Category Archives: Ancestors
Royal School of Needlework has an ongoing project that allows individuals to “sponsor” a stitch for their “stitchbank.” It’s a fantastic resource for historians and of course, for those who are learning to embroider. RSN correctly points out that embroiderers throughout history have rarely signed their work. We have many, many examples of this beautiful art from antiquity all the way up to the present, but rarely, very, very rarely do we know the names of the (mostly) women who created them (1). This stitchbank is preserving these stitches with the names of either those who sponsored them or those for whom a stitch has been sponsored. I think that is pretty cool.
There are lots of things that we can do to honor our ancestors. I think it’s important to remember though that until the 20th century, a huge portion of our female ancestors’ time would have been taken up with textile production: spinning, in some cases weaving, sewing, knitting or crochet, and for those who had the time, embroidery – adornment. Depending on the period of history about which we’re speaking, one couldn’t just go to the store and purchase thread. Thread started with sheep. You had sheep, you cut off the wool, carded and spun that into thread and then that thread could be dyed, woven, etc. etc. One could trade for these goods, I suppose, but in the end, anything one wore began with an animal or a plant and a terrifying amount of work. Whenever I embroidery, mend, or select clothing, I think of my female dead and the valence such things must, of necessity had for them (2).
So, and my point to all of this, is that I decided to sponsor a stitch for my maternal grandmother Linnie Shoff Hanna (1909-1987). She got assigned the cloud stitch (not posted yet that I saw) and I am delighted. She was the one who first taught me to embroider. I remember how hard it was to learn French knots. She took a piece of nice linen, drew a rabbit holding a carrot and had me make his eye out of a French knot. That was my reward for learning how to do it and when I’d outlined the whole thing and satin stitched the carrot, she made it into a pin cushion for me. Whenever I embroider now, I am inevitably beginning and ending the process with prayers to my maternal dead. It is a way to feel closer to them, to keep them in living memory, as I go about my daily work. May the names of our dead always be remembered.
- The exception, I think, are samplers. Young girls would sometimes sign their samplers. Also, in colonial America, very little boys were sometimes given samplers to do as punishment (the annoying thing is that some of these samplers are better than anything I can do today lol).
- This is one of the reasons that I try to wear clothes made only of natural fibers (wool, cotton, linen, silk, etc.) and, when I can afford it, handmade. I don’t sew well enough to make my own clothes, but I’ve been outsourcing a few things to a terrifyingly gifted seamstress and it is so much better, better made, and longer lasting than clothing purchased off the rack. It’s expensive and I acknowledge that this isn’t something everyone can do (and I can’t afford it for everything) but if you can sew, give making your own clothes a shot. If you can afford it, try getting a bespoke suit once in your life. It changes one’s relationship to one’s clothing, to production, craft, and it really, really makes one aware of the attitude of disposability and planned obsolescence that so define our modern purchasing experience.
Today is the feast day for one of our most beloved Sanctae, most beloved to me at least, because she was my adopted mom. She was also the most devout and pious person I have ever known. As her daughter, I can say that she centered me in reverence and piety, helped me to be a better devotee of my Gods, and helped me to become a better person, and she taught me a renewed joy in the grace of sacred service to Them. I know she helped others too and has continued to do so, as is the way of a saint, after her death. I usually write something about her on this day and on her birthday. I’ve been thinking about her a great deal over the last few weeks especially, though every day I ache for the loss of her.
As is my custom, this evening I made offerings at her shrine. There are prayers that I said, and prayers that I wished to make, many too personal to be shared here. Love and reverence, piety, and a very quiet discipline, that of doing what needs to be done even when it is inconvenient…those are the gifts I feel she poured into my heart and hands and I am deeply grateful. To be loved in this way, and to be challenged is a very precious gift. I know that the Gods placed me into her care and were They to do nothing else for the rest of my life, that gift, that tremendous gift would be enough. That They do more, always is a blessing beyond measure. She taught me to recognize the blessings of the Gods as they come, large, small, or in-between.
