Spirit Allies: Relationships Over Collections

2015/11/21

Minor Rant

I need to repaint my living room, and I could ask friends or family to help. They’re not professional painters, but they’d get the job done. It’s easier to ask them then it is to hire professionals, or befriend a professional in hopes of getting them to help as a favour.

It’s a sloppy analogy, but I see it all the time in magick.

“My mother just broke her hip, and I want to help heal her, what god should I work with and how?”

“I bought a new house and want to banish it thoroughly before moving in, what god would be a good choice?”

“I’m trying to find a job, which Buddha should I petition?”

Here is my answer: if you have to ask, you shouldn’t be working with them. Aside from an issue with how people collect and toss gods for favours in a manner I find ridiculous and disrespectful, it’s also not an efficient way to handle it.

Our relationships with spirits and gods are just that, relationships, not matters of convenience. Yet what type of relationship can you build quickly for that one goal.

Now before I go on, I’d like to clarify two points. First, I’m obviously not against working with spirits, but when I’ve discussed this before I’ve had people assume I’m anti-spirit work or something. Far from the case, but I’m against inefficient (and perhaps rude) spirit work. Second, we need to draw a distinction between short-term singular goals, and long term goals. There is a difference between being sick, and being chronically ill, or between being unemployed, and perpetually low on funds.

So what’s my issue here? Why do the spirits help us? People claim lots of reasons; altruism, their nature, compulsion, whatever. Yet even if you have a friendly neighbour who would help you do your garden, if you’ve never talked to them, and suddenly pop over and ask for them to help out for a few hours, it’s weird, and kinda rude.

Yet people do that with spirits all the time, they have a goal, and they begin working with a new spirit. This ignores the fact that our spirit allies are far more complicated than many people give them credit for, and this perhaps belies the lack of relationship people have. Why are you trying to build relationships, that you won’t maintain, will promptly forget, just to get a goal, especially when chances are you already have allies who can help.

Again, think of them like real people. I’m not a professional mover, nor am I super strong (but stronger than I look), but if you need help moving something, I can do just that. I’m not a repair person, but I’m smart and good with google, so if your tv isn’t working we could sit down with a computer, and possibly get it up and running. Yet if I were to write a description of my skills I would never think to include “Helps move heavy shit” “Can tinker like a mo-fo” or such, because they’re not my focus…but they’re there. Most spirits are like that, more so the “bigger” they get. Okay, perhaps something like a Goetic spirit is more limited in what it can do (though trust me, some of them are a lot broader than the paragraph says), but when you work with higher order angels, or gods, saints, Buddhas, why act as if they can’t help?

They might not be “experts” in the field, but they can probably help, and more importantly you already have a connection with them, a relationship. If you need an expert, find one, but why go through that effort until it’s actually needed? Your patron might not be listed under “Job magick” in some witchy-cookbook, but there is probably something they can do to help, either directly, or indirectly.

To make another, geekier, analogy think Pokemon. In Pokemon some pokemon are good at somethings, but not others. Fire pokemon are good against Grass, but not against Water. Grass pokemon are good against Water, but not against Fire. Water pokemon are good against Fire, but not against Grass. The trouble is you can only train six pokemon at once. So sometimes you’ll being raising Fire pokemon and you encounter a Water pokemon. Normally your Fire pokemon would be weak against them, but because you’ve been working with them, they’re strong, and if you switched to a Grass pokemon you’ve never used, sure it is technically strong against Water, but it’s so much weaker than your Fire pokemon that it isn’t useful. So even though the Fire pokemon isn’t the best designed for the situation in terms of strengths, it’s still the best choice you have.

I hate to say our spirit allies are pokemon, but I think it’s an accurate comparison here. It’s not so much that working with us makes them more powerful, but perhaps more connected and precise. A spirit that you’re really bound to can influence your world to a far greater extent than most newly contacted spirits. That link draws them into our lives, into this level of reality.

