A is for Ancestors

The Pagan Blog Project isn’t happening this year but I’ve often found it a good prompt to get me back into writing so I thought I’d give it a go anyway (in anycase I’ve never managed to finish it so it’s my personal challenge for the year!)

Previously I’ve written about Aphrodite, Apples and Altars. Next week I’m going to be talking about Animals if all goes to plan (with ethics and all sorts of things).

However I’m letting myself ease into things here so I’ve gone with Ancestors.

An awareness of ancestors seems to precede the paganism in people. By that I mean Ancestors in the general rather than specific sense. People who pass through paganism or end up pagan tend to have an awareness of history and their own place in it. That’s history without a capital – I mean they have a sense of a way that time flows and that they are midway between who and what has gone before and those and that which is to come.


I think that’s more obvious to note when someone is a Reconstructionist Pagan because a lot of the reconstructionist paths are about honouring the ancestors. However even the more Neopagan paths have a relationship with Ancestors, it’s a felt one often rather than a direct and researched one. It’s one reason I think that symbling has become so popular with pagans outside of the Heathen community. Ancestors are a part of who were are and it’s something that everyone can understand and has some notion of the importance of.
Whilst I lived in Japan, I was very aware of most of the houses having gorgeous parts of their shrines, inside or special places outside which were memorials to their family members, in the case of some of the old family homes those family members were very long removed in terms of generations of people from those living in the house.

For myself, my Grandparents were massively important in my growing up (my Grandma still is a really important part of my life). I liked to listen to their stories, I liked to listen to them and to my parents talk about their grandparents and great-grandparents. My Great-Uncle and my Great-Grandfather (in the every early part of my life) added to this and added to my sense of who preceeded me having some forming influence on me.

Honouring the Ancestors thus makes a sense to me in terms of thinking about how this world forms all of us and how we all link together.  It’s a subject that I think forms the basis of most religious impulse and it’s a feeling that a lot of people share, not only the ones that end up pagan. This I think actually forms the heart of why symbling, a Heathen modern take on older traditions, is so popular with non-heathens and non-pagans. It’s something I do at two parties throughout the year – New Years and Lammas and I find that atheists with a sense of community really get into it. But that gets into my thinking that we desire religion, ritualised action, in our lives… maybe another post another time!
A large part of my own religious understanding is of the interconnectedness of all things. I’m very fond of my own take on Indra’s Net which I call the Spiderlights. I see the interconnectedness as flowing through time as well as space and so my links to my own ancestors seems an important part of that web.

How do I honour my own ancestors as part of my religious practice? I toast to them at relevant times of the year, which for me are Mabon, Samhain and Yule. I have been thinking on and off for the past eight years of adding some sort of memorial to specific ancestors to the household altar but I still haven’t worked out exactly what that should be.
Thinking about them at particular times though isn’t all, it’s about considering them within thought, action and deed, both those I knew directly and those I know only through reported story. I guess it’s a bit like having a crowd of opinons to not quite ask. I also find that when I see my mother reflected at me in the mirror I consider that her mother is also there and hers and hers infinitum.

It probably says something that a fair amount of the gods that I worship were human at one stage, that I number gods among my ancestors (in the general sense) and have a very Prattchett take on the formation of gods. This does rather give a more direct relation to my thoughts on ancestors and my religious impulse. I think it’s a common thread to many of us as well.

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