Category Archives: Ancestors
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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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.
My husband just finished a book of poetry titled “Wine Dark” that will be available shortly. I’d direct you to his site, but he’s going to be taking it down soon (he does this periodically because he is a pain). In this poetry book, in one of his poems, he refers to the realm of the dead and its denizens as ‘the noble nations of the dead.”
I was quite struck by the phrase, that epithet: noble nations of the dead. I read that and thought, ‘yes, exactly. What a perfect descriptor.”
I think I’ll be using this phrase from now on: noble nations of the dead. May they be hailed.
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
November for me is a month of remembrance, specifically remembrance of our military dead. It’s Odin’s month, and it’s also the month in which we celebrate armistice/veterans day (Nov. 11). This year, we’re in the hundredth anniversary of WWI, and I have been feeling the WWI dead very, very strongly. This year as in years past, I intend to post something in honor of the military dead every day throughout November, sometimes simply a memorial poppy photo, sometimes more. May those who fought and those who died be remembered.
Today I”ll begin with a very well known WWI poem, by Laurence Binyon. This poem is famous and has been used by the British Royal Legion as an exhortation to remembrance. It’s a good place to begin.
For the Fallen
by R.L. Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Today is also the anniversary of my late father’s birthday. He was a career soldier, serving in WWII and Korea, and later working in ordinance at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He was born Nov. 1, 1917 and died in 2005. He lived a good and honorable life. May he be remembered by those who knew him and celebrated by his ancestors. Hail John Paul Dabravalskas, son of Ursula Blasis and Karolys Dabravalskas. Happy Birthday!
It’s that time of year again when most of us start thinking about our dead. Of course I’m of the mind that every day is the proper time to think about our ancestors, but many of our religions give special focus to them in autumn (Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, Winterfylledh, etc.).
One of the things that my ancestors like, and almost demand this time of year, is that I cook for them; specifically, that I cook traditional family/ethnic recipes. My German, Swiss, and British Isles ancestors don’t seem to care (They’ll eat anything LOL) but my Lithuanians really, really, really want me cooking recipes that I got from my father who got them from his mom, and so on. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have as many points of connection as I would like with that part of my line, or perhaps there are reasons known only to them, but they are most insistent that I cook for them in a traditional way.
Usually, they’re happy if once in awhile I make my grandmother’s bread, though they’d prefer if I made all the bread consumed in my house (not a possibility due to my health issues. It takes hard work and endurance to cook like that!) but around this time of year and generally through Yule they want everything: vertinas, apple cake, bow tie cookies, breads, soups, stews, everything. I started by making bread last night.
To honor them, I’m going to share some of those recipes here. I encourage y’all to share your own ancestor recipes too. The kitchen is the heart of the home. So much family lore, history, and bonding has taken place over the centuries in the kitchens, in the work that nourishes the family. It’s no wonder that our ancestors like us to remember that, as they nourish us too.
Weird Ancestor Porridge : )
The first dish that I want to mention is a traditional dish served for the ancestors in Lithuania. I don’t have an actual recipe. It’s just a porridge made from various heritage grains. I usually combine nine different grains, some oat flour, corn meal, etc. I boil them on the stove top adding a ton of honey, dried fruit, sometimes almonds, salt until it tastes ok to me. Then I put cinnamon, sometimes nutmeg on it, sometimes sugar, put it into a special dish I have and offer it to the dead. The combination of grains I use varies and sometimes I’ve substituted lentils or peas for one of the grains. Use what you have.
Mamoom’s Basic Sweet Dough
Bread is such a powerful thing, almost a sacrament in Lithuanian tradition. It represents everything good and holy, everything that nourishes life, and it can even be used in esoteric cleansings. (I can’t do a damn thing with traditional egg cleansings, but give me bread and I’m good to go). This is my grandmother’s favorite recipe.
8-9 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 packages of dry, active yeast
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup (two sticks) butter
½ cup water
- In a large bowl combine two cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast.
- In a medium saucepan heat the milk, water, and butter until very warm. The butter doesn’t have to melt all the way.
- With a mixer at low speed gradually pour liquid into dry ingredients. Increase speed to medium and beat for two minutes. Stir in the additional flour and the eggs to make a soft dough. (At this point you may add a cup or two of raisins. I prefer to use golden raisins. This is optional).
