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Connecting with Your Ancestors

The season of the ancestors has begun. The threshold between autumn and winter invites us to connect with our ancestors and the beloved dead. Across Europe, the border between October and November is a time to invite ancestors to visit our homes and to visit them at graves. In English this day is called Halloween: All Hallows (Souls) Eve. In Polish it is called Dziady (grandfathers) or Zaduski (All Souls Day). The Finnish holiday is called Kekri, which means “wheel,” as the year turns to a new cycle. In Germanic/Norse tradition, offerings were made to the elves/ancestors at Alfarblot. There are many more holidays and practices devoted to ancestral connection, and I encourage you to research what these might be in your lineages.  If you want to connect with your ancestors at this time, I have a few suggestions, starting with entry-level practices moving toward deeper and more challenging practices. You don’t need to do these all. Try one or two and if you have more capacity, add more.  Beginner Practices

  • Create an ancestor altar. I have an IG TV video with lots of suggestions if you need ideas. 

  • Talk with your ancestors aloud. Say their names. Speaking with them at an ancestor altar can be a good way to focus your attention. You might learn a word or two of their language/s--a greeting or an honorific title. 

  • Ask your ancestors for guidance and help. When I began researching my ancestral traditions, I specifically asked my Polish and Finnish ancestors to reveal their ways to me. At the time, I felt like there was so much more information about Celtic and Norse traditions, and I felt a bit discouraged about the lack of resources for Slavic and Finnish traditions. But my ancestors opened the path for me, and I have found immensely meaningful connections in these lineages. Ask your ancestors to help you develop your connection with them. Do you want to learn their names? Their ancient holidays? Their land honoring practices? Their language? Speak your requests out loud. 

  • Practice self-care. You are the product of all the dreams, work, and blood of your ancestors. Your body comes from their bodies. Your cells hold their DNA. Nurturing yourself and your children, if you have children, is an act of ancestral reverence. 

  • Leave food offerings and light candles for your ancestors. You may wish to do this at your altar, at a grave site, or outside on the earth. 

  • Visit a cemetery and/or sit upon the ground. All of our ancestors return to the earth. If you can’t visit the actual gravesites of your ancestors, know that the land where you live is connected to the land where they rest. Under mountains, across oceans, beyond forests, the land where you sit is connected to the land of all your ancestors, wherever they are. In Norse tradition, there is a practice called Utiseta, which means simply “Out-sitting.” In this practice, people would sit on burial mounds to seek guidance from the dead. You can engage this same practice, knowing that all ground is hallowed ground and all land is connected. 

  • If connecting with your ancestors seems scary because some of them might have done unethical and immoral things in their lives, you might start by connecting with the prehistoric ancestral grandmothers. I find the grandmothers to be so nurturing. Follow the threads of your motherline back to the most ancient clan mothers of the distant past. How do they hold you? How do they greet you? Lara Veleda Vesta has a beautiful meditation with the motherline in her ancestral connections course, which will begin at the end of November if you would like a guided meditation.

Moving deeper

  • Practice divination with your ancestors. Ask your ancestors a question and use runes, tarot, or other divination practices to let them speak to you. An old Finnish practice is for one member of the family to wear their clothes upside down to show that they are outside of normal space and time. They would speak for the ancestors and the family would tell the ancestors what was new and keep them updated on happenings. You might try this practice by putting on your clothes inside out or upside down and becoming a channel for the ancestors. You could enter a meditative or trance state and write messages from them in a notebook. You could also ask them to speak to you in dreams. 

  • Craft a straw bundle or straw doll to represent your ancestors and keep this on your altar throughout the winter months. People across Europe, from the Polish folks in the east to the Scottish folks in the west, had a tradition of using straw to represent the ancestors. These straw bundles often sat at the family table at Christmas and were tilled back into the earth when the first seeds were planted in spring. Invite your ancestors to spend the winter season with you, telling stories by the fire, spinning threads through the dark nights, watching the new sun be born from the darkest night. 

  • Light a communal “needfire.” In Gaelic lands on Samhain, all the people in the community would extinguish their hearth fires. A communal needfire was lit with friction alone. Different cultures had different traditions about who and how many people would be involved in the lighting (In Bulgaria, "Two naked men produce the fire by rubbing dry branches together in the forest" while in Germany the fire is started by "two chaste boys.")  After the communal bonfire, everyone would bring a coal from this fire back home to relight their hearth, all fires now lit from the communal flame. How can you light a needfire in your community? How can you strengthen the bonds of relationship that bind us together? How can you build the bonfire of social justice and community care?

  • Trace family patterns and break lineage curses. Write down all the traumas that your parents and grandparents experienced (for example, some of my family’s: war, alcoholism, loss of spouses, loss of parents, pandemics, loss of children, cheating, divorce, poverty, and chronic health problems). Write down all the traumas that your ancestors experienced (some of mine: feudalism, immigration, conscription, forced conversion, witch hunts, capitalism, colonization, forced loss of language). What trauma responses and destructive patterns manifest in your family? How do these specifically manifest in you? How can you bring healing to these patterns?

Really Deep

  • Pay ancestral debts. Learn about how your ancestors were involved with or benefited from land theft, racism, slavery, and other forms of colonialism. Make steps toward reparations for those harms. Start small and maintain stamina. You may find my post on ancestral debt in the Germanic/Norse tradition and my post on ancestral reclaiming for social justice to be helpful. 

  • Heal yourself: go to therapy; address addictions; spend time in nature; get treatment for health concerns; tend your mental health. Heal family wounds: repair and improve relationships with your parents and siblings if it is safe to do so; reconnect with ostracized family members; ask for forgiveness; forgive. Understanding the wounds of my family lines and the traumas of my ancestors has deepened my capacity to forgive my parents for ways that they perpetuated those wounds upon me. Understanding the history of my ancestors empowers me to change the narrative and weave a new fate. True ancestral healing is not about candles and altars, as beautiful as those are. The truest ancestral healing is about mending the wounds of our lineages so that we may move through the world with power, resilience, and beauty. True ancestral healing supports us in building a better world for all. 

As we enter into the gateway of All Soul’s Eve, may you find much warmth and healing in the blessings of your ancestors.

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