My Ancestors Are Dead

My Ancestors Are Dead October 14, 2015

AN00053299_001_lOften in Pagan and Polytheistic spaces, folks speak much of the Ancestors. Hey, if that works for you, go for it. I might pound on the ground with you while you invoke them, but I won’t really be joining you. My ancestors are all dead, and I see no reason to disturb them.

So, in keeping with Hallows season, some discussion of the Gone Ones is in order. First off, I tend to presume reincarnation. In that case, if any of my ancestors respond to an invocation, that means they are trapped amongst the dead and need liberation. They won’t be helping me much, but maybe I can help them. I work for Hermes, after all. Otherwise, my ancestors will be off enjoying their succeeding lives. I wish them the very best.

But even if they are in some kind of subsistence in death, why would they be interested in helping me? I am merely their descendant, no one they know. As far back as any one can see, for the last thousand years or so, they were all Catholic. I’m Pagan, and I don’t think they would like that, as in seriously not like that. Nor is it any part of my culture to appeal to the dead of my family lineage for blessing, or assistance, nor have I any obligations to them. There are many cultures that feel quite differently about this, such as the Chinese, but not being raised to it, nor having any positive experience of it, I don’t see how it applies to me.

For instance, I’m pretty good with working with spirits, and as a priest of Hermes, I have duties with the Dead. Mostly, my job is to help them transition and not get lost or frightened. But once they cross, I’m done and I just wave good by. I hope never to see them again, with them going on to better realms or to reincarnate. If I do see them it generally means they are in trouble and need my help. It is much harder then, but that is the job.

With all the talk of ancestors in our community, and some contact with Afro-Caribbean practitioners, I’ve done some work with the dead of my family line. Being able to see through karmic connection and timelines made it relatively easy to see that crowd of shades. But that is all they were, shades and shells, echoes of the long dead. Gray and colorless, listless and inactive, just standing around and self-absorbed. They had little interest in me, although some seemed to notice and sniff at my offerings. Mostly I felt I was crashing a funeral.

Alternatively, I’ve looked down my reincarnational line, and I could see in vivid color and vibrant energy those lives and the karmic connections they have with each other, and with me. I suppose on some level I could call them ancestors, but really they are me, and each of them is experiencing their own time as now. I am a just a potential future or a past for them. As forms of myself, they have a positive interest in me. Those who have spiritual awareness, when I gather the whole of myself are likely aware of my calling and possibly respond, but that call is deeper than awareness and does not require any conscious effort on their part. I occasionally notice when another incarnation is likewise calling, and offer what help I can. But is this not simply self help, self-compassion?

There is another approach that I regularly use which may provide a similar structural benefit as invoking one’s ancestors. With a character similar to invoking my incarnations, I learned from the Buddhists the practice of Taking Refuge. In the oldest form, Taking Refuge is a prayer to the Buddha as ‘one who succeeded’, the Dharma, the method of success, and the Sangha, the community of those who are striving toward success, all for help and assistance. In this oldest strata the Buddha is sometimes called “Tathagata”, the ‘thus gone [One]’. Over time it was presumed that others ‘made it’ and so this became plural and references all those who have attained. Further contemplation lead to the idea that the attainment is innate and preexistent and so we all have an already ‘enlightened’ nature within ourselves. And this goes for all beings. Along with the recognition that there is no real distinction between ourselves and our world, the Ground of Being, variously conceived, is seen as inherently enlightened, and so all around us ‘possesses’ this ‘quality’. Finally, it was realized that many other classes of beings, Deities, spirits, elementals, and so forth, all strive to liberation and enlightenment, and many on the path who have not yet attained nonetheless offer help to all those who ask. This is where I remember of all those who have practiced the kind of religion or spirituality we do, my heras and heros down the ages who have established the teachings, built the orders and lineages that I participate in. Some traditions call Them the Mighty Dead.

When Taking Refuge, to all these, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Deities & Spirits, the already enlightened nature within ourselves and each other, to those who have gone before, and to the very Ground of Being, we appeal for aid, support, empowerment and protection. Since the majority of these are from, if not in, the past, are these Ancestors?

At the beginning of every ritual, every meditation or practice, even every meeting, I and the folks I work with Take Refuge in These All. They pour forth these blessings on us and empower our work. I can’t think of doing anything without starting this way. Indeed, I do my best to remember every morning to start my day with this prayer.

Likewise, at the end of every ritual, practice, and meeting, we Dedicate the Merit. This is the giving back. We pray that all the good we have just done goes out to all who need that they benefit from all we do. For those who have already attained, those we called upon in Taking Refuge, this is an offering in thanks.

Are these my Ancestors? I don’t really think of them this way, but one could. I consider all that thinks and feels and participates in Being as my relations. So then, who is not my Ancestor? For me, at the wave front of Now, one great resource for the Work is all of the Past. Taking Refuge is a way for me, and those I work with, to access the effort of all those who have gone before, that great thrust in Being towards greater harmony and intensity of feeling, that evolutionary current diving us forward to success. Taking Refuge is about catching the wave of the Past in the Now to carry us forward into the Future. In this way all of Time-Space is my Ancestor and the Future my child. I strive to live this way.

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