There’s something I’ve noticed in discussions of ancestor veneration, and it keeps coming up: the idea that your ancestors automatically have your best interests at heart, that if you call to them and they show up, then they must be there to help. Ancestors are the best possible protection, right? So just invite them on in and nothing bad will happen ever!
Yeah, that’s bullshit.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I have seen mentions of what to do when it comes to dealing with abusive ancestors in your practice, from ancestor elevations to simply choosing not to honor that particular ancestor. But sometimes it’s the relatives you didn’t know in life that can cause the most trouble.
Case in point: a particular relative of mine, who at the very least is big on the sexual shame, and who I’m 95% certain was actually a child molester.
Of course, I didn’t put the story of a long-dead relative who was accused of molesting a child decades ago (not that anyone in the family believed the girl in question, despite the clear indicators that someone was molesting her) together with the picture my grandmother had helpfully donated when I asked for photos of deceased relatives until after weeks of intrusive thoughts, of suicidal urges, of filthy whore and dirty and disgusting showing up in my internal monologue, of increasingly disturbing images in my head when I masturbated.
Suicidal urges are a regular part of my struggle with depression, and while sexual shame was rare in the extreme for me, it wasn’t entirely unheard of, either. It was easy to write it off as my messed-up brain chemistry at work, at first. Eventually, though, it was obvious it wasn’t just a mood swing, or a new and exciting development in my depression — something not-me was causing it.
It took some time to figure out where the new and uncharacteristic sex-aversion was coming from, but when I did, I took his photo off the altar, told him to leave me alone, and tried to go on with my life. And lo and behold, the constant sense of sexual shame went away.
After that, I pulled away from ancestor work for a while, because it had been driven home quite thoroughly that not all the ancestors who show up will be warm and fuzzy ones. I’d read about people who had some badass Disir working to keep their ancestral house in order and make sure only safe people showed up, but I had no idea how to get in touch with them without opening myself up for more dead people who didn’t wish me well.
So while I was talking to Jack about the ancestor issue a while back, I suddenly realized the obvious: the Northern Tradition has not one but two goddesses Who are concerned with ancestors in a big way. Why didn’t I ask one of Them for help?
Feeling rather silly, I decided to talk to Hyndla and ask Her to put me in touch with safe ancestors. I said a little prayer, went and lit a candle at Her online shrine, and then went about my business…
…Only to have very vivid dreams in which my family was looking out for me, financially, with my great-aunt making a special appearance.
Now, I didn’t venerate my great-aunt for a long time, because of some old and ugly family drama better suited to a telenovela than this blog. But there she was in my dream, making sure I was safe and cared for. I started to think that it might be time to mend that bridge, and then two different family members mentioned in the following week that Tía Elena had, upon learning that my mother was no longer married to Stepfather #1, called her lawyer to have her will changed… only to die before the lawyer could get back to her.
No, really, when I say my family history is the stuff of telenovelas, I’m not kidding.
That was indication enough that it was time to add Tía Elena’s picture to the ancestor shrine, and these days I have a sense of her presence (and of my Disir) on a regular basis. Also, I’m no longer afraid of sketchy dead people showing up in my bedroom, which is always a plus.
Sometimes our ancestors don’t like us, not through any fault of ours, but because they were terrible people, and being dead hasn’t improved them any. Not everyone gains grace and enlightenment in their own personal hereafter. Some just remain awful. And while working to get our ancestors to a better place is a worthy pursuit, it’s not something that everyone can or should do right off the bat. Sometimes, we just need to find the safe people, the ones we can trust, before we can even think of engaging with the unsafe ones.
At this point, my strongest advice to anyone thinking of beginning ancestor veneration would be to first find the god/dess most concerned with ancestry in whatever pantheon you’re currently working with, and petition Them for aid in contacting the ancestors who will help and keep you safe. The scattershot “Hey, here’s a bunch of dead people I’m related to! I’ll just give them all offerings and see who’s helpful!” approach has gone incredibly badly for me, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under any circumstances. Start with the people you knew and loved in life, and then get some divine help before you go any further.
(I had to stop and ask myself at this point why asking Hela had never occurred to me, when it’s Her altar that also serves as my ancestor harrow. I have a strong aversion to the thought of asking Her, though… maybe because I see Her as concerned with all the dead, and asking Her to sort through Her charges and send some of them my way based on x criteria seems disrespectful. Surely She has better things to do. I might ask Her for help in reaching one specific person, but She is not Google for dead people.)
Hail Hyndla! Lady of the Bloodlines, I offer you all gratitude and praise. Hail!