A Question about Ancestor Work: Re. Unpleasant Discoveries

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Senneferet asked me a really potent question in the comments section of one of my ancestor posts: “How do you cope when finding out bad information about someone you had previously loved and respected? I know everyone has their flaws, but I feel a bit foolish. (I adored my grandfather and assumed he had a deep love for my grandmother. I recently found out how violent and cruel he was to her and their children. His photo has been relegated to a drawer in my shrine room for the time being.)”

This is such a good question, and I’ll bet that an awful lot of people are in this situation and don’t know what to do. I certainly know that for myself, it was so much, exactly like this, that tripped me up in learning to honor my ancestors when I started out. That’s why I decided to parse this question out and answer it in a separate post. Hopefully, it will be useful to many of you starting out in your ancestor work.

Firstly, I want to say that if this is the situation in which you find yourself, there’s no reason to feel foolish. People are complicated. The person (your grandfather) you may have dealt with either in life or during ancestor veneration is not the person your grandmother endured. Think about how parents can have very difficult and damaging relationships with their own parents, but those self-same parents will watch their own children having wonderful and loving relationships with those [grand]parents. It’s ok to love someone who was flawed, damaged, and even damaging. One can love without supporting the terrible behavior.

In fact, as another ancestor worker once told me: it is categorically impossible to have ancestors who were all wonderful people. Sooner or later, you’re going to encounter one that leaves you aghast. It’s likewise categorically impossible that they were all assholes. Your ancestral house is a mixed bag but they’re yours. I’m also going to say something that probably isn’t popular: just because an ancestor was a complete dick in life, doesn’t mean A) they can’t change and continue to grow when they’re dead and B) doesn’t mean they don’t have your back. That’s…uncomfortable but it is a reality of ancestor work.

I dealt with this situation with my maternal grandfather Roland Isaac H. He had a horrific childhood, which at least helps me understand his later behavior (though it doesn’t excuse it). He also tried to make amends later in life to his children. He was physically and emotionally abusive to my grandmother and his five kids. She divorced him in the fifties when, in the small town in which they lived, this was not common. I remember her telling me once (it’s odd the ancestral stories we carry – my brother, twelve years younger than I, doesn’t know any of this) that for a while after they divorced, he lived rough in the woods near her home and she was always afraid he’d come back. A police officer at the time, frustrated because in the 1950s in rural Maryland there were absolutely no laws on the books that protected domestic abuse survivors, told my grandmother, who herself was a crack shot with a rifle, that if he came back to go ahead and shoot him, but to make sure he was inside the house and facing her when she did. That was the best he could do. Fortunately for all concerned, it never came to that. There was a time, about ten years ago, when I started sensing my grandfather’s spirit strongly, along with the sense that he wanted to help and be an active part of my ancestral house. I also sensed my grandmother was still scared of him. Much divination later, I worked this out. It’s this experience that taught me, more than just knowing theory ever would have done, that it is possible for our dead to continue to heal and grow and that we can be part of that if we wish. So, what did I do?

As an ancestral spirit, Roland was always fine with me and supportive, so acknowledging his behavior to his family and making sure he understood the full weight of the damage he caused, I explained what I was doing and then moved his image to a separate and physically lower place on my ancestral shrine – as far away from my grandmother (his wife) as possible. I did a series of healing elevations for her. Knowing the situation within Roland’s life that contributed to his damage, I then did a series of elevations for him, and then started working doggedly with his mother. That took several years to begin to untangle. I also visited my grandmother’s grave and did venerative work there. I bought a gravestone for Roland, whom I discovered had none, visited his grave and also made offerings to heal and refresh his soul. I tried my best to find where my great grandmother (Roland’s mom) ashes were buried but was unsuccessful so I had memorial masses offered for her (she was Presbyterian but they are kind of low church so I had Catholics do it. Not the best solution probably, but she also wasn’t particularly religious). I visited Roland’s father’s grave and had it out with him too, but also made offerings. (to him and to his mother and father. I really like the way his mom’s spirit feels). I acknowledged them ALL as significant parts of my ancestral line.

Now I could do this because Roland wanted to make amends. If he had still been violent and abusive, I would have cut him off from any veneration, offerings, or acknowledgement. I would have called on my Disir, my ancestral guardians (there always seem to be a couple of female ancestors who step forward to order one’s ancestral house) to assist with this. I would also have called on the rest of my male ancestors to help here as well, because his behavior in life was not honorable as a man. A real man doesn’t work out his emotional damage by beating his wife and children.