Don’t be afraid to ask your spirits for help, even if it doesn’t seem connected to their abilities. If you’re looking for a job and Thor is your go-to for everything, ask him, the worst case is he’ll tell you he can’t help. Aphrodite might not be the first choice to get you out of debt, but if she’s been with you for years, ask her, again the worst that can happen is she’ll hand you off to someone else. Manjushri might not be about healing, but if you ask he’d do his best.

Perhaps I take my relationships too seriously, but I would rather not engage with someone new for the sake of a task, when I could work with a friend.


Mintfalls

2015/11/01

Taking a break from my normal schedule, I was asked to write a post about a construct of mine on a forum. They were discussing uses for bottles, and I mentioned one ongoing working I had involving a bottle and was asked to discuss it more.

Around seven or eight years ago I created a construct, Mintfalls, who by their titles is my Genie of Finances and my Guardian of Financial Stability. Their purpose is more around stability and keeping things from getting bad, rather than drawing money or making me wealthy. They’re the stable income and emergency stash rather than the increasing bank balance.

Their creation was fairly simple. I used the standard method of taking a Statement of Intent, and reducing the letters. I was left with some combination resembling Mintfalls, so decided on that name, and made a sigil based on the name using two methods; the popular Chaos Magick letter smash, and the Qamea. As I fed the energy into the sigil I kept “folding” it back in, so rather than letting it go off to accomplish something, I kept drawing it back into the sigil. Eventually this turned into a 3D image of the sigil, the skeleton of the construct, and by putting energy in, eventually this settled into a construct. (For sake of brevity I’m leaving it at that)

The oldest "body" of Mintfalls currently

The oldest “body” of Mintfalls currently

After Mintfalls’s creation I created a bottle to be their vessel, I pick, whenever possible, an orange bottle, and I paint the sigils on the bottle in blue; this is to connect them to the flows of Mercury and Jupiter. The top of the bottle is capped with a blue candle, and some Wealth Drawing Oil is poured in. Their vessel is where I leave my offerings for Mintfalls, which is my spare change, generally any change less than a dollar I have at the end of the day goes to Mintfalls.

While I can make the offerings any time, I often do it weekly now, just tossing the coins around the bottle until it’s time to actually work with them. I give the offerings, coin by coin, with a prayer that has developed over time. Below is the prayer, whenever you see an asterisk (*) that is when I would toss in a coin. I repeat the prayer until I’ve run out of coins.

Hail to thee Mintfalls*
My Genie of Finances*
And Guardian of Financial Stability*
As you feed me * so I feed you *
As I support you * so you support me *
Keep my finances stable, abundant, and ever increasing *

Hail to thee Mintfalls*
My Genie of Finances*
And Guardian of Financial Stability*
As you support me * so I support you *
As I feed you * so you feed me *
Keep my finances stable, abundant, and ever increasing *

(Note the third and fourth lines of both set are mirrored versions of the other verse)

After I’ve run out of coins and finish the prayer I gather my energy in my navel centre, and then in a long slow outbreath pour it into Mintfalls’s bottle.

When a bottle is full I add more Wealth Drawing oil, and light the candle on top until it melts and seals the bottle. (I have to extinguish it before it is done, otherwise the wick and flame can fall into the coins as the wax melts, leaving the bottle top open.)

Part of the construction of Mintfalls included the detailing of the procedure of keeping the bottles. I’m allowed to keep four bottles, being the number of Jupiter. When I start the fifth bottle, the oldest of the bottles is destroyed. That money is either donated, or spent on lottery tickets. With regards to the lottery ticket, it’s not about winning, in fact, in the years I’ve worked with Mintfalls, I don’t think the lottery tickets purchased through them have done more than get a free play, the point is to return their money into the flow of things, specifically to unexpected gains. So while I won’t win the lottery, it does suddenly add to someone else’s wealth, giving so that a return flux is possible. I had asked about putting it into a savings account, as that seems more intuitively appropriate, but I was told at that point the coins are consecrated and need to be moving around fast, not symbolically sitting in a bank.

