets, clothes, furniture--any heirloom should do the trick. You'll have an easier time signaling the Beloved Dead if you have a direct link to their soul.
If you own some of these, harness their energy before communicating with the Beloved Dead. For instance, focus on the energy while calling your ancestors to you. I highly recommend using these objects during divination. If you know your ancestor's name, call it out, and clarify "of the ___ family" (to prevent souls of the same name from arriving). If you don't know their names, ask for an ancestor of the ____ family to come. Evoke the Beloved Dead through a ritual with offerings and, of course, adequate spiritual protection.
If you don't have your ancestor's heirlooms or graveyard dirt, you can achieve this without them. A piece of yourself--such as a hair clipping or finger nail--can go a long way. Remember, you're blood-related to the Beloved Dead.
Offerings For The Beloved Dead
Offerings vary depending on ethnicity and culture. Some general offerings include dark bread, cakes, wine, tobacco, milk, water, candles, stones, flowers, artwork, letters, or items that represent their religious faith. Well-fed ancestors are more likely to repay you, whether that be through protecting their offspring, increasing your luck, advising your craft, or pouring their power into your spells. If you can, maintain regular offerings for your ancestors.
But why should I do this?
First and foremost, contacting the Beloved Dead unites you with your family line and traditions. If you feel disconnected from your culture or ethnicity, you may want to work with the Beloved Dead. In America, many descendants of immigrations feel stripped of their ancestral roots. The Beloved Dead teach you how to reconnect with them (as well as the Mighty Dead).
Second, ancestors are more likely to help you than other spirits. Powerful, well-known spirits have a lot of people knocking on their door, but few practitioners are summoning your great-grandmother. Your familial ties guarantee that you already have something in common. The Beloved Dead can become valuable allies and guides for your craft.
Third, the Beloved Dead are easier to contact than other deceased souls. There's a higher chance that they'll respond and get along with you. Finding physical links, offerings, and tools is relatively simply compared to most of death witchcraft. If you're a beginner spirit worker, consider working with the Beloved Dead.
Consider this post to be a primer, one that will kickstart your work with the Beloved Dead. To learn more, research more ancestor sources and your culture's funerary traditions.
This past Saturday, I turned my neat witchcraft cabinet into an explosion. I dug through all the shelves and boxes and threw away at least 40% of it. The next 20% or so I set aside for donating/selling, leaving me with less than half of what I started with. Why did I do this? Contrary to popular belief, I haven't lost my mind again.
Why I Threw Out Supplies
Earlier this week, I spoke to a friend who gave away many of their witchy possessions. They did it for a different reason--they contemplated leaving the craft, and then changed their mind--but still said that they felt oddly refreshed having fewer tools. After this conversation, I remembered how I used to practice back in my closeted days. I used to keep all my possessions in one box. Whenever I wanted to practice, I would take tools out of the box, and stuff them back in afterward. It sounds hard, in theory. But I practiced more often in those years than I do now.
Don't get me wrong: magic tools are fantastic. But there's something about having a few go-to items that streamlines your practice. You don't have to stall by debating over which tool to use. You have one wand, one divination set, one offering bowl, one altar--just grab your tools and go.
In sorting through my belongings, I realized that I had plenty of tools I would never use. I've never been one for tarot decks, yet people gifted them to me; so I set them aside for donating. I saved numerous jars that I never put things in. For some reason, I kept remnants of spells that already finished. These things crowd your space. And when you're looking at a messy shelf or box, you're more likely to feel stressed out, which inhibits you from practicing.
Why I Reorganized
For this section to make sense, I have to explain how my supplies were set up. I live in a small apartment with my fiancé, so we don't have a lot of room. Because I had so much witchy stuff, I stored supplies in multiple areas. But most of them were in a cupboard, packed into multiple shelves and boxes, that was half-hidden behind my work desk. Not only were these supplies hard to reach, but they were also impossible to see. I couldn't just grab a couple of supplies and practice like I wanted to.
In order to rearrange my belongings, I have to weed out the junk. Once I finished, I had about 40% of the supplies I used to have. So I did two things: (1) I made all supplies visible and easy to reach; (2) I kept all of them on the same shelf, including my altars.
