As sometimes happens when I write a blog, I opened a spiritual can of worms with my last post. In that post, I noted the presence of the ancestors of spirit as I work my way more deeply into a martial arts practice. Writing that post promptly got the Ancestors ‘on my case’ to do some research and to speak more about them.
I know that I am straying a bit from the discussion of the paranormal and cryptozoological but this topic really does relate tangentially to our main topic of discussion. Ancestors used to be physical people and, as such, they truly can get their feelings hurt. Imagine what might happen if some intrepid spiritual explorer went through an “ancestor phase” and then moved on to other things, promptly forgetting the attention and perhaps even service that he or she paid to the Ancestors for a time. Might not the Ancestors decide to get that person’s attention in a paranormal way?
Ask any practitioner of shamanism, Vodou or other practices that deal with the Ancestors what those spirits are capable of and you will hear stories of mischief and miracles. One of the things I would look at, in any haunting case and especially one with poltergeist occurrences, is the spiritual practices of the clients as well as previous owners of the haunted area.
The paranormal aspect aside though, work with Ancestors is one of the basic spiritual practices in a number of faiths, ranging across the world, from Haitian Vodou to Japanese Shinto and into Chinese religious Taoism. I truly believe that a disconnect from our Ancestors is one of the leading causes of the spiritual disconnect so prevalent in our culture and that beginning to work with the Ancestors is a large first step toward beginning a healing process which will put people back in contact with the spiritual world and help them find their place in that world (my definition of spirituality).
In her excellent book, Serving the Spirits, Patricia Scheu (Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo), the Mambo (priestess) of a Haitian Vodou sosyete in Philadelphia, makes the point that “Vodou begins with your Ancestors”. She points out that:
Your ancestors wait with infinite patience for you to find your way to them. Didn’t like old wierd Uncle Al? That is ok. Where was Uncle Al from? Italy, Romania, China? Those are your Ancestors. Study their history, figure out what they ate, what music they listened to and what kind of clothes they wore. Then craft your Ancestor altar to that culture. Have family from Ireland? Then play Irish music, make an altar cloth with Celtic knots, bake some scones and serve them Irish Breakfast tea, and sit. And wait. Be patent. It is not a race, it is a marathon. Do this monthly and see if your Ancestors don’t come calling . . . Begin to do Vodou by learning about yourself, learning about your family and you can’t go wrong. That is because the Ancestors know what is needed . . . Your Ancestors are the living parts of your family tree who were strong enough to survive the plagues, infections and dangers of their time. They were healthy enough to have children, and wise enough to to learn how to raise them in an ever changing world. They have the tools you need to live your life here and now. So find time to talk to them. They just might surprise you . . .
While veneration and work with the Ancestors can certainly be made into an elaborate ritual like the Bon festivals of Japan, contact with those who have gone before you need not be complicated. My own Ancestor altar includes a white candle, a vessel for water, a holder for incense and a Tibetan singing bowl. In addition, I have included some items that remind me of the cultures in my “Heinz 57” make up. I would like to say that I commune with my Ancestors daily but that would be a fib. I try to stop in for a visit 3 or 4 times a week though.
When I do approach the altar, I make sure the water is refreshed and then I light the candle and incense. I take a few moments to settle myself and then take up the striker for the Tibetan bowl. On the first bell ring, I open the way for the Ancestors and let them know that I am offering cool clear water and sweet smells. On the second ring, I pray for the Ancestors, from that part of me that is Divine, that they may have all that they need in the Otherworld. On the third ring, I simply tell them that I honor them and thank them for their presence and guidance in my life while asking for their continued protection and guidance as I go about my day. If I have time, I sit quietly for a few minutes and see if they have anything they wish to share and then I close out the session and return to my regularly scheduled life.
See! Simple! Nothing earth shattering there but, as I have developed this practice and worked with it over the weeks and months since it was impressed on me that I needed to do this work, I have been increasingly aware of the presence of those spirits in my life. While much of what “Mambo Pat” says above seems to apply strictly to those members of your bloodline, I can assure you that, should you choose to begin to work with the Ancestors, you will have Ancestors of blood and spirit coming to work with you and your life will literally never be the same.