On this, her feast day, I offer this prayer:
May Fuensanta and all our sancti and sanctae be honored. May they be remembered. May we ever learn reverence at their feet. May we cultivate the discipline of piety. May we wrap ourselves in veneration, until our love of the Holy Ones becomes a fire that nothing may quench. Hail to Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza, devoted servant of Sigyn and Loki, and Hail to all our Gods. What is remembered, lives.
I had nearly forgotten about this in the rush of finals — the days all blur together in a mass of work! Thankfully, it came up in my morning class. As someone who honors the military dead as part of my ancestor practice and who also had a father who was a WWII veteran, I try to note key WWI and WWII remembrance days. It’s a good day to make offerings to your dead who may have served.
I’m writing this with a very bad headache, so I will probably be keeping it shorter than usual. I just want to bring two ritual days to people’s attention in case some of you, my readers, may want to celebrate too.
Tomorrow, my household observes Veterans’ Day. Originally, this was called Armistice Day and commemorated the end of WWI, the armistice of which was declared November 11, 11am (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). It’s still called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in some places. We have just passed the one hundredth anniversary of WWI and when I honor the military dead, it’s the dead of this war specifically that come forward more than any others. I don’t know why, perhaps because I lost relatives in this war (my cousin Wesley Heffner went over with Pershing’s forces and died on a field in France).
Anyway, we’ll be doing a rite to honor the military dead tomorrow evening, and this will also involve extensive libations for Odin, since in my household, tomorrow is His feastday as Herjafodr (Father of Hosts), Herteit (Glad of War), Valfoðr (Father of the Slain), and Valkjosandi (Chooser of the Slain).
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.
I’ve written on my other blog about my cousin Wesley Heffner. That piece, part of a larger section on an ancestral pilgrimage I did, may be found here.
Sunwait, a celebration of the six weeks before Yule which is held by some Heathens today begins this week. This will be my household’s first year celebrating this and we plan to keep it on Fridays. I’ll write more about that after Veteran’s day. Be well, all my readers. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Remember your dead.
This will be short, because today is a very full day of rituals. We honor the Aventine Triad every full moon, various vaettirand the fair folk receive offerings, and we’re also going to be going our ancestor ritual tonight AND making special offerings to Mani (separately). Today will be hopping and I’m just starting to get myself ready to go out to make the first of the offerings.
To give a quick recap, on Thursday, we did a rite to honor our Disir, our female dead. That was unexpectedly moving. It’s funny, because I always find the Disir to be somewhat more protocol heavy than male ancestors, yet despite wanting us to “dot our I’s and cross our t’s,” as the saying goes, they always seem to dig deeply down into our hearts and wrench out raw emotion. Also, there are things the male dead wanted, certain prayers, in which the women had almost no interest. It was interesting to note the flow of things. Yesterday, we made offerings outside to the wandering dead, those who have no one to honor them, and also to our Gods of the dead and the Underworld. Tonight, we’re doing a ritual to honor our collective dead. Tomorrow, we honor our sanctiand martyrs, and then the day after, we visit cemeteries and then that marks the end of our ancestor days. Tuesday after I go vote, I’ll be taking down the offrenda. (As an aside, this year I decided to use a ton of battery operated candles and I love it. While it doesn’t do anything for cleansing and purifying a space – for that one needs actual fire – it does allow me to keep memorial light going throughout this entire week and that has been lovely. I may keep one on my ancestor shrine always lit from here on out).
One of the ways that I often prepare before ancestor rites is to listen to certain songs that have the ancestor rhythms. Certain rhythms call the dead like nothing else and that music will take me down into an altered state very, very quickly. It makes for a particularly nice transition out of mundane headspace and into ritual space for me. Here are two of my favorite. It’s nearly the same rhythm, but the second is harder, more driving and gives one a much harder drop into altered headspace. Anyway, I’m off to prep for rituals. See y’all on the other side.
Tonight was the first night of a rather intense ritual cycle. Each October, we hold rituals nightly from October 25 through November 3. We’ve done shorter rites and preparations earlier throughout the week, but tonight was the first big ancestor ritual. It really did feel good to return to this practice. Even though we all honor our ancestors regularly, this type of formal ritual seems long overdue.
