My beloved dead

I kicked off this year with a journey to the underworld to truly confront my ancestors and ancestry for the first time ever. It took me longer than it probably should have to connect that with a Mercury-ruled 4th House profection year. And that’s what this year is about for me—finally diving into working with my beloved dead.

It’s not so much family history. That’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. For me, the dead and ancestor worship have always been topics that have made me uncomfortable. I’m not sure why, other than it’s likely some misunderstood holdover from childhood Christian teachings. Christianity sure has more than its fair share of venerated dead, so I clearly missed something in those early teachings. Or perhaps I just got the overly sanitised version. I mean, just look at all the bits of dead saints that are around the place.

Which is another interesting side effect of ancestral work for me. For the first time ever, I actually ‘get’ saints. Before this year I had absolutely no connection to saints whatsoever, despite a full on Catholic upbringing. It wasn’t until I saw them framed as venerated dead, as ancestors, that they clicked for me.

Turns out that the saint our family has looked to the most in the past is Saint Christopher. I inherited two small medallions of Saint Christopher a million years ago and both of them surfaced again this year after being lost in the bottom of drawers and boxes.

Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers, is sometimes depicted with the head of a dog. This connects him to Hermanubis and, all of a sudden, here we are back with Mercury. Hermes Chthonios is leading me back to my ancestors. (Incidentally, Saint Christopher’s feast day is 25 July.)

So after years of basically ignoring my ancestors, I created a dedicated altar for them. And, after years of feeling weird about putting up photos and making offerings of food, I finally gave that a go too. My goodness, were they just waiting for that. The immediacy and intimacy of connecting with your ancestors is something I did not expect. It’s beautiful.

Not everything is sunshine and roses, though. As a white person with mostly English ancestry, there’s a lot of terrible stuff that needs to be acknowledged and accepted. Working with my ancestors has brought that into sharper focus for me. I am much more aware than ever of my privilege.

On a spiritual level, there is a lot of trauma associated with the absence of ancestor veneration in my family. I’ve been working pretty consistently with my family lines for a few months now but there is still a sense of more people waiting desperately just outside the candlelight for the help of the living. But the dead, my dead anyway, are patient and they’re overjoyed to have finally gotten someone to the point where I am now.

And then on a personal level, there is my ancestor who, in life, was not a nice person at all. So far I’m leaving him well off to the side. I hope eventually there may be healing, because if he had not done the terrible things he did to those closest to him, I would not be here and nor would my family be as prosperous as it is now. But that’s a lot to try and reconcile. So, for now, I’m growing and regrowing my relationships with others of my family and they are some of the most beautiful and loving souls I have ever encountered.

For additional praxis, because I really want to go deep with this death-work, I strung a custom set of prayer beads to use to pray for my ancestors and the dead more generally.

The beads are obsidian and turquoise, with 99 in the main loop and 21 in each of the 7 tassel strings. Nine, seven and three are significant numbers for me. Each tassel string ends with a different charm that represents an energy or concept:

  • a feather for peace
  • a rose quartz heart for love
  • a piece of turquoise for healing
  • a cross for faith
  • an owl for wisdom
  • a labyrinth for the way (in the sense of the opposite of being lost)
  • and a tree of life for family.

I use these as focuses for prayer, either sending them to my ancestors or the dead who may need one or more, or to request my ancestors share them with me and my living family. I discovered that they can also have a divinatory use. Depending on who I’m praying for, one of the charms may activate or jump out to show the specific area of need.

After I first made the prayer beads, I took them to the local cemetery and spent an hour or so just praying for all the dead who were there. I found the experience to be incredibly calming. I had an unexpected and overwhelming feeling of rightness and almost a sense of coming home.

And then, just as I finished, an angel appeared.

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