No one is obligated to work with an ancestor that was abusive in life. When this comes up, it’s really very situational and I would definitely go to divination. I’d also, however, take one’s own feelings into account. Sometimes, they’re not relevant. We, as adults, often have to do things that are uncomfortable because they are the right things to do. This is called having character. There are many times I don’t feel like making the offering or prayer I said I would for whatever reason, but I gave my word and it is my obligation and privilege to get off my butt and do so, even my body may not be cooperating that day. I do the best I can. This isn’t necessarily one of those situations. The thing is, as long as this lies unaddressed and unacknowledged in one’s ancestral house, the damage keeps on happening. It doesn’t go away – there is no magical place called “away.” Sooner or later, ancestral damage needs to be dealt with and we as ancestor workers, have some small capacity to contribute to the healing of our lines. How that healing is accomplished (whether by prayer, elevation, and engagement or by cutting someone out of the line) really depends on the who, what, when, and why of the situation and on the potential for further harm to the living.

Some spirit workers will talk about ‘ancestral curses’ and yes, these are a thing. They can have many, many causes, but one of them is unresolved trauma and hurt. So, an ancestor worker’s willingness to engage via elevation can retroactively and proactively both, help the entire ancestral line. For most though, this is not an obligation. It is a choice and sometimes, for many reasons, the choice will be to not engage because more damage to the living family, or to their own hearts might ensue. Sometimes even in this case, an ancestor worker will choose to engage rather than allow that to pass on to their children. It’s complicated and messy. Wading into something like this can tear open pain for living family members. I’ve talked before about how really getting into proper ancestor veneration has the corollary that often one’s ancestors (whether one can hear/sense them or not – some develop that sensitivity, some don’t. it’s not a pre-req for ancestor honoring) will push one to deal with one’s living relatives, heal rifts, bring concord and healing there too. Multiply that a thousand-fold where something like abuse is involved. Make the best choice for you and your family living and dead and don’t let anyone make you feel badly about it. Each situation is different and needs to be handled carefully and respectfully by any spiritworker or diviner who becomes involved.

Also, know that no choice you make with regard to honoring or not honoring a particular ancestor is immutable. There may come a time where you change your mind and decide to engage. Perhaps the situation with living relatives has changed. Perhaps a living relative has died. Perhaps other ancestors are requesting it. Perhaps healing has occurred to a degree with the ancestors that were harmed and now thread of wyrd are open that will allow you to cleanly work with the abusive one for his or her healing. No decision you make no is necessarily impossible to change at a later date.

Ancestor work, healthy ancestor work is a balance. There are multiple sides to this process. You’re balancing the needs of the living and the needs of the dead as well as the needs of those who will eventually come into the line. You’re working with your values and ethics and familial loyalties through the lens of your own experience and sometimes deep hurts that have been caused as a direct result of a particular ancestor’s behavior and choices. That’s not easy. It’s never easy though it does become easier with more engagement (partly, I think, because other ancestors will eventually feel empowered enough to step forward and help).

I also wouldn’t assume that an abusive ancestor didn’t love the ancestor he or she abused. I would say instead that maybe that person loved to the best of their ability but were crippled by their own damage. Maybe they just had poor character and were in capable of loving properly. Maybe they were a dozen other things, but I wouldn’t assume that one facet of their nature, good or bad, was all they were. That too, is deeply uncomfortable, even as I sit here typing it. It’s true though. Whatever else they are, good, bad, or indifferent, people are complicated.

So, to finally answer this question, I would go to divination. We’re polytheists and our religions are religions of diviners. This is how it was in the ancient world. This is how it is with unbroken polytheistic traditions, and this is how it can be for us as well. I would seek out someone who understands this sacred art. I don’t think I would do the divination myself because in such a situation I would not be unbiased, and this could make it difficult to read accurately. Strong emotions and involvement skew our readings, and also confirmation bias is a real thing. I would pray to my Gods and healthy ancestors about this and ask for clarity and insight. I would probably (provided this person was also an ancestor rather than a living relative!) begin elevations for the ancestor who was hurt by the abuser. What happens next would depend on a number of factors outlined in this post. There isn’t any hard and fast rule.

For more about ancestor veneration, check out my book “Honoring the Ancestors: A Basic Guide” available here. This book was born out of an online class I taught several times, designed to teach people the basics of good, solid ancestor work. I’m also happy to answer any further questions here.