Another aspect of Mintfalls’s duty is as emergency funding. They know that if times are ever really rough I can destroy the oldest active bottle, in case of emergency break glass I guess. Though I’ve had some close calls, I’ve never had to destroy their form prematurely. When things were really bad, and I would give them their offering, I’d casually mention that if things don’t change soon, I’ll have to break one of their bottles, and it is as if that reminder gets them going again, and things start to pick up.

If I was going to make another construct like Mintfalls, now I feel that I’d add in some Saturn, for stability and form, rather than just Mercury and Jupiter for different aspects of wealth and luck and movement. The problem with a construct like Mintfalls, is it is a lot harder than most to prove they’re doing their job. My finances have been roughly stable, and things have never gotten too bad, despite some close calls. So their “success” is more or less judged on the fact I haven’t financially failed in that time, so while I can’t say they’re a successful construct with complete confidence, I can say I have no reason to believe they’re not unsuccessful at least. They seem to have worked, they’re responsive, and my finances have been more or less stable in their career, so I’m wiling to hedge my bets toward their success.


Sorcerer’s Plant: Care, Feeding, and Consecration

2015/10/13

Before I continue the post proper I wanted to address a question I got and can’t easily work into the post.

“Why do you suggest big blade aloe plants?”

There are two reasons. The first is when the angel(s) gave me the image it was the large bladed type of aloe vera, and I have kept my plants as close as possible to their vision and instruction. The second reason is because you can actually cut off a blade to use in certain rituals, but the plant is an ally, so the destruction of part of its body should be a sacrifice. If it’s dozens of small blades one removed will not contain much power, and will not be noticed, but a larger blade will make you think twice before using it.

Previously I spoke a bit about the uses of the plant, and the type of plant selected and the basic preparation, now let’s shift to the methods of consecration.

There are two elements of the consecration, a regular routine one, and an irregular one.

I mentioned that the plant is a connection to places and spirits you work with, this is part of the irregular consecration.

I’ve talked before about collecting dirt, here and here. This is how you connect the plant to different places. Follow the method I mentioned (or something similar) where you are not just grabbing dirt, but making an offering for it, gather the essence of the place into it, and then collect the dirt.

Gather Nest dirt, which I mentioned but didn’t describe in those posts, but to reiterate a Nest is a power place, often conceptualized in the West as a Nexus point, a crisscrossing of Ley Lines or flows of nature energy. But a Nest doesn’t have to be such a crisscrossing (or rather my tradition claims that some lines are far beneath the Earth and only rear their Head in certain areas), sometimes there is a place of power disconnected for the area around. Gather dirt that is important to your practice. Power places, temples, graves that are relevant to your work, holy places, whatever.

Now if you don't have soil samples from various graves, power points, and dragon's nests, then store bought is fine...actually, no it's not.

Now if you don’t have soil samples from various graves, power points, and dragon’s nests, then store bought is fine…actually, no it’s not.

When you have the dirt I recommend sterilizing it. You don’t have to, but dirt can contain harmful microorganisms which can be damaging to plants, and if you’re using it to detect magickal attacks you want to avoid any confusion if it starts wilting. To sterilize soil you bake it believe it or not. Put the soil in an oven safe container, I find mini-cupcake pans are the perfect size for my soil samples. The soil should be slightly damp. Cover the container with tin foil and pop in the oven at 90C (200F), once the dirt reaches around 82C (180F) keep it at that temperature for half an hour. Don’t let it go much higher than that, because that can actually produce (so the gardening sites claim) toxins in the soil. After half an hour take it out, and let it cool. You now have sterilized dirt that is free of damaging organisms for your plant.

