Ancestors

Last night I dreamt of my grandfather. I quite frequently do – he was an important influence in my childhood, and I remember him often. He is one of the reasons I value education. Having left school at 15 because of poverty, he did years of night school to gain his degree and ended up with a great job in the Civil Service. He loved languages and creativity – he wrote the most fantastic stories – and I think he had a spiritual side that he didn’t talk about much. His stories about the woods near his house gave me inspiration to see forests as living, enspirited places.

In the dream, I had run into my Grampy somewhere random, a hotel I think. He had been living under a false name in a new city. He was tight-lipped about why he hadn’t contacted me for ten years, but he was very pleased to see me (and especially pleased that I’m doing a PhD, partly funded by the money he left me). He was different: more serious, with only occasional flashes of the humour that he was well-known for, but absolutely himself. It was a strange dream – I was remembering that he had died and that I’d been to his funeral, but I also knew he was sitting in front of me. I’m not usually that analytical in dreams. Mostly, I was just pleased that I could talk to him again.

For the past two weeks I’ve been doing 12 days of ancestor meditations. I dedicated my ‘folding table’ altar to them for the period, setting the altar out in a style inspired by another culture’s ancestor veneration approach. As a starting point, this approach did the job I wanted, which was to focus my mind on the ancestors for a specific period of time. I didn’t manage to do 12 completely consecutive days, for health reasons – but I mainly did four days on, a day off, rinse and repeat. I tried to meditate at sunset each time, but that was impossible on days when I was in the office, in which case I did the meditation before bed. I used a modified version of an ancestor meditation from the BDO bardic grade material.

Since the beginning of my exploration of my Pagan path, I’ve found it difficult to connect with ancestors. Honouring gods was not a problem, which surprised me, having come from a monotheist tradition. But I’d heard the myths of these gods since childhood, so it wasn’t so difficult to talk to them. Ancestors, though, were another thing entirely. A lot of Christian groups have a major prohibition on attempting to contact the dead (others less so, what with the saints, but I didn’t find saint-honouring traditions until I was a bit older). I can’t deny that the thought of ancestor work made me a lot more nervous than other aspects of Pagan/Druid practice – which, realistically, should have been equally nerves-inducing. Human beings: not really very rational creatures. I did have a fairly successful ancestor meditation that a priest friend led for me, which made me realise that talking to my ancestors is not as difficult as I thought. Since then, I’ve found that spending time at my ancestor shrine is a more useful experience than it was – but it’s still difficult.

And then I was in Ireland over the summer, in the Beara Peninsula, where my ancestors come from. A goddess that I believe my ancestors worshiped (UPG) was very present there. And, after some work on my part, so were my ancestors themselves. Back in Britain, though, they were much quieter again. So when a friend told me about his ancestor meditations based on a voodoo altar setup, I was interested. I didn’t want to indulge in cultural appropriation, though. I like hoodoo, but voodoo is a complete mystery to me, and I don’t really have time to study either of them in depth at the moment. So I just took some inspiration – a sustained period of meditations, a dedicated altar with belongings and photos of my ancestors, and food and drink offerings. I have some Irish whiskey made in the Beara Peninsula, I made the black coffee that my grandfather loved, I offered chocolate one day (since Grampy was also a fan of that), and on other days I left other food depending on what I felt inspired to offer.

It’s hard to explain the effects of the ancestor work, either during the meditations or at other times during the 12 days. Suffice it to say that things happened. I did much more writing than I usually manage each day – academic and creative non-fiction alike. I started working with Ogham, including having a good idea about how to take it further, and I did some interesting work with my tarot deck. I was asked to contribute to creative projects, and had others accepted where I’d been waiting on a decision. I suddenly got very decisive about Druidry, and joined ADF formally – I’ve been doing a lot of ADF-style work recently, based on materials they’ve made public, but for many months I’d been really unclear about what direction to take my Druidry in, until I started these meditations. Simultaneously, the British Druid Order set up a support system for their Bardic Grade students, something I’ve been waiting for, as I’d been finding it hard to work on their course without help. And while my health was as dodgy as ever, I somehow felt more able to cope with the severe pain and other illness symptoms that I deal with every day – which is an amazing gift.

Did I experience my ancestors? That’s the really interesting bit. Outside of specific meditations, I only feel their presence occasionally. I’ve been learning a language for the past year-and-a-bit, because I’d like to be able to communicate better with my bilingual partner’s family – and just sometimes, during lessons and practice, I feel like my Grampy’s pleased that I’m taking his linguistic interest forward. (The difference is that he was great at languages – he spoke fluent Spanish and French, decent Welsh, and wasn’t bad at a couple of others, while I am absolutely rubbish at them. But I think he likes the fact that I’m trying!) And sometimes I feel a general presence of anonymous ancestors. But mostly, it’s the gods that I connect with in daily life. I’m not honestly sure that I felt the ‘mystical presence of the ancestors’ much more, in the rest of life, than usual.

But in the meditations: yes, absolutely, I believe that my ancestors responded and were present. I got different (and very interesting) messages and ideas each time. Decisiveness about directions was the order of the day. My visualisations were much more vivid than they usually are – I have some difficulty visualising, most of the time. One night I desperately needed sleep but attempted the meditation anyway, and was told quite firmly that they would rather I was looking after myself. One night I focused very strongly on my grandfather, and had a very thought-provoking request from him – that I have no idea how to honour, but I will try. On other nights I focused on other family, and felt the need to stay more in touch with cousins overseas and at home. And on some nights I just had a general sense of ‘ancestors’ who I thought of as ancient and mighty. Power and numerousness. And the idea that there are projects in store for me that I will love. And that I should have more self-esteem and be more proud of the good work that I do in the world. And do more for my community…

Like I didn’t have enough to do. ;)

Ancestor altar

Are the dreams about my grandfather relevant? There’s a nice mundane explanation – I ran into an old university lecturer last week, who I knew in my undergraduate days, and who did rather remind me of my grandfather. Reconnecting with old influences was on my mind, and that’s probably the extent of it. But maybe not. Still, I dream about him often, and the dreams often feel quite significant. If it’s only that I think he would be pleased that I’m doing the education thing that he loved so much, I’m glad I had a little reminder.

2 thoughts on “Ancestors

  1. Pingback: Are We There Yet? Assessing the Road Ahead | Léithin Cluan

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