Getting into the nuts and bolts of ancestor work – a note. 

Today on twitter someone expressed the sentiment that he kept ‘thinking about ancestor veneration and what that would look like in practice but was concerned about how one would hold the ancestors accountable.’ I tried to find the comment again so I could quote it exactly, but I couldn’t and I’m too tired to hunt anymore. The comment stuck with me though and the more I thought about it over the course of my afternoon, the more annoyed I became. 

Firstly, who are we to think we have the right to hold our ancestors, en masse, accountable for anything? (1) Who are we to think that we are better or more evolved than they? There is a certain degree of hubris in the initial comment, and I think we need to remember always, that modernity does not equal progress. Our ancestors made their mistakes, so have we. The purpose of ancestor veneration is not to express agreement with any choice a particular ancestor has made. Our ancestors were people and none of them were perfect. We aren’t perfect either, and holding up our standards as the apex of moral rectitude has its prideful dangers (not the least of which is that our own descendants may look upon us with horror for the choices we make today). There ARE rites and rituals to call particularly problematic ancestors into account, to bring them healing, to restore them and help them become valuable and contributing members of our respective ancestral houses. Ancestor “elevation” is one such rite (which can also be done for perfectly healthy ancestors as an act of devotion) (2).

Ancestor work isn’t about projecting our own morality anachronistically onto the dead (though we can and should learn from their actions, both good and bad). It’s about honoring family – as far back as we can go, in all its complicated variations. 

Acknowledgment, appreciation, veneration, and respect are the watchwords of ancestor work. 

When someone says, “how do we hold our ancestors accountable for xyz),” I want to ask in return: what have you accomplished? Have you painted a great masterpiece? Have you saved a life? Have you given life and raised a family successfully and well? Have you farmed a field and fed your village? Have you served your country? What have you done that will make you worthy of honor when you too become an ancestor (and one does not need to have children to be an ancestor). Will you have contributed and left the world better, or will you have sought only to tear down customs and traditions that create civilization and that have sustained families and communities for generations? Sort your own house out and be grateful for the help of your dead (3). 

Notes:

  1. As an ancestor worker, I will call out the generation of ancestors who willingly abandoned their ancestral traditions, converting to Christianity. I have flat out said that they have an obligation to their descendants to join the work to make things right and I will commit them to my other ancestors so they can be sorted out productively. This is my one exception to what I note above. Even there, I give the opening for productive restorative work to occur. 
  2. Really toxic ancestors, those who want to prey on the living, or who remain vicious and abusive can be sequestered and isolated from veneration. There are rites for that too, though they’re not to be done lightly. Often ancestors abusive in life, once the burden of their own life-pain is removed, once they experience the Gods, once they are brought to their own ancestors for healing realize the devastation they created in life and want to make amends. 
  3. Many of them are well aware of their mistakes and they often work off that debt by helping us become better human beings. We complicate this generally by resisting them. 

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 August 15, 2022, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Another thing about it I find odd is the fact that these people seem to never consider the fact that any wrongdoing worthy of correction done by our ancestors has likely already been or is currently being handled by the Gods that oversee such things. I just seriously doubt that if the Furies for instance really felt that someone was deserving of punishment that They wouldn’t be able to get Their hands on them. I also doubt that They’d do this simply because people lived in the past. I really can’t think of anything that would be deserving of punishment to the point that we need to punish the ancestors collectively over it that wouldn’t already be handled by the Gods by now.

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  2. >> “Sort your own house out and be grateful for the help of your dead.”
    Yes! This is something that’s always baffled me: an unwillingness I see among some folks to… make reparations for wrongs they know (or have good reason to believe) their ancestors committed. I have ancestors who I know hurt people. My response to this fact isn’t to go to my dead demanding they apologize in some way (To whom? I honestly imagine the descendants of those they hurt would want nothing to do with them!) — I prefer to take the actions I can in real life to work toward righting the effects of those wrongs. It’s harder to do that– harder still to do so in ways that don’t perpetuate harm– but it’s good work and more effective, for me, than griping at my dead about my guilt over their life decisions.

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  3. I love my grandfather. He’s always and only ever been kind, helpful, and caring to me. He did everything he could to provide for his family and served his country well. He’s also an old White guy from the South with some very unpleasant opinions about African Americans that he simply will not give up. I don’t like or agree with those opinions, and he knows it. We do not discuss them because neither of us are going to change the other’s mind on the matter. I love him in spite of that flaw. When he passes on, I will grieve deeply and make offerings out of gratitude for everything he did for me in life. It is right and proper that I do so. I will never like or excuse the ugly ideas he espoused in life, but I will not “hold him accountable” for them either. It is not my place to do so.

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  4. Not to excuse anything, but quite often abusers were once abused themselves. All the more reason for healing.

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  5. There is a wealth of spiritual experience & dedication behind the sage wisdom this post passes on this post. Blessings Galina

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