Welcoming Dead Folks (Reblog of “Appealing to your ancestors”)

I’m very glad Beth chose to share this post when she did. This subject has been on my mind for a little while and the words finally fell into place today.

For a long time, ancestor work simply wasn’t a big part of my practice. It was really almost non-existent. I knew it was important but I simply didn’t get any feeling from them. They didn’t seem present or accessible the way that other people seemed to experience their ancestors. When I graduated and finally moved out of the dorms, I had the space to set up an ancestor altar and so I did. I still didn’t have a strong sense of who my ancestors were but I figured that they did. I prepared a hospitable space and sent out an invitation.

The ancestors that showed up were a particular segment of the transsexual and gender variant dead and a handful of old women. The gender variant dead who settled in were all sex workers on what we’d now refer to as the MtF spectrum. They were quite responsive to the liquor and cigarettes I had on the altar. The old women were less distinct; I simply saw them sweeping a floor, endlessly. They were less responsive but always there.

These members of my ancestral altar are very dear to me but I suspect they’re part of my extended spiritual and cultural tribe rather than my blood relations (and whatever, I’m happy to offer hospitality; my ancestral altar is set up for that sort of thing). The idea of having a strong relationship with my ancestral forces was still complicated, no doubt because I don’t really have a firm idea of who I am. I don’t know how I fit into my greater family tree and I don’t know how they have brought me to the point I am today. I have no doubt that my ambivalence about ancestral work is related to my ambivalence about my ancestry and about how that ancestry shapes my place in the world today. This is a big subject and not really what I want to talk about right now.

Last fall my ancestral altar was a little more elaborate than usual and I made an extra effort to really call out. I still didn’t know exactly who might show up – but when I saw them, I knew who they were.

There were dozens, maybe hundreds of them, walking steadily together over the western mountains through the night sky towards me. Their long road opened up across my salt desert valley and they stepped into my home. I had so little and they were so many. I’m still quite speechless at the memory of that sight.


These experiences have helped me feel more connected to ancestor work but a connection to *them* still eludes me. The boozy sex workers are less present than they used to be and those who visited during their long walk moved on after just a few days. However, in the last little while I’ve gotten some very clear signals that my paternal grandmother is now a spiritual force in my life.

This is strange. To start with, I don’t expect her to be here. I expect her to be off in the blessed arms of Jesus. I don’t expect her to be hanging out with a failed transsexual spirit worker who gets itchy inside churches. I don’t expect her to be spending time with a pierced and tattooed weirdo who’s surrounded with chaos n death. I really don’t expect her to be taking an active and personal interest in me. I don’t get it; nothing about myself fits with what I know about her or her life or her faith.

And see, here’s where I make the same mistake that a lot of people seem to make when it comes to ancestors.mary17

I expect my grandmother’s spirit to be the same as her body. I expect her afterlife to be based entirely on her physical life. I expect her spiritual path to be fundamentally incompatible with mine. I expect her Powers to be at odds with mine. Above all, I expect that her Catholicism is bad, icky, gross, contaminate, and not-Pagan.

Most polytheists seem to be on board with the idea that our ancestors have the power to influence our lives. Further, there’s the frequent half-stated assumption that if they weren’t some variety of pagan/polytheist, then they wouldn’t want us praying with/to them. In any discussion of ancestor veneration there’s the question of “well, what if they were’t polytheist? What if they were some kind of icky Christian? Do we really have to venerate them, too?” Well, no, we don’t. You don’t have to do anything. There’s no polytheist pope or piety possum gonna bite your nose if you don’t. You’ll just be missing out, is all.

I had a long hot bath with myself and wondered – really, really wondered – what precise harm would be done by allowing my dead gramma’s Catholicism to influence my life. Because it is, no doubt about it. I’ve been bonked on the head with Blessed Virgin Mary stuff for, uh, long enough that I’m finally starting to pay attention and connect it with this particular relative. It’s really only been 10 months or so but the incidents are pointed enough that I kinda have to pay attention.

As a polytheist – and more importantly, as a spirit worker – I can’t really say that one Power’s influence is better than another. If anything, having a big team cheering you on and helping out is for the best. There are no doubt Powers that I get along better with, Powers who I find most compatible with my goals, and Powers who I find challenging to work with – but none of that actually has anything to do with them and their value. All of these judgment calls are about me.

So – What am I so afraid of? What about these new contacts is negative? Well, nothing really. Powers do not belong to the tradition(s) that honor them; traditions are built by humans (with the help of some divine inspiration). Traditions therefore are part of human-level concerns. I can’t really attribute the problems of dogma, theology, and practice to the deities themselves anymore than I can blame Loki for hanging out with people who are sometimes asshole troublemakers. Human-level problems.

This is what happens when you play with ancestors. Your shit is called in a very obvious, very direct way. You are forced to grow past the artificial limits you’ve created for yourself. You are offered relationships that require the release of prejudice, preconceptions, and assumptions. And all of these things are very good things.