Instead of placing my tools back in the half-hidden cupboard, I put them on a bookshelf and moved the books to the cupboard (how often do you take books off your shelf, anyway?) I place my two main altars--a Wiccan altar and another for Hades--on top of the shelf. All of my supplies stayed underneath, so I can easily reach down and grab whatever I need.
I also organized my tools more efficiently. Here's how:
Do I still have a lot of witchcraft supplies? Yes. But it's all stuff that I actually use. Having them easily organized and accessible will not only push me to practice more often, but it'll also relieve a lot of my indecision. If you're feeling sluggish in your craft, I recommend cleaning out your altars and supplies.
Why Gratitude Matters in Pagan Worship: A Reflection from Lammas and the New Moon
Happy belated Lammas of 2019! This year, July's Super Black New Moon occurred the day before Lammas, and these two days could not have fit together better.
If you haven't noticed, I haven't posted in a long while. Recently, my life has become unbalanced and hectic. This month signals the hottest point of summer; it's the period where many of us feel like the heat will never end. Couple this month with a new Mercury retrograde, and suddenly you're grappling with impatience and frustration.
Throughout the month, I've been prayer journaling to work through my consistent impatience. The topic of gratitude popped up within the last week, and I was surprised to learn that both the new moon and Lammas emphasize this idea as well. Gratitude is the quality of being thankful and appreciative for what you have.
If you cringe a bit at the concept of gratitude (likely from New Age spiritual overuse), I don't blame you. But know that practicing gratitude is heavily backed by research.
Here's my point: If you want to feel happier, you should be practicing gratitude. But how do Pagans incorporate gratitude into their worship? For this post, I'm going to use the recent new moon and Lammas as an example.
Lessons from the New Moon and Lammas
As many witches know, the new moon signals a beginning: the ideal time to embark upon new journeys and hobbies. This year's Super Black New Moon enhances these energies. This moon phase encourages two perspectives at once. One is a positive outlook on the future. As the new moon develops into waxing crescent and gibbous, so too will your energies grow. Waking up early will grow easier; a tough work project will slowly crawl toward its end; the hottest month of the year will cool down. When we envision "beginnings," we see ideal opportunities. Pain does not last, and if you've been experiencing several hurtful days in a row, know that they will eventually end. After all, life constantly changes, just like the moon phase.
The second message of the new moon is a focus on the present. The beginning is now. If you want to become an avid reader in the future, you won't become one unless you have that goal today. This isn't to say that the now is always positive. If you're struggling with rent, summer heat, and a slimy coworker all at the same time, the present feels like a bad omen. But remember: the new moon is a beginning. Today is a beginning. Not only do we have the opportunity to change things, but we have the resources to enact these changes. Remember this, because this idea from the new moon bleeds into Lammas.
Lammas, also called Lughnasadh or the Grain Harvest, is the summer harvest festival. In Wicca, harvest is one of the Greater Sabbats, or the most important of the Celtic festivals. Why? Because it signals a time of abundance. Although we may feel like the Earth is wilting in the heat, it's actually producing more than it's taking away. Vine vegetables, like tomatoes, corn, squash, and cucumbers are ripe for the picking. Grain sprouts during this holiday, and tropical fruits grow plump. In fact, the ancient Celts celebrated this abundance by cutting the first grain and sharing bread with their community.
However, the tale behind the name Lughnasadh grants us a perspective on the holiday that many Pagans don't know. Most understand that Lughnasadh derives from the Irish God Lugh, a master craftsman and just king. But do you know why Lugh designated the holiday? It was actually in honor of Tailtiu, wife of the last Fir Bolg High King of Ireland, Eochaid mac Eirc. Tailtiu cleared all the plants and plains of Ireland so that its people could grow crops. After she finally died of exhaustion, Lugh established a harvest festival in her honor, including funeral rites and games.
Lammas and gratitude go together like grain and sunshine. During the harvest, we celebrate the Earth's ripeness, and all who have sacrificed their hard work to feed us. We couldn't eat without farmers and butchers. They couldn't provide food without the Earth. Grains can't grow without the sun. And the sun and Earth cannot work in harmony without the Gods.
