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  • Writer's pictureMetta

Ancestor Reverence

I read the book Ancestor Paths: Honoring our Ancestors and Guardian Spirits Through Prayers, Rituals, and Offerings, by Aladokun. In the cosmology of DNA, all humankind is from the continent of Africa. When I look to the spiritual traditions of the continent of Africa, and how they changed and continued and grew in the diaspora, it is important wisdom. From the traditions that connect across time, and also the way traditions lived and grew within the harm of displacement, enslavement, and oppression. Even though the book provides information on practices, the traditions are not mine to take, or to “do”. There is much separation across time and also the ongoing repair I’m doing internally as a White person from the way harmful structures of domination were instilled in me. But it is important for me to listen, learn, observe, and appreciate when there is an opportunity. It is also important for me to increase my understanding and learning, as many spiritual traditions arising from the continent of Africa are treated as “not real religion”, and have many false stories told about them here in the United States. Any spiritual tradition is a very deep dive, so I won’t suggest one book, or one book and some other studies at ministerial school, will create depth of understanding. For now I see it as increased awareness and appreciation, and also an opportunity to see where there are commonalities in ancestor reverence and connection globally. But again, holding even that carefully because of how easy it is when not understanding enough depth to make assumptions and create connections too soon. As someone who grew up amid liberal faith traditions, I have seen often a real push to say “we are all one” and then try to fit a wide range of beliefs into one dominant-culture-lens coming from monotheism and ultimately centering concepts within Protestant Christianity.

I really appreciated the author opening a window into her practices. One of the things that really stuck with me is the importance of water in her spiritual practice. Water is life. Water is magical. Water connects all of us. Water is the majority of our human-bodies. Water is a part of blood. Water is powerful, and yet soft. Candles, fire, the importance of these. Another important and magical thing, fire. And the importance of reverence, respect, and of listening, and asking for help.

I realized recently that due to things of my past, I don’t ask for help. And help has arrived a bunch of different ways recently. I can and should ask for help when it is needed. It’s so far from my mind, so far from my personal habits to do so, I don’t even think when I’m stuck or there is some kind of issue to even try to ask anyone else. Of course, sometimes help is not available. But sometimes it is. I only knew a time of no help, and so really buckled down internally in not engaging in seeking help. It wasn’t worth the pain of receiving no help, or worse, being emotionally harmed for asking for help. I can ask for help, and should.

With many things happening in the world right now, I’ve gone into deep times of despair of feeling alone, and feeling there is no help. No one there. Those are old parts of me that experienced that kind of aloneness directly that can become highly activated. But over the past week I started asking for help. I threw out my back, I managed to sprain it. This made sense, as I put emotions into my lower back, and with world events, particularly all the anti-transgender legislation, it just all went to my lower back. And my body told the truth about how my heart and soul were doing. I needed help. I had to back out of a big trip, and was devastated. I needed help from the leaders of the trip as I explained I could not go. I needed their hugs in my despair. I needed help from some medical people. I needed some help from friends. I needed support.

In ancestor reverence, you are calling in your “crew”. You are reaching out to something bigger, deeper. A deeper well. This is in connecting to ancestors that came from the human realm, but also in reaching out to the plant and Earth ancestor energies. This expands out to availability that is more vast, not just the created scarcity of the narrow lanes of the constructs right now. Even if blood-lineage family in this plane can’t handle who I am or can’t understand or don’t have the capacity to be there, there is something larger, wider, deeper that is there for me at all times, day or night.

In the book Braiding Sweetgrass Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about how all plants are our relatives. It is a transformation when being outside to understand and know that all our plants are our relatives, because again, there is a different kind of support. Surrounded by so many medicinal plants, ready to help.

And ancestor reverence, it is an ongoing conversation. Healed ancestors are here to help. And reverence to loving and kind spirits of the Earth and all the manifestations of God - also to help. Ask. Ask for help. Continue building that relationship. I used to just mostly ask God for something some of the time. It’s different to have an ongoing relationship. To feel trust and also a sense of being held. The larger relationship is deeply nourishing and supportive. It’s not like the stories I was told as a child of bad things happening because I had made God angry, or that God was disappointed in me. No, it’s different. It’s a deep love, a listening that does not stop, unconditional. I haven’t needed to excessively worship my ancestors for their help. They know I already try too hard, in everything I do. They want me to trust that they are there, and want to give me the love and family that I need. And they are here to help me work through more recent generations of my ancestry that underwent trauma and did a lot of trauma to other human family and the Earth, willing to be there to create healing through lineages so that mending can happen. So that I can be whole, so I can contribute to more kindness, wholeness, and repair out there. Rather than just feeling riddled with hungry ghosts, unable to connect to my intuition, and unable to really authentically live and be in authentic community.

Power knows this. The powers of subjugation and harm know that when we are disconnected and not understanding of our whole selves, we are out of balance, easy to knock down, easy to control, easy to goad in the directions they want. This is also why shame is manipulated - to make people feel they are bad rather than have regrets, and even make natural and normal parts of themselves be seen as something of shame. This again knocks us off center, makes us feel that we are not connected.

When I was in highschool there was a lot of emotional violence. The emotional violence came from teachers, and students. I had a teacher that would regularly take me out of the classroom and scream at me. I also heard the homophobic slurs. There were also threats of physical violence. I was queer. My family was unsupportive and said a lot of harmful things and offered me no protection. And I had buried the fact I was transgender way, way deep inside. I had no words for it, only fear of devastating consequences. With the stories and beliefs of who I was, there wasn’t room. There was mostly an understanding, from the lies around me, that I was very likely to continue to lose community and love if people knew who I really was. That I would lose community if I engaged in authenticity. That I would not receive love or acceptance if I was seen as I truly am. Which is astonishing, when it should have simply been that I was who I was. All of that harm was unnecessary. All of that harm was hurt people hurting people, and generated scarcity.

There has always been vast diversity of ways of being on this planet, as shown by the vast diversity across nature. The creation and splitting of people into bad and good based on pretty random criteria, instead of actual connection to how people behave towards each other and the Earth, is another piece of the structures of domination. I was also given the story that people engaging in structures of domination and harm actually had my best interests in mind. I had to have my intuition, connection to my own inner truths, connection to Spirit, harmed and manipulated and broken to the point where I would trust the un-trustworthy. It’s meant that often I’ve had misgivings about things, and forged on ahead, because those in power said “it’s fine, this is good”. When my body and spirit knew that it is was not ok.

Backed by ancestors and spirit, the center of the hurricane is calm and the sun is out. Being in touch with the center, the heart, things become steady and calm and can heal.

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