The Wytch of the North

In a recent Immersive Reading I did for a client regarding a problematic spirit relationship, one of the potential solutions that came up for dealing with her situation was to appeal to her ancestors and the gods of her bloodline for assistance. Since she had questions about this, I’m thinking other people out there might, too.

Yes, I know the topic of ancestor work can be a controversial one in the pagan community, because so many of us have deceased family members we wouldn’t call on if it was the last option open to us. For example, if your late Uncle Mort was a child molester, chances are you don’t really want to be inviting him into your home. Also, as many of us are first generation pagans in monotheistic families, we might feel alienated by some of our immediate ancestors, feeling that they can’t possibly share very much with…

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When Heathen Gods Crash Your Roman Holiday

Several years ago I had to say goodbye to my love. I had to let Him go without any promise or guarantees that I’d ever see Him again. Someone told me at the time that learning to be alone, truly alone without Him would be the hardest thing I ever do. So far I think that’s been a fair assessment, and that’s with a heaping load of sorrow from all kinds of sources. I suffered. I suffered in a way that people who have never loved the Gods can never understand.

They leave sometimes. Sometimes we’re the ones who leave. Separation is part of this road; indeed, the experience of separation is what drives us forward on the path to greater and more profound forms of unity. The awareness of separation is the beginning of communion. But none of this actually makes it easier. Losing the grace of presence freely given is a loss unique and precise in its injury.

My dear friend (Camilla and others like you), you will hurt and I am sorry. I know this pain. I can promise you that there are secrets inside this pain that can only be discerned by going deep and coming back out on the other end. Let the power of the promises you made carry you through this. Learn new ways to love and don’t let yourself become too cold. I’m sorry but I can promise that (redacted by the Gods). I can promise that you haven’t been forgotten. (There! They’ll let me say that part!)

Foxglove & Firmitas

Or: A Spirit-Worker’s Year in Review

I haven’t written much about the way Odin has really turned my world upside down in the last year. Not a lot, at least. I think partially, because I’m not really sure where it’s going in regards to where I fall within a religious practice. I think, perhaps, in my private practice I’m coming to terms with simply being a Pagan and Polytheist without a cultural descriptor ahead of it. But I’m not there yet. It’s funny to me that I’ve spent so many years debating the usage of Roman in my label that shortly after finally accepting it, I would be clinging to it and uncomfortable leaving it behind while Gods scream in my ear “Go Heathen, go Gaul, go somewhere else…”

December 17th was the beginning of Saturnalia, which was the first Roman festival I ever celebrated. But last year at…

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Do we need ritual tools? Do our gods need them?

If you had come to me three or four years ago and asked, “Are tools a necessary part of worship? Do the Gods need them? Is it important that we use them?” I would have said, “Eh, not so much.” I would have said that tools are useful when helping focus attention (and thus energy) and play a key role in helping create a ritual mood for us to experience during worship or workings. I would have certainly acknowledged that even though our intent is the gasoline that fuels the engine of our spiritual art and craft, tools are a very helpful way to help stir that intention – but not perhaps strictly necessary.

I also would have said that no, the Gods don’t *need* these tools, not in any realistic sense. Objects don’t much serve the Gods – but objects can serve the people that serve the Gods and therefore the Gods may sometimes desire them. Gods might desire objects for functional reasons, for aesthetic reasons, as vehicles to interact with their people, as points of power to become established in this world – all very important but not perhaps a need, exactly.

Today I have a slightly different answer. I hold all the above statements to still be true and valid and helpful answers but I have come to learn two additional answers that go along with these questions.

Yes, sometimes tools are necessary. Tools are frequently used as education and training within spiritual traditions. This is especially true of spirit work though I’m sure you can think of other examples where the tool *is* the lesson and without the object, the lesson is just simply not going to happen and you’re going to end up with an incomplete education. Some examples that come to my mind include various stages of ceremonial magic systems. Sometimes you just need the sigils and the wand and the candles and maybe someday you will put them aside and work only with their astral counterparts but until then, you will use the tool. The tool has things to teach you and you can show up for the lesson or you can fail to learn something very important.

Yes, sometimes the Gods need tools. Well, I should qualify that by saying that we’re not always 100% sure what the Gods need. If we are open to the possibility that They are Their own personalities with their own independent agencies and agendas (or even if we’re a little softline on the matter), then we have to accept the possibility that They’re going to express a need or desire that seems illogical, nonsensical, or confusing to us. Certain deities – My Lord included – are rather notorious for having a hands-on approach to the world. Usually He can be negotiated with: “You don’t really need that thing, do you?” And frequently no, He doesn’t need that thing. He would like it or He would like to share it with me, or He would like to have me hold and play with it and stick it on the altar and keep it around for a while.

