Honoring my Ancestors through the Living

My ancestor work hasn’t exactly been going how I thought it would. In my head I had this idea of sitting in front of an altar everyday or every week, offering food, drink, incense, and speaking with my ancestors. Well, despite trying to work with a couple of different schedules, that has worked out about as well as a New Year’s Resolution. But that isn’t to say that I have just left my ancestors by the wayside. No, they, specifically my recently passed grandfather, have become a part of my daily routine.

Now before I go any further, I want to make a quick distinction. Right now my ancestor work is divided into two camps. I use the word ancestor when I am referring to the dead that are relatively recently passed, so grandparents, great-grandparents, and generally people whose names are still remembered. These also include the people who I’m not blood related to but would still consider recent ancestors. These are people from communities I am a part of, mentors, people in my fields of work, and the like. In the other camp are my disir, who I understand as my female ancestors that are connected to the Norse tradition. I work with these groups separately both because of the difference in deities, and because they have very different vibes to them.

So for this post I will be talking about how I have been honoring my ancestors, specifically my grandfather, in ways I didn’t quite expect. My grandfather’s passing has been a roller coaster of emotions. I won’t get into details, but his death was very painful for me and his affairs have been handled less than fairly. I will make another post talking about the few possessions I was able to get in a different post, but right now I want to focus on the most important way I have been honoring my grandfather.

You see, probably the most important and emotional thing my mother and I brought with us from my grandfather is his dog. My mom started taking care of him when my grandpa went back to the hospital and once he passed, he became a permanent part of our family. He’s a loving lab/golden mix named Buddy, who was never really taught to play, but loves to sit it front of you asking for pets or stand just far away from you while you are sitting down so you can give him a belly rub with your foot.

My grandpa loved his dogs. I think as soon as he could have a dog, he adopted one from a local shelter and would save another after the inevitable happened until the day he died. Adopting shelter dogs has become an important family tradition because of him. Buddy gets along with our other dogs well enough, but he also suffers from some bad separation anxiety and a terrible fear of storms and other loud noises. Buddy also, as we found out several months after my grandfather died, has cancer. It can’t be cured but we are making him as comfortable as possible for when that time comes.

This is what I mean when I say I am honoring my ancestors through the living. My grandpa’s dog was the most important part of his life. Even when my grandpa became somewhat of a hermit after he retired, he always had Buddy keeping him company. So giving this dog the best rest of his life is what I owe my grandfather and how I am honoring him. It means staying up with Buddy at 2:30 in the morning and keeping him company while a bad thunderstorm roles through and only going to bed once I can barely hear the thunder.

Honestly, it’s still too painful to have more direct contact with my grandfather. I’m not sure when I will be able to sit down in front of the little ancestor altar in our house. But I am not forgetting my ancestors. I am choosing to honor them by focusing on the living they would want me to take care of. I’m honoring my ancestors by trying to keep the peace as best as I can. Plus, when my beloved dead need to tell me something, they aren’t shy about making the message loud and clear.

 

Avoiding my Ancestors

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. ┬áBut I’ve got to start somewhere.