Ancestor work is one of those things that’s been in the back of my mind for awhile now and by awhile I mean about seven months. I’m at that point where I know working with my ancestors is something I need to start doing and I know I will eventually bite the bullet and get to it. But I fell like voicing my frustrations and hesitations is ultimately an important step in understanding my relationship to my ancestors.
I am by no means uncomfortable around dead people. I started working as a psychopomp around four years ago. Any discomfort I had faded pretty quickly and unless the dead are being super rude, I actually like hanging out with them. It isn’t like I never talked to my family members that have crossed either. If we visited their grave or they were hanging around I would chat with them. It was, and in many ways still is, a bittersweet thing, but still something I enjoyed doing.
Despite occasionally working with and chatting with the dead, the idea of actually setting up a space for my ancestors never really crossed my mind until this past Fall. My University’s Pagan Student Association was just getting on its feat and we decided to do a Dumb Supper ritual in October. It went really well, but I was only expecting to chat up my grandparents that I was already used to chatting with. I wasn’t expecting, near the end of the meal, to get a very clear, collective voice telling me “one of your grandfathers will be joining us soon.” It was at this point focused ancestor work was really put on my radar. I was still very much confined to dorm life but I definitely took more notice of ancestors when they came up in blog posts or books.
True to their word though, my grandfather’s cancer came back a few months after that ritual. I was at school the majority of time he was getting worse. However, several times I found myself being pulled out of my body before going to bed to visit him. One of my greatest fears with all of this was that I would be the one who would cross him over. But as the weeks went on, I was more sure that was what was going to happen. He ended up passing while I was at home over Spring break. I did end up helping him cross. It hurt. Still does. My mom was the one giving him hospice care so we were able to bond and talk about what we both experienced.
With my grandfather’s passing came one of my biggest hesitations with fully committing to ancestor work, namely the Christian God. He and I have never really gotten along. I had a begrudging understanding with him and the archangels when I was working more actively as a psychopomp. I spent a little time having a bit of a mentor relationship with the archangel Uriel as well that Loki, who I am oathbound to, was always wary of but never interfered. But around the time of my grandfather’s passing, that already shaky relationship pretty much dissolved. I’m not upset about that relationship being over. The Christian God and the archangels were basically my bad ex that I kept going back to. However, it does make it a bit awkward now when I want to work with my ancestors who were devote Christians. In the back of my mind, I’m worried that those spirits will interfere or something like that.
One of my other main concerns is just who out of my ancestors is going to show up. There are some really disgusting people in my family’s history and I really don’t know what I would do if they showed up or if I would be willing to deal with the emotional burden of helping them change. I know that it is a common concern with ancestor work and my other ancestors would more than likely prevent those particular individuals from just popping in.
Regardless, ancestor work is going to be a learning process for me. I’m working to learn more about Norse ways of working with the ancestors as well as a more generic practice for my Christian ancestors. The gods are also pushing me to look more into seidr. For now there is a tiny altar set up in mine and mom’s shared meditation room. Currently it is focused on my grandfather, whom we both desperately need right now. I also know that regardless of tensions with certain spirits, that psychopomping is still going to be a part of my life.
No new practice is going to be painless. But I’ve got to start somewhere.