Ancestor worship is important to a fully developed Heathen practice. Not everyone is going to get there. We live in a Post-Christian western society, and its god-centric legacy will honestly be centuries in undoing.
Our surviving literature does not help as much as it should, because while every scholar will begin with telling you how sad it is we don’t have much about what everyone knew and did every day, because the saga’s only talk about the stuff you saw once a year, or Uncle Olaf saw when he was young and actually guested in the King’s Hall, but you will never see in your whole life; casual readers come away with the mistaken impression that the god centered tales describe daily life.
The truth is most of ancestral practice was as hearth based as any of the pagan tribes well into recorded history. The spirits of the hearth and home, field and flock, lands and waters were the objects of daily devotion, along with one more class; the ancestors.
Nine is a magical number in Heathenry. As in nine times out of ten a viking analogy is a good way to spot a bad idea shined to a high polish. I am hoping this is the tenth. Your ancestors are a chain that connects you to the very roots of your soul…..well sort of. There are chains as in necklace and anchor chains, and chains like chain mail, and ancestor worship is very much like only one of those two options.
This is a necklace. At the first bad link it breaks. It has a few bad links, and is broken. If you were relying upon that for connection, you are lost, as whatever the chain held is gone now. There aren’t a whole lot of families that don’t have bad links in the chain, and this would leave us all broken and cut off if that was how our connections to our ancestors worked.
Frigg is not a Norn to simply measure a thread, and cut it when wyrd call’s for its end. No, she is far more. Frigg is a weaver of wyrd, a weaver of lines, of blood and oath, of love and duty, of lives and families. She is a weaver for she knows all threads, and all chains break, but weaves do not. Bad links, toxic ancestors, lost connections, the wound of adoption all leave holes in the chain, but the whole survives.
There are breaks where weak links failed, holes where bad links were cut from the whole to save what remained, yet the mail is still strong. This is how you can choose to leave it, but Frigg is a weaver and so is life. You can choose to let the failure of blood leave you always lesser and weaker, or you could choose to live, to love, to create other bonds.
Some links are different sized, and some of different metal, some are bound in different ways, but when they are woven together that which was sundered is whole again. Whole and strong. Some links don’t share your blood, your race, your faith. Too bad, they seem to have woven in nicely anyway.
Ancestor worship is not reaching up the broken chain and stopping when you hit the first bad link. How can that sustain and ground you? How can that link you to all who came before, and connect you to every part of who you have yet to discover you are?
Ancestor worship is Frigga’s work, Volund’s work. It is weaving and forging both, it is hard, terrible hard work, for you build those connections strand by strand, link by link. Not in one direction, but in all. Chains do not grow stronger with length but weaker, as it is the sum of their weaknesses that limits them, not the sum of their strength which defines them. Chain mail is different. Each link passes through many others. Strength is shared, weakness is limited, and stresses distributed evenly. Much more force can be absorbed by the mail than any link could take, and no matter if some links should fail, the mail itself remains, and remains strong.
How can the adopted reach out to their ancestors, if their ancestors be not known to them? Well that is not entirely true is it? The ancestors of your direct blood are not known, but if you began at that pretty chain patch above, the silver-steel links do not exist. Bronze rings, copper rings, blood rings must first be passed before you will reach the steel rings of your own blood again, but trace your fingers across the mail and you will see the truth. Beyond the whole the mail is intact, and you have been given the links to reach across to get there.
When the shirt was forged, each link was silver-steel, yet it was sundered by life, by wyrd. Others filled in those holes. Adoptive parents, foster parents, friends, cousins, uncles, those you named such but were bound only by ties of affection not blood, yet did blood’s duty. Sometimes those mentors you found not at home but through school as teachers, leaders, co-workers or even NCO’s if you went into the Army seeking your home.
They forged those links in your life, filled those holes. You do know their names. You can reach them. You can begin your practice there, and through them reach the spirits of those who went before, and reclaim the parts of you above and beyond the break.
If you accept the necklace model, you will reach backwards only until the toxic ancestors, the hurtful or damaging ones. If you stop there, you will lose all that went before, and much of what you are because of it. We are not part of some decorative necklace, or pretty ribbon. Frigg is the weaver of the folk entire, of all of our bloodlines, and she weaves stronger than any mail. You cut out tangles like you cut out bad links, and you weave beyond them, reach beyond them, heal the rift with those links that may not have been the same steel, or threads of the same blood, but whose will it was to protect when the steel that should have been there would not.
We reach past the bad links to reclaim what was ours from before birth. To cut yourself off from all above the toxic link is foolish, but to believe you must accept the toxic is likewise foolish. You do not deny the link was real, but it failed, and has been cut out. Wyrd weaves as it will, and includes plenty of scope for bad choices and painful consequences. Neither Frigg nor Volund will hesitate to cut out bad threads, bad links, tangles and flaws, and weave around them. There is a lesson for us there.
Imperfect links, bent links, rough links, should we cut those out?
We are ALL imperfect links, rough, bent, scarred, twisted, wrong coloured, inverted rivet or ten thousand other forms of imperfect, and that is what gives the whole of the mail the strength that it has. We don’t cut out the imperfect, we understand the strength of the link is based on how many of its neighbors it weaves together, not how thick its own metal.
Ancestor worship is just that, connecting us to more links in all directions, allowing us to be stronger than the bare steel of our own ring, but the full strength of all who came before and all who touched both their lives and ours.
Links are bound by blood yes, and a thousand other things. Love, duty, oath, friendship, and experience. We don’t have to face this world in terrible isolation, our ancestors understood this, and are ready to stand beside you.
For those who think the faith of your ancestors matters; nothing in our lore mentions the faith of the people we are dealing with, neither the living nor the dead. They knew of other faiths and other tribes, and judged it not to matter. They knew all our lore and judged it so. We know but a small surviving part, so I suggest trusting them.
3 thoughts on “Troubling Ancestors, and ancestor worship”
Reblogged this on All Their Voices.
I love this. Ancestor connection is something I have worked towards since college (eleven years ago). My father’s lineage goes back six generations to a point where only the wives first name was known and ancestors were linked to a country of origin and immigration date. My mother’s side has always been shrouded in mystery and lies, many of which came to light when I did my own research. We do not come from where my mother was always led to believe, on her father’s side. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to do ancestral worship of people whose likeness I don’t know, and whose only connection I have is through someone who is a broken link. A Pagan’s work is never done 😉
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