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic – about ten minutes. Shape into a ball and put in a greased bowl, turning all over so top of dough can get greased (I use butter to grease the bowl). Cover with a dry towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled – about an hour.
- Punch down dough. Cut into thirds or halves, cover and let rise fifteen minutes. Put in greased pans and let rise 1 ½ hours.
- Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes.
Dad’s Bow Tie Recipe
(eat them warm ^__^)
Every culture seems to have some version of this: dough covered in powdered sugar. It’s a little bite of bliss. They take awhile to make though so be prepared.
12 egg yolks
4 Tablespoons of sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon rum
1 pint sour cream
flour as needed.
- mix all this up well adding five or six cups of flour gradually. Roll the dough very, very thin and cut into rectangles. Cut a slit in the center of each rectangle and pull one end through to make a little bowtie.
- Fry until golden in oil 375 F.
- Roll those suckers in powdered sugar right away
(mine never look this good! They taste good, but never LOOK this fine)
I hate making these. I love eating them but I hate making them. They take forever but they are so very worth it.
Meat: four pounds of pork loin deboned (I don’t like pork so I use ground beef)
Dough: beat three eggs. 1-2 teaspoons salt, 2 cups milk. While beating add 5-6 cups flour until dough is soft enough to handle.
Prep the meat: 1 onion chopped fine, 2 slices of bread crumbled, 2 eggs with a little milk to soften, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper.
Roll the dough out thin, cut it into circles, fill the circles with a teaspoon of meat, and fold over, crimping the edges with your fork, or folding and pinching the dough.
Drop them in boiling water for 20 minutes. When they rise, they’re done.
Later this week, I’ll share some recipes from my adopted mom and bio mom. Enjoy, folks.
I’ve been on an ancestral pilgrimage since thursday. It’s been an amazing experience and more productive than I ever dreamed. I’ve written about it here and here. I’ve a few other updates to make as well but they will have to wait until later this week. I’m just wiped out.
Here is one though that I’ll share now in closing. The newest prayer card is by Grace Palmer and for Narvi and Vali. It’s based on art she did for my adopted mom. It’ll be available very soon. That is all.
I’m planning a pilgrimage later this week to visit my second through sixth great grandparents’ various graves. I particularly want to visit the grave of my second great uncle S. Wesley Heffner, the WWI veteran I posted about earlier. So of course I went to my ancestor shrine last night and announced my intention to visit two cemeteries and….all of a sudden later that night I got pushed to go to my tree at ancestry.com and start clicking on all the little green leaves (which are hints to new info and more ancestors. Beware those leaves. It’s easy to get sucked into hours and hours of research). I managed to trace, for two lines within my maternal line, four more generations. The dead were all around me, swarming me, wanting to be heard – wanting to NOT be forgotten. They were pointing out things and bringing information up for me and hours later my husband finally reminded me of the time and urged me to go to bed (I have an early class today — in fact, I’m sitting in the cafeteria at school now). I finally managed it, not an easy thing with so many ancestors about, and dreamed of them, dreamed of their graves, of finding them, of visiting them all and seeing all the connections between the various families.
I woke up realizing I have not two but at least four graveyards to visit and that i’m related to most of the families in those graveyards. I’ll post more about this later but I’m overwhelmed and not sure how I’m going to do this. I finally promised them that I’d visit as many graves as I could this visit and those I missed, I’d be sure to visit on my next trip down.
They want to be remembered, to be part of my life here and now, today. I pray they help me to do that well.
Every so often I return to genealogy research. I have to be careful – I can get sucked down the genealogy whirlpool for hours and hours or even days if I’m not careful. Ancestry.com recently partnered with Fold3.com which allows one to search military records and somewhere in a couple of hours of random searching, I discovered that my great grandmother’s nephew had fought and died in WWI.
I don’t know much about him. I’ve got queries out to Heffner genealogists but I’ve made a complete hash of my ancestry.com chart (I was tired one night and merged information for him, his father, and another John Wesley Heffner so now I need to go sort through all the documents and sort it out, a task I’m not looking forward to doing), but here’s what I know.
Wesley Heffner was born on April 30, 1898 in Chanceford Township, PA. He was the son of Amos Heffner and his wife Lottie Ardella (“Della”) Heffner nee Welsh.
He served in Hoboken and was fighting in France from June 14, 1917 to June 5, 1918 — according to his mother’s application for a military pension (apparently if a young man was unmarried, their mothers could apply for a pension at that time, or at least so it seems) and went overseas with Pershing’s first contingent. He was a private first class in Company B, 26th Infantry. He did not come home again.
