Category Archives: Ancestor Work

QOTD

“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”

                                               —attributed to William Gladstone

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Honor the land, honor the dead

I found this while sorting through some older writing. I’m reposting it because it’s so incredibly relevant to some of the work I’m doing now. 

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Some friends were having a discussion with Sannion last night and as I was passing through (swamped with preparations for my upcoming trip), he mentioned one of the things they were discussing and it just blew me away. This is so spot on, so powerful, so incredibly profound that I, half way upstairs, stopped dead in my tracks and asked everyone’s permission to write about it here. (Obviously they graciously allowed me to do so, or I wouldn’t be posting this!).

The latest issue of Walking the Worlds discusses the importance of regional cultus to the restoration of our polytheisms. We talk about regional cultus a lot but I don’t think many of us (myself included) ever really stop to parse it out or to figure out how all of the various parts of our praxis are organically (no pun intended, I swear!) connected. Part of regional cultus is venerating the land spirits, what a Norse practitioner might call vaettir. Hand in hand with this goes a certain reverence for the land and the spaces in which we practice, which support our practice, be they cities or forests or anything in between. This is good. I think honoring the land is the third part of a very powerful trine of Gods, ancestors, and land that is foundational to polytheism as a whole. But I don’t think many of us take this any farther. My friends did and I’m still just blown away.

Essentially when you are honoring the land, over and above any individual spirits you may be engaging with, when we just talk about the soil itself, you’re honoring the dead. You cannot engage in regional cultus, you cannot really honor any piece of land, without also recognizing and honoring the dead. Why? This is basic to the way both geology and ancestor practice works. The dead are always with us, underpinning everything we are and everything we do. The Yoruba have a powerful maxim: “we stand on the shoulders of our dead,” or sometimes “we stand on the bones of our dead.” Well, we do. Literally.

What is soil but eons of dead matter? Many of us in the Northern Tradition praise the forces of decay because without decay and rot, without this process of transmutation what would our world be? With the grace of the gods and spirits of decay and rot, we have soil, soil made up of dead bodies, dead animals, dead plants, going all the way back to the beginning. We quite literally walk and live upon the remains of our dead and we are nourished by it physically just as ancestor work nourishes us spiritually. There is nowhere we can walk where the dead are not. There is nothing we can consume, that has not partaken of this blessing of death and decay (unless it is solely processed in a lab and then I don’t want to be consuming it!). All that grows in the soil and everything that devours that which grows in the soil, and all who devour those things…we are all physically nourished by our dead and in time our corporeal matter will fade into the blackness of the soil to nourish those who come after us in turn. I have said before that there is more life in a teaspoon of soil than in the greatest metropolis on earth and that is true, but in the soil itself, there is also more death. The two cannot be sifted apart.

We as polytheists and animists know that we are not apart from the natural world. We are in harmony with it (or strive to be). We are connected to all things that were and are and will be. The detritus of a small dead plant is as much part and parcel of our tapestry of being as those buried in a cemetery to whom we might be related by blood. We are literally made up of the dead. The soil is the stuff of our blood and bone. It’s all interconnected.

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Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

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Meditation on Ancestor Work

There is a grace to the dead. We have our ancestors and they‘re a mixed bag: good, bad, and everything in between and it’s our duty, the sacred compact to which we were born, for which we were born to make sense of that, to shoulder it and dance through our lives. Our dead are ours, our strength, our foundation and so long as they are doing right by us, we’re called to honor them. (When they’re not, we may be called to elevations and healing work or to call them to account, or in some very desperate cases to cut them out but this is not the everyday norm). Here is the thing though: our dead for the most part tried to live good lives and to do for their families. Even when they fucked up grievously, very few set out to be horrible human beings. They may have been damaged. They may have made terrible choices, but in most cases they did the best they could in a very diseased world to make sense of their lives.

I think on my 3rd great grandmother Rachel Bobo. According to census records, she was illiterate. But she and her husband seem to have moved around quite a bit, possibly for opportunities for themselves and their children. She and her husband were illiterate but her son was a mechanic who owned his own home and could read and write and her granddaughter was an opera singer.

