If there is one constant regarding families, it is that families are complicated. Very few people have families or a family history that is neat and clean. Rather, we have problematic relationships with our kin, parents who failed in their responsibilities to their children, grandparents who didn’t care about their grandchildren let alone their own children. We have family histories that travel about the globe, with ambiguous origins and stories filled with violence and mystery.
But that doesn’t necessarily remove the desire to work with one’s ancestors; to make that connection across the generations and feel that stability that comes in being firmly rooted in the past; to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us; to know that though our relationships with our living family may be utter disasters, that someone is there, some family member is there and cares.
Dealing with Problematic Ancestors
When approaching ancestor work in these situations, it’s important to remember that you have a choice. You do not need to honor let alone even acknowledge the assholes in your family who hurt you or who hurt the people you love -even if that person has forgiven them. Abusers are not entitled to anything from the people they hurt, not forgiveness, not your thoughts, not your energy, and definitely not a place in your spiritual practice.
You are absolutely allowed to pick and choose what ancestors you remember and honor at your ancestor shrine and in your ancestor work. Abusers deserve to be forgotten. And people who were assholes in life rarely stop being assholes in death. Yes, death can bring perspective but this is not instant.
Just as we must work through things in life to grow and see things differently, the same is true in death. We must each work through the energetic consequences of our choices and actions in death. But that doesn’t mean that someone who made awful choices in life should be pitied in death. All actions -good and bad- have consequences and leave residual energy that must be worked through. If we can’t resolve that energy in life, we resolve it in death (this is karma, not the bastardized version found throughout the West that places karma as a force of retribution or justice -it’s only about energy, not cultural perceptions of good vs bad/evil.)
Getting Started in Ancestor Work
If you are unsure of your ancestors much beyond your parents or grandparents, you can still create a shrine, light a candle, and reach back across that family line to whomever may be lingering about you, to see who may be interested in getting to know you better. Someone will be there.
You can work with your ancient ancestors, too, those family members who lived so long ago and who have now stepped into the role of guide and protector for your family line. They may have guidance for you in your life and spiritual practice, with advice on learning new skills and dealing with challenges.
Note that those individuals who you barely knew in life, like a great aunt or uncle who bounced you on their knee and sang you silly songs, can also be worked with and a strong relationship cultivated now that you didn’t have the chance for earlier. You can even include those people who you are not related to by blood but that were an important part of your life, such as friends of the family when you were growing up, beloved friends, and elderly coworkers.
You can also choose to work with the Mighty Dead of your religious/spiritual traditions -those individuals no longer living who’s work had a strong influence upon your path. This can include founders of traditions, teachers, occult artists, and authors.
Should you Seek Further Guidance
Helping people to begin making that connection with their ancestors is one of the things that I specialize in. As part of the Ancestral Reading Service, I bridge that distance between you and your ancestors, finding who is lingering about you and most interested in working with you. From there, messages that that ancestors has for you are conveyed, along with guidance on how you can work to strengthen that connection and better communicate with that specific ancestor.
If there is any ancestral trauma that prevents a strong relationship being formed, I begin the initial work to heal and repair that trauma, with step by step instructions on how you can continue that work on your own. It is an intense service that helps you begin a new chapter in your spiritual journey.
Throwing the Bones
Whether you're struggling with something spiritually or in everyday life, bone divination can highlight areas where focus is needed and identify alternative ways forward.