I have so many questions, so many things that I would like to know about him. Is he buried in France where he died or is he buried here in the states and if so, where? Are there any extant photos? What made him enlist?
When Pershing’s forces first went over it was standard operating procedure to bury the soldiers in the land where they fell. This didn’t sit well with the folks back home and pressure was put on the military to bring their sons back. In an article that made me cry, about WWI, burying our dead, and bringing them home again we’re given a vivid picture of General Pershing facing the atrocious body count of that ‘great’ war:
“THE GENERAL WEPT when he heard the news. About 3 a.m. on November 3, 1917, German troops overran an isolated Allied outpost near Verdun, killing three men from the 16th Infantry who had slipped into the trenches for their combat debut only hours before. These were the first of Jack Pershing’s men to die in the Great War. One was shot between the eyes; another had his skull smashed. The third was found face down, his throat cut. All three were buried near where they had died, amid the beautiful rolling hills of northeastern France. This was as it should be, General Pershing believed. There was no time to bring fallen soldiers back to the States, he said, nor any space on ships crossing the Atlantic. And he couldn’t bear to think of mothers opening caskets to see their boys ravaged by the fearsome new weapons of the industrial era. Within days, however, the War Department discovered that the families and friends of the dead thought differently. Letters and telegrams arrived in Washington asking when the soldiers’ remains would be shipped home. Grand funerals were planned. No matter that the men had died an ocean away or that the war was still going on. Bring them home. This was a refrain Pershing and the military establishment would hear for the rest of the war, indeed, for years afterward. History had given the American people definite ideas about what to do with the war dead. And they weren’t to be denied.”
Read the full article here.
Bring them home. I would like to know if my great great uncle was ever brought home.
There is so much I don’t know but at least I have a name. At least I know he exists and I know he fought and I know that he died somewhere on a bloody field in France. It’s a start. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.
Edit: before I posted this, I actually found a picture of his grave. My great great uncle is buried in Chanceford Township, PA, in St. Luke’s Lutheran Cemetery. I will have a chance to visit his grave, and that of his parents when next I go down to MD. I’ll make a detour to PA. This doesn’t necessarily mean that his body is there – it could have been just a grave with the body actually buried in a field in France, but all things considered, and given what I know of my family, I think it’s safe to assume that it’s his actual in situ grave. I wonder now whether he was shipped back immediately or only after the war…and what it must have been like for his family, first to receive notification of his death (sent to his father Amos) and then his body. How was he remembered by his brothers and sisters (he had 14 siblings) and what stories might they have told?
Today I was thinking about my ancestors and working on finishing up the Eir novena booklet. As part of the each day of the novena I include a reading, a prayer, and a suggested activity offering. one of the offerings is to go plant a tree. As I say in the booklet, it might seem something of a non sequitur with regard to Eir, but there are Anglo-Saxon healing charms like the Acerbot that focus on healing the earth. Planting trees can help with that.
So once I took a break from writing, I decided to do just that in honor of my ancestors. I wanted to post about it here so that those of you who might be looking for something nice to do for your dead can add this to the list of options. There are organizations that allow you to plant trees in honor of someone. The Arbor Day Foundation is one of them. If you’re interested in doing this, or just in planting trees in general but don’t have the capacity to do so on your own land, check them out here.
There are other organizations too (I think Nature Conservancy has a similar program, for instance) but this is the one I chose to use today. For my non American readers, national Arbor Day occurs on April 29 and is all about celebrating the importance of trees and our national forests. The Arbor Day Foundation has programs in place to encourage people to learn about and plant trees and to replant our national forests. I’m not sure when Arbor Day first became a thing. It’s not a big holiday (no one gets off work) and even to me, the idea of celebrating it seems rather old-fashioned but I think it’s a good thing and maybe we should, for the sake of our planet, be giving it more thought. I chose to do this as an ancestor offering because my adopted mom was deeply committed to the environment. I”m also making a donation to Big Sur Land Trust in her honor today. She was a supporter of them throughout her life.
There are lots of ways to honor the dead and if they had a cause that they supported during their lives, or that they felt really strongly about (and it’s something that doesn’t violate your own ethics), then donating to that cause or doing something to support it can be a really good way to honor the dead and make the world a better place. Hail to our dead. May they always be honored.