This is a combination of two of my most popular Tumblr posts from last year, reposted here for accessibility.
I realized I haven’t posted too much about ancestor veneration praxis, at least not in a long time. To be honest as far as actual details go, I prefer to not talk too much about my practice publicly anymore because folks online have a way of misreading things and then running off with only half of the necessary information and messing it all up. I talk about Morrigan devotee things with the original caw squad from the old Tumblr days, and I’ve got more Jewish witch friends irl now with whom I can share my experiences in regards to theurgy and such, and I live in a city full of folk magic so I’m never short on people with whom I can discuss it.
However, I have realized online there is not a lot of stuff on ancestor veneration that isn’t either extremely Catholic, or some kind of Norse or Greek vague pagan stuff. Then of course, there are the practices that are specific to African Diasporic Traditional Religions, and should not be dabbled in if you are some uninitiated white person. And the same goes for the well-established ancestor worship traditions of various parts of Asia.
Chances are, a one-size-fits-all approach will not appease all your immediate ancestors, unless you come from a really long line of devout Catholics on both your parents’ sides. And praying to pagan/polytheistic deities for your dead monotheist ancestors’ souls to find comfort is probably not going to go over well with either your great granny or the gods.
One thing that bothered me about most materials on ancestor veneration, and even the advice I got from local practitioners, is that many of the techniques were alienating or inappropriate for my Jewish ancestors. For instance: flowers, though a common offering to the dead, are not traditional in that culture. Instead my ancestors wanted a pile of white pebbles as seen in Jewish cemeteries.
There are other cases when the memorial rites for one ancestor may not be acceptable for another. For example: to a European ancestor, pouring beer or whiskey on the ground is a common offering, however, I have heard that for some Native Americans, pouring alcohol out onto the earth is disrespectful. Many people in the United States have both European and Native American ancestry.
There as some cultures where is is taboo, or at least considered a bad idea to venerate or feed the dead indoors. This can be an issue if you live in a small apartment in a big city, so keep in mind there will always be rules that you have to choice but to bend or break. Divination is key to figuring out what corners you may be allowed to cut.
I have found that many ancestors do not feel comfortable being prayed to before the deity they worship. (The ancient dead, those who were pantheist/polytheist, don’t mind, they are the mighty dead and are many centuries removed from their humanity). These monotheist ancestors often want their descendant to say a prayer to their God for their soul on their behalf (as they are dead and cannot pray for themselves, though they can intercede for you) before you address them directly and give them offerings and petitions.
Now, some occult authors will tell you that “any psychopomp spirit” will be fine to address before you speak to your dead…maybe that might be the case for those guys, but in my experience, my deceased Jewish grandmother doesn’t want me to ask fucking Saint Christopher or Cyprian or whoever the fuck to fetch her from her eternal rest…she can excuse the witchcraft, but she doesn’t want to participate in any form of Catholicism. My dead Catholic grandpa doesn’t want me praying to the Morrigan for him, nor is he particularly keen on his living wife’s Methodist prayers, though he loves grandma and appreciates the attempt. I have witnessed people really pissing off their own ancestors by trying that “any psychopomp deity can mediate” approach to necromancy espoused by certain podcasts and bloggers. Dead people are human and have their own feelings and their own religious beliefs and can definitely get offended.
Those of you who have followed me for a while might be like “but Banshee, you said kind of the opposite several years ago” yes, I did. At the time I was mostly only really interacting with my pagan ancestors. My late father himself was a self-described pagan. But the older I got, and the more experienced I became in necromancy, I learned that I can’t neglect centuries of my family tree. Now, my more monotheistic relatives still showed up, loved me, accepted me, and even assisted me, but they were not completely happy. I expected them to accept my beliefs and lifestyle, and they did, but initially I did not make room for theirs. That was selfish of me. Even the Morrigan pointed out that my insistence on pagan-flavored everything in my younger days was naive and frankly quite stupid. (“stupid” being Her preferred word choice, not mine.)
That being said, a little selfishness is necessary. Dead, just like any other spirits, can have questionable morals, or demand things from you that are unfair or unattainable. Set healthy boundaries with all your spirits. If you are starving, they don’t get large fancy food offerings. Benevolent spirits don’t demand things that are greater a cost than you can acquire. You are the living flesh, your needs are greater than theirs. Be respectful, but don’t humble yourself so much that you are letting ghosts dictate your life. You are the necromancer, you call the shots.
