Sunday, June 15, 2008

Keeping the Ancestors Happy

It's not often in this culture that we stop to consider the ones on whose shoulders we stand - that long line of ancestors, without which we would not be here today. Shamanic teachings talk about the three souls humans have, and one of those souls comes from - and returns to - the ancestors. So we owe them our gratitude and our continued appreciation. We've lost this - most of us anyway. Grandparents and those before them might get a photo or two, a place in the family album, but they rarely have a real presence in our lives. 

When I think about how ancestors are respected and honored in tribal culture, it occurs to me that this might be one reason why we've lost so many other good parts of that culture as well. For instance, there is a sense of ingrained generosity in tribal people that I just don't see in moderns. Not that the people I know in our culture aren't generous, but that there is a difference. (And if there's someone who grew up in a tribal culture who would care to speak to this - please feel free.) There seems to me an unconscious sense of obligation to and openness of spirit and heart to fellow members of your tribe that we have lost. And this sense of generosity extends to the ancestors as well. Often there are rituals around the feeding and care of the ancestors - holding a place for them at meals - passing a plate for them. 

I try to rediscover this myself by having an altar for my ancestors and giving them daily offerings - speaking to them - asking for their continued blessings - asking for their guidance and support. All of us like to be listened to and to be of use - apparently this applies to the ancestors as well. The occasional offering of Irish whisky seems to make some of them particularly happy. 

As much as we might have lost of our tribal ways, it's important to realize that we can only reclaim these pieces from where we are now - not by taking on the trappings of a tribal culture; not by wearing another tribe's tradition like a costume. We must rediscover what has meaning for us and for our ancestors. When we do this; when we stand with our ancestors and remember we are not alone on this earth, we begin to remember what it is to be more fully human.


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