Ancestral work – Getting started with the spirits. 

I have so much going on right now that it’s hard to stay on top of it all. 

 

I often advise newcomers that their absolute first port of call should be the dead of their family lines. These Beloved Ancestors are the spirits that have the most interest in your well being and continuation because without you there is no more of their bloodline in the end. Which isn’t to say they can’t be complete twats, because they can – especially those who are recently dead. Which is to say that if you’re dad was an asshole in life, or your uncle a racist shit, then they probably still will be in death. Probably. Nothing is 100% set in stone.

Now, I don’t interact with any of my recently dead. I prefer working with the older family spirits to date. In part because none of my actual bloodline had passed until very recently and in part because of that bloodline I didn’t know the one who is gone. I do still honour my Grandfather’s second wife and my Grandmother’s second husband as family, but they’re not Ancestors, they’re Beloved Dead or ‘Ancestor’s of the Heart’ so my feelings of them is a bit different.

Anyhow, this is about getting started working with them. There are a lot of different ways to go about and different paths have different rules. This is just where I started, what I know and what I have experienced. It is not the absolute, one true, and only way. Quite the opposite, this is MY way and one of many. A lot of my practice is mashed together from UPG, reading up on Hellenic Chthonic practices, folklore and traditional witchcraft.

When I started off on this part of my path I did so from a point of necessity. There was a major family drama going down and I was at the point of hot-footing a family member. Before taking what I knew to be very drastic measures I touched base with some peers and asked if anyone had better suggestions to get the issue resolved quickly. One of them, a vodou practitioner, suggested I speak with my Ancestors. At this point I had no dead in my family line and I had no clue. This wonderful person gave me the starting point from a vodou perspective and it’s the one I recommend for everyone as it’s pretty neutral. Do note that in Vodou you do not keep the Ancestral altar in your bedroom unless you can cover it or have it somewhere you can close the door on it (Think of it this way – effectively your relatives can watch you fuck).

Start simple, clean white cloth, a white candle and a glass of fresh water that you change regularly. Sit down, light the candle, say hello and talk to them. You can tell them about your day, your problems, your victories and they seem to like knowing about any family things, good and bad, that are happening. That’s the basis of the whole shebang. Simple and sweet, nothing complex and easy to do even if you’re not ‘out’. You can also add white flowers and photos of your family. 

You can literally stop reading here if you wanted to.

Moving forward to what I have now. I draw on a lot of traditions and I’m going to lay out some odds and ends of praxis that you can take or leave.

il_570xn-545636399_sjr5The Skull

The skull is a spirit house for the Ancestors. For me it is where their candle rests and is elevated on my Ancestral Altar at the hearth of my home (in this case a bookshelf in the lounge room as we spend most our time there). George (naming is optional) looks a little like the plaster of paris one by etsy use ViciousNoodle. You can use a real skull if you want, but ceramic ones tend to be as good, and you can also get stunning theatre prop ones.

Offerings to the ancestors and various props and objects live on the altar which are ‘owned’ by my Ancestors or part of their worship.

The Candle

Candles are important, as we all know. If you can not have an open flame for any reason then don’t, they’ll live. The main aim of the candles is to create light for your spirits to see your working and be warmed. In the case of the Dead they can also act as a guiding light to the spirits.

For my family we have two options for candles. I used to use beeswax candles. The downside is they’re expensive, the up is bees and honey have long held associations with the dead, and they smell amazing. Unfortunately my local supplier for beeswax pillars got in a bunch that literally burnt for 30 minutes and then dissolved into an absolute mess, so we’ve been using tea lights. The advantage of tea lights, as much as they are cheap, is that you can leave them to burn as they have limited burning time and are inexpensive. You can also get them in many colours and scents if you’re so inclined. One of my Dead loves vanilla scented ones.

Offerings

2014-06-21 19.22.43
An adhoc offering made at my beloved’s home before we moved in together. Honey, port and a lit candle for warmth and light.

Speaking of, these are a big deal, for me fresh water
is a must and my Dead insist on alcohol. Whenever asking for anything big from them I put out the good scotch, and wine and port are regular additions. Food isn’t good for us, the cat gets into it, but rice, bread, honey, and olive oil are all traditional offerings, as are foods that your dead liked in their lifetimes. Likewise tobacco is often a fantastic and traditional offering, as is incense. A LOT of spirits like smoke offerings. The reason I have been given is that it make their spirit bodies feel ‘full’ or tangible if you will.