I’m not sure my own maternal grandmother ever finished high school. I suspect she had only an eight grade education if that. One of her daughters worked forty years plus in a respectable position in the Pentagon, the other at Aberdeen Proving ground, and two of her sons own their own businesses. I’m going for my doctorate. For some families, it’s getting a child to learn to read. For another, it’s getting them safely to adulthood. For others, it’s seeing that they never go hungry. Step by faltering step, our ancestors in the best of times pushed us forward. There were those so damaged or broken that they failed even in this, yes, but overall, stumbling in the often bitter confusion of living, they did the best they could.

Someone asked me recently why we honor the dead. It was an honest question, not asked in sarcasm or petulance but out of a desire to understand. We honor the dead because it is the right and proper thing for adults to do. People who don’t honor and respect their dead aren’t fully realized human beings in my opinion. They are like trees without roots. This is one of the ancient contracts (along with honoring the Gods and honoring the land) and it’s a sacred obligation. It shouldn’t be rocket science to instill in our children and our communities the rightness in not only preventing desecration of the dead, but in honoring them and giving them their dignity. This benefits us too.

Nor is honoring the dead about supporting their causes in life. That was a hard lesson for me to learn with my military dead. We honor our dead as individuals (remembrance is a powerful thing, a holy thing) but also because now they are part of this collective of ancestors that nurture and protect us. At least that’s part of it.

A few years ago I had to do a pilgrimage for my military dead and part of it was going to union and confederate graveyards and it was very, very hard for me to visit the latter. I don’t support what they fought for, I find so much of what they fought for personally vile and I was flat out told “it’s not about supporting their causes. it’ s not about patriotism or lack thereof. it’s about honoring the men and women who contributed to making us who we are today, who laid down their lives for something, who lived, suffered, experienced joys, and died trying to make their world a better place for their descendants. It’s about the link in the chain of humanity, and the strength of the ancestral collective. When we honor them, we restore and renew that ancient compact.

We carry our dead. We carry them always. We should do it proudly and we should do it well.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Hail to Our Dead

Remembrance

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Today I honor all those who died in our wars. I honor all those who died in WWI. I honor especially, my first cousin twice removed Private Wesley Heffner who fought with Pershing’s First expeditionary Force. He wasn’t drafted: he enlisted. He wanted to be a good man. He was proud of being an American and wanted to bring freedom–he thought that was what being an American was about: fighting wrong and standing for liberty. He died in France in 1918. He never made it home. 

 

“Carry the dead with us. Carry the dead. Never not carry them,
never not act in their name.

Carry the dead in our dreams, all the great deeds; carry the dead in our days,
all the great deeds.

Morning, morning. Let there be their light.

What they would want, what they would ask of us, carry them with us,
never not bring them along.

Never for nothing their brutal departures. Never let justice go lonely.

Morning. Morning.

Ever the heart, ever the spirit, ever the longing. . Earth is not past,
not a ghost, not lost to us.

Ever the believing.
(“Credo Coda,” Michael Dennis Browne)

Lithuania on my Mind

I was reading a book recently titled “Baltic Lenin,” which explored in a loose narrative-type travel-log format the changes in the Baltic since the fall of the Soviet Union. It was an interesting book and reading it made me remember my own trip to Lithuania when I was in high school. My Russian class went on an exchange for a month to Vilnius, Lithuania, which was then part of the CCCP. I was particularly delighted by this since I’m half Lithuanian. I stayed with an absolutely lovely family and got to meet some of my relatives too. (I wish I hadn’t fallen out of touch with the family that hosted me, but once I graduated high school and made an attempt at a professional ballet career, the stress of that profession and of fighting the injuries that would eventually cause me to retire in my early twenties caused me to neglect a lot of things. I wonder sometimes if any of them embraced Romuva when the religion was acknowledged after independence). When I was there, the country was already agitating for its freedom and a couple of years later, emerged as a free and independent nation which it remains today.

