Week 10 – Ancestors, The Mighty Dead

25 05 2013

Until a few years ago I wasn’t very interested in my ancestors. But since the death of a friend and my journey into paganism, they have become a very important part of my life and spiritual practice. With only one grandparent and my parents left, I have many direct ancestors to honour. In ADF the ancestors are associated with the Well because that is the gate to the underworld in which they dwell. They are also associated with the Sea. In Celtic mythology one of the dwelling places of the dead were islands over the western sea, while in Norse mythology, those who die at sea are thought to dwell under it in the halls of Aegir and Ran. The ancestors are also related to the concept of water because of the well of wisdom (mimir). The ancestors represent the accumulation of many generations of wisdom and memory which one accesses through the sacred well. In terms of the Two Powers conception of the universe, the ancestors would be related to the Earth current – the dark, cool, embryonic power of the earth which is full of knowledge and potential.

The ancestors, also called the Mighty Dead in ADF, can be viewed in three distinct groups. The first are the ancestors of blood. These are our ancestors who are directly related to us through our blood e.g. family members who have passed away. The second are ancestors of spirit. These are people who have influenced our lives, whether people we knew or those who have had an important affect on our culture and helped to create the world we live in today. These can also include the ancient ancestors of our chosen hearth culture. Finally there are ancestors of place. These are the people who lived in and shaped the land on which we currently live – their bones and atoms are now in the very ground we walk on. I also think it is important to remember that science teaches us through evolution that our ancestry can be traced right back to a common ancestor and that we are therefore kin with all living beings in the world.

There are many ways to honour our ancestors. For me, this takes three main forms. Firstly I have done research into my family tree to discover as much as I can about my ancestors. I have discovered that I have some Japanese ancestry and that one of my great great grandfathers was killed in the first world war. Secondly, I maintain an area of my altar devoted to my ancestors and place several objects and pictures on it that remind me of them. Finally, I also call on them in ritual (especially on Samhain) and give them offerings of cider in order to show that I honour them. In Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Norse cultures, the ancestors could often be contacted by visiting their graves or sitting on their grave mounds so this year I would like to try and visit some of my ancestors graves which are quite far away from me and pay my respects. I would also like to do even more more research into my family tree and find out as many of their birthdays and death days so I can honour them on those days (which is something I already do for one of my friends who died). It is very important to remember our ancestors and teach others to do the same because one day, we too will be an ancestor. Also, they are often seen as the Kindred which is most interested in us and easiest to relate to because they have experience human life and are interested in their family lines.