Working with our ancestors is an ancient and powerful way to get guidance, strength and support from wise spirits interested in our wellbeing. Ancestral veneration is a cornerstone of many spiritual practices across the globe.
While talking to the dead may seem scary or confusing to some, working with our ancestors brings realms of love and protection into our lives that extend across millenia. Read on for more guidance on how and why building ancestral relations is so valuable.
A collection of lit candles
Who Are Our Ancestors?
A common misconception is that ancestral work can only be done with those with whom we share blood and bone. While working with your biological ancestors (kindly and well*) can be a powerful and moving experience, they're not the only ancestors out there. We can also connect with our ancestors of lineage, of place, of affinity.
I pray to herbalists and astrologers, those who are queer and chronically ill, those who lived on the land I call home, and all those who have fought for justice and liberation in their own ways and their own times.
Who are the ancestors you want to invoke? To what lineages do you belong?
Time moves cyclically, simultaneously connecting us to the future and the past. While it's very natural to look backwards to connect with our ancestors, it's important to remember that they extend into the future, too. Future children and future lineage holders are also present in our ancestral relations. The way we live and move now builds the world that our future ancestors will live in. They have quite an interest in supporting us with that work.
*When I invoke my ancestors, I specify that I am speaking to my kindly and well ancestors, wise spirits interested in supporting and enhancing my wellbeing. Our ancestors are just as flawed as those of us still in the mortal realm and it is important to have boundaries around which ancestors you work with and why.
Some gravestones, one with flowers
Ancestors as Spiritual Protection
Connecting with our kindly and well ancestors is a great way to start building relationship with the spirit realm. Our ancestors are close to us and they know what it's like to be human. They have an interest in protecting, guiding and supporting us.
I started my magical and spiritual practice by forming a close, devotional relationship with my ancestors and I would highly recommend this approach to anyone looking to interact more with the unseen realms.
One risk with magic and spiritual work is when people don't fully believe that it's real, that it works, they may blaze forward without taking necessary precautions to protect themselves. There are many malicious and harmful spirits (and also spirits that simply don't want to interact with us) and randomly invoking unseen beings can have significant consequences. Having your kindly and well ancestors close to you so they can consciously work to protect and support you can help minimize issues coming up from interacting as a novice with the spirit realm.
Another benefit is that there is no denying that our ancestors are very, very real. We can postulate over where they are, how they are, what they're doing once they pass through to the other side, but they most definitely existed. Which means they still exist. Keeping the memory of our ancestors alive is a beautiful way to honor and connect with our lineages.
How to Work with Ancestors
There are infinite ways to interact with our ancestors and this work is best done with an intuitive focus. The following information is for guidance and inspiration. Please follow these threads to a practice that feels good and makes sense for you, your spiritual beliefs, your culture and your relationship with your ancestors.
1). Make offerings to your ancestors
This can be as simple as putting out some food and water regularly and clearly communicating to your kindly and well ancestors that this is an offering for them. Other offerings can include art, poetry, time, actions... The choices are infinite and the ancestors love creativity.
2). Eat a meal with your ancestors
When putting out food offerings for ancestors, it can be nice to have your meal at the same time, center yourself, invite your ancestors to join you and sit quietly while you eat. Pay attention to whatever physical and emotional sensations come up during this time, spirits tend to communicate in subtle ways and anything can have significance here. Being quiet and present in your body will help you be more open to communication from your ancestors.
3). Pray to your ancestors regularly
Multiple times a day, I pray to my ancestors to "be with me, guide me and protect me today and all days." I take a moment to feel their presence around me and extend love and appreciation towards them. This really helps keep them close and reminds me of how much love and protection is always available to me.
Incense burning on an altar
4). Build an ancestral altar
Carving out a physical space where you can interact with your ancestors can ground your devotional practice. This can be a simple space and it is really nice to include pictures and relics of ancestors close to you. But remember, our ancestors extend way beyond the ones we consciously know, so even if you don't have physical materia from your ancestors you can still build a powerful altar.
Including items that invoke the 4 elements can be a great way to guide an altar building practice:
Earth (stones, herbs, plants, salt or other minerals etc.)
Water (beverages, water, melted wax, anything liquid etc.)
Air (incense, feathers, candle smoke etc.)
Fire (lit candles, lit incense, sunlight, salt lamps etc.)
5). Pay attention to your dreams
Our ancestors communicate to us through the subconcious realms, so if you're trying to communicate with them you may want to consider starting a dream journal. Just as I outlined in suggestion 2, anything can have significance here. Pay attention to body sensations, emotions, and images. Record your dreams regularly and patiently look for patterns, trusting that communication may become easier the longer you practice.
There are so many ways to interact with our ancestors and this list is just a starting place. What matters is showing up regularly and communicating clearly to your kindly and well ancestors that you're interested in building a relationship with them.
There is so much empowerment, love and protection available to us when we work with our ancestors and this is an ancient spiritual practice that most humans across time and space have engaged in.