In my praxis anything given to the dead is no longer fit for human consumption. Liquids are poured into the garden, food discarded away from the home (usually given to the ravens) and other offerings either burnt, buried or carefully discarded in the main bins after being wrapped separately. Burying objects for the dead is a great idea as the lands of the Dead are literally beneath the ground in most lore.

 

Feeding any spirit regularly is a good idea. Food is love as the phrase goes, and regular attention and feeding strengthens your bond with your spirits. For the Dead water, olive oil, honey etc is also soothing. Alleviating restlessness and potential anger and resentment directed towards the living.

So next big thing is working with them!

At the end of the day this is as easy as sitting down and talking and then listening. Working with your Ancestors can be a good way to start developing your ability to hear spirits and interpreting their messages. They can communicate with you directly, through divination, dreams and various waking symbols.

For odds and ends tell them what’s happening and what you need/want from them, give them a little extra love for their attention and then again if they do the work (and they won’t if they think it’s bad for you).

For house protections place items that are related to the home and family (hair or symbols of living family members) on the altar permanently. Feed them regularly and let them know you’re trusting the home and household members to them.

 

Ashes and Dust

Pulling apart the pieces of my craft and exploring new areas. It’s a never ending search for what’s missing, what isn’t sitting in the right spot or in the right way, what’s absent and what needs to be discarded.

There’s much to chew through.

rose_by_clap_san-d3l1iho
Rose by Claparo-Sans (click through for artist)

There’s a crucifix buried in the garden. Roses grow from it.

My earliest paths in paganism are grown over from lack of use, and I have no urge to explore them further. Pieces were already thrown into the bonfire willingly, but almost everything is gone now. I hold onto the hands of my lover for he alone still walks with me.

Chaos magic served it’s time and there a practices, tiny bits and bobs, that I continue with. The mind set it allowed me is more important than the ritual or paraphernalia that went along with it. It goes, almost in it’s entirety, into the fires and the path grows over. It can not be un-walked. The mindset – the do what works attitude – remains, and the skills I developed in this time will never be idle.

Both this city and The CITY are home, and nothing can seperate my blood from them, but they are no longer under my feet each day. Their paths grows over, but welcome my step with perfumed roses and jasmine when I walk their ground. Rarely as witch, always as beloved and lover.

The Ancestors, well one does not discard ones blood, but it is time to find a better way to work this path. It is grown over and full of tripping hazards. I need to tend this path, burn away the debris and weeds. Tend it so it meanders less and less. There is work to be done on this path, always.

And the paths I’ve walked recently…

Witchcraft, eclectic, somewhat traditional but not quite… I walk the same ground over and over, collect and discard, collect and then burn. It grows over as fast as I tend it. No roses grow here. No belladonna. No lily. No ivy. Just weeds. There’s nothing to be burnt or tended anymore. There were skills learnt whilst trying to navigate this jagged path that will serve me, and interests piqued that will continue for many years no doubt. This path is closed to me.

This land continues to breath beneath my feet. That path needs neither tending nor discarding. It is old and implacable. It cares not if I walk upon it, but welcomes me, and any other, who does. Provided we walk with care and tend it as needed.

The path of stardust and compass is not mine. I walked it for a while, and loved it dearly. I can wish nothing but the best for the Coterie. May they breath, may they live, my the excel and may they explore ever onwards. Here is not my home, but I hope here I will always find friendship.

The Fox is waiting ahead in the garden, together we will continue to explore.

New Year Witching

After midnight, by quite a bit, candles are lit and offerings are set out. He passed on commenting on the fact that I give them the expensive single malt I love so much. He doesn’t quite get that bit. He helped me carry the honey and milk, and water, to the bedroom for the second altar.


My New Year witching is simple. 

Offerings for the Dead (alcohol, water, honeyed milk)

Food for the spirits (Water and honeyed milk)

Candles for both. 

There would be hearts, but I think The Wolf would object in our bedroom.

Candles and well wishes for friends, family and loved ones. 

The candles on the Hearth altar are left to burn out over night

The night was spent with the same, my family of the heart and our friends. It was, as always, a warm and laughter filled night. Quiet, but wonderful. We eschew larger, more energetic gatherings for this little one, and have for several years now. Although I found myself wishing for the comfort of bodies pressed together in motion by the end of the evening. I think a festival would be nice for the next New Year. 