I wasn’t smart enough at the time to keep a travel journal. What the hell did I know? I was a teenager and more concerned about the month of ballet practice I was missing than connecting with my ancestors. What follows are really bare bones impressions thirty plus years after the fact.

Firstly, I learned about Gediminas, fourteenth-century grand duke of Lithuania, champion of Paganism who protected his people from the scourge of Christianity and who lived and died a polytheist. This is a token, currently hanging at my ancestor shrine, that I bought on that visit.

I think, best I can translate, that the phrase translates as “Brothers, restore the castle of Gediminas.” Gediminas had a vision of an iron wolf that predicted the powerful city (Vilnius) that he would go on to found. It has remained a potent symbol.

I remember visiting Trakai Castle, once a major strategic fortress.

Trakai

And we went to the Curonian Spit, a 100 km stretch of sand dunes abutting the Baltic Sea. It’s not too far from Vilnius and is now a UNESCO heritage site. I was sixteen or seventeen in the photo below.

on the baltic sands

Finally there was amber and traditional embroidery and connecting with my dead.

Lithuanian doll

I want to visit Vilnius again. There was so much I didn’t know when I was there as a teen. I’d like to visit the shrine to Mary of the Gates of Dawn. (I actually honor Her as a syncretic version of Ausrine). I don’t know why we didn’t visit when I was there as a teen, save that the city was still under Soviet occupation and perhaps it wasn’t permitted.

dawn_1

Because I find it oddly moving, I’d also like to visit the Hill of Crosses. I don’t know what the holy sites of Romuva are—to me the whole country is sacred ground because it is the soil that holds the bones of my ancestors – but I would very much like to make offerings one day properly.

hill of crsoses

That is all. I’ll end with this prayer-poem to my Lithuanian ancestors.

ištvermė

It’s a hard people that birthed me
hard and unyielding
like weathered stone
 hungry flame,
the bones of the dead,
hard like the yoke
of occupation
and the necessary brutality
of  resistance.

It’s hard soil
that holds them,
concealing bones
of an ancient nation,
lands devastated
by generations
and horrors
only the stones themselves
might recount.
and they are silent. 

It’s a hard God that took me up
and He made me hard in His loving.
There’s  a hard war to be fought.
and I’ll take point.
My ancestors nod grimly
when I say this.
They know
all the different permutations
of grit.
Just try to break them.
They never yield–
never forgot their ceremonies either.
They know from whence
their power comes.

My people,
children of fire
born under a blazing northern sun
know the secret of endurance.
We keep our power hidden
we keep our borders close
we guard what must be guarded.
these things come down in the blood
like hard edged steel.
Then like steel we rise.

(from “Honoring the Ancestors” available below).

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Whistling Dixie While the Country Burns

So having a discussion today with someone who is very much in support of NOLA taking down any monuments of the Confederacy (according to this guy, that’s not ‘destruction’). I’m very much against removing any historical monuments. I don’t think visible erasure of our history is a way of dealing with that history or of healing its wounds and I’m sick of seeing people accommodating this PC agenda. I question what’s next: desecrating the dead by removing their monuments? oh wait, that’s already happened in Confederate cemeteries. 

Now I am no fan of the Confederacy. the history of slavery and human trafficking in this country makes my stomach lurch when I sit and think about it. it’s one of the most shameful periods of our history BUT it’s our history and I don’t think anything good ever came of denying one’s own history. We don’t learn by white washing and pretending things never happened, and we don’t learn by desecrating monuments to the dead.

I would be all for setting up monuments commemorating emancipation, the triumph of the Union, free black communities (NOLA had a thriving free black community since at least the eighteenth century) in the same locales but to erase history well, that leaves us with a generation that doesn’t know where it came from and so can be very easily led to where someone else thinks it should go. I’m never against adding more memorials. It’s the taking away that bothers me.