About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on July 10, 2020, in Ancestor Work, Ancestors, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Autumn Pulstar

    I love your response to this question. I had an experience that was in reverse. My grandfather passed away when my dad was 16. It was very hard to get my dad to talk about him. From what I gathered, he was abusive, cruel, bitter and my dad couldn’t stand him. Both my parents adored my grandmother (who I also never met…she passed almost 3 weeks before I was born). So I knew a lot about my grandmother, very little about my grandfather and most of it negative. Fast forward years later to just months before my dad passed. A childhood friend of his had been going through his sister’s house and had come across an old newspaper clipping about my grandfather’s wedding day. He mailed it to my dad – and as a commercial indicates, the look on my father’s face was “priceless” when he sees that though the article was clearly about his dad, it was NOT about his mom. He has a long phone conversation with his sister that night, and together they were able to piece together a very tragic family history. Back in the 1920’s 30’s era, girls could hang around with the women, while boys went out to play, so she had picked up some bits and pieces over those years. In fact, my aunt said that at one point she had questioned my grandmother about what she had heard, and was told in no uncertain terms, to never bring it up again. What my dad found out was that his dad had indeed been married previoiusly, to a woman he apparently loved deeply…and they had a son together. And she killed the baby. Intentionally…accidentally…a victim of post partum depression…no one knows. But she was sentenced to a state insane asylum where a few years later she died. And sometime after that, he married my grandmother. In telling me what he had discovered, my father said “This explains EVERYTHING” and the compassion in his eyes was palable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      oh that is heart-wrenching and I can only imagine the impact that had on your dad. I am glad he had what I can only call closure! I can’t help but wonder, when such pieces of info fall into our hands if it isn’t the ancestor or ancestors in question reaching out.


  2. The key is wanted to make amends. If they don’t, I would have them included in a general honoring. But not separately.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello, Galina, thank you for this topic today.

    Does your book on Ancestor work contain information on the elevations?

    I was adopted as a baby. I met my biomom, and she told me some things about my biofather that are not flattering, that included sexual predation and a brother’s incest within his own family. Because of this information I am not seeking out that side of the family. But I am curious if my doing elevations in that arena would help the situation for any descendents.

    The feeling I get from my biofather just now is resistance. He doesn’t want to acknowledge the wrong-doing. So is it best to set this issue aside, or to confront it?

    Susan Hintz-Epstein susan.hintz.epstein@gmail.com (518) 989-2018 home • (518) 947-0645 cell

    On Fri, Jul 10, 2020 at 11:39 AM Gangleri’s Grove wrote:

    > ganglerisgrove posted: “Affiliate Advertising Disclosure Senneferet asked > me a really potent question in the comments section of one of my ancestor > posts: “How do you cope when finding out bad information about someone you > had previously loved and respected? I know everyone has” >


    • ganglerisgrove

      HI Susan, Yes, the book contains info on how to do an elevation. You might also look on my blog here — I probably wrote about it at some point (just search ‘elevation’ or the ancestors or ancestor work tab).

      I think where things like abuse, esp. sexual abuse are involved, and where there was a culture of secrecy within the family (which there often is), that resistance can be rooted in deep deep shame. It may even come from an ancestor a generation before the one you’re dealing with, a ‘we can’t let anyone know about this’ deeply ingrained damage. Sometimes it’ll take elevations not just of the abuser, but of the generation before you, ore (who may have been culpable in some of that abuse) too. you’re essentially demonstrating that they are not alone, that someone living remembers and gives a damn, and you’re demonstrating healthy relationship to them. it can empower other ancestors, healthier ancestors in that line to step forward and help them heal — it gives a way through the resistance. I would call on your ancestors of whatever line you are elevating — maybe not the generations most immediate to the abuser, but further back. At some point, there are those in the line who are healthy and upset over the damage. Reach further back, and also call on your other line, and your adopted line (four sets of ancestors!) to help you, sustain you, support you. The ancestor elevation becomes a group effort. Ideally, your entire living family would participate with fervor.

      good luck and many blessings as you do this work. I do think elevations would help and I wish you well in them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Temple of Athena the Savior and commented:
    As someone with abusive immediate family, I have made the compromise of only addressing my Pagan Dead in prayer so far, those ancestors who are far enough back that it doesn’t matter … Yet, I have an interest in genealogy, and I have a pull to one particular great-grandfather, who I never met in life but whose influence nevertheless impacted me. I am wrestling with that draw, but I may one day go there. I am not ready yet, but I think I will be one day.


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