ETA 11.13.2020: i forgot about the spoiler tag option! going to try that because indeed, LJ did that thing where it doesn't support the cut in several views... i mean, why even give the option if. anyway, since the overculture cares so deeply about being spoiled for plot points on television shows and movies but don't care at all about triggering trauma survivors (how we doing with those priorities?!) i figure i'll re-purpose the fully supported spoiler cut as an accessibility tool for the trauma community. by the way? people getting super upset about being "spoiled" is just... weird to me. i thoroughly pre-screen every television series and film i consider investing in because i'm extremely vulnerable to on-screen violence and need to know if i'm going to be able to watch it through. i read plot summaries. i relied heavily on the user-updated parental guide on IMDB which they seem to have stopped supporting, presumably because everyone's so afraid of spoilers. i watch for the story, myself. sometimes knowing a major plot point in advance opens things up as far as appreciating the craft side of things is concerned, but maybe that's just my non-linear brain. i almost always open a book the first time to the last page. :-P
there are many kinds of ancestors. ancestors of blood, of course. for healing intergenerational trauma, and trust me on this: the vast majority of us being called to ancestor work right now are being called to heal intergenerational trauma, know that you will probably be working, to some degree, with your hereditary lineage. other types of ancestors can include ancestors of land, spirit, nature, craft, story and wounding. some i will work with my whole life, others only for a time.
having said that, here's what i think is most important to do in initiating ancestor work:
ask your ancestors.
ask them specifically. i mean literally: sit down in front of your altar and begin this work by asking:
1) who the ancestors stepping forward to work with you are, and
2) what kind of work you are being called to do.
ask out loud or ask on paper. ask out loud and ask on paper. then wait for a response.
hear me on this: there is no way that you are ever going to understand any aspect of your spiritual work until you explicitly ask what that work is and respectfully receive and process your answers.
it might be words in your head, but it will likely be more subtle than that. it could feel like a tug toward your tarot deck. it might be a sudden urge to go for a walk. you might take pen to paper and see what happens. maybe you'll dream it some time over the next few days, or hear a voice in your head the next time you sit down at the mediation bench. maybe it will pop into your head as a stray thought. maybe it will reveal itself in a synchronicity. i've snapped on the radio and had a song or NPR announcer answer my question countless times. some of you may have noticed my repeated references to bruce springsteen's "brilliant disguise?" yeah. that was a big answer for me a few years back, and i'm still hurting.
you might get a big info dump all at once or a gentle trickle of subtle hints and nudges over time. maybe it will come in words, maybe in impressions and images. processing will likely take longer, and there will be layers. you'll get part of it, but need more context before you can realize the rest. you'll have the same or similar realizations several times before you can apply it anywhere in a meaningful way. know that any message, relationship, concept or dynamic that keeps turning up in the course of your lifetime is almost definitely related to your work with the ancestors. listen for the story life keeps telling you over and over again. is that you, baby?
for me, the first step in any kind of magic work is requesting help or information about the nature of that work. the second is figuring out how to hear the answer. from there, it's all about building rapport.
there are exceptions to this, but it seems like anyone who wants or needs to communicate will reach out through those mediums where i've already invested energy - learned the language, so to speak. that way, they're able to communicate with pre-existing knowledge and associations.(1)
i found it helpful to develop an "i heard that" signal so they know i'm engaged. before COVID, i'd kiss the back of my right hand. now i say "thank you" under my breath or briefly press my hand over my heart. in my experience, the signal does need to be external - spirits communicate on deep and mysterious levels, but i've yet to find one who is a clear cut mind reader - but quick and subtle, nothing that will draw the attention of those in the waking realm.
by its very nature, working with your ancestors will involve information that is nobody's business but your own. i'm going to get into this more later, but it's important to start coming to terms now with the truth that no book, class, workshop, reader, teacher or mentor can explain your work to you. certainly not me, but can you see the difference between what i am doing in this post and some random stranger trying to explain your magic to you? there is a difference between providing background and insight versus overtly telling you what to do. anyone purporting to micromanage your magic practice isn't on a good path, themselves. this is deeply personal work. other folk might have ideas or techniques you might see fit to adapt into your practice, but at the end of the day, what you do and how you do it most beneficially begins and ends with you.
the number one rule in any of this: be respectful.
the first part of being respectful means respecting yourself. take care of your body. know your limitations. probably only approach working with you ancestors once you have established anchors (spirit guides, medicine, a relationship with non-ordinary reality) and you've come to those anchors on your own terms. for many of us, this isn't work for beginners. however, one of my core beliefs is that we are all different and nobody can tell you how to be the person you need to be, so maybe this is a point of entry for you.
the second part of being respectful is respecting your ancestors. i'm not saying this to be pedantic, i'm saying this to combat the insidious culture of entitlement created by spiritual consumerism: ancestor work is not a hobby. it is not something one dabbles in casually. it's not the trendy all-access new spiritual tourist spot, no matter what llewellyn publications says and do not get me started on llewellyn publications.(4) ancestor work is the very definition of serious fucking business, and it isn't for everyone at every part of their lives. this is deep and life-altering magic. certain mistakes can haunt you, your ancestors, and your descendants for the rest of your lives. and beyond, to be all samhain like.
acknowledge and honor, even if you don't agree, and you might not always agree. every being coming forward in the course of your work is there for a reason, remember that. every one of ancestors in your hereditary lineage is literally a part of who you are. they are in your very DNA, and that counts. yes, there are going to be challenges and conflict. it is possible that there may be some folk in your hereditary lineage with whom you have profound differences. it is possible that there are folk in your hereditary lineage who did things in their lifetime you find utterly reprehensible. and this next part gets into that long-ago content warning, so i'm putting it behind a cut. scroll vertical line of dots to vertical line of dots if lj does that thing it sometimes does with not actually respecting the cut.
