Our ancestors gave us our blood, body, and breath, and only want what is best for us. After all, we are their family. They are some of the most important spirits to incorporate into our spiritual practice, and there are many ways of connecting with the dead.
Our beloved dead are not just spirits that we honor at Samhain or when we miss them. They are powerful spirits that can benefit us in many ways. Even in the afterlife they retain their wisdom and any skills that they had in life. If they were once doctors, they still have the ability to give sound advice on health and well-being. If they were architects, they will be able aide in building new structures. If they were artists or poets, they will be able to inspire you to create great works of art, similar to a muse. Most importantly, because they love you as family, they will protect you from harm, give advice, and aide you in healing.
One of the easiest and best ways to work with our ancestors is to meditate with them at their graves. The ancient Celts and Northern Europeans would sleep on grave mounds of kings and sages so they may dream with them in hopes to achieve their wisdom. It was common for young poets to sleep upon the grave of a great bard to learn from the master. In return for their advice, they would leave offerings of ale, wine, or honey.
In ancient Greece, the dead would be summoned for similar purposes. Magical words were written down on parchment and placed in the mouth of the corpse to petition the spirit to come back so that the magician may question the spirit. After the magician was satisfied, they would leave offerings of wine, beans, water, or small trinkets.
I have been initiated into several different traditions and my magical practice is somewhat eclectic. I mix a variety of techniques from Native American, Hoodoo, and Traditional Witchcraft. I am a firm believer that you should always give offerings to spirits that help you in any way. I have found in modern Paganism we are fond of giving offerings to the gods but shy away of giving offerings to other spirits including the dead.
You should give offerings to show humility and respect. The spirits can use the prana or life force from the offering to better manifest in the astral and physical planes, thus making it is easier for them work with you. Most importantly offerings are a kindness. When a friend helps you out with something, isn’t nice to do something nice for them, such as take them dinner?
I prefer to give offerings first. They can be as simple as poring a glass of water for them, or more elaborate, such as cooking them their favourite meal. Yes, your ancestor’s favourite dish in life will be their favourite dish in death. If you have nothing to give, you can open your heart chakra and give them the energy of your love.
My grandmother never cared about material gifts. A hug would fill her up with happiness for days. But to share with you a little bit, my grandmother loves fruits. She is also fond of lightly sweet foods so at times I may give her an offering of angel food cake or cookies. She always seems to come to me stronger when I offer food and drinks.
If you are able to, it is best to meditate on or near the grave of your ancestors. If they have been cremated, you can meditate next to where the urn is kept. The next best things is simply to visualize yourself at their grave site. Remember, the power of the mind transcends space and time.
Once you are at the grave, give your offerings. I prefer to give my offerings before I connect with my ancestors. It’s kind of like when you bring cookies to a friend’s home, you open the cookies right away! After the offering is made, allow yourself to get comfortable. You can lie down next to the grave or you can simply sit comfortably. I never worry about passersby. So what If I look strange lying next to my grandmother’s grave? What Grandma thinks is more important tome.
In order to communicate effectively, you will want to speak with them while in meditation. When you do this, you actually speaking with them in the astral plane.
Place yourself in a light trance by taking slow deep breaths. On the first breath allow your mind to relax. On the second breath recognize your emotions and how you are feeling, but place them aside for now. On the third, relax every muscle in your body the best you can. Don’t get hung up on this. Do the best you can. If you are having trouble, don’t worry about it. It will be fine.
Next, focus on your heart. Feel a great longing to be with your ancestors. Remember them how they were in life. If you did not meet them when they were alive, try to recollect any stories you may have heard about them. Try to visualize them the best you can. If your powers of imagination are not yet strong, try to “feel” them as best as possible. Imagine what their voice may sound like.
Now, imagine them appearing before you and sitting next to you. Take a moment to say hello, just as you would if they were someone living. Ask them how they are. Allow them to ask you any questions they like. See them enjoying the offerings you brought. At this point, you can ask them any question you like.
At first, I may simply want to get to know them better. What were their aspirations in life? What do they wish they could have done that they never got the chance to do? You can ask them questions about the afterlife, their vocation, if that is helpful to you, or simply ask them to help guide you upon your spiritual path. When you are finished, say your good-byes and wish them well. I typically close by saying a prayer asking the creator to bless them.
Working with your ancestors in this way is truly a rewarding magical and spiritual practice. Connecting with the dead will strengthen your bond with the spirit worlds and open your awareness to new and exciting things. Our beloved dead long to connect with us in life. After all, we are the generations that they worked so hard for long ago. You are their destiny. And your ancestors are yours.
Image credits: K. Kendall, James Anderson, and Lawrence Wong