June 28, 2015

I Pray to the Dead

Working on the Bakcheion ritual for Many Gods West (which we are still trying to raise money for), I am working with the Dead again. I want to establish a more regular practice with them, and possibly a necromantic one as well. At the same time, though, I've been sick, and there have been multiple miserable heat waves, leading me to scale back to the absolute most basic form of my practice, which makes expanding it at all even harder.

I've been chatting with a friend about it. They're just establishing their practice as a Hellenic polytheist, and want to work with their ancestors, but are feeling a bit uncomfortable with it, partially just from being so immersed in pop culture about ghosts, and the show Supernatural in particular.

I told them I've been seeing a thing around recently, I think it's a new book, suggesting that it was only after the Civil War that the American ghost story (as opposed to English ghost stories, which are their own genre) really got started. Particularly lost and wandering ghosts, like hitchhikers, certain kinds of vengeful spirits, particular battlefield spirits. That it was a psychological response to the war, an attempt to make sense of it, to deal with the aftermath.

And I totally buy that.

But I also wonder if that's the only reason. I said to my friend:

It was an incredible psychospiritual trauma for our nation. It changed the way we, as a nation, thought and spoke about the spirits of the dead, and I strongly suspect it changed the way spirits here actually behaved. SO many dead so suddenly, so afraid and so angry when they died, with a much smaller number of spirits from the same cultures already around to help them, as had been the case before. And for the living, so many simply gone, usually just never heard from again. No confirmation that they were dead, of when or how. Just gone. All their sad hopes and dreams pinning spirits here.

Families still dreamed, for years and decades, that their missing loved ones would come home, some dark, foggy night. Perhaps some did, and then were gone again, in the morning.

And I made some suggestions to them on getting started. They've been reading Galina Krasskova's Honoring the Ancestors. I haven't read it, but Galina is good at what she does, so I assume it's a good book. But she's a spiritworker, a strong and devoted and specialized one, and from what my friend was saying, I was wondering if the book was maybe not a little too specialized for some people who are just finding their feet, taking their first steps. So I made a few suggests, just to get them started:

It's always good to start where you are. Set up an ancestor altar. Nothing bit or fancy. A corner of a desk or end of a bookshelf. Put things there that are mementos of dead relatives. Throw in representations of ancestors of the spirit, too.

Actually, a good way to start is simply to assemble for yourself an album. Old photographs, drawings, whatever. If your family won't let you have the physical pictures, scan them or take a photo of them. You can even assemble your album entirely digitally. For those too long dead to have had photos, even names and descriptions, or stories about them. Quotes from ancient poets.

If someone has assembled a family tree, that's a good thing to include, too....

Before you go to bed, open the album to a random page or image, speak a brief prayer to your dead, pour out a little water or honey or milk. Thank them for their lives and love. That's all. That is the beginning of ancestor work.

This reminded me of a project I've wanted to take up for a while, as a devotional act: genealogical research. So I'm starting to poke at it. My maternal uncle has actually done a huge amount of work on that side of the family, which is awesome and gives me a great place to start. On my paternal since, though, things are a little messier. My aunt, while she was still married to my uncle, did quite a bit of research on our family. She says that when she left him, she left all of that information with him. He says he has no idea what she's talking about or where it is. She's considerably more reliable than he is on most things, but all of that is still just gone. So I'll have to start fresh there.

There are a bunch of genealogy sites that allow you to network with others, which would be a huge help, but ones like Ancestry, Geni, and MyHeritage, which are good for that kind of networking, are all pay services. There are lots of free sites where you can look things up, if you know what to look for, and I found Wikitree, a wiki-powered free genealogy site that lets you connect up, but I can't find any of my family tree there, which is less helpful. (Also, they're not great on trans and queer stuff, which I assume is going to turn out to be common to most if not all genealogy sites. Seriously, if someone lived most of their life, legally (because records are important for research) as well as actually, as a woman, but had genetic offspring via sperm, is it somehow not important that she was a woman? Because right now, these sites default to listing only her dead identity, if it's known. I can see how a notation in a record might be useful, for historical research purposes, but there is no excuse for the transphobia of insisting on listing her incorrectly.)

I need to ask relatives for some pictures, too. And then haul the cabinet upstairs and actually make a proper altar.

Meanwhile, the one thing I've been managing consistently is to add the Dead to my night time prayers:

I pray to the Beloved Dead

My ancestors of flesh and spirit

I remember the names of those I knew

I praise those whose names have been lost to me

I pray to the Beloved Dead

I pray to the Blessed Dead

Those who lived great lives

Those who were the chosen of gods

May you continue in joy and glory below

I pray to the Blessed Dead

I pray to the Restless Dead

You whose names go unspoken

You Who died with things undone

May you find release at last

I pray to the Restless Dead

There's a fourth verse, one I don't use yet. The one that offers my services. I won't use it until I can commit to it. August. After Many Gods, and the ritual there. I have offerings to make on Friday night, to the dead, in preparation. That will be the first time I use that verse.

I pray to the Silent Dead

You have no voice; use my tongue to speak

You have nothing not given to you; take my offerings

You are with us always; let me know you

I pray to the Silent Dead

That's a frightening thing to offer. I hope to be worthy of it soon.

August is the Dead Time. August is Coming.