Travel, Renewal, and Ancestor Work

Travel, Renewal, and Ancestor Work April 13, 2019

I arrived in Sydney Monday morning after more than 24 hours of travel. I was worn out and not feeling entirely well, fighting off a bit of a sinus bug; but the weather was amazing, probably the last day of summer temperatures for the year. So I grabbed my swimsuit and trusted myself to Google Maps and my new Opal card to get me on the bus to Coogee Beach for a quick dip.

And I immersed myself in the South Pacific. A baptism of sorts, another bit of initiation as a world traveler.

It may well be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that in ancient times Taoist masters would hang out in inns, looking for people far from home whom travel had opened to new imprints to spring some crazy wisdom on them. Travel can shake up old patterns and so enables new ones to be set.

And that is the heart of magic: changing consciousness.

Of course this is only a possibility. These days it’s possible to travel to the other side of the world and do almost nothing new. (As I write this, I’ve got the TV on in my hotel room, with The Powerpuff Girls on Boomerang — a twenty year old American cartoon show.)

Travel gives you an opportunity to raise the magickal energy, but you have to take the opportunity and set the intent to direct it, to make meaningful choices.

But certainly sometimes the universe lends a hand in making a trip magical. Today I attended a special ritual at the Sydney Seido Karate headquarters dojo, a “smoking ceremony” performed by Les Daniel from the Tribal Warrior Association. Any of my Pagan friends would have recognized the form of a smudging ritual, where smoke from burning herbs is used to banish negative influences.

From there it was dinner and drinks with friends at the pub up the street. But walking back to my hotel from there, I had my first opportunity since I’ve been here to see the stars, including the Southern Cross — a different sky than I’ve known my whole life, indeed a different sky than any of my ancestors have known for at least a dozen generations, as far as I can tell.

Southern Cross photo by Flickr user Takver, CC-BY-SA-2.0

A new baptism; an old ritual in a new place; a new sky. By these powers I declare old limits lifted, old wounds healed, old griefs released.


I wrote those word last night, and awoke this morning to a sort of revelation; not a dramatic message but more as if I was finally hearing a whisper that had been there for a while.

First, though, a little diversion about ancestor work, something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.

(I sit now in Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, a little oasis in the middle of Sydney; if you are the sort of person who reads this blog, I think you will love it also. Part Zen garden, part the garden behind your quirky artist friend’s rowhouse.)

My take-away from Starwood last year was, “do more ancestor work”. At Samhain I established a sort of ancestor shrine, just a corner of my shiatsu and meditation room with family photos and my father’s old guitar, a potent talisman. (Dad didn’t keep up playing past his teens, but my uncle picked it up while Dad was in Vietnam and has been playing ever since; he and his wife recently released their first album of original Americana music.)

“Coincidentally”, right at Imbolc I received some more family info and photos from one of Dad’s cousins; and posting about those on Instagram prompted a different cousin to send me some old photos she had. What’s interesting about that, is that she, cousin through my paternal grandfather, had photos of my maternal grandfather. And I did not have any photos of him. So those sort of completed the send of grandparent photos for my little shrine.

My maternal grandfather and I had a relationship that might be described as “complicated”. He was a WWII veteran, a Depression survivor who dropped out of school to help support his family. He was an ambulance driver for the volunteer fire department and a lay minister at his church, a pillar of the community type. He was a devoted grandfather who spoiled us, helped pay for extra academic programs that gave me great opportunities as a kid, supported my interest in martial arts (some irony there, a man who fought the Japanese in the Pacific war), and helped me buy the used car that took me through most of college and grad school. But he was also an uneducated racist homophobe with the most narrow-minded of views on religion. And when he remarried after my grandmother died, his second wife slowly pushed us out of his life.

It’s complicated.

But an idea I came back from Starwood with was that it is those ancestors with whom we have troubled relationships to whom we should first turn when doing ancestor work. In a sense, they owe us. Imagine yourself waking up Sunday morning after that party where you had entirely too much to drink and behaved badly. You’re regretful over that off-color joke you told, the fight you got into, the person who you touched inappropriately. You’re looking for an opportunity to make amends.

Just so with those problematic ancestors, looking back from the afterlife: “Oh, man, did I screw up. How do I make this right?”

(And yes, it’s true that I do not believe in a literal individual afterlife; as always with the art magickal we are operating in the realm of metaphor and poetry and things vaguely suggested, the shadow of a tree cast by the moon half-hidden by clouds; not mere literal truth.)

So shortly after I received that photo from my cousin, I called upon my grandfather for help with a problem. I’ve mentioned my recent promotion in my karate training; but my invitation to test came at the last minute. I knew that I might be invited, was sort of expecting to be, but as the time I got that photo of my grandfather I had not heard anything.

So when I added the photo to my ancestor shrine, I reached out to the energy of my problematic grandfather, asked him to clear the way. And within just a few days, I had my invitation.

Now, my relationship with my father was not so complicated. While we had our moments over the years, as most fathers and sons do, we both grew past those problems. And since his relatively recent death a year and a half ago, I have not called upon his energy, invoked his aid.

But this morning, at that liminal point of waking as I lay quietly in a hotel bed on the opposite side of the world from my home, I knew that my father was working on my behalf in one of the areas that has always been a common focus of magic: love.

My love life sort of shut down with my mother’s illness, my father’s hospitalizations and death, and the stress and grief after that. It’s been three or four years since I could say I was seeing anyone. But one thing I can remember Dad saying a few times that he wished for my brother and I, was the sort of companionship and partnership he had with Mom.

So far neither my brother nor I have found that. And I’m pretty sure that if I ever do, it won’t be in the sort of traditional form that my parents had! But my heart’s knowledge from this morning is that when it comes to love magic, Dad is pulling whatever strings he can from the Other Side for us.

(I’m not quite sure how I’ll explain that feeling to my brother…)

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