Ancestral Lineage Healing FAQ
This is really nuanced terrain when it comes to mixing and such, and I’ve done it lots of ways over the years. There are different lenses through which to think about this. Briefly:
Through a relational/animist lens consider asking Hecate how she sees it and your blood ancestors how they see it. If they’re both good with it, no problem! If they have concerns is some way try to hash out a reasonable accommodation with the involved parties directly.
Through a pragmatic ritualist lens, I’m pretty sure the ancient Greeks didn’t see Hecate as a steward over just their dead or Zeus as a deity of storms only in Greece. Most cultures view their sacred powers as upholding the larger world while also respecting that their gods may have regional potency and that other cultures have their own elder powers and such. In this way, I suspect Hecate quite capable of co-existing with your ancestors of blood. It’s not so different from the multi-cultural spaces and ecologically varied habitats we walk in today.
Through a lens of discernment about cultural sensitivity, because Hellenic traditions are largely reconstructed (rather than having historically intact priesthoods), this means a lot is up for negotiation and folks rely on their own direct intuition to a high degree around protocol. I don’t think any Greeks are going to fault you for relating with Hecate in this way. And I suspect your ancestors are glad for the care and reverence however it arrives.
These images are from one stage of an overall offering ritual/practice inspired by the Andean despacho ceremony. I learned this ceremony in maybe 2008 from Meg Beeler who learned it from her Q’ero teachers in Peru (good article from Meg here). I’ve since had the chance to sit in ceremony (just a little) with some of the indigenous elders from that region during their trips to the United States, and I’ve also had more dedicated students of those ways share the images of the fancy ones I’ve crafted here with folks from there and they like them :-) The despacho in particular as a ceremonial form can be utilized for many many different intentions; however, the 14 images on the page for the online course are from multi-day ancestor-focused trainings I guided in the past decade.
The offerings are natural/biodegradable and the images are typically taken before the kintus (leaves) are added as prayers (sometimes they are pictured around the central offering). Eventually participants pray with the leaves to/with/for the ancestors, other offerings are added, the overall offering is bundled up (it’s laid out on a base of fabric that’s often not visible in the images), and then we determine if it will be burned (most common), buried, or on rare occasions taken to a body of water to be delivered to the spirits. I don’t tend to focus on this because I don’t want folks to think they need to make something fancy like this to honor their ancestors; it’s more something that’s because part of my style as a ritualist, especially when leading group trainings.
So…they’re adaptations/elaborations of an Andean despacho ceremony with the specific ritual intent to feast/honor the ancestors. Thanks for asking!
Example from Berkeley training 2016 after kintus were added.
Most importantly think of feeding in the general sense of feeding any relationship. We may feed our connection with our children with physical food but also attention, quality time, and kind words. We may feed our house plants with water, fertilizer, sunlight, and words of praise and appreciation. Notice what feeds you…of course calories but also kindness, mirroring, fun activities, learning, etc. So feeding the relationship with our ancestors is no different; ask them what they would like and experiment with enacting those requests (when practical and reasonable).
Offering food and drink is a very ancient and cross-cultural act of sharing and generosity between the living and the dead. Like a cat bringing us a dead bird, we bring them what sustains us and perhaps also what we know them to love. And food at the end of the day is energy. Money is like this too and a common offering for the dead. If we see the underlying essence of a thing this can help to understand how it ritually functions. In Yorùbá tradition we offer, for example, birds or 4-leggeds like ram or sheep to the ancestors. Although the living human community eats the bodies of the animals in the usual way for sustenance, the blood of the animals are shared with the ancestor shrines and so they are participant and also fed. This is a bigger topic around life force (a.k.a. blood) offerings, also very ancient, but again…ask the ancestors, the well ones, what feeds them and trust that. And more on this especially in Part One: Lesson Five.
I don’t want to create dogma about altar practice so I’ll share how I’ve come to see it and a little of why. I believe it’s beneficial to have a physical place to honor your blood ancestors (if there is not already a place designated in the natural world) as having a place gets them out of your body, brings the relationship more conscious, and functions in that way as a kind of depossession. The space between us and them increases intimacy and honors their reality. Shrines are also a meeting place, a focal point for the energy, a place of heightened contact.