Someone asked me in one of these discussions whether we shouldn’t prioritize the needs of the living over the dead and I said absolutely not. The dead should and will always take precedence with me. A culture and a people’s worth is determined by how they tend their dead and here’s the thing, if you’re tending your dead rightly and well (which includes holding them accountable for the shit that they did), it will transform how you engage with the living. But in no world should the dead, our ancestors, take second place. Being a functioning human means being in right relationship with the ancestors, the Gods, and the land spirits and that impacts every other living interaction. We don’t achieve that by pandering to a group of PC fanatics who have no long term vision and preach only to sentiment and emotion.

If these monuments are being used by white supremacists to advance their agenda (real white supremacists, not people who refuse to feel guilty for being white), then address that, but don’t think it’s addressed by pretending that history never happened. If you don’t remember your history, you’re guaranteed to repeat it. We’re seeing that in the daily news. These monuments serve as much for warning as they do commemoration.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Visiting Paternal Ancestors’ Graves

So, my ancestors were pretty pissed off with me a few weeks ago, my paternal ancestors that is. You see, I was raised close to my maternal side of the family. We only visited my dad’s family once a year if that and only when I was very small (after his parents died, we didn’t make the trek every year). I’ve struggled for years to develop a close relationship with that side of my dead. Whereas I am quite close to specific individuals on that side of my ancestral line, as a whole we struggle to communicate and connect. This is especially so of the very old ones, the protectors of the lineage. They had wanted me to visit what graves were available to me (my grand parents, aunt and uncle, and some cousins are buried in Albany about two hours away from me) but up until now I hadn’t. I had, however, visited the graves of maternal dead in MD and PA, easily four or five hours away several times. This did not sit well with my Lithuanian dead. They’re very high protocol (which pisses me off to no end, I cannot tell you, though they’re right to be so) and this was not proper protocol. So Easter Sunday I highed my ass off to Our Lady of Angels cemetery in Albany to make offerings and visit with my dead.

The trip itself was pretty uneventful. It’s a pretty straight shot from my home. I bought flowers the day before but made that offering at my ancestor shrine. The flowers were just so pretty as they were and the bouquet huge I thought it best to leave them at the shrine. I brought fresh water and other offerings for the cemetery. Usually when I go to a cemetery, I can make an offering and quick prayer to the cemetery spirit or to my ancestors and almost immediately find the grave that I’m looking for. That was not the case this time. I asked my ancestors for help and they said “get out and walk.” Did I mention they were pissed? I walked around for an hour, found the grave of a couple of cousins, eventually found my aunt and uncle. I asked the wind God Kari for guidance and unusual birds kept flying in a particular direction. I followed them but coiuld not find my grandparents’ grave. I did find a couple of cousins who died in WWI and II.

Finally, pissed off – because it was clear they were fucking with me – I called on Hermes and begged for His help. Essentially, I went over their heads. Immediately he told me to stop the car (I’d gotten back in to drive to various parts of the cemetery) and get out and walk in a particular direction. I did this and after a yard or so He told me to look down and right there was my grandparents’ grave. (Hail to You, Hermes, and thank You!). Thing is, I’d walked past it and looked at it at least three times before that (it was only a couple of graves over from one of my cousins). My dead were keeping me from seeing it, testing me, seeing if I would stay the course and find them. Fuckers.

So I made my offerings, and promised to go back in June. By the time I got home and hit my ancestor shrine I could already feel the difference, a positive one, and was immediately gifted with several cemetery songs. (Our tradition is big on songs). The visit helped smooth out things with that line and since I’ve had one of them step forward to help specifically with communication, which is a blessing.

I’ve always found joy in engaging with the Gods…sometimes it sucks, sometimes there is  great pain, but there is also, usually joy. That’s not ancestor work for me. There’s no joy in dealing with the dead for me. There is duty and satisfaction. I find the protocols they demand irritating and often have to fight with myself to do them, even though I know I should. I often resent having them demand things. I serve the Gods not human beings, and my father’s line is very rigid – they are hard people, from a hard land, and that stubborn grit enabled them to survive. It rubs me the wrong way though, when someone who was once human expects obedience that I will ever only give to the Gods. So we wrangle. But at the same time, as much as we fight, I know they have my back and that is an awesome feeling. We can bitch and fight and cuss and moan but when the chips are down, my dead have my back and I’m fiercely proud that they were the last people in Europe to abandon their ancestral traditions (the Lithuanians didn’t abandon their polytheism until the late fifteenth century). Everything else we’ll work out eventually. Half of ancestor work is learning how to communicate, not just learning how to communicate with our dead, but our dead learning how to communicate with us. It takes time. It’s messy, but it’s worth it.

