I recently did a ramble in a Facebook Group discussing what Ancestor Veneration looks like for me and the discussion turned in the direction of pains that some of our ancestors have caused. To see more about Ancestor Veneration, check out my workshop notes by clicking here. My friend Carrie asked “How do you balance skipping those ancestors or generations [that have caused pain] for veneration but still acknowledge that those ancestors still make up our DNA and present day experience?” What do we do with Bad Ancestors anyways?
Why do Ancestors Need to Heal?
If you show me a family that has no problems and no family history of pain, abuse, and all the people in it have been and are kindly saints – I will show you either a fool or a liar.
All families have a person or, more likely, several people in it (perhaps even a whole generation or line) of people that have done terrible things. Our families are part of the human race and humans have enacted horrors on each other, on animals, and on the planets. These are facts we cannot ignore. We can, however, do our part to heal and one way to do that (perhaps even the best way to start) is to heal our own ancestral line.
A problem people often face when beginning ancestor veneration is that they have people in their family they simply cannot honor. An abuser, a slave owner, a Nazi, etc. Many times, we have both lines of pain in our family – the abuser and the abused, the oppressor and the oppressed. When this happens we have choices to make. We can help the oppressor make amends and the oppressed to heal OR we can block off the oppressor, ward our ancestral workings so that they do not benefit, and do our best to heal the oppressed whether in our ancestry or in our world.
Whatever we decide, it is easy to see that our ancestors did not always do a great job being stewards of this planet or of their own lineage. This lays in our laps as part of our human, yes our witchy human, responsibility to heal.
Reciprocation and Ancestors
If the idea of healing your family going back tens of thousands of people and also healing the planet of any pains we humans have done sounds daunting, good news! We have help! We co-create our world with all sorts of beings (Spirits, Gods, and other humans living and dead). Some of these beings work against us, some of them work with us, and some of them don’t care. The good news is that we can call upon those that want to help us – including, and especially our Ancestors.
Ancestors, for the most part, want you to succeed in life and in healing. When you succeed, they succeed. When you heal, they heal. Its a win-win. Ancestor work isn’t all about making up for the bullshit some of our ancestors did. Some of it is working hand in hand with loving grandparents and aunts and those guardians of our lineage all the way back to mitochondrial Eve to make amazing magick in the world. Bonus: you can benefit from that magick (which I talk a little about in the aforementioned video in the FB group).
That all being said, you gotta be willing to work with them and them with you. You can’t be that relative that only calls for bail money and they gotta be willing to make amends and to heal. You can’t just light a stick of incense once a year and poof its all better nor can you make a Nazi great-great-great uncle feel remorse for things he did if he already doesn’t.
It all comes down to working together. Give a little, get a little.
Blocking Out a Bad Ancestors
Before we get into how to heal ancestors, let’s talk about what happens when we don’t want to work with an ancestor or they will not work with us (at least not in a good way). This sometimes happens that a person that causes pain in this life goes on into death carrying their same ideas and prejudices, unwilling to resolve the issues they created or worse, causing more issues.
What you can do in this case is call upon the ancestors that will work with you. Give them offerings, call the ones you know are loving and that care by name as well as those guardians of your ancestral line (in the Northern Tradition we call them Disir and they are the mothers of our ancestors, the ones the care for us).
Ask that a particularly bad ancestor or any that are unwilling to work with healing and making things better be blocked from your veneration.
Ask that they not effect your workings and that they not benefit from your offerings.
Ask that you and your lineage are protected from them. If you are willing to work with this person in the future, you can say that if that ancestor is willing to make amends, they will be welcomed back.
Do not add images of ancestors you are not willing to venerate on your altar or put anything of theirs on it. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend having it in your home in general, but that is up to you.
Note that I said, if you are willing. You do not have to work with people who have done terrible things, whether they are wanting to make amends or not. There are many who do ancestor veneration who choose not to work with certain peoples or certain branches of their family trees. I see this with Jewish witches who will not work with a line of the family tree that were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. I see it with Black witches who have lines of their ancestry that were created when a white slave owner had children with their black slaves.
You do not have to work with anyone you do not want to. You can ask that they find other descendants who will work with them. I would suggest that you continue to do the healing work to aid your other lines of the family anyways, of course.
If you have someone among the recently dead who hurt you, You DO NOT have to work with them even if they repent. You can choose, instead, to work on healing the other ancestors and yourself and your descendants of their abuse instead without aiding their spirit at all.
****I wanted to add that I know I refer to slavery/racism and holocaust pains a lot here as they are the most common issues I come across and referenced in ancestor work. The pains of our ancestors are not limited to the past 200 years though. We have the pains of colonization, of patriarchy, of domestic abuse, alcoholism and addiction, and so much more in so many of our families. Don’t think that if your family doesn’t have anyone black, Jewish, Nazi, slave owner, whatever in it that you don’t have shit to heal. You do. ****
How to Heal
This is a huge topic and I will be doing another blog post all about ways to heal our ancestral lines soon. In the mean time, choosing to heal and choosing to connect with your ancestors is a big first step. Even if you choose not to work with “Bad Ancestors” there are thousands in your lineage that you can work with. You don’t even have to start with your blood and bone ancestors. Choose to work with the ancestors of your line of work. Work with the ancestors of divination, witchcraft, healing, art, etc. This is a great start.
Choose to take on the task of honoring the ancestors. Create an altar, no matter how small or simple, and put out an offering to them daily. Light a candle or candles for them. Pray. Say hello and let them know you want to help and heal. Let them know about your feelings regarding any bad ancestors you have. Listen to them by any means you have – intuition, signs, dreams, divination, coincidences, or just feelings. This is a great start.