[Spoiler (click to open)]
case in point: not every child in earth's memory resulted from a consenting sexual relationship.
at this point in history, it is more likely than not that at least one sexual assault exists in my lineage. given where we are as a society, it is very possible that i have been called to work with my ancestors in part to address such wounds. that doesn't only mean the victims, of which there will be, at absolute minimum, two: the assaulted person and the child. it is likely that there will be several more, because that's how sexual assault - and intergenerational trauma - work. the primary victims may be few, even singular, but the secondary victims are myriad, including everyone who cares about anyone involved at any point in their lifetime.
hardest part for me, as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults?
there are also assailants in my lineage.
so that is clearly work i am being called to do.
but that's the thing. if you're being called to this work? it's very likely that you're going to have real work to do. so figure out how that work gets done. pray and prepare to receive. do not ignore, deny, or erase. respect and honor.
if an ancestor has come to me at this moment in my history, that is for a reason. it might be to help, but it also might be because they have unresolved business. maybe they have pain. maybe they wronged themselves or others and they need an embodied ally to help them make restorations. like i said behind the cut, some of these folks might not be the easiest connections to make. it might be that it's not safe for me to work with such ancestors with my existing resources, but that doesn't give me permission to perform abusive magic to drive them away. it means i convey my limitations respectfully, find any possible compromises by working with my anchors, and reconcile what kind of work i might be able to offer instead or with further preparation. nobody can "edit" their ancestry. if you don't feel like anyone you discover in your hereditary lineage is "interesting" enough to work with, walk away from the soul altering magical practice, get your ass in therapy, and figure out what's going on with that. you are not ready to confront intergenerational trauma in this manner.
maybe you'll feel drawn to a book, workshop or teacher. the overculture certainly encourages seekers to find answers in external sources. there are some very helpful materials out there, but there's also a lot of fakelore, bigotry, appropriation, ideological theft, destructive escapism, and anti-science claptrap in witchy dressing. some things to take under consideration when it comes to other people's teachings:
1) at least some of us need to do some serious investigation around the role of money and materialism in our spiritual practice. quite a number of us have been groomed to conflate a shopping high with spiritual fulfillment. it's been a decade and a half since i worked at the witch store, and i still catch myself doing it. marketing further programs us to assume spiritual growth - and trauma recovery - have a dollar value. how have you plugged into the idea that the more you spend, the better a person you are? this issue plays as big a role in climate change as it does in social justice as it does in our personal growth. it's a type of ancestor work in of itself. welcome to your magic! we're all being called to greater accountability on these matters at every level. oh, man, it burns.
2) in most cases, working from someone else's teachings means surrendering at least a component of your spiritual authority to someone else. maybe that's something you need to do, but it should not be done casually or as an escape from taking personal responsibility for your work. it's very possible that, with regard to this most intimate of spiritual practices, you need to find your own way. working too much from someone else's teachings can interfere with the development of agency. it can set you on the wrong path. it can mess up your relationship with time, because you aren't able to go at your own pace, or even figure out what that is. if you are considering working with someone else's teachings, vet them before you invest. questions to consider:
are they respectful to themselves and those they are teaching? do you agree with their demonstrated politics, attitudes toward science and the environment, and other issues related to your spirituality? as far as you can tell, are they living their values or simply broadcasting them? have you done due diligence to ensure this is not a known marion zimmer bradley type situation?(3) do they openly address the reality that sooner or later, a realized magic practitioner is going to need to break from other people's material and find their own way, or do they always have another increasingly expensive workshop? what is the lineage of their magical practice? do they attribute material to the best of their ability, or do they take credit for everything as their own idea or (worse?) direct input from the divine?