My plant has soil from the various Nests near me. Places along the shore where I communicate with the spirits of Lake Ontario, places on the Bluffs, a crypt that has been a focus of my magickal work for 12 years, places like that. It also has dirt from the Blue Hole in the Pine Barrens, and sand from the Atlantic ocean, Graveyard dirt from the focal points of the various Lords of the Dead in different cemeteries I’ve visited in Canada and the US, and even stuff as far reaching as dirt from the roots of the (supposed) Bodhi Tree, and sand from the shore of Lake Rakshastal in the Himalayas (a lake of special importance to me). Think about the places that are important and powerful to you, and the places you have spirit allies. Take dirt from there.

Adding the dirt to the plant is something that I do non-ceremoniously, though I only do it when I water the plant. Before I start I hold the dirt, and use it as a link to the spirit or place, and reach out and connect it, then I speak to the spirit and place and plant, and explain that I’m giving it the dirt to connect them, so they become linked. So that offerings to the plant are offerings to these spirits, so that the plant becomes a place where I can easily speak to those far away and draw on their forces. You don’t need to add much, and if you’re like me, you don’t want to use too much, because pretty soon your pot will be overflowing. I use maybe a teaspoon each time.

(As a sidenote: I mentioned that my last plant died. I took the soil from that pot, from the edge away from the roots, just in case they started to rot, and I sterilized that dirt and reused it with my new plant. That way it kept some of the energy of the plant, and the connections I had already established. It felt like they broke, but the guidelines are there, so it’s just a matter of charging this plant back up to connect.)

Now for the part of the regular consecration, this is what helps connect the plant to you, and helps it stand in as you during magickal attacks. It also, I believe, it was largely gives it the power to become something more than just a plant, but a more conscious spirit.

It is to be watered every New Moon, and every Full Moon. (Water in between if it needs it, but not a full watering)I use rain water (or melted snow in the winter), I wasn’t told to, but it just seems right. Every Full Moon it’s not just water I feed my sorcerer’s plant, but my blood as well. *insert people suddenly being squeamish for no good reason* It doesn’t have to be much, I usually only include three drops for a symbolic reasoning. I mix the blood in with the water, and give it to the plant. As usual it’s less ceremony and more altered state chatting with the plant, reminding it that I share my blood with its water, so that I may become part of the plant, and that the plant is part of me, to bind us together and to enliven the plant. On the New Moon I offer my plant water and semen. (Those who didn’t know my sex or gender, you at least know I have functioning testicles) I cannot speak for those without the ability to produce semen, either due to medical issues or have different gonads/genitals, though I suppose other sexual secretions would work, or a second serving of blood. When I water the plant this time it is much the same, just explaining and reinforcing our connection.

(Feeding the plant my blood and semen is why my sorcerer’s plant has earned the endearing, but inaccurate, nickname of being a cum-guzzling cannibal cactus.)

This really gives the plant its own presence, and as mentioned helps it become a sort of astral double that works well as a stand in for a lot of malefic magick. There is nothing done to make it stand in, it just seems to be a nature of the plant, a natural occurrence after it builds up enough force.

Now that the plant is active and developing, you can use it essentially as a remote altar. If you need to connect to a distant spirit or place, treat the plant as you would an image or statue on an altar. Reach through it, make the offerings to it, connect to it, and speak through/to it.

I mentioned cutting off the blades. When I find I really need a boost in a ritual, I need access to more force/energy than I can easily tap, or I want to be empowered by distant allies I cut off a blade, split it lengthwise down the centre and use its gel as an anointing oil. My forehead, temples, wrists, and any other appropriate power point is wiped with the gel and I find that really sends me up and out into the ritual. Also I’ve used it as a stand in for my own blood in other rituals when I’ve not been comfortable using my own blood.

The sorcerer’s plant has inspired other such botanical familiars in my work, and I’ve come across similar ideas since then, but this post is long enough as is, so I will leave it here.