My ancestors don’t care that I’m a witch, they don’t care that I’m pan/bisexual, they don’t care that I dress sluttily, they respect me because I am their achievement and I have the power to call them…but they want me to respect them in return. That means my mother who died alone, disowned, without a Jewish funeral, or any memorial service, needed me to incant El Maleh Rachamim many days in a row before her own spirit was able to stop mourning and rest. That means that my paternal Grandpa loves to help me with folk magic, but he wants me to say a rosary for/with him every now and then. It means that, for them, their beliefs they held in life hold power even in death. My beliefs are valid, but they want to be honored in according to their beliefs. They will gladly lend me their power, they will happily intercede for me, but their power comes from their respective faiths, just as my power is rooted in my own convictions.
So you may be wondering, “but Banshee what is a non-denominational offering to the dead so I don’t offend my ancestors?” Water, my friends. Water. Maybe honey as well. (Maybe put honey in the water.) And stones. Not crystals, I literally mean just rocks. It seems like stones are a feature in nearly all memorial sites. Perhaps it’s because they come from the earth, idk, I don’t make the rules. Just start with water and stones, and look up the funerary prayers/prayers for the dead of your deceased loved ones’ religion(s). Before saying the prayers, state out loud that you are praying these prayers on behalf of your beloved dead, so that they might find peace, light, and healing, and that they may feel the love you have for them. If you start crying during the prayers don’t be alarmed, that is normal. Ancestor veneration helps with the grieving process, for both you and the dead. A candle can help focus your prayers and be an offering of light for your dead, but the water is the most important thing initially. Over time, it should be revealed to you by the dead what other items and offerings they want on their shrine and which prayers they need or prefer.
You may have noticed that I brought up the necessity of divination several times in the preceding paragraphs. If you do not have a divinatory practice I will go over how to develop one another blog post. If you already feel confident in your divination skills, this is an example of how to use them for the dead:
Simple, easy, non-denominational full moon necromancy
I usually don’t share personal rituals or methods on here for a variety of reasons, but I had a really good necromancy session a few moons ago and I made it extremely simple and not specifically traditional because I wanted my partner to participate. So here is a really simple method for communicating with the dead and it only has a couple prerequisites:
Before doing this make sure that you: 1) have an active ancestor altar/shrine in your home and that you have been feeding and elevating them on a fairly regular basis. 2) know at least one form of divination, such as tarot cards or pendulum.
- Cleanse and prepare yourself and your workspace as you normally would for any other ritual.
- Make sure that you have recently fed and watered your dead.
- Get a clean, dark colored bowl and fill it half full of water. If you don’t have a dark bowl, put a few drops of black ink or black food coloring in.
- Take the bowl outside to catch the moonlight (to help illuminate things hidden in the dark).
- Stir it with a fresh sprig of rosemary from a bush that has been watered by rain (if you have to buy one from a grocery store just let it sit in a jar of rainwater for a bit).
- Toss the rosemary outside near your door.
- Put a cloth down on the floor of your workspace.
- Grab a ceramic plate and put a plain candle on it, such as a tea light (The plate is to prevent a fire hazard) and set it down on the floor with the cloth.
- Place an incense burner and incense onto the plate.
- Put the bowl down on the floor as well.
- Understand that you will also be sitting on the floor and grab pillows if you think you may need them to be comfortable.
- Collect your divination tools, tarot decks, pendulums, dice, etc.
- Place them on the cloth.
- Light the incense and the candle, position them so the smoke from the incense is over the bowl and dim or turn off the lighting in the room which is your ritual space.
- Sit on the floor and recite whatever prayers you usually say for your ancestors and other venerated dead. If you have a friend or a few doing this divination with you then hold hands and recite the prayers together.
- Meditate on which dead you want to ask what questions.
- Call forth the person(s) whom you want to ask.
- You can use the dark bowl for scrying or you may just stare into it while shuffling your cards or shaking your dice, stones, bones, runes, etc. The water is the conduit for the dead.
- Perform your divination to see what the dead have to say. Close the ritual however you normally would.
- When you are done, dump out the bowl.
This method is extremely easy to modify based on your own religious views and magical practice, however, there is a reason it is done sitting on the floor and not at a table. 1) being on the floor is closer to earth and the ground in which the dead are buried and therefore makes it easier for the medium to stay rooted in the physical world while also making it easier for the dead to come through. 2) chairs would encourage the dead to linger, or if someone had to get up to pee a dead person might steal their seat which can sometimes evolve into a possession issue. 3) sitting on the floor feels cozy and intimate and seems like a good setting for dead people to tell stories from long ago. Yes, all these reasons are very much based in the ideas of sympathetic magic and folk beliefs.
There you have it! A super simple and affordable and incredibly difficult to fuck up method for spirit communication. Happy necromancing!