3) ancestor work is extremely popular right now, and quality, as well as accountability, varies wildly. to put it politely, a lot of the recent mainstream teachings i investigated (before mostly giving up on recent mainstream teachings) demonstrate a strong neuronormative bias. this is a problem because magic is an important tool for the neurodivergent community, and a lot of contemporary practices draw from our neurodivergent ancestors (aleister crowley, anyone? how about doreen valiente?) many of us are drawn to magic because of differences in sensory processing and executive functioning. it can help us discover new ways to think about who we are and strength-based approaches our challenges. unfortunately, in my experience, (watch me sidestep this rant!) neurotypical magic workers rely heavily on the hierarchical student/teacher model to teach an established discipline in a way that is systemic and sometimes very rigid. this creates a range of accessibility issues for neurodivergent folk who take on information differently and have often been traumatized by neuronormative education and social structures. in-person workshops can be a feat of endurance for those of us with SPD, environmental sensitivities, mobility issues, ARFID or other comorbidities, not to mention the learning environment is less than ideal. and? many neurodivergent people are economically disadvantaged. if you want to take a class, you must either pay or, when available, apply for scholarships that often come with strings attached, especially if you need financial aid more than once. that said, if a workshop really speaks to you and you can afford the tuition, spoons, and executive function, i wholeheartedly encourage you to try this method of learning out. if you can't swing the bread or the spoons, that sucks. i see you. i am you. one of the things that helped me grieve that loss and move on was remaining open to the possibility that i'm being called to learn a different way. there are a lot of different ways of learning, please remember that.(2)
i find it helpful to at least throw down a few tarot cards about any teachings i'm considering working with before i invest. i'm also very big on investigating where other people's practices are coming from. there's a lot of cultural appropriation and ideological theft in the magic community. since i've been burned by that second thing myself, i try to do what i can to make sure i'm giving credit where credit is due.
for me, my relationship with my ancestors is about my relationship to mystery. discipline only helps to a point. for example, many recent mainstream teachings focus a lot on material offerings. that can be a dead end for practitioners with limited resources as well as those of us who haven't been called to work that kind of magic. my ancestors seem to be more interested in my offering time, attention and creative work. they LOVE creative mistakes, which i now call "process offerings." they especially like for me to learn and do trauma recovery, because one major aspect of the work is healing wounds in the lineage.
it's entirely possible that you're already doing some of the work your ancestors need you to be doing. some of my ancestor work right now: going to therapy, seeking diagnosis and medical care for hereditary health concerns that have gone unaddressed in my family for generations, writing, realizing my creative ideas, resting, getting my voice heard, nurturing a loving relationship with a true partner who treats me with respect, social justice work, witnessing climate change.
october is the time of the thinning veil and the ancestors are in dire need of witness. pace yourself, though, because right now there's a lot of work to be done. what's going on in this world has roots, branches, mirrors and parallels in the other worlds. respectful boundary and purification work is crucial.
anybody want me to write about respectful boundary and purification work?
(1) one exception to this principle, for me, is fiction writing: i've definitely received messages that way, but because of my focus on the technical side of the work, it's unlikely that i'll be able to receive such messages until i've got some real distance from the piece. like, twenty, thirty years of distance. a lot of the time, anyone using fiction to communicate with me is playing the long game, knowing that they're answering a question i might not be asking for quite some time.
(2) there's an attitude among some teachers that "good students pay," while students granted access to materials free of charge won't value them as much or reliably complete the work. be aware that sometimes, what's actually happening is (knowingly or not) the teacher is leaning into sunk cost bias as insulation for failing to provide worthwhile material. because yeah. if you didn't pay a couple non-refundable grand to sit through twenty hours of material that's boring, inaccurate, redundant, condescending, or injurious, it's going to be a lot easier to recognize that and walk away (even if it reads or is interpreted as "slacking off.") many students feeling insecure about teachings they've paid a lot of money for will double down on the value they want to be there rather than call attention to their mistake. in other words: at least some of the time, this attitude is evidence of a toxic power dynamic and/or neuronormative gaslighting. it's also in the cult shit neighborhood, so keep your eyes open and vet, vet, vet. your time, attention and investment are valuable resources. don't let anyone condition you to believe that your money is more important, because it is not. you hear anything like that from a trad or a teacher, run like fucking hell. you deserve better.
(3) if you have no idea what i'm talking about and are someone who's also cited the mists of avalon as influencial to your spiritual identity, you owe it to yourself to research the extremely credible allegations that came out against MZB a few years ago. consider it work for the ancestors. also, i'm terribly sorry for the horrible things you are about to learn.
(4) UPDATE 11/1/2020: this link is to an archived blog post by sarah anne lawless. it is a scathing and extremely important critique of the neopagan movement. her conclusion is that neopaganism was doomed from its first movements toward legitimacy, largely because llewellyn publications. also because rape culture, but, you know, find me a religion that isn't rotting from the inside because of that. go ahead, try. neopaganism sure tried. to hide it. for decades. i'd been casually following SAL's blog when she posted this article in late 2018. i was sick as hell with carbon monoxide poisoning and feeling incredibly disillusioned about many facets of neopagan culture - again. i'd been there before, though not quite so badly since the two years i lived in iowa. this blog post changed my life. if you are even casually interested in anything neopagan, maybe especially if you are casually interested, you need to read it. unfortunately, the backlash from the community for this piece and a subsequent one that focused on sexual violence was so intense SAL's blog was subject to several DDoS attacks and ultimately destroyed. talk about doubling down on the value investors want to be there. to my knowledge, lawless has never tried to repost that content. thank the almighty whatever for archive.org. i'm updating because, while i've consistently found it relatively easy to access the archive.org snapshot on my desktop, it just endlessly beachballs me on my phone. so if you want to read it but can't access it on any of your devices, DM me through lj or comment with an email address.