Sometimes, just sometimes, a need is expressed. So far it’s never been a “I need this thing or I’ll DIE” because that’s not really the way it works with Gods (thus it’s not a terribly helpful metric to apply to their needs and wants). Simply put, I’m not in a position to judge exactly what His needs are from an objective, rational point of view. Thus I’m required to trust His assessment of His own well-being. If there is something that He needs in order to fulfill His point and purpose in this world and if that something is a thing that I can provide, then I will attempt to do so. Accepting our ignorance and deferring to Their expressions when it comes to Their specific needs and desires is part of what is meant when we take up the effort to displace our individual cosmologies from a human-centric perspective.

And no, naturally I’m not advocating violence or theft or injury or harmful sacrifice or anything like that. Negotiation remains a possibility though it is helpful if you have a history of actually negotiating and not just saying, “I want to hear your reasons and I’m not going to do it anyway.” Basically I’m trying to say that we should not dismiss Their expressions of need and desire out of hand simply because the metric of need that we apply to ourselves and our world doesn’t seem to apply. We can take Them at Their word, with faith and love and trust and a willingness to explore together. Though I can’t speak to the needs and wants of all the Powers at every time in every place, I can say that my experience with a great number of them suggests that faith and love and trust and willingness are all needful to them. Sometimes tools and objects have a role in these achievements.

I hate that I have to make this post.

By popular definition, an earth religion holds as inherently sacred and intrinsically valuable all manifest creation on this planet. In the imagination of earth religionists this typically includes trees, rocks, fluffy animals, bugs, water, wildfires, and all the rest. All this rest includes, yes, human beings (we are animals, after all; we have our own scientific name and everything). Human being is a category that includes everyone. If one segregates this category into subgroups that dilute, minimize, or otherwise alter or put conditions upon the inherent and intrinsic properties that are a central part of earth religion belief, such a one is not – by definition – an earth religionist. Or, if they insist that they are, they are not a very good one.

If your particular brand of earth religion involves the honoring of personalities and processes that grant life, liberty, happiness, and agency to trees, rocks, fluffy animals, bugs, water, wildfires, and all the rest then any conditions placed upon the expression of these personalities and processes within the bodies and lives of human beings is not – by definition – honoring of those personalities and processes. If, if you insist that it is, it is not a very good way of doing so.

In either case you may continue to willfully, consciously, and with the knowledge that we’re all laughing at you continue to Do It Wrong. You may also choose to make a change.

Name changes?

Taking up the grateful weight of a new name is a glorious and terrifying thing. It is also a cause for celebration and a reminder that rebirth occurs continually.

(I thought perhaps to share my own naming story but it turns out I’m still quite upset about the whole thing. Though a story of failure on this path is worth telling I don’t want it to be part of this reblog. I am happy for my friend and that’s what this is about.)

Cat Hair and Coffee

This is, I am sure, only a big deal to me. But, I’d like to share my wonderful brain’s twisted thought processes, because . . . well, it’s exhausting, and its a very clever brain, and maybe the sharing can help other people not feel alone or not feel weird or not feel . . . whatever. Something.

Way, way, way back in 2006 – possibly as early as 2005 – I adopted the name Naiadis. I’d wanted it to be my spiritual name, and I was trying to use it as an initiation-point sort of thing. My relationship with Poseidon was in a rough patch, and choosing the name Naiadis was an attempt on my part to convince myself that despite everything, I was serious about this path, about my life decisions, etc. I’d been with Poseidon since I was 16 (though in the beginning it was not the…

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An Outsider’s View of God-Spousery.

A well-written consideration of sacred marriage from an observer. I feel the author really gets to one of the primary points of this topic by saying that marriage, in itself, is not an achievement; rather, it’s the commitment that’s the real achievement.

My personal perspective is that undertaking this particular path is (among other things) a very strong commitment to one’s own potential. It’s a way of saying (among other things) “I want to see how far this particular path takes me, I want to know how far I can take this path with me.” In many ways, it is like undertaking a serious form of initiation. It will utterly change you not as a result of the incident itself, but as a result of the dedication the initiate applies to living in the aftermath.

Magick From Scratch

“Let us go, my Beloved, to greet the Bride
The Queen’s Whole Self shall we welcome”
— From L’kha Dodi, the Jewish Evening Sabbath service.

From: http://spiritualityireland.org/blog/index.php/2012/08/first-same-sex-buddhist-wedding-held-in-taiwan/ From: http://spiritualityireland.org/blog/index.php/2012/08/first-same-sex-buddhist-wedding-held-in-taiwan/

The term “god-spouse” always seems to carry with it a discussion.

“Can a person really be married to a deity?”

“Are they claiming equality to that divinity, and are they really any closer to them than the rest of us?”

“If someone claims to be a god spouse, I expect them to be exceptionally devoted.”

“I can’t imagine that the gods pick and choose favorites.”

While most of the discussion that non-god-spouses seem to have about the phenomenon focuses on the idea of legitimacy, I have an entirely different question to ask. What does it mean? Why have the gods chosen to do this?

Why am I even exploring this issue? My apologies to all the various and sundry god-spouses out there. You fascinate…

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