Tonight, we specifically honored our male ancestors, naming those we wished to name, honoring groups of our male dead, telling stories, praying with and for them. (Tomorrow we honor our Disir, our female ancestors, Friday is Hela’s feast day, though as tonight, Veles will get his due as well. With so many Slavic dead around in our household, this, I think, was inevitable. Saturday and Sunday are for all our dead, and form the primary focus of our Winternights rite, and then the next few days are for more personal veneration and cemetery work.). I honor the dead as I was taught years and years ago, and this is the form that has become customary in our House.
We kept our ritual very simple, consecrating space with fire, praying to the ancestors as a whole, praying to Hela, pouring out offerings, offering an unexpected prayer to Veles because He was suddenly so very present and the Slavic ancestors really wanted Him honored, pouring out offerings, then prostrating to the dead, telling their stories, saying their names. This year we incorporated a simple symbel (a ritual where the horn is passed around three times and ancestors and Gods hailed). I have a novice training to become a gythia (priest), so taking this ritual slowly and simply allowed me to really delve into each of the constituent parts with her. It was a surprisingly powerful rite.
Tomorrow, we repeat the whole thing again for our female ancestors. What a motley crew we are in this House, ancestors from every corner of the world, and it is wonderful. May they all ever be hailed. For those of you who celebrate at this time, what do you have planned?
After the autumn equinox, we turn almost immediately to thinking about and honoring the dead. Now, honoring the ancestors for most polytheists, is a year-round practice, but the autumn is a time of particular attention and ritual (1). I’m not sure why autumn is such a potent ancestor time but it is, in multiple traditions. I think maybe it’s that the vibrancy and abundance of summer is fading away as the earth itself prepares for winter, something that can lead to a certain melancholy and contemplation of death, but that’s just speculation on my part. It does seem appropriate as the seasons shift to honor the dead in special ways and this leads nicely into the more intense holy days surrounding Yule.
At the end of this month, from October 27 through Nov 2, my House does a whole week of ancestor rituals for various groups of our dead and for our ancestors and allied spirits as a whole. That is still a month away though preparations have already begun in my home. Before we get to those rites though, we have our first feast-day for the dead coming up on October 4: a commemoration of the Martyrs of Verden.
It is no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of European history that the spread of Christianity across Europe brought with it religious and cultural genocide. Charlemagne in 8thcentury France was no exception. The grandson of Charles Martel, Charlemagne destroyed sacred sites and holy places of the Saxon Heathens and, when these brave men and women refused to convert (i.e. to abandon their ancestral Gods and practices), slaughtered them en masse. Four thousand, five hundred of them, at the very least, laid down their lives in defense of their Gods and traditions in 782 C.E. at a bloodbath that is known to historians as the massacre of Verden.
After the Saxon wars, i.e. after Charlemagne’s crusade against indigenous polytheism, the children of Saxon nobles were sent to monasteries as oblates, and sometimes they were forced to take binding vows as monastics (there is a famous case a few decades later of a man who jumped the wall, fleeing the monastery after having been forced to become a monk and during the resulting trial, one of the senior monks said, in the trial transcripts, that any and all abuses toward the Saxons were justified because they weren’t Christian at the time (2)).
I could go on. I have strong feelings about the man (3). I don’t, however, want to focus on him in this post beyond what I have done in order to provide historical context. I’d rather focus on the martyrs, those who were killed because they refused to convert (4). That’s exactly what my household will be doing too on October 4.
We’re still working out the proper rites by which to honor our sancti, sanctae, and martyrs. We don’t have a set format yet. Usually we purify the space, invoke whatever Gods seem appropriate, and then pour out libations to the dead in question, sharing stories of them as we go. More offerings may, if anyone involved feels it appropriate, be made. It’s both low-key and straightforward. We will often have a communal meal afterwards.
Since we’re all home now due to Covid restrictions, we may set up memorial candles and keep them going all month. I’ve been playing with the idea since it was something I used to do on my ancestor shrine throughout October and November. We give water to refresh them, candles to light their way, food and drink to nourish them, and the gift of memory, of telling their stories. If it is not enough, it is at least a good starting point.
What are all of you doing for your ancestors this month?
- At least it is in my tradition. Some polytheisms have their ancestor time in late winter, usually February.
