Who are The Ancestors?
“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
As we approach Samhain, traditionally celebrated on November 1st (but starting at sunset on October 31st) here in the Northern Hemisphere, those in my spiritual traditions see this as a time of the thinning of the veils (true of Bealtaine as well), a time when we hear the voices of our ancestors speak more clearly to us, and at Samhain in particular, it is a time to honour those who have passed, in in both our recent and distant past.
We speak of working with The Ancestors, calling for their support and guidance, and/or building an altar for them . . . but just who are they? Who shall we honour on our ancestral altars and in our prayers?
In my world view, my ancestors are many:
- my ancestors of blood: my genetic ancestors, those of my DNA, some of whom I may have known or have known about
- my ancestors of bone: the ancestors from my distant past, the Celts and Norse peoples who lived on the lands of my roots: the north of England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Norway
- my ancestors of spirit: those who inspire me or follow similar spiritual traditions
- my ancestors of place: those who lived on the land where I now reside, including the land itself and all the elements. Many of us are settlers on our lands, not indigenous. Be sure to honour those who first lived there.
- For me, I live in Vancouver which is on the unceded lands of the Coast Salish peoples: sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam). Visit the Native-Land website for more information about your locale.
When I am in Circle or alone at my altar, I often begin with calling in my ancestors, and the women of my matrilineal lineage. These are the women upon whose shoulders I stand, and we are connected in amazing ways. When my mother was born, the egg that would become me was already in her body. I was connected to both her and her mother.
If you are able to do so, start to explore the previous generations of your lineage, which you can also honour at Samhain and in other celebrations. Ask your family for their knowledge about previous generations. What made them who they were? What they did do for a living? Where did they live? What was their ancestral land, and why did they leave it (if they did!)? Any information you find can give you a glimpse into their life. In future courses, we will delve into ancestral work even more such as working with ancestral emissaries and healing with the ancestors.
If you have no access to information on your genetic lineage, no problem. You might connect with them in a different way, such as an ancestral journey. You can also delve into what you sense and feel or imagine about those ancestors; their past is your past, their DNA is in your DNA. You may also consider the ancestors of spirit, those who have inspired you in some way, or ancestors of place. They are as true an ancestor as anyone from your genetic heritage.
In some of my personal genealogical research, there have been some huge blocks and information I just can’t find. I have had success with my matrilineal lineage, and recently added another generation. I am learning more about these remarkable women, many of whom were known to have the gift of “second sight” (known as fios in Irish or An Dara Sealladh in Scottish Gaelic) or ”bright knowledge” (gléfiosa in Irish). A woman who had that gift was known as a bean feasa.
What gifts or wisdom have your ancestors shared with you?
This post was originally shared in our new Samhain course, now open. Do consider joining us during Samhain Season 2021 (the course will close in late-November). For more info and registration links, visit the course page in our website Samhain Season or directly on the Ruzuku course registration page.