Over the past couple of years, I’ve gained insight into the process of ancestor elevation. I used to do it because it needed to be done, but I would do it rather by rote. There’s a Baltic proverb that says the work will teach you how to do it, and I think that definitely happened with me. After over two decades of doing ancestor elevations I finally feel like I have some sense of what it takes to do one well. It finally occurred to me last night, that I should write about this. I receive an awful lot of questions about elevations and sometimes a practice gets so ingrained or even routine that one forgets that not everyone may be aware of some crucial bit.
Firstly, here is a link to both an online shrine to the ancestors and an article on elevation that I wrote some years ago. Ancestor elevation comes to us originally through 19th century spiritualism and was adapted almost immediately by the ATR, but can be done by anyone. The ritual is meant to be flexible and fluid. It is meant to be adapted to the needs of one’s specific ancestors. That is how it was designed. Ancient polytheisms had their rites and rituals for tending and healing the troubled or hurting dead, but since we no longer have access to those rites, this will do. It’s a powerful ritual when done well and it really does help the dead. It’s also quite accessible to just about anyone.
Here’s the thing though that I don’t think I’ve ever really articulated: you can’t do this type of work alone. When we decide to do an elevation – something I always confirm with divination—we are the living keystones here, in the corporeal world. We are letting our ancestor-in-need know that someone living remembers them and cares about them and is deeply concerned for their welfare. We should not be the only ones doing the elevation though.
It is crucially important that we bring our other ancestors and perhaps even our Gods into this practice. Think about it, rather than one person praying for grandma Jane, if you invoke and petition the aid of your entire ancestral house, there are thousands upon thousands (even if some of your dead choose not to participate). Grandma Jane doesn’t stand a chance! Ask your ancestors to participate in the elevation right along with you. You are not doing this ritual alone but rather it’s a group effort; and just as it is right and proper for us to elevate our dead, so too is it proper for our ancestors to participate. This is a family ritual.
In fact, other ancestors will suggest that a certain Deity be called upon. When I was praying last night, about half way through a nine-day elevation for my great grandmother, I got the strong sense whilst I was chanting the Oration, that I should petition Asklepios too, which I did. When I started, one of my dead asked that I pray to Mary. If you can, take their suggestions. It can transform an elevation).
Also, elevations can be exhausting and grueling on a deeply spiritual level. If one’s ancestor is carrying deep wounds or has committed terrible deeds (I usually elevate ancestors who were hurting badly during their lifetimes, but sometimes that led to them making damaging decisions), the process of elevation can really take the moxie out of one. There can be intense resistance on the part of the ancestor being healed, and a lot of emotions like fear, anger, desolation, despair, outright terror, shame, grief can come up in that ancestor bombarding the person doing the elevation. This is normal, but it really can have significant repercussions on the ancestor worker. It’s a heavy weight to bear and sometimes, as the ancestor is fighting for their healing, or in their damaged state, fighting healing, the person working the elevation faces moments where they are shouldering the weight of that damage. It’s a good and holy thing but it is extremely difficult. If the ancestor is actively resistant to healing (but divination and the Gods have indicated it is time to begin, or the ancestors as a group have requested the elevation for the same reason), then it can be that much more difficult to get through.
This is why it’s important to always begin this process clean and to take special care with purification during the nine days of the rite. Depending on the reasons for elevating one’s ancestor, a great deal of miasma and pollution may be released during the ritual and that will need to be dealt with or we’ll end up mired in it. When I begin each night’s prayer cycle, I usually start by taking a cleansing bath, and then I use a scent diffuser (I’m not sure what they’re called: there’s a bowl and underneath a candle. The bowl has water in it in which one may place a few drops of oil before lighting the candle—what are those things called?) in which I use Van-Van oil or Blessing oil or something similar to help prepare the space. I asperse with khernips (myself, my shrine, the space where I’m doing the elevation). Then I go through a cycle of two ancestor songs, one for fire before I kindle any candles, and one for my ancestors in general. I refresh all the offerings (usually just water at this point. Water is important in an elevation because it refreshes the dead) on my main ancestor shrine and make offerings to whatever Deities I’m going to be petitioning too. Then I prepare the elevation shrine, refresh the offerings there, talk to that ancestor a little bit, invite my other ancestors (and Gods) to participate and begin the nightly prayer cycle for the elevation. Afterwards, I cleanse myself again and throughout those nine days, I try to be more mindful of cleansing practices than perhaps I normally would. During an elevation it’s important to neglect nothing. There are times, I will admit, when we can let protocols slide a tiny bit, skirt by, cut corners. This is not one of those times.
It’s also really, really important not to start one’s ancestor practice with an elevation. Before even thinking of performing an elevation ritual, take the time to develop a working, devotional relationship with your dead. Set up an ancestor shrine, make regular offerings, pray to them and for them. Don’t just plop down one day and decide to do an elevation. This ritual is part of a healthy, ongoing ancestor practice, not the beginning of one. It’s one possible part of getting right with one’s ancestors, not generally the appropriate place to start an ancestor practice.
After you’ve spent some time building up a proper ancestor practice, then perhaps consider your first elevation, but don’t begin with the latter. Finally, to reiterate, invoke the Gods and most importantly of all, invoke your ancestors and have them doing the elevation with you. YOU alone are not doing it. It’s a group effort.