Remember the shrine is for your ancestors, not the ghosts, not those who are still in their process of just becoming ancestors. You don’t want to call not-yet-well energies into your home but rather to safely assist them to become ancestors (the focus of the course) and then seat them on your shrine. That distinction matters a lot.
After experimentation over the years, I’ve found it best to not have the shrine where you sleep if you can avoid it. This is because it’s a focal point for spirit activity at times and restful sleep is important for life. If you don’t have a choice you can have something that’s contained/closed/covered when you’re done working with it. Or have a designated place outdoors (just ask the stone/tree/etc if they want that first).
With photos, my ancestors personally are not so into them, I think because they want to be known for who/how they are in the present In a way it’s almost like the photos are baby pictures or how they used to be. Also, I don’t tend to have photos of the living on the shrine as it can imply they’re with the ancestors, a hazard generally and especially for any living folks ambivalent about being here. But mostly once your specific ancestors are well if you have photos of them, just ask if they want them on the shrine and listen to their reply.
Lessons Four and Six (Part One) will include excerpts from the book on ways to consecrate ‘spirit houses’ or ongons and the question of how to involve physical objects to deepen the connection with the ancestors at one’s shrine is it’s own topic worthy of another thread.
Excellent, relevant, and also tender question. Before I say more what’s really important is that there’s no implication in any way of rejecting or cutting ties with any recent ones who are not yet fully ancestralized or seated in their full potency. Here’s what I would suggest: Continue to tend at your ancestor shrine but rather than focus on specific remembered dead at this time, hold a general big space at your shrine for the deeply well grandmothers and grandfathers of your lineages. This may look like simplifying, having things like a bowl of water your change, a live plant, a candle, general symbols, other things the ancient ones request from you (we’ll dive into that more by lesson four, part one). So think of the seating (in a general way at first then more specific over time) of the well ones as temporarily displacing those who are still in a healing process, like in concentric circles it’s you in the middle, the ancient well ones around you, then those still in need around them. And in your prayers and tending at your shrine with the ancient vibrant ones, you can totally ask them to begin to deeply weave in those who are not yet fully vibrant. Which is to say that this boundary with the recent ones is temporary and for the sake of healing.
As for the libations, it’s something we’ll explore more in upcoming lessons but offerings can have different intentions, different directions/intended recipients, and in that sense different ritual outcomes. I would say for now to stop directly giving offerings to any among the dead who are not yet well and to explore a temporary pause in naming them, and instead to give offerings to your ancient and deeply awake and loving ancestors and ask them to use some of the energy from those offerings to assist the more recent dead who are still in need. This still extends care and concern to the recent ones while they’re getting healed up, still makes use of the goodness of the offering practice, and also has the effect of supporting ritual safety by not encouraging the not-yet-ancestors to hang out in your space before they’re on the level. Some traditions have practices for directly feeding the dead who are not yet well but it’s a more edgy and possibly hazardous practice, and this method aims to achieve similar results in a ritually safe way. If omitting the names in this way doesn’t sit right with you, just make sure you feel the backing of the well and ancients ones before naming, that you envision the ancients weaving in the more recent ones until they’re also deeply well, in which case great to resume naming (which is to say invoking).
I think this is a question of personal preference to a large degree. I’d suggest asking the most well energies among your blood ancestors what they prefer about it all and to not let it be a source of stress. The main thing is that either general category of ancestor be deeply well in spirit, that you know their super well and vibrant, that’s all. Ancestors who are deeply well tend to play well with other ancestors.
Great question. There are deeply different protocols for this and no one correct way although I’d encourage consistency over time, even if the plan changes at some point in how you do it. Coming out of a European Pagan background, there’s a prevalent idea that you don’t eat the food of the dead (check out the scene in Pan’s Labyrinth around this, not pretty…similar with the pomegranate of Persephone). In this way it’s cast as a kind of stealing or rudeness with adverse ritual implications. Now, having said that as an initiate in Egungun society of Yoruba culture when we offer something to the deities we almost always eat of those things ourselves and feed the people in that way. The deities get a little, a serving or even a few and the living partake of the majority of the offering. I like this protocol personally and observe it when offering, for example, roosters or rams. However I still am in the habit of giving the ancestors their own little plate, their own helping and once I’ve offered something to them not taking it back. The protocol you’re describing I suspect is to offer all of the thing at which point it becomes medicine and then is shared with the people. That’s also an ancient legitimate and wonderfully workable protocol. There’s more that could be said about all this, but in short: No, no reason you have to adopt my witchy European superstitions when you have your own ancestral protocols to fall back on.
