|Yoruba bronze head sculpture, Ife, Nigeria c. 12th century A.D. from Wikipedia|
I hope you enjoyed the Cross-Quarter, Samhain, Halloween, All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day, The Day of the Dead or however you want to call it.
Since it goes with the season and has become a significant part of my practice, I thought I would talk about ancestors and honoring them.
Firstly, one of the constants in the portrayal of witches seems to be that witches have allies. This ally is most commonly an animal in European witchcraft---the well-known familiar black cat that any witch worth her salt has to do her bidding. In Mexican brujería, the assistance of animals represented in spirit form is vital. From what I understand, it is common for the more shamanic side to include the transformation into animals in the dream world as well as to have a host of animal spirits as protectors. In the magical traditions of the African diaspora, however, the first allies that any practitioner should know, before even approaching the Gods (Orishas, Lwas, etc.) are the ancestors. (Egún in Yoruba).
Paying homage to the ancestors in a regular fashion, not just on the Cross-Quarter, is an idea that made sense to me as a way to deepen and enhance my practice. I have heard others say that ancestors protect them, as the closest entities to them on the spiritual plane. This has a rational explanation to my point of view. The African diaspora is made up of people whose national and cultural identities have been under assault since the beginning of said diaspora. This assault doubtlessly had and continues to have dissociative effects on one's sense of self. Recalling the ancestors is a way to maintain a sense of being "psychically whole" and grounded. In a more general sense, having a living representation of ancestors reminds us that we are part of an evolutionary process which also heals our disassociation from death. Wonderment at the fact that we are part of whole, in my opinion, is what allows there to be magic and any kind of spirituality. When we achieve it, we genuinely feel that we are connected to the rest of the universe. Honoring ancestors is easy ways to do that.
So I decided to make a separate altar in my house to celebrate my dearly departed. I decided that there were three types of ancestors that I wanted to honor: physical, inspirational, and departed animals. The physical ancestor I represented was my grandmother who died two years ago and is, as far as my dearly departed go, my closest relative. I placed a picture of her when she was younger and her obituary on one end of my altar. My intellectual ancestor was James Baldwin. I never met him, but my mother apparently did. In any case, I felt affinity with his life; a black, gay American ex-pat in Europe. I've read some of his books and put a list of his quotes under his photo. And finally, my animal could only be the faithful, handsome, happy dog I grew up with.
On at least a weekly basis, I perform a simple ceremony although this is the first time I've described it as such. I light an altar candle, I change the clear bowl of water and I make offerings. I burn sweet grass for all of my ancestors, given the traditional uses of the plant in Native American cultures. I pour rum as a libation, which is fairly common in the Caribbean. My grandmother loved sweets but was diabetic and had to cut back. So I place sweet things on a plate for her. knowing they can no longer hurt her. And I've placed dog treats on a plate for my dog. I often say words as I leave the offerings. This regular ritual has given new life to my practice.
I've found it to be calming and beneficial. I recommend it.