The new year brings a need, I think, to teach The Wolf about what I do and why. He tends to avoid involvement. Perhaps to explain why being referred to as his goddess tends to make me twitchy too. There’s some heavy work to be done. 

My hopes for the year are that it’s a year of happiness, of building strong foundations, of love, of joy, of creativity and the satisfaction of work done. My hopes are that you too have a year full of these things. 

May the road be kind to you.


This Is A Pagans Down Under Post

Pagan Blog Project: A is for Altar

(I will be posting one post once a fortnight for each letter due to time constraints)

Ok, a very beginner, and perhaps a bit twee, subject to kick this off with, but as a forum mod over on the dreaded Facebook and someone who has not quite given up on Tumblr’s Pagan tag it seems as good a place to start as anywhere.

Firstly let’s just clarify the difference between an altar and a shrine as they are commonly used in Paganism/Witchcraft.

  • An Altar is a working area that often changes seasonally or with whatever projects you have going.
  • Shrine is a set up that remains in place where you make offerings to spirits, Ancestors and/or Deities that you work with and nothing that does not pertain to them ends up in that space (unless you have annoying housemates of some kind or cats).

Pagans and Witches I know have (for the most part) 3 ways of doing things – They maintain an altar or shrine/s only, they maintain an altar and separate shrine/s, or they smoosh the two together they have space issues or privacy issues or just because they can. I fall into the latter category which tends to mean I am an absolute shocker for using altar as a cover all term for both altars and shrines.

So the thing 99% of people think when they get into Paganism or Witchcraft is that they need an altar of some form and it needs to have very particular things on it. This tends to lead to a lot of questions and frequently money wasted by people who don’t necessarily have the money and are probably not going to use the things that they buy in the initial layout.

First things first – you do NOT need a dedicated and permanent altar. Or a shrine for that matter. You don’t. Any surface you work on, from your bedroom floor to the kitchen bench, to a piece of cloth on a patch of grass outside, or a rock, can be temporarily dedicated as an altar. If you’re working magic on it then it’s an altar. If you make offerings on it it’s a shrine, in that vein of thinking.

Second really important thing – if you are not part of a specific tradition that has altar and tool requirements then there is actually no must have items for an altar.

It’s easy to think that you must have an altar and it must be huge and awesome or contain certain things because horrible asshats like me tend to post the odd image of ours and they are frequently kind of huge and awesome or contain ‘traditional tools’. That… and every 101 book I’ve ever read demands you have an altar with certain tools or representations on it.

No. Nope. Not at all. In fact for the first decade I practiced I only set up an altar when I needed it for something and otherwise didn’t bother.

Having an altar, as mentioned above, is a personal choice. Should you be like me and for some reason maintain one then what goes on it is HIGHLY subjective. Most 101 books and well meaning experienced members of the communities will tell you that a basic altar should have representations of the elements, deity/Lord and Lady, and a basic offering of some kind. This is a reasonable way to start. I personally do not ever recommend any form of Deity representation, but I don’t work with Deity much, and not conventionally, so it’s not something I’m comfortable advising on.

My original altar contained a photo of my Nanna, a white candle and a glass of water for my Ancestors and that was it. It’s grown organically and vastly as needed which means I’ve never wasted money on unnecessary items. This is important because so very few of us have excess cash to throw around these days.