Sorcerer’s Plant

2015/10/09

For well over a year I cultivated my sorcerer’s plant, and in that time it was a good focus and tool, and in the end it proved to be a great ally. Two weeks a good I began the process of consecrating and ensorcerelling a new one. Since people asked me about it, I asked the spirits who helped guide me to the plant, and I have a green light to talk about it. (I figured since it was part of a tradition of sorts, I needed permission to discuss it exactly, rather than in broad strokes)

So to start, just what is a sorcerer’s plant? It’s a hard question to answer, but most simply it’s a living (literally) talisman. Now a lot of us magickal folks (myself included) see some of our talismans and objects as alive, but this literally is alive on a biological level. A sorcerer’s plant has several purposes. It’s a focal point of power, it’s a very lively plant, and can be used to draw energy from, far more than you could from a regular plant, but it’s more than a battery, because it’s a focal point of different entities, and nests, and sacred places. (Nest in this tradition refers to a Dragon’s Nest, what most people would understand/call a nexus point of Ley Lines, a point of convergence of flows of power across the land) Through the plant you can access, if in a limited way, places and entities that are distant. (The spirits who set me about working on the plant told me that a long-lived and powerful sorcerer’s plant would eventually shift the flows around it to become a nest of its own. I don’t know if I believe that, or if it’s true, they might have been speaking out of their ass-trals.) It also has a more active plant genus attached to it, a more conscious spirit.

The plant also becomes an early warning system. The method of consecration causes a type of mirroring or interference between you and the plant, so a lot of stuff directed at you runs through the plant. In the case of attacks or malefic magick, this means the plant can absorb it, and it will affect the plant instead or first. Also the way it’s powered and connected makes it a great ritual ingredient for heightening trance states and the like. There is more to it, but any competent magickal folk will also start figuring out their own uses to it, and potentially tweaking it.

Regarding the early warning system, that is why I’m consecrating my second plant. I was recently a target of some malefic magick (since dealt with) which involved some pretty impressive signs. A dead mouse beside my offering dish, and the wards I drew on my walls before painting literally bled through the paint, and my healthy and living plant became mush. It didn’t just die or whither, it was suddenly a pile of goo held together by its skin. I don’t know what would have happened without it, but to turn a plant to mush, I’m pretty sure it took the brunt of it. I had found it useful before this, but this really drove it home.

Larger, fewer blades

Larger, fewer blades

So first one must acquire a plant to become the receptacle. I was told to acquire “the plant of immortality,” and my first thought was the Epic of Gilgamesh, but it was accompanied by a mental image of an aloe vera plant. Now supposedly (internet says) the Khemetic people called aloe vera the plant of immortality, but regardless it matches up, and makes sense to use aloe because of its gel (more on that next post). There are a couple of species of aloe vera, I personally recommend one with fewer larger blades, rather than many small ones. If you’ve never grown an aloe before, I recommend googling how to, they can be tricky plants, especially if you’re used to “normal” house plants, not succulents.

Too many small blades. Also avoid the more squat bladed species.

Too many small blades. Also avoid the more squat bladed species.

Then you need a pot, it doesn’t have to be a fancy pot, but large enough for the plant (again google what type of pots and setups are best for aloe), and preferably a touch deeper than needed. The most vague part of the instructions I was given was “make the pot magickal.” So I repeat that to you. I did it by using food colouring to paint the seals of some of my planetary angels on the inside of the pot and a few personal symbols related to the tradition. I used food colouring because it’s a terra cotta pot, so it absorbs well, and I didn’t want to use something like paint that would potentially be harmful to the plant.

Now plant the aloe into the pot, don’t fill it with dirt all the way to the top though. Leave some room. Almost to the top.

In most cases an aloe vera plant can be watered every two weeks, which just happens to sync up pretty excellently with the lunar cycle. I was told to water the plant on the New Moon and the Full Moon. Every once and a while in a really dry period I might need to give it a bit more in between, but save the full watering for the New and Full moons.

Next time I’ll discuss more on how it’s consecrated, nurtured, and worked with.


Ancestor Work: Categories of Dead Folks

2015/06/08

Last week I talked about starting ancestor work, and a few people in the comments already jumped ahead to what I wanted to talk about this week, which is the different categories of the dead and ancestors.