If it’s not a shrine it’s probably fine. I see altars or shrines are places of heightened ritual intention or more likely contact with powers or beings seated there. If it’s not on a shrine per se, just more an ancestor remembering place, just notice the energy around it all. If it brings joy and goodness, go with that. If something feels off, also honor that.
Like any relationship, our engagement with the ancestors tends to begin with a process of establishing trust. When they request a thing of us, it’s important to assess if we can agree to that. And if so, to make certain to follow through. The principle for me here is to under-commit and over-deliver. And more generally once we become aware of the need for healing with our lineages and we have skills to remedy those troubles, one could argue that this implies a moral obligation to assist. I tend to see it that way but some would feel that’s extreme or heavy-handed. Most important on a smaller level of scale is to follow through with things we agree to (and apologize when we don’t) as a way to establish trust with them.
This is a good and common question. The short answer that would apply, for example, to foods that you don’t enjoy is that it’s for them not for you, so do your best (if you’re willing…if you’re not just let them know up front). No need for you to eat from the food also. Folks sometimes get snagged with things like alcohol and tobacco. Unless it’s a strong trigger for you around personal addiction (in which case own that and let the ancestors know), the important thing is that you’re bringing this to the well ancestors not the ghosts. If you’re feeding the well ones only this should be just fine, but that distinction holds with any kind of offering really. If you’re curious you can ask them what they like about it and they’ll likely share. Of course all the offerings have their own properties and what not. Feel your way through all this and course correct as needed, but be willing to explore through engagement with them and listening to the feedback.
If the offerings aren’t harmful to the creatures (e.g., chocolate’s not great to leave out, same with candies) and you’re able, I tend to just return them to the Earth. If they would be harmful to the creatures, it’s possible to return them via the trash/landfill as they still get consumed by the very smalls in that way. I don’t tend to do a huge amount of food offerings in terms of quantity and frequency so I don’t feel like this is a big ecological challenge, and I respect folks wanting to proceed with mindfulness on it. If it’s a concern, I’d encourage hashing things out with your ancestors about what you feel is possible and/or arranging with them an approach to offerings where you share a little with them and the rest is eaten by the living. The protocols on eating the offerings vary from culture to culture (see other replies on that topic). Trust your intuition, common sense, and also what your ancestors would like on all this as there’s not one script to follow so much.
It’s truly up to you. There is so much dogma in the world I don’t want to add to that. Ask your other trusted powers what they say on it and what’s best for you and if they say it’s cool then it’s cool. The concern (when it applies to any given person) is just that it can symbolically communicate that you are with the ancestors rather than here, that it’s a kind of blurring of the lines. If that does seem like a slight concern, you could have the picture in a place that’s not the shrine directly so it’s less ritually charged. Some folks have their shrine in one place and more of a general ancestor honoring/remembering spot in another place.
Yeah, good, lots to unpackage. I’m not sure what you mean in a specific way by ‘houses of the dead’ just because different traditions have different intentions and protocols around different kinds of spirit house, all that. So I’ll try to say a few general things, not having enough data to speak on houses of the dead here.
I’m anti-dogma with all this terrain, so I don’t have the view that folks need an ancestor altar at all. Seriously. And one advantage is that it functions as a kind of depossession by giving them a seat in your larger world (indoor or outdoor). In other words, without a shrine your body is the shrine, often unconsciously, which has some disadvantages. Of course the disadvantages of the shrine are that you get reliant on that location or mode of relating, like emailing someone sitting right next to you.
As for indoor/outdoor, it doesn’t matter to me ritually. People have been situating shrines indoors (caves, thatch, mud bricks, wooden structures, etc) for tens of thousands of years as it’s practical for intergenerational tending and for community ritual gathering when it’s cold or raining or 110 degrees out. If folks don’t have an indoor space or they just prefer outdoors, I encourage asking permission of a local stone or tree or natural formation if this can be a conducive place. If you’ll actually use an outdoor shrine including in strong weather for quality time with your people, go for it. The best protocol is to ask your ancestors how they want it and to let it unfold from there. What matters is that it actually functions as a place of heightened contact with your people.
