I believe there is a strong familial pull as the influence of beloved ancestors continues with us from the other side of the veil. ~ James E. Faust
During this time of year, we celebrate Samhain, Day of the Dead, All Saints, All Souls, Walpurgis Night, All Hallows Eve, Fogmoon, Festival of Woden, Halloween, Pomona’s Day, and many other holidays. One of the major themes for many of these holidays is ancestor veneration.
At the Kansas Coffee Coven this last Wednesday we took the opportunity to have a great discussion about Ancestors and what it means to honor them. Our Coffee Coven is always very diverse. We had people new to the path, Pagans who have been practicing decades, Pagans with family traditions, and those who were not Pagan at all; Wiccans, Magicians, Neo-Pagans, Romani, Eclectic, Pantheists and many other traditions; those who wore a Mjölnir, a Pentacle or nothing at all. The result is always a friendly and respectful group of people that we have grown to call friends.
After we all introduced ourselves and exchanged stories of our adventures over the last month, we began our conversation about ancestors. This essay will not capture everything that was talked about or even probably how it was said, but I hope to capture for you some of the great questions and answers that we enjoyed.
To start the conversation, the question was asked, “Why are ancestor relevant? Why should we care?” The consensus was that at some level we are composites of all those that have come before us and, therefore, our ancestors shape who we are today. One person offered that we have important biological links to our ancestors. Besides the obvious physical traits, science is showing that our DNA might contain many other characteristics from our ancestors to include behavior. Another mentioned that they had noticed that they have caught themselves exhibiting traits that they had seen in their parents, especially when interacting with their children. Another brought up the idea that we learn from the experiences of our ancestors similar to the idea of “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Someone else mentioned that ancestors are often called upon to assist us in our ritual work.
How important is bloodline? Are there different types of ancestors? The consensus of the group was that ancestors are not limited to those related to us by blood. An interesting fact was raised about how it has been shown that one in 200 of all men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan, which implies that we might be more related by blood than realized. Others mentioned that we have ancestors of soul/spirit and culture. An important source of ancestors are those from our history that we would consider inspirational. One person even mentioned “primal man” as a person that they can relate to as winter approaches.
About halfway through the meeting, we all took a minute to share with the group an ancestor that meant a lot to them. What I noticed was that a lot of people mentioned their grandparents as especially influential, especially grandmothers. Others specifically mentioned included ancestors from centuries past, parents, and famous people from the past.
To be considered to ancestors, do they have to be dead? It was a general consensus that to be considered an ancestor they needed to be deceased.
How do we honor our ancestors? One of the primary means discussed was that we honor them through us. Another way they were honored was by directly talking to them. The Samhain ritual at Oak Spirit Sanctuary which created the opportunity to cross the veil to talk with ancestors.
Emulation was another important way of honoring our ancestors that were discussed. Many discussed important lessons that were demonstrated by their ancestors that they now try to mirror.
How is ancestor worship relevant if we believe in reincarnation? At least person found ancestor worship fairly unimportant. If the ancestors were reincarnated, they were now probably someone completely different and possibly not even human or on this planet. It also might be irrelevant if they were residing in the Summerland or someplace inaccessible to the living.
What if you do not like your ancestors? Should we honor the “not so good” ancestors? This provided several points of discussion. On one hand, there was the absolute “NO.” If they were considered atrocious or dreadful, or if they tried to harm others, they especially did not deserve any veneration. Others had a more moderate view and saw them as contributors to the overall person they were today. They saw themselves as a combination of all the bad and good things that happened in the past. They saw the bad as life lessons necessary for growth. Others saw the bad ancestors as examples of whom not to emulate and why. These “bad” ancestors provided us examples of behaviors and actions that we would not want to repeat in our own lives.
Is ancestor worship just a means to help remove the fear of death? The consensus was no.
Does the “thinning veil” have anything to do with your ancestor veneration? Most people did not find the veil being thinner as particularly significant. We were all familiar with people that see the dead all the time. Others saw that the influence of their ancestors was with them throughout the year.
Are there other days to honor the ancestors, i.e. Memorial Day? Some associated Memorial Day as a time to honor military, but others mentioned that their parents/grandparents had referred to this day as Decoration Day, the name of the holiday before it was changed to Memorial Day. It was on this day that many families would decorate their ancestors’ graves with flowers.
Veteran Pentacle Quest. Being that the meeting was also being held on Veteran’s Day, we also took a few minutes to talk about the court battle to secure the rights in 2007 for deceased veterans to place a Pentacle on their VA-issued headstone. Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, was added in 2013. According to the Circle Sanctuary, there are 111 VA-issued memorial markers with Pentacles at public and private cemeteries across the nation, including nine at Circle Cemetery, a national Pagan cemetery at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve.
Overall, it was a great discussion and as someone pointed out, “provided a lot of things to think about.” Once again, thank you for sharing and being part of this community event, and I look forward to seeing you all again next month.
Some other questions that I brought with me to discuss, but we did not have time:
- Does Ancestor worship have less relevance today?
- The difference between ancestors and deity veneration?
- Should we honor the spirits of the places in which we live, of our home, of the land itself as well?
- Is the high-spirited, festive nature of Halloween stand in sharp contrast with the somber feeling of honoring ancestors?
The Kansas Coffee Coven is part of the Kansas City Witches Meetup. For more information on our next meeting or on other events sponsored by this meetup see http://www.meetup.com/Kansas-City-Witches/ or https://www.facebook.com/Kansas-City-Witches-Wiccans-Pagans-and-Heathens-Meetup-290554257684909/?fref=ts