The tradition I ended up working with included a few categories of the dead, and that has been tweaked a bit by me based on my cosmology.

The first is the Beloved Dead. The Beloved Dead are the family you knew. If they were alive at the same time as you, if you knew them, then they’re in the Beloved Dead category. This is the primary group most people work with, and in a lot of ways it’s the most accessible.

The second would be the Faceless Dead. The Faceless Dead are the family you didn’t know. The great-great grandparents who died before you were born, all those you never got to meet but whom you are a descendant of are the Faceless Dead. They’re still an easily accessed and immediate presence in ancestor work despite the distance.

Some people wonder why or how someone you never knew would work with you, even if you are a descendant. There are several reasons, the first, as cheesy as it sounds is the love of family. How many of us have had someone born into the family, a child, a niece or nephew, a cousin, whatever. Right away we probably love them. We have no idea who they’ll grow up to be, but there is this immediate bond, they’re family, they’re our kid, or our sibling’s kid, or someone else’s, but we love the parent, and that transfers to the child.

Another reason, which is harder to explain, is the continuation of self. There is a saying that children make us immortal, because our genes and values will continue through them. (Technically with that logic, it just means you’re long-lived, cause all of humanity will die eventually.) We’re a physical emanation of those who went before us, we’re connected to them, and in many ways a part of them, so it’s in their best interest to work with us. We’re a continuation or extension of them, it is natural to seek to benefit that which is connected to us.

Note: Some groups and lineages refer to this category as the Nameless Dead. For me that doesn’t work, first off I’m my family geneaologist, I know names of my family going back before the Battle of Hastings. Secondly Nameless has a very specific connotation in my spiritual background which clashes with this understanding, so I switched it to Faceless. For the most part there are no visual representations, so they are Faceless to me.

Those two categories are the two “proper” categories of ancestors we have to work with. The next two are not quite ancestors properly, but interact with us in a similar way.

The first of these is the Lunar Dead. The Lunar Dead could be seen as our adopted family. They are our friends, teachers, and people we had close ties to. Your best friend, or even your best friend’s mother depending on your relationship, might come through as a Lunar Dead in your life. If you’re part of a spiritual tradition, the teachers before you can be part of the Lunar Dead, and much like the Faceless Dead, this can include those you’ve never met. In my case my lama’s lama, who died a few years before I got into Buddhism, has made his presence felt with the Lunar Dead. If they were the type of person who would help you out, no matter what in life, then chances are they’ll fall under the Lunar Dead.

The second group in this set is, as some might have guessed, the Solar Dead. The Solar Dead is a very broad category. It includes anyone who could be in the previous categories, but from a past life. You might still have some connection, however subtle, to family members from another life, to friends and teachers who knew you before you took this birth. The Solar Dead can even potentially contain other forms of your self from the past. I have a very loving woman who occasionally shows up, and I get the sense she was a nanny of some sort for a life I spent in India, where she was closer to me than my mother was. Basically though the Solar Dead is any type of connection with a deceased spirit from a life before this one. I don’t know how far back the Solar Dead can go, I assume it’s more based on how long the connection has been dormant, how strong it was, and how connected you are to it now, but that’s just what seems right to me, and might not be the case.

The last category of the dead is not really an ancestor in any sense of the word (though there could be overlap), and that would be the Mighty Dead. The Mighty Dead are the powerful, fascinating, and unique historical figures out there. They’re people that made a huge difference in the world, the people who will be remembered by many not related to them. This could be famous political figures, Ghandi or J.F.K., warlords like Napoleon, great minds like Sagan and Einstein, even great sorcerers like John Dee, or Crowley. If they’re a figure famous for their work in some regard, they can be included in the Mighty Dead.

I know some people work regularly with the Mighty Dead, giving frequent offerings, much as they would with their ancestors. Personally I don’t, I don’t have a connection with any of them that I feels warrants it, but if I need to work with one of them, I can create such a relationship, but I don’t keep one going on standby just in case.

