Mabeltravelingwitch on Instagram asks “How do you honor ancestors from a different faith (who) would not approve of you being Pagan?”
That’s a really good question Mabeltravlingwitch, and one that cuts pretty close to home for me. As a Witch in Appalachia, born into a very conservative Freewill Baptist family, who espoused Quiverfull ideologies, it goes without saying that lots of my family, living or dead would not be stoked for me to show up in full Witch mode to have a chat. That said, I’ve been surprised more than once working with the dead, so I’d like to offer up a few things for your consideration.
Meet The Dead Where They Are
I think it gets lost in the noise sometimes that polytheism can mean that we believe in everything, and that includes the Christian God. Just because I’m a Witch/Wiccan/Heathenish doesn’t mean that I haven’t had meaningful experiences with that deity. Just because we don’t openly practice (for example) Christianity, doesn’t mean we don’t believe in the deity and honor the practice of it (insomuch as it does not harm others). So to that end, you might consider meeting the dead halfway. It’s not at all foreign to us to call on a deity outside our personal practice when appropriate, so why not treat this the same?
Death Is A Great Equalizer
We’re all on the same playing field in death, so try not to let the perspectives of the living color your interactions with the dead. It’s important, especially in ancestor work, to meet the dead without expectation offering yourself up as who you are in your own way, and see if they meet you there. In life, coming out as a Witch to grandma might not be well received, but there’s the possibility that she might surprise you and the dead are no different. Some of your ancestors may reject your advances, but you might be surprised by who in death is suddenly fine with your practices and approach. The dead cannot lie or mislead, so consider your own authenticity in the experience, and whether or not it is useful to alter who you are and how you work for this ancestor.
The Dead Get Lonely Too
Not everyone is comfortable working with the dead, and because of this, there are legions of dead from all of history that go without remembrance. While many cultures do have traditions of ancestor veneration, it’s very likely that some of the ancestors you call upon (especially if you’re the only Pagan in a disapproving family) are not actively remembered/called upon by any other living person – so they may simply be delighted to have your company, your recognition, and your gifts.
When All Else Fails, Throw Away The Whole Family
Just in case you need to hear it, I’ll say this. I’ve wasted a ton of my life fighting for love, kinship, and acceptance from people who were never going to give it and there are days when those wounds still feel bloody and raw. The fact is that some ancestors are going to reject your interest, some simply won’t answer the call, and plenty of us (like myself) have ancestors who are just plain toxic.
“Venerate” comes from the Latin verb “venerari” which means to adore, or to revere, and I hope that those disapproving ancestors are worthy of your reverence and adoration. Grasping for acceptance from someone while they are living is quite painful enough, don’t feel obligated to keep reaching for it after they are gone.
With that in mind, consider building your ancestor altar not just to blood kin, but to those you claim as spiritual ancestors and those you consider worth remembering. Havamal, stanza 44 says “Hast thou a friend whom thou trustest well, from whom thou cravest good? Share thy mind with him, gifts exchange with him, fare to find him oft.” Advice as good for the living as it is for the dead.
The Final Word
My advice? If you feel it is a worthwhile endeavor, and someone worth the extra effort, try just putting yourself out there – be vulnerable with your ancestors, and they might surprise you with a measure of unexpected acceptance. After all, you’re kin. And if not? Throw the whole family away.