- See Matthew Bryan Gillis’ Heresy and Dissent in the Carolingian Empire: The Case of Gottschalk of Orbais. These monastic schools are, I believe, best seen as precursors of the 19thand 20thcentury “Indian” Schools in America, complete with the abuse, destruction of cultural practices, and forced induction into Christianity such later “education” entailed. Those later atrocities didn’t come out of the aether; they’d been perfected hundreds of years earlier by a mass murderer who could barely write his own name.
- There are certain subjects I avoid as a medievalist and Charlemagne is one of them. I turn into Cato ending every speech, no matter the topic, with his famous “Carthago delenda est” though in my case it turns into a shrieking “Charlemagne delendus est.” He just turns my stomach. But then, on my mother’s side, I’m descended from the Saxons he didn’t manage to kill. I should point out, that it was no easy job to pacify them. A generation after Verden and then some, there were still “Heathen” uprisings. Of course, as an historian, I acknowledge that Charlemagne did great things for France, and for the spread of education in Europe but I will not forget that this happened on the bones of my ancestors and the tattered shreds of their religious traditions.
- I highly recommend a small book by James Chisolm called Grove and Gallows: Greek and Latin Sources for Germanic Heathenism.
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Catching up here, both on my 31 Days of Devotion to the God Dagr and also on my 52 Ancestors in 52 Days. I love doing these, but I can never seem to keep up in a timely manner these days. Oh well, better late than never!
First, let’s start with the 31 Days of Devotion to Dagr:
- Share any Music that makes you think of this deity (August 3).
I really suck at making play lists. I was hoping to have one for Dagr, but I just don’t think of organizing music in my brain that way. If anyone has one, feel free to post in the comments. I’m still working to get my sorted!
- Share A quote, a poem, or piece of writing that you think this deity resonates strongly with (August 4).
William Carlos Williams’ “Summer Song” and “Spring Storm” (Sort of if only because of their topic)
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” (though I also very strongly associate this with Loki).
Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Summer Sun”
and finally, this excerpt from Hafiz:
“The Sun Never Says
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.”
– From “The Gift,” by Hafiz
(translation by D.Ladinsky)
Now, onto my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Project. I think we’re up to Week 31 and 32.
Week 31 (July 29-Aug. 4): Large
Two of my ancestors stand out here because of the remarkable size of their families. The first is my maternal great-grandmother (1875-1952). Her name was Lucinda Alice Shoff, nee Heffner. Like so many of my maternal ancestors, she grew up in Pennsylvania not too far from the man who would eventually become her husband (Hugh Clay Shoff). When married, she moved to Conowingo, Maryland, her entire world bracketed by the Susquehanna river and generations of Swiss and German ancestors who settled the area. She was deeply loved by her grand-children (and as far as I know her children too, though I only really knew her daughter, my grandmother Linnie Hanna), perceptive, kind, and apparently strong as an ox since she had 17 (seventeen!!!!) children. She and Hugh Clay Shoff (1873-1957) married in 1892 – I’d always wondered how they met until I looked at the census on day and realized they grew up nearly next door to each other. She had two sets of triplets and one set of twins. I find it a little mindboggling. Not all of them reached adulthood – one set of twins for example, was stillborn (they were buried on property my parents later owned, named Faith, Hope, and – I kid you not – Death according to family lore)—but the majority did reach adulthood, no mean feat. Of the ones who lived, their names are John Shoff, Elmer Shoff, Howard Shoff, Chester Shoff, Virginia, Luther, Linnie (my grandmother), Violet, and Rose. I think there was also a Charles, Emerson, Mary, Huey, and possibly a Louise…give or take one. I only really knew my Grandmother growing up. For whatever reason, we had almost no contact with the rest of the family. I met Rose Adams (nee Shoff) once, possibly Violet – I was so small I can’t remember—also Olive Shoff (nee Shultz) who married Charles. I remember I was very, very small, maybe three or four when I met her. She had all these knickknacks in a glass cabinet that just fascinated me at that age. I also went trick or treating one year at Hugh’s house. He was nicknamed “Bo,” ostensibly because his father’s name was also Hugh.