Offering practice can be enhanced by having a regular shrine that’s like a dinner table. The altar/shrine in that way becomes a portal/meeting place between the worlds. The other thing that’s important is that it’s an ancestor shrine and not a ghost shrine. That distinction is important to me. My concern with lots of Western ancestor altars is that they’re ghost magnets (when they’re actually activated or ritually functioning).
About my own shrines in the background of the video calls, only one is an ancestor shrine (others in view on that wall include: Egbe, Eshu, Shango, Oya, Ifa, and Aje). And it doesn’t really need to be all fancy or anything, I’m just two decades into being a full-time public facing ritualist and so I end up acquiring all kinds of ritual odds and ends and it’s nice to have room for them to breathe. Most importantly track over time what helps you to go deep with your people; that’s what matters.
I don’t necessary presume to know how things got all off-track in so many (but not all) places. I think it takes an intact earth-loving culture to check all the less awesome, immature, destructive forces we’re also composed of and when this breaks down it can be tough to set the whole system back on track. So yeah, I could say sexism, colonialism, racism, greed, etc are the reasons which is not so helpful to name the manifestations as I think you’re digging into ‘buy why?!?’ Mostly what I would say is that I don’t see it as some kind of conspiracy but more as a gradual and at times acute breakdown of grown-up behavior that spirals into whole demographics of people acting terribly for centuries. Most important is what to do about it. Generally speaking, I think what we do about it is: get excellent with own ancestors (and all that culturally implies), get excellent with the land/Earth/other-than-humans (especially those whose bodies support our lives and home), and within all that to try to get exceedingly clear about our specific destiny in the larger story and to passionately seek to fulfill that purpose while here on Earth. And then die, get born, and repeat for many lifetimes.
I’m not sure that I really know to be honest. And I think there are lots of way to express health, lots of ways health can feel or be. Imagine them asking the question of “what’s it like to be a healthy human on Earth?” I also think there are degrees of wellness—basically whole, healed ones and then profoundly awake, potent ones. And then, just like here on Earth, I think the distinction between incarnate and not-incarnate becomes a more and more suspicious distinction in that it’s also true that there’s just one world. This longing you’re alluding is a really potent doorway for sacred grief and the deepening of practice and path that can come from that focus for a cycle of time. Final thought: great to ask your well guides about this particular question; they’ll for sure have things to add on it.
In general, I suggest first getting well with your own ancestral lineages before considering any kind of engagement with the ancestral lineages of others. Ideally your spouse would be open to working with their own ancestors in a healing way. And especially if have share children, it may be warranted to respectfully and mindfully (ideally with permission) approach your spouse’s ancestors with the well-being of your children in mind. Again, this is best done after you are relatively well with your own people as it creates a greater base of safety and experience from which to engage. As a reminder on resources for this, there is a directory of folks trained in this kind of work: ancestralmedicine.org/practitioner-directory. The farther we get from our own lineages the less inherent protection and forgiveness we’re likely to find among the dead. And yes, it can be important to do this. Both/and.
Yes, this kind of ancestral tension is possible and in general I distinguish ghosts or not-yet-ancestors from the well dead or the actual ancestors. I tend to find nearly all ancestral interference that we could frame as cultural troubles source from the dead who are not yet at peace, and in that sense it’s just a specific flavor of ghost trouble rather than ancestral disapproval/interference per se. The remedy for any kind of ghost trouble is boundaries in the short term and successful ancestralization of the dead in the medium to long term. Having said that, if the well dead, the true ancestors, think your relationship is not actually in your highest good, they’re not likely to be big fans and could potentially do things to hasten an ending. In general for relationships of all sorts that we want to succeed in the long-term, it’s great to seek to harmonize the ancestors of the folks involved. This can include making offerings to one another’s ancestors with care and humility. But mostly making sure they’re ancestors and not ghosts. That resolves 90% of potential problems.