For me these extra categories slowly developed as I worked with my ancestors. My Great-Grandpa who died before I was born showed up after a while, and I felt I couldn’t exclude him, just because I never knew him. So I included him on the offerings, and then another family member I had never met made their presence known, and over time I realized there was a group, so I gave them their own category and set of offerings.

I find every once and a while I get a few new Faceless Dead, as if my work with the rest of them is slowly calling them, or awakening them, or perhaps the dead communicate and tell their parents and family “Hey, someone is actually acknowledging us, come get a meal.”

My Solar Dead showed up before I began ancestor work, but it was my ancestor work that gave me a format to work with them, rather than just having them occasionally around.

No Lunar Dead showed up before I began to call them, it is a category I created out of utility, as I worked with the dead I made a point of acknowledging some friends who had been murdered, and felt that whatever was out there of those who I knew, but was not related to, could still benefit from some offerings.

Once a week I make my offerings to the various groups. My Beloved Dead and Faceless Dead receive incense, candles, and water or tea. My Lunar Dead and Solar Dead receive bread. Perhaps more importantly though, they all receive my attention, which from my conversations with them, sounds like most of them almost never get.


Ancestor Work: Start Simply, Simply Start

2015/05/31

Ancestor AltarI put my fingers on the touchstone and allow my shrine to open. Muted sensations fill my mind and brighten. I light the two white candles on either side of the picture frames, then from those flames the incense. In my mind’s eye I let the light and smoke expand, both illuminating the space and obscuring it, filling it with a bright cloud on which my mind can receive images. Slowly I pour the hot water in the tea cups and say hello. I speak to my Beloved Dead, it’s not formal, it’s respectful but casual, these are my grandparents and great-grandparents after all. I tell them about the week, how it was my niece’s first birthday and she’s incredibly cute and they’d all love her, only one of her great-grandparents getting to meet her, just once before cancer took Nana. I talk about work, all the things that grandparents love to hear. I thank them, every week, for the role they played in shaping my personality. I ask for their support in my life, I have nothing planned, so it’s a general request, just be there for me.

Moving from my main ancestor shrine I light another stick of incense, and place a piece of buttered toast in two cups, marked in my mind with the light of the moon and the light of the sun. More formally, I offer the food and incense to them, but as with my Beloved Dead, I thank them for how they shaped me, and ask that they continue to work with me, and walk with me.

I never thought I’d be the type of person to work with my ancestors. Honestly I got into it accidentally it seems. I’m horrible with birthdays, so I asked my mother to email me all the birthdays for people in the family. She obliged, but her list included my great-granny’s birthday, despite being dead for nearly 20 years. I didn’t know how to arrange the information, so when googling my options to easily keep track of it, I ended up making a family tree. Then I decided to expand it, so I tracked down a few deceased family members and their information and added it. My grandmother (now deceased) found out and thought this was great, she was the family historian. She saw my initial family tree on Christmas Eve, and when she went home she couldn’t get to sleep, not because she was excited for Christmas, but because she wanted to track down all her records for me. It was bittersweet, for she gave me all her unorganized records and I made sense of them, but she died suddenly four months later. If we hadn’t worked on the family tree together the information would have been lost.

I don’t know how the ancestor work happened to be honest, but at one point it just felt natural that I should honour the dead I knew, that doing the family tree awoke this idea. I printed out pictures of them, both young and old when possible, and put their teacups in front of them, the only memento I have from most of them, and some candles. I don’t come from a family that has an ancestor tradition, my culture by the time it reached me had lost such things, and while there is some ancestor veneration in Buddhism, at that time I wasn’t involved enough to know it well, nor did I feel like their formalized methods were appropriate. So I made my own. I’ve worked with spirits for years, I regularly chatted with my one grandma as she’s buried a mere five minute walk from me, so I just adapted it from those ideas, and built upon responses over time. Sometimes when people ask me about ancestor work, when I mention that my simple methods are my own that’s the end of the conversation, they want something “traditional” because we’re taught to think that’s better. Other times the fact that it’s my own method is what appeals to people, because perhaps like me they’re not from a family or culture or religion with such practices, or perhaps like my take of Buddhist forms, they find it’s too formal and structured.

