The Ancestors

"Walhalla" (1896) by Max Brückner.

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In ADF practice, there are three Kindreds— The Shining Ones, The Mighty Ones and the Noble Ones.  The Mighty Ones correspond to what many of us call Ancestors.  Indo-European cultures tend to have traditions of strong ancestor reverence, as do many other cultures around the world. Neopagans often like to follow these practices of honoring our Ancestors, and remembering our beloved dead. ADF encourages this, and ADF bills itself as a religion of orthopraxy (consistency in practice) rather than one of orthodoxy (consistency of thought). Sometimes, however, these strains of orthopraxy and orthodoxy are hard to sort out, as was illustrated by a fascinating conversation going on At the Sign of the White Hart.

We weren’t talking Ancestors there, nor yet cosmology, but even so a conversation about the nature of hospitality led us down that path. When we do ritual, are we the hosts or the guests? How do the rules of hospitality apply in ritual situations? In ADF ritual, we are opening doors and inviting Shining Ones, Ancestors, and/or Noble Ones in. This clashes a bit with my personal cosmology. I view the cosmos as layers, and the natural world is as divine as any of the other layers.  The Shining Ones and the Noble Ones especially I see as permeating the natural world. Perhaps there are other layers that they live in, perhaps there is a Valhalla and an Astral Plane and other shades of reality besides. But I view the divine as imminent and immanent as well as transcendent. While the Gods may exist elsewhere and the nature spirits may exist at a slightly difference frequency or intersection of quantum reality or such, they’re still here, all the time too, for whatever values of “here” we’re discussing. The spirit of the Mississippi isn’t in my living room and isn’t going to be, but other beings might be. And if it’s territory that would traditionally be theirs, then who is the inviting one and who is the invitee?

This becomes more complex with Ancestors, as many traditions have a fairly concrete tradition of the land of the dead. ADF people discuss this quite a bit, as it’s somewhat at odds with neopagan notions of reincarnation.  Some traditions seem to believe simultaneously in Ancestor worship and reincarnation, which seems a bit whacked. How can you invite the Ancestors to join you if they’re now living in Peoria, carrying on with a completely new and different life?

For me, I think we carry the spiritual energy of the Ancestors in our genes and in our memory and so they are also in a sense, always with us.  But beyond that, I think of the Ancestors in a way that I suspect lies slightly outside of IE practice. Many cultures, especially in South America but also elsewhere, have a notion of the soul or spirit of a person being a multi-part entity. For example one South American indigenous belief says that after the death of your physical body, one part of your soul will go live with the Ancestor spirits in the high mountains to guard over the people, one part of your soul goes off to some other place, and one part is bonded to an animal companion (whom you may never meet in life).

I believe in reincarnation because I don’t really have a choice in the matter. I have past life memories that are very clear with details that are easy to corroborate.  So unless I buy into some multipart soul theory, I’m going to have a hard time inviting the spirits of the Beloved Dead in for tea. The thing I’ve come to understand for myself is that while some part of me is present in those persons I recall being in past lives, those past people are not me and I am not them in very real ways.  I think of it as a combination of soul or spirit essences making each “me” unique.  If I were your three times great grandma, you could still commune in some way with her without directly affecting the present me.

Coming back round to the orthodoxy/orthopraxy problem, this whole eccentric view of cosmology I have could indeed seriously affect my practice of ADF rites. I prefer to think of it as my simply having a slightly different understanding of the universe, but maybe my understanding of the universe is incompatible with ADF orthopraxy and the little orthodoxy that orthopraxy creates. I hope not. We’ll see as I continue my studies.