Theoretically like any kind of healing work it can have this effect and much more commonly it brings a bit of relief to living family. Remember when setting limits with the troubled dead that you can extend this limit setting to your children (esp. if they are minors), meaning to ask your guides and helpers in spirit to also protect your children. If living family seems to be experiencing adverse affects you can drop back in with the exercise in Lesson Two and extend additional protection and boundaries to those living family who are in your care.
Good question. In general, I would suggest first getting at least one of your own lineages in really vibrant condition (ideally more) and then asking them to supportively hold a space for protection around your daughter and ask that only the goodness from her people reach her. Assuming she is not interested and/or old enough to engage this work herself, you can do further work over time but asking your own ancestral guides to generally improve the conditions for her is great. And also helping her to know about aspects of beauty, magic, and blessing from her general area of ancestral origins. Those are helpful starts.
Great question and it’s one I actually feel a little fuzzy about. I tend to say ‘Yes, for sure, do that’ when it comes to living children who are minors and children of the client/living person doing this work. I tend encourage the client to check with the guides if it’s possible and beneficial to assert these kind of boundaries on behalf of adult children. This starts to touch on issues of consent to intervene and it’s a fuzzy area, because if you see the lineage healing work through you’re going to make a shift in their space anyways (by helping the unwell dead in their space to become well). With other living family is it possible? Probably generally kinda sorta depends. Is it ethical? Probably, yeah, I think so. Is it advisable? I tend to ask the clients to ask their own guides/helpers/allies (the ones they called in at the very beginning of the process) to discern what’s possible and beneficial. It’s a gray area in the work. And again if you see the lineage repair through it’ll get sorted then.
Think of weaving a spider web. It’s hard to make all the magical in-between joists until you have a few solid beams upon which to make those connections. The emphasis on four blood lines (two maternal, two paternal) is intended to create that foundation and not to exclude anything. I’ve found having that foundation is an antidote to excluding family legacies that are impactful and tempting to avoid. And in that process folks tend to discover all kinds of hidden treasures and gifts they would otherwise overlook.
If you have the book, check out chapter nine material on weaving in extended family (e.g., siblings of grandparents, parents, you, etc). This is part of the process and will be included in this course in part two. And it’s systemic, we’re weaving a lattice-work upon which to do more involved workings.
And for what it’s worth folks who don’t have children of their own (bodies) tend to be disproportionately called into service of the ancestors. Perhaps because they have a bit more bandwidth for it. Perhaps because it’s also good medicine for them. Perhaps for all kinds of other reasons.
Ancestral healing and love is course not a zero-sum game, there’s space for all of the above in these hearts. With intent that honoring lineages of blood only encourages the exaltation of others ancestral connections of all sorts.
This is a big question mostly beyond the scope of this course to address, although by the end of the course you’ll have learned some important principles in the context of doing your own ancestral repair work that apply to assisting those who are not related to you by blood. As a generally protocol I would say that if you’re not already well with at least one of your own ancestral lineages to not get particularly involved. If you are well with one of your lines then you can ask them ‘Hey, do you want me to get involved here?’ and trust if they say no, like really be open to hearing that. Or to hearing ‘not at this time’. If they give some version of ‘yeah, a little’ then keep it very modest and within your scope of ritual training. Sometimes, especially with homocides and such, there can be other-than-ancestral energies that are not pretty, not safe, and unless you know what you’re doing it’s easy to get in the deep end quick by getting involved. That said, you can always hold a good thought and prayer for the safe transition of the recently deceased.
And to know that if they do get stuck in a ghost state (not a given just because they died intensely), they’re likely to attach to their living family or friends, not stay in the area or glom onto you. I don’t mean to be so macabre about it, it’s just that there are 2.5 million people just in the United States who die each year and it’s important to be very intentional and follow the guidance of our own ancestors about when and to what degree we get involved. Or to frame it another way, your own lineage dead who are not yet well are just as much of a spiritual emergency even if in most cases they didn’t die as recently, they’re still more karmically proximal to you (and in some ways therefore safer to work with).
