Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about death, dying, and honoring ancestors. I even wrote my November newsletter on the topic. Much of this was sparked by reflection on the recent All Souls’ Day on November 2. I realized that not only did I have no active practice to honor my ancestors; I didn’t even have the vaguest idea about who had come before me.
My parents didn’t teach me about my ancestors, so I realized that anything I wanted to know, I’d have to research on my own. I embarked on a free trial membership at Ancestry.com, without much in the way of expectations. However, I was able to trace my ancestry back to my fifth great-grandparents on my father’s side. It was exciting and satisfying to learn the names of the family members who came before my generation. It was also eye-opening to look at some of the public records and piece together little bits of history that relate directly to my flesh and blood relatives from decades and centuries ago. I even found a few photos of some of my relatives from the 1800s that other members had posted on their own family trees.
Ancestor Altars and Rituals
Recently Diotima Mantinea of Urania’s Well Astrology wrote a post called How To Talk With Your Ancestors At Samhain, and I used her instructions about how to make an ancestor altar and hold a ritual to honor them.
Here’s the thing, however: if you, like me, aren’t clairvoyant, then how, exactly, do you go about “communicating” with your ancestors? How do you know you’re making a connection, if you don’t “see” or “hear” anything when you attempt to commune with them?
I get around this by using my cards. Because I am such a rational and logical thinker, it’s always been hard for me to trust any sort of impressions that may come to me during a meditation or prayer reflection. Perhaps the reason I work so well with the cards is because they provide me a concrete visual confirmation of a message, rather than requiring me to trust something more nebulous like an intuition or impression.
In my recent attempt to make a first connection with my newly discovered ancestral line, I conducted the ritual as suggested in the above-mentioned post, but, I also added one step: in the phase of the ritual where you are encouraged to reflect and “listen” for your ancestors’ messages, I felt compelled to pull out my Thoth tarot deck and ask my ancestors for a message through the cards. I explained to them that this is the way I feel most comfortable communicating, and invited them to share with me through the cards.
I was feeling particularly frustrated that I can’t seem to easily receive messages or visions like I hear so many of my magical friends talk about. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others and feel like you may lack some crucial skill or component. What I was forgetting, however, is that there isn’t one way that’s better or worse. What’s important is that you find your way that works.
A Simple Three-Card Ancestor Reading
I drew three cards as follows:
- My ancestors’ message for me
- My ancestors’ advice for me
- How I can best connect with my ancestors
The messages, unsurprisingly, were filled with love and encouragement and a gentle push for me to lighten up a bit and not be so hard on myself for the fact that I can’t “directly” communicate with them through clairvoyance, because the cards are just as valid a vehicle. Rather than comparing ourselves to what others can do, we must remember to focus on what we can do and work within that.
Developing and cultivating a relationship with blood relatives who have come before you can be a beneficial practice that helps link you to the life/death/rebirth cycle. When we actively think about death and dying, and we actively ask for guidance from those who have come before us and wish to help guide us on our earthly journeys, we can grow in our faith and diminish our fear of death.
Starting The Relationship
Even if you don’t know the names of your ancestors, call on them and ask them for support. Even if your family never taught you about where you come from, and even if you don’t have access to records that trace your ancestry, trust that your ancestor tribe is there for you and wants to help support you.
Here are some more resources to help you get started:
How To Communicate With Your Ancestors
by Michael Shankara at Gaia
Ancestral communication has been an ancient practice in every wisdom tradition throughout time. Your ability to connect with your ancestors is always available.
Accessing the Wisdom of Our Ancestors
An interview with Sobonfu Somè, a teacher of African spirituality from the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso
It is important to create a relationship with the ancestors first, but it cannot be a one-way kind of relationship. Your relationship with your ancestors is a relationship that must be nurtured like any other relationship.
Five Ways To Honor Your Ancestors
by Dr. Daniel Foor, Ph.D. of Ancestral Medicine
Direct contact with the spirits of the ancestors can be cultivated through ritual practices; however, communication may also happen spontaneously in forms such as dream contact, waking encounters, and synchronicity. When we have a framework to receive their outreach, their work is made easier and we are open to the enjoyment of conscious, ongoing relationship.