My practice is simple, but I thought I would share it. It’s nothing special, but it’s from the heart and effective for what I need.

My ancestor shrine has many objects on it, but a few simple classes of items. Most important would be the photos, the pictures of how I remember these people, and younger pictures them in their prime. I don’t know why I felt compelled to include both, but I like it, and when I acknowledge birthdays it’s nice to see them young and healthy, and when I honour their death it’s nice to see them as I remember them. As mentioned I have teacups from all the Beloved Dead, so they’re on the shrine. Two white candles, two incense holders, and a small vase big enough for two flowers. I also have a few random mementos, I didn’t want to include them initially, but they’re items I’d have no place for otherwise, and would probably throw out: a blue glass Madonna from my Grandma who wasn’t Catholic but had over 50 Madonna figurines, a backscratcher from my Great-Granny who died when I was five and that was always my toy when visiting, or the Statler and Waldorf figurines of my Granny who always claimed they were her boyfriends. Then in the centre is a statue of the Angel of Death, representing the Dead I don’t have on the altar, those who I knew but aren’t in direct lines (the Great Aunts and Uncles for instance), or those Dead whom I never knew.

Every week I boil some water, and perform the basic ritual described above. I make offerings to them, tell them about my week, what’s happening with the family, remind them they’re loved and missed, and thank them. If it is an important day, a birthday, anniversary, or death date I’ll make them a proper cup of tea, as an extra honouring for that day. I don’t use tea weekly for a few reasons, first water is traditionally offered by…well almost every culture to their dead, it’s the elixir of life, practically I don’t think it’s needed to use tea, and quite frankly brewing several cups of tea, only to dispose of them before they go bad (and they do, experience taught me that) is annoying, whereas water can stay on the altar all week until the next offering.

More important than anything I’ve found as I’ve done ancestor work, is to connect and acknowledge. Unless we come from a family/culture/religion with ancestor work, the dead are buried and then mostly ignored. Just by acknowledging them, you’re welcoming them back into your life. Sometimes I think about offering more elaborately, but to me, it’s about family. If they were alive and came over, I wouldn’t have cake ready for them, I wouldn’t have large meals just appearing, but I’d have tea, and if they wanted anything else, they could ask. So I keep it simple, hot water or tea, candles and incense. These are my Beloved Dead, they don’t need anything more, just love and remembrance.

A lot of people put off ancestor work (and a lot of work) for fear of doing it wrong. Contextualize it in the flesh though. Start with your Beloved Dead, the ancestors you knew in life, and just give them a space and time of your attention. Just talk. You don’t have to be formal, you don’t have to be elaborate. These are people who loved you (and if they didn’t that’s another issue for another time about ancestor work), so they’ll be understanding. If Grandma came over and I didn’t have tea, she might grumble, but in the end it wouldn’t be a big problem. Don’t worry about getting it wrong, they’ll forgive you, and if you’re open, they’ll guide you. Like many things in life it’s better just to start.


Local Spirits: Series Round Up

2015/04/20

I’m making this post for ease of use, just linking to five posts in my local spirit series.

Local Spirits: Categories and Classifications. Here I discuss common types of spirits that get lumped as local spirits, but aren’t necessarily such in my understanding.

Local Spirits: Clarifying Sadak and Shidak Here I discuss the sadak and shidak, and the nature of local spirits proper.

Local Spirits: Reasons of Engagement Here I talk a bit about why you should work with local spirits, what they can do for you.

Local Spirits: Offerings and Engagement Here I talk about how to make offerings and how to sense and work with the shidak.

Local Spirits: Sensing and Structures Here I discuss a bit more on sensing shidak, as well as how they seem to be structured and operate.


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