Now some pictures.

aviza

This was the first grave I found. I believe Tapila is the sister of my grandfather.

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Then here is one of the cousins (I can’t tell exactly how we’re related …once you start getting into cousins x times removed I find it confusing lol). I’d have made offerings to them anyway because they’re military dead, but I was pleased to find them (after making a desperate prayer to Loki….Loki, Kari, and Hermes really had my back that day).

wagner.jpg

Here is my aunt and uncle. I never got along with Julia in life for a number of reasons but after death her husband (who was one of the first ancestors I started venerating) helped bring us into accord and now she is one of my strongest of Disir. I have a photo of her as a young woman and she was quite lovely, a dead ringer for Marlene Dietrich.

Dabravalskas

And finally, finally here is the grave of my grand parents. Halle-fucking-lujah.

Next time I will bring flowers to the cemetery. Sometimes cemeteries are quiet but this one had a lot of chatty dead. I told my dead that if I’d been able to choose their grave stones, it wouldn’t be any of these nice, simple, conservative monuments. No, if I’d been able to choose, you’d be able to see that sucker from space. LOL.  

Polytheist Problems Ancestor Edition LOL

I was meeting with one of my apprentices last week (as we do monthly) and we were discussing shrine work and she mentioned that due to space concerns she had her ancestor shrine in her bedroom. I used to live in a small New York City apartment so I know what it’s like trying to find space for shrines (especially when they keep growing!). I just nodded and made the offhand comment, ‘Be sure to cover the shrine when you’re ah….getting frisky.” The look of utter horror on my poor apprentice’s face was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time and we had quite a good laugh over it as the impact of what I’d said really hit home. This is a bit of protocol that most people aren’t generally taught and wouldn’t necessarily think of on their own so I promised that I would write a little something about it here. (Thank you, to the apprentice in question, for allowing me to use this as a teaching moment here on my blog!).

Now first of all I just want to say that I have amazing apprentices. They are all very devout, very talented, and very hard workers. That one of them did not know this is in no way a knock on her practice. It’s actually more on me because I should have thought to say something when she first set up her shrine but when you’re deeply steeped in practices for decades, it’s easy to forget the obvious.

So here’s the question: is it ok to put one’s ancestor shrine (or other shrines) in one’s bedroom.

The easy answer is yes, absolutely. Especially when living in a tiny space, we have to make do. There’s nothing inherently wrong about putting shrines in one’s bedroom. I have several in mine because I like to work at them (pray, meditate, make small offerings) before going to bed. It’s a good, practical space. Now here’s the caveat: because the bedroom is also the most intimate space in one’s home, special care has to be taken around the shrines. Allow me to explain.

Sex is awesome and there’s nothing wrong with it. LOL. It does however carry a measure of miasma (again, this is a neutral term. It does not mean it’s bad.) that should be cleansed away before approaching one’s shrines. More to the point, if it’s one’s ancestors, they probably don’t want to watch, no matter how skilled one might be a-bed. LOL. And I’m guessing that no matter how much one might love one’s ancestors, one does not want them watching either! A shrine is the home of spirits or Gods. It’s an invitation to those spirits or Gods to be present, a doorway or window into our world. Out of respect, I was taught that it is best to cover one’s shrines with a clean white cloth, if they are in one’s bedroom, before engaging in any sexual activity. It’s a simple matter of respect.

Now I have a huge folding screen that separates my shrines from the rest of my bedroom, which effectively negates this problem. The only shrines I might not cover are those to Deities that are specifically concerned with sex (my Freya shrine is also in my bedroom and I tend to leave it uncovered) though I might suggest doing divination to make sure the Gods in question are ok with that.