The second is my third great-grandmother Elizabeth Runkle nee Oberlander (1824-1900). Like Lucinda, she also grew up in Chanceford Township, PA. She married Jesse C. Runkle (1821-1894) in 1839 and they had thirteen children. Here is the amazing thing for the time: all thirteen lived to adulthood. I hadn’t thought about this at all, certainly not enough to consider it a remarkable feat until a cousin, a serious genealogist pointed this out. You know, we look at pictures of our ancestors, or these collections of facts, and they often look staid and straight laced but I wonder about their lives. What were their hopes, their dreams? Were they satisfied with their lives or is that a luxury that we have looking it from several generations past? I want to know what Elizabeth was like as a young girl, what her courtship was like, what challenges she and her husband faced as they made their lives together in those first few years. Hell, I want to know the how and why of each of their children’s names! One odd fact that I did learn about Elizabeth’s husband Jesse: he died on Christmas day exactly one hundred years from the year our immigrant Runkle ancestors (Jacob 1724-94) died.
Let’s see if I can name all her children: Mary Ann, Catharine (my great great grandmother – she married W. Henry Heffner and one of their children was Lucinda), Sarah Elizabeth, George Washington, Samuel, John, Rebecca Jane, Susanna Ann, Margaret, William James, Jesse David, Henry Franklin, Emma Lucinda. I find it interesting that as far as I can tell, in neither her case nor that of Lucinda Shoff was the first boy named after the father. They all had a namesake, but I don’t think it was the eldest boy.
I never felt much like I had anything in common with these women, for whom children and household formed the bulk of their lives, but over the years as I have run my own household, I realize just how tremendously difficult their work was, and how important and I am grateful they were strong and capable in their work. I know from family oral history that Lucinda was the real heart and soul of her very large clan. She is remembered by her grandchildren with deep, abiding love.
Week 32 (Aug. 5-11): Small
I was a little stumped with this topic, so I asked my husband, “Thinking about my 52 ancestors in 52 weeks project, when I bring up the topic “small,” what comes to mind? He suggested I think about a small artifact and talk about that. I like that idea because so often ancestral pieces are memory pieces, they provide a physical conduit to those who came before us. They’re treasures, not because of what they may be constructed of, but because they are a physical means of connection to ancestors we may have never met. So, I’ll tell a story.
My grandmother Linnie Hanna was beloved by her family. When she died, her children lost their fucking minds. Though she had been a devout Catholic all her adult life, two of her children who had converted to Protestant religions decided they didn’t want her body in the church for the funeral mass because it ‘made them uncomfortable.’ I was a child at the time or I’d have had some words because she was entitled to the funeral she wanted according to the religion she followed and our comfort or discomfort with it was utterly irrelevant. The Monseigneur worked with the family and allowed it though it was against Catholic practice. Fine. Then my grandmother’s youngest son took it up on himself to empty out her house without telling anyone. He kept key pieces for himself and sold everything else to a local antique store. There was only one problem: that store was across the street from the ballet studio where I worked. In between rehearsals one day, I went over to browse and found all my grandmother’s things. I called my bio mom who came down. She was horrified. The poor old lady who owned the shop was ready to cry she was so upset. She couldn’t afford to give us everything back, which I understand, but she gave us as much of a discount as she could afford on key pieces. So, one of the few things I have of my grandmother, who pretty much raised me while my parents worked, is a small trinket box. I’m lucky to have a couple of her afghans that she knitted too, and a few tchotchkes that she gave me when I was small. My cousin, that particular uncle’s daughter, with whom I rarely got along, did me a major solid. She ran into the house and pressed a few pieces of jewelry into my hand shortly after my grandmother died: stuff my grandmother wore all the time, a ring, a small pot metal heart that said ‘I love you grandma’ that I’d given her when I was small, and her cross. I’m grateful for that. My grandmother’s death tore those siblings apart, due to the small mindedness of many of them in their grief. My uncle tried the same trick with my bio mom – throwing her stuff out rather than selling it – but I had been there first for the funeral and salvaged key pieces as did my brother. Trash is trash and every family has at least one person who qualifies.
