Where do you return to in your spiritual practice? Where do you find space to begin again?
Like many others, growing into my spiritual practice was an often heartbreaking journey. So often I felt like the knowledge, wisdom, and healing promised in this work was restricted from me. I first needed to know this, have access to that, be initiated here in order to receive the other- and as it happens, my spirit found a home in a practice, Ifa, that requires initiation before diving into ever deeper mysteries and wisdom.
I am at peace with this growing process now, and honor it for the patience and care it teaches me. I needed a practice that would gently guide me to take my time with spiritual lessons and learn not to rush forward to devour everything before me. Despite this growing peace there were moments of frustration when I felt like I needed more connection, knowledge, and even power. Thankfully, I have very patient and wise spiritual teachers who always sent me back to the beginning when I grew restless. They always returned me to my ancestors. If I was ever at a loss of where to go or where to begin, they bid me turn to my Egun, my ancestors. And so for my first words for Ritual & Honey I start with them.
Sankofa, go back and get it
Your ancestors are your birthright. The beauty of ancestral reverence practice is that absolutely everyone has access to it. There is no special requirement you have to meet before you connect with your lineage, no deeper knowledge or initiation level you must first reach. Ancestral reverence will always remain open to you, even when you have no idea who your ancestors are- part of the practice is the searching journey. Not that this work is always a smooth ride.
In my tradition, part of ancestor reverence work is healing our legacies- seven generations back and seven generations forward- and our identities complicate this work. I identify as a black queer femme and with that is the certain knowledge that my ancestors have chosen death in Olokun, who is the depths of the ocean, than face a lifetime of enslavement on stolen land. My ancestors have passed down herb and spice medicine in recipes that no one ever got around to writing down and are whispered to me in the veil of dreams. They have secreted knowledge in well worn traditions and languages my tongue forgot how to turn. They loved each other and they love me but they also sought false solace in colonizing institutions that once required them to despise the person I was to be.
I acknowledge that ancestral spaces can be scarred terrains of deeply ingrained trauma whose memory manifests within ourselves in different forms: guilt, illness, shame, abandonment, death, assault, and slavery weigh down their spirits and keep them from light, thus holding us back from parts of ourselves as well. It may well be the work of a lifetime to wade and heal through our lineage but please remember it may not necessarily be your work. And that is just as well too.
Lineage reaches beyond blood ties. Many of those seeking healing at the margins already know what it means to choose your family when those tied to your biology betray you. Found family is lifesaving, and within that found ancestry. In my queer black feminist family I have found the light of ancestors like Frances E.W. Harper, Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde, Bessie Smith, and Zora Neale Hurston whose work has saved my life over and over. The femmes who cared for the femmes who loved the femmes who heal me every day are my ancestral lineage. Queer ancestors, feminist ancestors, community ancestors, magical ancestors- they too are our birthright. Honoring them is ancestral reverence work too.
Beginning your ancestral ritual practice
Ancestral work can feel too vast, too difficult, too elided with lost memories or misremberings. Often folks who speak to me about ancestor work feel like they aren’t doing enough or doing it wrong- admittedly, a common feeling about ritual work in general. In the face of overwhelm, I’ve learned that intentional simplicity in spirit practice can have the greatest depth and consequence. This applies to ancestral ritual as well.
What you’ll need:
1 White Cloth
1 Clear Bowl or Glass of Water
A remembrance of your ancestors (picture, symbol, item that was theirs)
First clear a space, both physically and spiritually. Maintenance of this space is part of your work so try to make it a space that is relatively easy to access and easy to move around.
Next, lay a clean white cloth down and arrange the bowl of water, candle, and remembrances – this can be a picture, item that was theirs, or any symbol that represents them to you – as you are called to by your intuition. As you do this, speak, hum, whisper, sing, and listen for your ancestors. Light the candle and sit for a while.
Your ancestors have their space.
It will, of course, grow and change over time- or it might not. Work according to your intuition, their requests, and remember you don’t have to say yes to everything!
Return to your ancestral altar frequently. It is always a wonderful thing if you can acknowledge them daily, even with a passing greeting and a blown kiss as you go about your day. Brighten your altar up with candles and fairy lights and clear crystals to keep them lit up. Place the Hierophant from your favorite tarot deck, keeper of ancestral knowledge, before them and speak a wisdom opening spell. Take time for longer ritual, perhaps during a new moon, and treat you and your ancestors to your magic. Here is where your legacy will lead you. Depending on what calls to me I bring food, at other times I sprinkle florida water. I offer rosemary and calendula, cowrie shells, gin, and trinkets. Some offerings are temporary and cleared away after a few days, and others they request to keep. Most times however, all they want me to offer is my time, for me to sit and be still by their spirits.
A quickening sabbat draws near, and if you’re looking for a portentous day to begin your ancestral reverence practice, Imbolc would be a wonderful time for it. It’s a time to set new intentions, to plant new seeds, a day to set the stage for long-term goals and practices. I invite you to set intentions for ancestral connection, this Imbolc. Draw your ancestors out from the shadow and into the light around you.
And always, remember.
Image credits: all photos by me, decks featured in the post are dat Black Mermaid Man Lady by Sharon Bridgforth.
This piece was originally submitted to Little Red Tarot. You will find my most recent Ritual & Honey articles over there.