Let’s take a walk through my current altar* as you can see it below…

So much stuff crammed into one surface... hard to believe that 3 years ago I refused to maintain an altar at all isn't it?
So much stuff crammed into one surface… hard to believe that I refused to maintain an altar at all for 10 years isn’t it?
  • The Fan – a purchase at a festival I attended with the Wolf. It cost me $2 and I use it to fan smoke when I’m using it for cleansing. It’s less likely to attract unwanted attention if I’m working outdoors or travelling than one of those feather/wing fans some people use.
  • The Fur – If you read back a bit in this blog I’m working with a Fox entity. She asked for that. As a rule I am indulgent of the spirits I work with provided requests are within reason. As a rule I only work with a couple of them so I can be.
  • The Red Bowls – Offering bowls. I believe these were from Thailand, or possibly Bali. Regardless they were a gift from my Mum who thought they were beautiful. I agree, obviously. Gifted items are often perfect altar items for me. It’s a luck of the draw thing.
  • Feathers – Collected locally or at places I’ve been. Useful for charms and making things but not elemental representations in my practice. Be aware of any legalities around collecting samples like these in your local laws.
  • Rosemary – I use rosemary instead of sage. It’s cleansing and protective and smells better. The rosemary on my altar is harvested as part of one of the Feasts of the Dead and changed at the same.
  • Ancestral Setting and Candle – I have an active Ancestral practice and they get regular offerings of water and/or alcohol and food. I HIGHLY recommend a beginner develop relations with their Dead.
  • Skulls, and George! (The grey skull) – I work with the dead and entities that have ties to death and/or sex. These are often filled with something or being used as ‘housing’ for entities I’m working with.
  • Candles – there are candles on there for two spirits I work closely with, and my Ancestors. On occasion there will be added candles for working, people who are ill, someone who has passed etc. I find candles are useful focal points.
  • Roses – These are fake, but they’re again an entity related item. On feast days I will often place fresh flowers on the altar.
  • Make-up and Perfume – Ladies, gentleman, and everyone between or outside those arbitrary gender pronouns, masks are magic and makeup is just a type of mask. Useful, very very useful, to have charged makeup.
  • The Shells – probably the thing people most often mistake as a representation of elements the shells are there for two reasons. The actual reason is that they whisper and the spirits can and will use them to talk if you hold them to your ear long enough.
  • Incense (not visible) – incense is the most useful thing ever. Use it for offerings or to cleanse, to divine in the smoke trail or as a mind-altering substance for ritual purposes… totally the most useful thing if you can have it where you are.

So, yeah, it’s pretty big. It’s more complex when you add items I’ve removed for the photograph and the other two levels my altar has to it. Thing is, as I said, this grew organically. There was the initial few items that then became a few more. Then I started working with that spirit and it wanted a few things. Then I needed a few things to represent that thing I was doing…

And so on and so forth.

What’s resulted is a complex (and kind of cluttered) altar to another persons eyes but one that only contains exactly what it needs to mine.

So feel free to go nuts with decorations and traditional tools and such things if it pleases you, but if you’re unsure then get the absolute bare basics (a candle as a meditation focus for example), if anything at all, and let things come to you of their own accord as you grow into your practice.
*NB: A personal habit that I recommend getting into is never ever posting your full altar or anything you are working on at the time. Take a few things off, wait till a project has reached fruition before talking about it and so on. I’ll explain the reasoning in a later post. 

I dream…

Fairytale Hero – Hrefngast

I dream.

I dream I kneel at his feet, head bowed, presenting the drum and wolf bone beater. My hands are stained red as the drum skin from hours with the dye.

I dream I gouge my face. Tear out one eye. She that is me yet not nods her approval. I see clearer one eyed and bloodied.

I dream the little red fox and the great black wolf dance round the fire. There is no joy yet they dance on.

I dream of a man with hair impossibly dark and skin impossibly pale. He wear clothes thoroughly modern yet carries a blade so obviously ancient.

I dream of the Ancestors land. Of the old warrior with the white hair and swirling blue tattoos. He still sits beneath the dead white tree on deep red dust.

I blink… In his place now stands a young man with hair as copper as mine though he wears the elders tattoos. He leans on his spear, standing beneath the white tree now green with foliage.

I blink… He is gone. The great black wolf stands wrapped in his furs, eyes hollow and hard. The tree is shattered and charred as if hit by lightning.

I dream of the City shrouded in twilight and of it’s inhabitants. They are waiting.

I dream of this place. Of the future. Of orchards and laughter.

I dream of the little red fox dancing with the great black wolf. A dance bloody and violent.

I dream.

These are snippets. I barely have a night without vivid dreams at the moment. 

Pomegranate Vodka: Stage 2

Two half bottles of pomegranate infused vodka… and my usual dodgy camera work.

Stage two is complete and the vodka I started back just after Spirit’s Night with the Beloved Dead’s Altar’s pomegranates is now filtered and bottled up. Which means I need to get off my ass and work on the actual final bottles for it so I can hand it over to the people who I deem fit for it.

Tastes pretty damned good too. Not bad for a first try… although it’s admittedly hard to fuck up. Now if someone, anyone can tell me how I get tat really rich red colour without food colour? I’m thinking I need to smash the seeds up a bit.