ow can I connect more deeply with my ancestors? I feel drawn to them, and I feel them.
My general approach to magic is to try and allow it to be simple and practical, and to unfold naturally. Honoring the ancestors, connecting with their magic, can be approached in much the same way as honoring and connecting with any other aspect of the craft.
When we think about the magic of the natural world, we can connect with its healing properties by developing an awareness of ourselves as an element of the natural world. We are potent allies of nature because we are part of nature, and nature is a powerful relationship in our life because it is part of us.
The same is true for the question of how to connect to the ancestors.
Put the concept of “ancestor” in your heart and mind. Stir that around and notice what rises up for you. Did you think about a recently deceased family member or friend? A great, great grandparent that you’ve heard tattered stories of? Did you perceive a figure or presence of someone who felt abstract yet vaguely familiar?
Ancestors, in part, are those who have passed before us. They are relations by blood, by adoption, by mutual choice (think friends as chosen family), and through shared culture.
I also believe we can find ancestors within ourselves through our past experiences in life, and we can access ancestral magic through our lived relationships with self and others. We are ancestors in training, so to speak. As is everyone we are in relationship with. Every moment we have experienced continues to live inside of us. The parts of us that hold these memories also hold their wisdom. Where we have changed in our lives, there exists an ancestral self that embodies the wisdom of who we were. There is a seat for us at the ancestral table, however it is a seat that will not wait for our death.
We must begin tending to our ancestral duties now.
To connect to and honor the ancestors, we must live as if we are the ancestors we hope to be for those who succeed us in life. Honoring the ancestors requires us to hold ourselves accountable now, especially where our predecessors didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t.
I often think about how we inherit patterns and act on beliefs that we learn from family, often without examination. Sometimes these patterns and beliefs guide us, other times they cause us to act in ways that perpetuate damaging and oppressive systems. Ancestral work can help us identify these false patterns in belief in order to empower us in making different choices; to enact a magic in the world that can deconstruct oppressive systems (read: racism, isolationism, xenophobia, misogyny, patriarchy, cis-hetero normativity, trans and queer phobia, toxic masculinity, body and sex shaming—and oh so many more!) and generate accountability and healing.
When I work with my ancestors, I make ceremony to intentionally work with those who can assist in moving our magic forward in positive ways. I work with the ancestors who can offer healing to those ancestors who cannot honor those positive and progressive intentions.
I read a lot of old grimoires, mythologies, and histories of magic—I love that shit. I take inspiration and gather practical advice where I can. An important note is that magic is drawn from nature and is applied to the world that we live in. Nature and the world change, we have done much both to support and compromise these changes—for better or for worse. As such, magic must also change and so when working with the ancestors or ancestral tradition, I also hold an intention to allow the magic of the past to change in ways where it can apply to modern times, to serve as a remedy.
In wanting to connect with your ancestors, it’s important learn the customs and traditions of your ancestry. Something I hold space for is that ancestral customs are culturally specific and are often snapshots in time. They are more often principled references rather than relevant laws of conduct. We cannot recreate the past; rather, we must learn from and be inspired by it. Magic grows and changes with the times, I believe that ancestral customs must also.
Of course there are exceptions. If the traditions and customs of the ancestors work, and work well, for the benefit of modern times—well then, why change things? I also believe wholeheartedly in applying diligence to learning one’s traditional customs and practices in the craft; especially if they haven’t been exterminated despite colonization, appropriation, or legal persecution. Traditions strong enough to survive have a lot to teach us about ourselves.
On this note, if you are called to a tradition that is not yours to claim or your ancestors right to gift, please seek an elder who is carried by those ways before taking on it’s mantel—and take on that yoke only if their permissions are freely given.
Many ancestral ways have died or we have become disconnected from them, mainly as a result of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. Yet we can still connect to the spirit of our ancestors even if we do not know how they would have worshiped or practiced their own healing or magical craft.
Another way that I connect to these ancestors is to spend time learning about their histories. Their struggles, successes, failures, betrayals, and accomplishments. The way that they responded to their world has shaped the ways we navigate ours—again, for better or for worse. Our work in connecting to the ancestors is to make decisions for ourselves about how best to draw on their narratives in ways that help us better shape the world in beneficial ways.
Ancestral work is as much honoring the hard work and sacrifice of the past as it is acknowledging its mistakes, shortcomings, oppression, and violence. To connect more deeply with the ancestors also means getting clear on where we stand both because of and in spite of them. Deepening in your relationship with ancestor means empowering your courage to live meaningfully; to make bold choices to enact positive changes. Even if that means abandoning certain ancestral traditions.
For me, as a transgendered woman, I find strength and empowerment through the social and cultural ancestry of those transwomen who have gone before me. Their fight has paved the way for my stand. As a Polish woman and descendant of Slavic gypsies, I also find comfort at the cauldron of my familial and blood ancestry.
When we seek to connect to our ancestors, we must first come home to ourselves and do so honestly. We must become honest about our dreams, our choices, and our relationships. Ancestral magic is potent. It follows us across continents and through the fires of time. It lives inside of us, our bones. If you seek to connect to ancestors, connect to yourself.
If you wish to make this connection more ritualistic I encourage creating a sacred space in your relationship with self and your home to hold this intention. I like to make an altar for my known ancestors. I put pictures of deceased family members, images of cultural heroes, and empowered symbols of my ancestry. I am a gritty witch and I come from gritty people, so I feed my ancestral altar with sweet coffee, strong booze, taboo stories, and bad habits. I invite the most compassionate and wise of my ancestors to feast and celebrate there. The others I ask to be tended elsewhere so they can receive the healing they need.
If I have questions about my life choices, directions to take, navigating a marginalized identity—adulting—I take it to this altar and I just listen to my bones. The wisdom isn’t always clear but it is always potent.