Resiliency and Honoring our Ancestors


25 Aug

Resiliency is the capacity we have to recover from life’s trials. We learn from adversity - to adapt, to adjust and to grow. Resiliency is our ability to bend back into shape even after life bends us and even sometimes when it feels we might break. Last night, I received two important messages in my dreams and one of them was without resiliency, humans lose our purpose, our capacity to fight, and even our will to carry on. Therefore, resiliency is an essential quality for us to cultivate and invite into our lives. How do learn resiliency? What models do we have to emulate?

Fortunately, we all have models of resiliency in our lives, which brings me to the second part of my dream, which was the importance of honoring and inviting in relationship with our ancestors. Practicing Pagan and Earth-based spirituality, having a relationship with ancestors is already part of our regular practice. While we all enjoy the annual feast days, such as Samhain, dedicated to remembering and honoring our dead, the relationship with ancestor spirits is something many of us cultivate on a regular basis throughout the year. Some of us who also practice Espiritismo keep an ancestor shrine, or a boveda in our sacred spaces. One of the reasons we do so is because we know we would not be here if our own ancestors hadn’t overcome their own personal trials and the struggles of the times in which they lived. We are here and we are alive because of their ability to be resilient.

Let’s begin by saying the idea of having a relationship to our beloved dead only seems strange for some due to the Western Materialistic Judeo-Christian dominant culture we live in. In this culture, all spiritual ideas are either reserved as the purview of priests willing to hold up that worldview, or is mocked and ridiculed as anti-scientific. In the materialistic mind, if something is no longer “alive” or can not be experienced via our five senses, measured and recorded, it isn’t “real.” In adopting this framework, the descendants of European people throughout the world have completely detached from and have lost their own practices and appreciation for the ways of their ancestors. This was not always the case. In fact, as a former archaeologist, I can assure you, the people of Old Europe all practiced ancestor worship. They built circles and burial mounds directly over the hearths and homes of their beloved ancestors, as they not only didn’t fear them, they welcomed them in.  Ancestor worship was prevalent throughout the European pre-Christian world. They believed by acknowledging and living close to the ancestors of the land, they would be blessed with their essence and the guidance of ancestors. And like the crops and cattle they so depended on, they too could be renewed and reborn. Unfortunately, this scar of fear and demonization of ancestor worship can be directly traced back to the Roman Catholic Church and the later Protestant Church which came after. Seeking to control all aspects of their flock’s spiritual life, it was important that they rooted out and condemned the ancient practices that were a threat to their dominance, by calling ancestor worship evil and putting a stop to it for Christian people. Even still, the Church couldn’t stamp it out completely and settled on marking the practice with the holidays of All Saints’ and All Soul’s Day as a substitute for the ancient Pagan holiday dedicated to ancestor veneration, called Walpurgis Night in Germanic lands and Samhain in Celtic Lands.

The practice of ancestor worship is acknowledged lasted longer and is still practiced among many indigenous people throughout the world, and even some of the later religions practiced like Taoism in the East grew out of the ancestor worship of the earlier Chinese people that came before. In Africa and the New World, ancestor worship never went out of favor. It is no wonder that many descendants of European people who feel a keen sense of loss at their own practices of ancestor worship and places to worship, often seek to learn the ways of these people, ways which unfortunately their own ancestors sought frantically to wipe out.

Now that many centuries have passed, and also because so many of us, especially here in the United States, share mixed ancestry, how do we honor our ancestors today? How can we tap into the resilience that they had and what made us who we are today? It begins with knowing them, remembering them, telling their stories. If we know we had slave ancestors, we can honor their terrible journey, their determination to thrive and survive in the face of violence, persecution, and oppression. If we had Native American ancestors, how did they survive and thrive in equally oppressive times, how did they preserve their culture and humanity? What nation were there? What was their language, can we learn some of it If our ancestors survived the Holocaust, how did they do so, what lessons come down to us from their plight and how they overcame their circumstances? And then conversely, what of the persecutors? What of the ancestors who were slave owners, who were Nazi Germans, who were frontier people who fought the Native people and took over their lands? Can we find the lessons we learn from their lifetimes? Can we feel compassion and understanding? Can we forgive. Some of us have both the blood of the persecuted and the persecutor in our veins, how can we find self-forgiveness and balance? At the very least, can we offer them light and prayers that in the spirit world we hope they find redemption and are working from that side to help us create a better world in this one?

Many of us do have conflicting ancestry. It is important to acknowledge this. For those ancestors who succumbed to depression, violence, addiction, madness, or were less than kind people, we can still honor them by praying light and healing for their spirit. Those of us who practice Espiritismo believe this practice not only heals our line going forward in time, but also going backwards. Because we know that time is really an illusion.

We also honor our ancestors by acknowledging and giving thanks and light to them for the traits they gave us. Are we a good cook because we learned from our Mother or grandmother? Do we have skill with carpentry or needlework, which ancestor shared those talents? Can we sing, do we have a love of music because of someone dear to us in the past? Remember them and honor that person for their gifts. By doing so, we not only strengthen our gifts, we strengthen our connection to these people who knew and loved and because they still do from the Spirit side, we believe they can help us to use our gifts to manifest the purpose we are incarnated for in life now.

The second message that I received in my dream related to this idea – we must not squander our lives. While we believe it is really important to cherish life, and even when we are given trials, we have to find the teachings in them and adapt. In doing so, we not only help ourselves, we help others, especially those who come after us, who we become ancestor to. We become stronger.  Finally, I was told, a better life truly does await us when this work we have come to achieve in life is done, the spirit world is a place where our spirits rest and evolve.

Remember to honor your ancestors, all of them. Our human family has so many unique and precious threads that have created a tapestry for us to admire and to continue to weave.

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