Modern people live in extreme disconnection from our ancestors. On the macro level, this extends to the plants, animals, and minerals. Many of us aren’t even aware of that detachment. But perhaps what makes an even bigger impact is the divorce of our own families. How many of us grew up without a father? How many don’t speak to members of their family – or even their whole families! Raise your hand if you don’t know yourself.
Life is holistic. It’s about living in relationship with everything and everyone. When you are that connected, you are deeply supported and never lonely. You know your purpose and can stride confidently towards it. Your life becomes a thread that weaves smoothly from childhood, adulthood, elder hood, death, ancestor, and back again. It becomes natural.
If you would like to begin to incorporate your human ancestors into your life, here are some suggestions on how to get started with creating an ancestor veneration practice. There is no one right or wrong way, so do what feels right for you. You can do as many or few as you like.
Get a DNA Test
Most of us tend to think of our ancestors as people we knew or heard of. We go back far further than the last hundred years or so. All of us go back thousands of years. We all have relatives from far off countries that we never imagined. If you think that your heritage was “pure” whatever, think again. Even if your family comes from an island, they migrated from somewhere. Get curious. Find out your history. The more you know about your gifts and burdens, the easier it will be to claim the blessings and heal the wounds.
Death is such a distant act now. We die in hospitals and outsource the funeral and burial to professionals. It used to be a personal act. We died at home. The viewing was at home. Neighbors, relatives, and friends supported and mourned as a part of life. It wasn’t something that you took time away from life to do. Songs were sung and prayers helped the dead to transition to the Otherworld. Now we put the dead in the ground and never speak of it again. There is no process for the unresolved business to dissipate and the soul to be cleansed so that the dead can become ancestors. Plan your death. Do it well. Become an ancestor.
Dying well is easiest when you live well. This means you engage in healthy relationships with the Earth, animals, plants, mineral kingdom, and people. You take care of yourself, your family, your property, and your community. You earn money in a way that is good for the soul. Things like integrity, authenticity, honor, reciprocity, and relationship are part of your daily life. Your life is heart centered. All you have to do is be you. If you do that, your light will shine and the Earth will be blessed with your being. You’ll be an example to your descendants and bless them from the other side.
Make a Scrapbook
It’s important to speak the names and tell the stories of our ancestors. It keeps them connected to our hearts. It enlivens their memory. Making a scrapbook helps to keep the stories and people in the family. It’s a visual reminder so that they are not lost throughout the generations. Many people know nothing of their grandparents much less those that came before them. Creating a scrapbook forces you to talk to your elders. So you hear the stories while they are alive, not at the eulogy. You will learn a lot in the process and realize the treasure that family brings.
Celebrate Ancestor Day
Many traditions have a day for honoring the ancestors. It’s often around Halloween, but could also be other days. During this time, we often visit and clean the graves. Some make offerings and say prayers at the shrines. At Pan Society we have a feast for the dead giving them traditional ancestral foods. Maybe you want to sit by a bonfire and tell their stories. Or perhaps you want to stay up all night and listen for their voices. Find out what your ancestors did and do the same. Or join us at Pan Society for our community celebration.
Pray For Them
If you have intergenerational trauma from addiction, physical abuse, sexual abuse or poverty, you can pray for those who have passed on. Many cultures believe that prayer helps to “clean” the wounds of life so that the soul can move on to the Otherworld. This also releases the energy so that it doesn’t continue to contaminate the family line.
Create and Tend a Shrine
An ancestor shrine is a commitment. You can’t put it up and then neglect it. Start by choosing a place that is not used for sleeping, but is also not busy, like a kitchen. You can even place it outside. This is a great idea, in fact, if your ancestors were nomadic or agricultural. The shrine can be big or small. It can look like a shelf, a house, a pile of rocks, or whatever strikes your fancy. It can even just be a bench by a tree where you like to talk to them. Visit it regularly. Bring offerings. Clean it. Purify it. Speak to the dead. Listen for their voices. Ask for help.
I wouldn’t speak to the people whose names you remember. If they did not die well, they may not be in the Otherworld. Those who are not in the Otherworld are still the same personality that they were when they were living and may not have the clarity of vision or high enough vibration to be all that helpful. I would also not put up photos of those whose names you remember. If they have not fully transitioned, this may keep them here.
Ancestor veneration is not worship. It’s the practice of living in connection to the past, present, and future. It’s remembering who you are and staying rooted. If your family is not all that healthy, this can help to get you back on track. Hurt people hurt people. It can be easier to love those who are in spirit than those who are in the flesh. When our loved ones are loved, they send love back. This can erase that hurt.
It can be hard to see the blessings in people who were not very nice. When we look hard, we see that goodness lives within them and in us too. This can help us to love ourselves and radiate love. As each of us cleans up our lives and our own family line, we impact everyone else because we’re all connected.