Remember this lesson from the new moon: We have the opportunity to create a new beginning. And from Lammas, we know that we have everything we need to do so. We are alive. We are fed and sheltered. The Gods gave us an entire Earth to pull from and celebrate. What's there not to be grateful for?
How to Practice Gratitude in Paganism
When I learned all these lessons from the new moon and Lammas, I realized that I had been perceiving my life in detrimental way. It's so easy to envision the future negatively when your past and present have been difficult (to say the least). Not only does the "everything sucks" mentality not reflect reality, but it also omits every blessing we have. We take the sun and the crops for granted almost every day. These are both products of the Gods, and when we recognize that, we grow closer to Them.
Needless to say, when we rehearse what we're grateful for more often, we'll feel less hopeless about our lives even during rough times. But how do we do that? Over the past two weeks, I've been rehearsing methods to incorporate more gratitude toward the Gods. And I'm ready to share some of those methods here.
As a disclaimer: I'm Wiccan, so all my examples will have a Wiccan tone. Please change them in a way that suits your own religion.
TAKE MORE BREAKS. At work, I tend to let deadlines determine my schedule. I consistently think, "I'll take a break later, and push through now." By the end of the day, I'll be worn out, hungry, and left with a mind full of "fuck fuck fuck let this be over soon please fuck." That sucks. And I know I'm not the only person who does that.
When I started taking more breaks--say, a couple 10-minute breaks instead of one 30-minute one--my day felt phenomenally better. Breaks encourage gratitude because you're focusing on your needs now, not when you finish. If you have trouble sticking to set times, schedule alarms that will force you to step away from your work desk or studies.
I recommend walking outside for your break. You can soak in all that the Gods offer and recite a gratitude prayer, which is my next tip.
RECITE A GRATITUDE PRAYER. Remember when I mentioned that repeated affirmations make people happier overall? Thanking the Gods acts as an affirmation because it reminds us of what we have.
In order for your prayer to work, it has to represent something you actually believe. For example, saying "my day is great" might not make you feel better if you know that your day has been frustrating. But reciting "the Gods have blessed my day" helps more, because no matter how your day has felt, the Gods have likely gifted you nourishing food, nice weather, good sleep, etc. It also encourages us to know that a higher power is on our side.
Make your prayer short and sweet. You don't have to memorize it, but you might want to write it down somewhere. I kept mine on a phone note that I always kept open. That way, whenever I unlocked my phone on my break, I'd see it. You can also set the prayer as your lock screen,
I made mine a poem, because rhymes and meter make verses easier to memorize. Mine is based off of one of Scott Cunningham's example prayers, but revamped (let's face it; he wasn't the best poet, bless his soul). Here is mine:
"Divine Mother, Father Divine,
Blessed am I,
to share my day with both of You."
See how short this is? It makes life a lot easier to only recite three lines rather than a page. Also, you can change any line you want. For instance, you can say "Blessed am I / to share my meal with both of You." Or, you can switch it from Wiccan deities to your own. I'm only listing my prayer as an example, or hopefully inspiration.
If you need more inspiration, look up historical prayers, such as Delphic Maxims or magical chants that correspond with your religious views.
JOT DOWN YOUR THANKS TO THE GODS. In the past, I've mentioned Pagan prayer journaling and using this topic as a potential prompt. But you don't need to have a "Pagan prayer journal" to do this; you can simply have a gratitude journal. Again, science proves that writing down what you're grateful for lifts your overall mood and outlook on life.
Every night, I like to write down five things I'm grateful for in my day, bullet-point-style. But you don't have to limit yourself to five; you can do one, or ten, or however many you want. Writing one thanks to the Gods is better than none.
You can begin with, "Dear Gods, Thank You for ___." Or possibly, "Dear ____, I am grateful that You gave me ____ today." As with all prayers, don't feel constricted by formal speech. Thanking and praising the Gods is effective in any language.
These are all the tips I have for now. This is a longer, more in-depth and personal post than I usually write, so please let me know if you enjoyed it (or even made it this far). And as always, message me about any topics you'd like me to cover. Best of luck to you and your path.