The Beloved Dead

NOLA Ancestal altar voudou dna the hosue oftwigs emma kathryn obeah woamn whispers

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”

Liam Callanan, The Cloud Atlas

The darker months are here and I welcome them gladly. I enjoy and love all of the seasons but the darker months are mine. They whisper to my soul and say it’s okay to hide away, to take time to heal myself, to go deep within and rediscover the darkest depths of my spirit. Yes, the season of the witch is upon us and for many, particularly as we approach Samhain, our thoughts turn towards our ancestors, our beloved dead.

Some witches erect ancestor altars at this time, however mine are up all year round. For me, our beloved dead never leave us and within Traditional British witchcraft (non-Wiccan), Vodou and Obeah, the spirit world is ever-present, indeed many voudisants and Obeah practitioners keep Govis in the home – jars or pots that house the ancestral dead. But this time of year does have a special significance within many cultures and there are many celebrations that honour those who came before. Within Christianity, there is All Hallows Eve and its secular equivalent, Halloween. And let’s not forget the Mexican celebration, Dia de los Meurtos (Day of the Dead), nor Haiti’s Fete Ghede. So it’s clear that ancestor worship or veneration is an important part of many traditions, but why?

Perhaps the most obvious reason is that without those who came before, we wouldn’t be here, but it is more than that. The blood of our ancestors flows through our veins and so they live on within us. We carry their DNA and  if you take a moment to truly think of your existence, of how you came to be, of how you are the product of people meeting and falling in love, going back to your very first ancestors, it is pretty mind-blowing. Our ancestors take an active interest in our lives, and this is especially true for those who we actually knew in life, close relatives who have already crossed the divide. They offer us protection and guidance and in turn, we must honour them.

But what about those family members who we didn’t get on with, who were nasty and abusive? Should they too be honoured? Some are of the opinion that forgiveness is  therapeutic and makes you a better person and that once the spirit has returned to source, that it changes, but this is not my opinion. I firmly believe that if someone was a shitty person in life, then they will remain so in death and you owe them nothing. It isn’t good spiritually or mentally for you to forgive and forget deep trauma and so you needn’t offer your time or dedication to those ancestors who have done you wrong. And what about those who might not know their ancestors for whatever reason? The truth is our family are those people who have loved and cared for us, whether we share DNA with them or not. The saying that friends are the family we choose for ourselves is true and so our ancestors can also be those people who have loved us and who we have loved in return. And then there are ancestors of the craft, those individuals who have impacted their traditions in such a way as to have impacted the lives of those who follow those spiritualities, people like Marie Laveau or Doreen Valiente.

Creating an ancestor altar is one way of honouring our ancestors. It gives them a space within your home and gives you somewhere you can spend time in veneration, worship or simply quiet contemplation. It can be as simple or as extravagant as you want and might well be dictated by your own living conditions but there are some basics you might wish to consider. Where will you place it? I say you can put your altar wherever you choose or wherever you have available in your home. Once you’ve settled on where your altar will be,  clean the area thoroughly. Next consider whether or not you will have an altar cloth, and if so, what colour you will choose. Your tradition may well direct you here, or if you work with colour correspondences you may wish to choose accordingly but you can never go wrong with white. The same with candles. Photos of the ancestor to be worshipped are good if you have them, but make sure not to include pictures of anyone still living. As well as pictures, if you have any mementos, jewelry perhaps, then those items can be placed upon the altar as well. If you are planning on working with the ancestors, then you might like to consider spirit bottles.

Spirit bottles do not trap or hurt the spirit in any way but instead help to anchor them in this realm for longer periods.These can glass jars contain sand or earth, crushed eggshell, herbs associated with spirit work as well as items belonging to the deceased. If they are relatives and you have nothing belonging to them, then you can use a lock of your own hair. Alternatively include some items they may have enjoyed in life, a favourite flower perhaps or tobacco if they enjoyed a smoke. Seal the jar with wax and consecrate it for the purpose before placing on your altar.

However you choose to honour you beloved dead, do so with pride.

“The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children”

~ Philip Carr-Gorman

 

 

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My name is Emma Kathryn, my path a mixture of non-Wiccan Traditional British Witchcraft and Obeah, a blend that represents my heritage. A Devotee of Hekate, my witchcraft is what is needed when needed. I live in the middle of England with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs.
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My name is Emma Kathryn, my path a mixture of non-Wiccan Traditional British Witchcraft and Obeah, a blend that represents my heritage. A Devotee of Hekate, my witchcraft is what is needed when needed. I live in the middle of England with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs.
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