(Linnie May Sarah Catharine Shoff Hanna and the box and pot metal pendant I mention above. The spoon is her baby spoon, which she’d given me when I was small).
One of my readers, Coastal Pagan asked a very good question about Ancestor Elevation. It wasn’t one that I’d thought to discuss initially but it’s actually a very good question. Also, when we understand the rituals that we do more fully, we can put more into them, perform them more effectively and that is all to the good.
So, Coastal Pagan asked:
“I’m probably drastically overthinking this, but is there a specific reason why you and others suggest using books for the physical raising parts of Ancestor elevations? I’ve never been thrilled with the idea for a variety of reasons. It’s probably either OCD or scrupulosity on my part, but I worry about the books picking up miasma if the elevation goes poorly or even good contagion if it goes well. I use my books regularly, so either of those things could cause problems. I also have visual processing problems galore, so admittedly the idea of having to figure out if several books are approximately the same size stresses me out a bit, lol. I’ve been thinking of buying several bricks and using them exclusively for Ancestor Work, especially specifically for elevations. I have several Ancestors who were bricklayers or related jobs, and one who was a stonemason but switched to bricklaying when he came to America because there wasn’t much call for stonework here. I have no experience with brickwork myself, but it struck me as way to help my Ancestors be more closely involved in the process by using a medium some of them are familiar with, and struck me as similar to the practice of giving the Ancestors tools or other items to help and work with. I also like the idea of the symbolism of bricks being used to build things, including strong foundations. But then, a lot of the nuts and bolts of religious practices seem innocuous, but in reality, aren’t at all. Is there a reason why books are best?”
I was really thrilled to get this question because while it may seem simple, it’s actually touching on a significant part of the elevation process. So, here is my answer:
Hi Coastal Pagan, Ok. for those not familiar with what you’re asking about, ancestor elevations are an open rite that comes originally from spiritualism, one that has been adopted wholesale by the Afro-Caribbean religious community – a testimony to how effective a ritual it is— but also by ancestor workers in general. l learned it at two separate times from Lukumi practitioners. It is a sequence of prayers done nine nights in a row while working a special type of shrine. You can learn more about the ritual itself here. A caveat about the whole process may be found here. While seemingly straightforward and even simple, this ritual has the capacity to heal, strengthen, and “elevate” an ancestor, helping them to do the work they need to do to become better human beings, better keepers of their line, as well as personally healthy and whole and work like this can actually transform an ancestral line, not just extending that healing forward, but allowing it to flow back in the line as well. That is a very, very powerful process.
Now, as part of the elevation, a shrine to a particular ancestor, the focus of the elevation, is set up on the floor. This shrine should include an picture of the ancestor in question, or names written out on paper if you don’t have photos, or something representing him or her. Prayers are given for nine nights and each night, the picture, name, or token of the ancestor being elevated is physically raised up a little bit more, usually by putting a book or brick under it, adding one more each day.
I firmly believe that the raising up of the picture is there as a visual representation for both the dead and for us of what is happening in the elevation. It sends a powerful psychological message to us, our ancestral house, and most importantly of all the ancestor for whom the ritual is being done, one that really drives home the prayer and devotional process being put into play.
Your question about miasma is also an important one. I cover the books with a white cloth so there is a barrier. Furthermore, I handle that by ritually cleansing everything afterwards. Because I usually use books, I will rekan them with mugwort (smoke them by lighting some mugwort or other cleansing incense and let the smoke run over the books). When I elevate, I use one book each night, usually one that’s about an inch thick. I think using bricks would be absolutely brilliant, not only because that solves the problem of variant sizes, but most especially I think it would be potent for you personally Coastal Pagan, because you had ancestors who were bricklayers, so that’s a nice bit of continuity and connection. Also, it is a perfect representation of a foundation that supports.
I use books because I learned this from two urban Lukumi practitioners and for years I lived in a small NYC apartment. ^_^ I had books. I actually really like the idea of using bricks. It doesn’t matter what you use, so long as the image is visually being elevated daily. Don’t stress if they’re not all exactly the same width and size. The important thing is the actual act of raising up the image or token of your dead. Good question and I’m really glad you asked it!