One of my favorite things about Heathenry are the smaller spirits that I honor. The Gods are big and bright and flashy, of course, and they’re easier to talk about with other Heathens since we’re generally honoring the same ones. But They’re not the biggest part of my practice.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a bit about the land wights; the spirits of nature that dwell all around us, that are there and part of our everyday lives. I have a closer and more intimate relationship with these wights than I do with the Gods of nature, and that’s fine with me. They’re more like good neighbors that I wave to each morning on my way to work.
For me, my ancestors are much the same way. They’re already there – have always been there. They are just as much family as my brothers or my children. I believe they come to my house, that they hang around a lot, that they’ve gotten to know my house wights and watch when my kids go off to their first day of school. It’s a rare day when I’m not recalling some memory or retelling a story told to me long ago about my beloved dead.
For quite awhile now, I’ve been following the old tradition of leaving a bit of the family meal out for the ancestors. My husband is an atheist and slightly uncomfortable around religious rituals, so the plate isn’t left on the table. Instead, I make a point of placing it on my altar before sitting down to dinner. This lacks a feeling of ‘sharing’ though – as if I’ve sent part of the family to their room and am serving them there.
So a few months ago, I began making tea for myself in the morning. It was cold
outside, and the hot beverage was awesome – but I’ve found that few minutes of time to myself while I watch the water boil is just as valuable. It occurred to me then that this was a fantastic ritual to share with my ancestors.
I pour the tea into two cups, one to place on my altar. As I wait for mine to cool, I welcome my beloved dead and offer them the drink. Then I stand for awhile, sipping my tea, looking at their pictures and belongings – remembering their stories, their voices. It’s such a strong moment of communion, one in which I can completely focus on something I really care about. It’s calming and almost meditative, a quiet moment when the spirits speak to me through memories.
My children have become very interested in this little ritual as well. As I was boiling water a few mornings ago, my three year old popped his head into the kitchen and said “oh, the ancestors are thirsty again,” and went back to his toys. Of course I have no desire to compel my children into my religion, but I’m so happy they are growing up with it as a normal, everyday thing. The ancestors are truly a part of the family to them.
They learned this not because I constantly say it, or try to drill it in their heads – they learned it because I share tea with my dead every morning. This simple action of hospitality, of sharing, sends a powerful message.