Thanks for asking this, and kindness on your brother’s passing and your experience so far with everything here. It’s good for now that you are re-establishing a boundary, and know that this is not exile or abandonment. You can ask whatever powers you know and trust well (guides/teachers/allies in spirit) to bless him, to assist him, to extend kindness to him, to help him to know that he’s not forgotten. Just do that in a way that you’re not calling him back into your personal space at this time. Assuming he’s a brother along your shared father’s lineage, the more thorough fix is to heal up that lineage of men before your father and ask that they receive him well into their ranks. And all along the way it’s totally great and welcome to just pray and hold regard for his well-being. You can ask that ancestral guides that you connect with (focus of lesson four and beyond) also help him along bit by bit. So yeah, there are things you can do for him for certain (while maintaining a boundary for now) and definitely keep tracking the situation so that he gets the healing and care that he needs in spirit. Trust your sense of things here. And don’t worry too much about the ashes part, all that. It can be one piece but the heart of the matter is relational in a direct way.
Remember that not all traditional systems of ancestor reverence convey this respect by calling the names of the dead. One reason to not do this would be that calling their names reinforces who they were during life and can distort our experience of them in the present. And also it can be fine and beautiful to name them. I do have the view that if the intent is to invoke/call-up them rather than just discuss and talk about them (there is some difference there), that it’s best to only call upon those whom you know to be deeply well in spirit. In other words, as they become well (or as your assess them to already be well), it’s like they then have clearance to be invoked. And trust your sense, notice what feels true to you, again, I don’t wish to create a dogma about it.
Yeah, this is a lineage-based approach and so it is my habit to limit consideration to what I consider our four primary bloodlines at the outset of the work. Once you have worked at depth to come into relationship with two lineages among your father’s people and two among your mother’s people (which is plenty), if you are then moved to engage further some chose to work with a second orbital (basically the four great grandparent lines that were not previously considered, so eight in total). And of course the math gets formidable quickly. As for understanding history and honoring our people, yeah, of course, do that, no intent to exclude any ancestors, however working within some structure at the outset can be an antidote to ancestral bias or seeking only to engage the ancestors we’d rather identify with.
Good and common question. It’s my habit to work through one line at a time first and then to do the same for the other lineages. This supports really getting to know one lineage at a time at depth rather than jumping around and ‘diluting’ the process so to speak. Having said that, there’s not really any ritual precaution around opening up more than one lineage process at a time as you’re connected with well ancestors, it’s more a style thing, and some folks have certainly worked the process in this way over the years (moving through the first two steps with more than one line before proceeding). And of course once one lineage is well they may also assist with the healing along other lineages. For some the linearity of the process is great medicine and provides a sense of safety into which people can really lean. For others the structure can feel stifling or not true to their direct experience; it’s fine to honor your instincts and just be sure, especially at the start, that you’re honoring the various ritual precautions as some of them are in place for important reasons. Finally, remember this is a repair method for cleaning up trouble and that once things get into a more healed state the braces/cast can come off and the dance with the ancestors can be a lot more organic.
Yeah, of course. There’s no limit to what you can carve out here, but I’ve found four lineages as a level of consideration to feel more thorough and balanced than only two lineages. And I’ve found that some enjoy working eight rather than four lineages, which is fine if so. And most often I’ve found that four is about right. I’m a fan of establishing balance as you go, meaning to get very well and solid with four lineages before working beyond that. Four is plenty for more people and this doesn’t negate the others as they all feed into the four being worked with in some way also. I see it a bit like one of the lovely Tibetan sand mandalas; one can build out more and more elaborate articulations but build them out in a balanced way as you go, that’s all.
This is a good and common question. Here are a few kinds of answers. One, they’re polite and they haven’t been asked to intervene. There is a kind of etiquette that’s also present in the realm of spirit and without being asked they may be less able or inclined to assist. Two, we haven’t tended to the relationships so there is both a disconnect that needs addressed and a kind of backlog or imbalance around the reciprocity. Even a very capable employee or contractor if unpaid or unthanked for 1,000 years may become less motivated to work hard. Three, I think they do still assist in ways that we don’t always see or appreciate. Four, they’re not all-powerful and the troubled ones among the dead still have choice and agency too. And finally, there is a way in which our involvement is important. By remembering and honoring the ancestors we complete a kind of circuit of energy and blessings between our world and theirs. This is an important part of the magic in ways that are hard to fully capture.
Assuming it is possible to get a read on other lineages, this phenomenon is most commonly for one of four reasons and s