And, that is all I have to say on this topic.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Distractions, distractions

ancestors

So a facebook friend posted this image on his page and a rather lively discussion ensued. Apparently the statement above is incomprehensible to some Heathens. I for one, fully support it and while it is a First Nations person pictured, I think it holds true for all of us. I can see however, I’m going to have to break out my logic.

At one point our entire world was polytheistic or animist. All of us have polytheistic ancestors. Monotheism was and is a very, very recent blip on the fabric of world religion. There was a time when all religions were, to some degree, polytheistic. Then monotheism came—doesn’t much matter which monotheistic tradition, they all operated under the same modus operandi: colonialism, conquest, and the eradication of all other worldviews. The result was, predictably in retrospect, the destruction of our traditions and the co-opting of our wisdom traditions (i.e philosophy), and eventually our scientific discoveries, literature, etc. Still following?

Then, after our ancestral lands had been converted, usually by force, our ancestors drank that poison and became the ones who went across the ocean and destroyed nations. The question came up in the course of the Facebook discussion, of what to do with ancestors who were Christian (or Jewish or Muslim I suppose, but in the discussion we were specifically talking about Christian relatives). My response was two fold:

I honor my ancestors, even if they were Christian. I do, however, view their religious choice (and in many cases for generations ‘choice’ didn’t enter into it) as a sort of inter-generational Stockholm syndrome. I honor them, but not for their religious choices. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t good or devout people. In many cases they were, very much so. Nor do I have a particular problem with their Powers. It’s the system of monotheism that I find poisonous.

I do not honor the generation that chose to abandon their ancestral traditions and contribute to the destruction of polytheisms. I will honor them when they step to the plate and start doing what they can to make reparation and amends for that crime. (Nefas) Would you be ok with an ancestor who raped children, or participated in genocide? Would you look at that person uncritically? They’re still your ancestor, but god damn they have a lot for which to atone. Adopting monotheism is no different, especially considering the consequences of that choice.

I value the restoration of our traditions far more than I value the comfort of …collaborators. It is true that they may have been acting in good faith, or out of fear, or to protect others, but their actions had consequences that were horrific for us, consequences that transformed our world the repercussion of which each and every one of us today is having to endure .

Because of this particular generation, we now are tasked with restoring those traditions in circumstances that are unbelievably difficult, corrupt, and poisonous. I will honor them when they step up and do what they can to right the wrong. If they are doing that, then they are welcome to partake of the offerings I give to my other ancestors. If they are not, let them be hungry and thirsty for all eternity, their names and deeds erased from memory and time.

Apparently this makes me a “bigot,” which is fine: I’ve been called worse by better.

Piety should have prevented the abrogation of our traditions. (Think about it, there were plenty of people through its nascent years who recognized it for the insanity and pollution it was and who clung steadfastly to their traditions preferring death on their feet to a lifetime on their knees in homage to an alien power). This wasn’t just a matter of “personal choice,” it was a conscious severing of obligations to our Gods and ancestors. It was devastation and we’re bearing the brunt. We are having to clean up a mess of monumental proportions. While we’re doing so, we are denied functioning traditions and are under attacks by successive waves of aggressive monotheism, which they could have ended (or at least died trying to do so).

I think it right and proper to demand that the generation that began our long descent into darkness step forward to help correct their error. And I consider it respectful: they have the choice to try to make reparation and restore their honor and alignment with the rest of the family and most importantly of all, the Gods…or they can live with the situation as it is. If they want to remain in those beliefs, aligned with this tyrannical power that’s their right. It doesn’t mean I need to have anything to do with them. Their willingness to fuck and breed or more pointedly, my great great many times great grandma’s decision not to swallow doesn’t obligate me to pour out offerings. I’ll save those offerings for ancestors of worth and value, who need them in order to continue fighting on our behalf and on behalf of our traditions.

To excuse it unquestioningly, because we are here as a result, is to place our existence above the devastation of generations. At the very least, we can work to rebuild. We need to stop jumping through hoops to avoid obligation and look the problem right in its face.