Ancestors, the Mighty Dead

In ADF Druidry, we strive to live in right relationship with each of the Three Kindreds: our gods and goddesses, the Shining Ones; the nature spirits, the Noble Ones; and our Ancestors, the Mighty Ones. Out of these three equally important groups, I have the hardest time connecting to my Ancestors, whether they be my two late grandfathers on either side of the family, or the first trueborn member of the species H. sapiens. Perhaps some of it is a holdover from my Baptist days which taught me to balk at the idea of ever elevating a human to the status of God. There was a clear dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, the divine and the human, and the only one who was really allowed to bridge that gap was Jesus. (Really though, Jesus’ humanity always seemed a technicality more than a reality in the church I grew up in – but I digress.) I just got the hang of believing in and worshiping gods again, and now I have to talk to a bunch of dead guys in ritual?

I believe the Three Kindreds operate as equals and peers, each of them necessary to the maintenance of a healthy spiritual ecosystem. There’s no hierarchy of groups, no demand to sacrifice more of one’s time or energies to one Kindred than the other. Ultimately, one would hope, you’re spending your time equally with all Three. I also believe that if we imagine the Kindreds forming a triplicate Venn Diagram of sorts – which hey, ends up forming a triquetra in the middle, isn’t that cool! – humans are planted squarely in the middle. We are animals and of the earth, and therefore we are among the nature spirits; we all return to the earth one day, and therefore will be among our Ancestors; and I don’t actually have anything for how we’re like the Shining Ones yet, except possibly being made in Their image, but give it time.

Though there’s not supposed to be a hierarchy, it can be easier at times to connect with members of one Kindred than another. For myself (and many other polytheists, I think) the emphasis usually begins with the deities, and we find ourselves orienting our attentions in a new spiritual path toward Who we can meet. For others, there needs to be a more immediate, visceral, and local connection, so they turn to the earth and mountains and seashores around them, connecting with spirits of the land, local weather patterns, animals, and trees. (In this sense, I think it’s very fair to say that ADF, and maybe other forms of Druidry, is animistic in its outlook.)

At other times though, we need someone who understands what it’s like to be human. Humans, however large or small we may paint ourselves in the Grand Scheme of Things, have a unique way of experiencing reality, as does anything and everything else in this shared universe of ours. I firmly believe that however powerful and wise the gods are, that with the exception of deities who were once human – like Antinoous and Imhotep – gods do not and cannot fully understand what it means to be mortal, any more than I can understand what it means to be an ant. There’s a really tricky false dichotomy here, so let’s follow the ant analogy. I might be smarter than an ant, bigger, capable of abstract thought and individuality and kicking ass in Skyrim, but if I for a moment think that I’m more important than an ant, I’m sorely missing the picture. That little bugger (haha, see what I did there?) and his ten squillion friends has more to do with upholding the local ecosystem than I ever will in my lifetime. If humans ever kick the bucket as a species, I will bet you all the money in my celestial wallet that ants will still be chugging along, digging their mounds and following the instructions of their queen, and pretty much being the pinnacle of evolutionary success that humans love to think we aspire to.

Pictured: our spiritual and evolutionary overlord. (Public domain.)

Where was I? Oh yes, my own species. Sorry about that.

(I talk about ants now. Ants are cool.)

It helps immensely if we can turn to spirits who have more in common with us than not. Not that there’s not something to be gained from the sheer mystery, awe, terror, and love that we find when communing with mountains or praying to the divine, but sometimes we need a perspective we can better understand, and can better understand us. Someone who can knock back a beer (or frothy mug of water, if they prefer) and go, “I know those feels, bro.”

And the great thing is, our Ancestors can be any human who’s passed from the living world. Anyone at all. Your great-aunt Harriet who left you that money to help get you through college? Her. National heroes like Neil Armstrong whom you idolized as a kid? Him too. Ancient heroes related by blood or spirit or just by the very nature of being human, like Cúchulainn and Hypatia and Joan of Arc and Fa Mulan? Them too. The peoples who lived where you lived once before, and worshiped the same nature spirits you’re trying to propitiate? But of course.

The Kindreds all have their own wisdom to pass down, and the Ancestors can teach us the art of being human. Of struggling against great odds and small catastrophes, of hauling water and hoeing onions to feed the kids at the end of the day, of wars and famines and storms and darkness, of a million sunrises and sunsets that oversaw their lives just as they oversee our own. Human history is the greatest story ever told, one amazing, unending – as of yet, at least – story with billions of players and every single side plot you can imagine. We are all threads in a joyous, raucous, chaotic tapestry, and our ancestors are just the ones placed before us. Or the notes that were played previously in a symphony, creating the patterns and rhythms by which we lead our own lives.

I don’t feel comfortable honoring my most recent blood relatives as Ancestors, though I will light a candle for all of them as I do for all the Shining Ones and for all the nature spirits, so I look to those who have most inspired me in my life, who I feel are kin to me in some way.

I honor LGBT heroes like Harvey Milk, Alan Turing, and Sally Ride.

I honor Ray Bradbury. I miss the hell out of him and I hope he’s having a good time giving the bards up there a run for their money.

I honor Isaac Bonewits, who founded ADF and inspired me before and after his passing.

I honor Sandy, my 14-year-old cocker spaniel who passed away last March. I hope she’s doing well in the feasthalls of Valhalla, as a more dedicated and loving guardian of the house you never could ask for.

I honor my stillborn siblings I never got to meet. I hope your lives are blossoming in the Otherworld, and that you know my brother and I are taking care of your parents as well as we can.

I honor my Ancestors, known and unknown, named and unnamed. May we grow closer in love and deed, even across the boundaries of death itself.


8 thoughts on “Ancestors, the Mighty Dead

  1. I have to say, I’m really impressed by your attitude regarding who counts as our ancestors. Being new to ADF the idea of working with the Ancestors is the one giving me the most pause, as it’s completely unfamiliar. This post has really inspired me and made me look at the matter in a different way, so thanks for that!

    • Adservio,

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Ancestor reverence is still rather unfamiliar to me as well; I’ve been a member of ADF since 2010, but the Mighty Dead have always given me pause. Our Ancestors are so much more than just the immediate blood relations we can remember. Working with the dead helps us remember – helps me remember, at any rate – that humans have a shared legacy that spans our entire species throughout history.

      I’m so glad I could inspire and help you on your spiritual path. 🙂


  2. Pingback: Our Queer Ancestors « Sage and Starshine

  3. Many myths have stories of humans fathered by gods, who then went on to have human children of their own. If that’s the case, that means that humans and gods are similar enough to be biologically compatible–and not in the way that horses and donkeys are, because mules are sterile. I think that’s important: the gods themselves, who are in charge of RUNNING THE UNIVERSE, are made of the same stuff we are. So then we are made of godstuff, not just our souls but our bodies as well.

  4. That was a really inspiring read! I’m also not very comfortable with my blood ancestors. I do much better with honoring the ancestors of Crafts like Taiji Chuan I’ve learned and now I got the slightly crazy idea to honor ‘Star Trek ancestors’… (Witch + Trekkie is probably a bad combination 😉 )

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