Ancestor Work is Easy – 4 Steps to Building Community With Your Dead

Wow! We’re already to post number 3 in this ancestor work series. So far I have talked about how ancestor work helps enchant and heal the world and how ancestor work can help you create a deeply magical and personally authentic spiritual practice. Today I’m gonna talk about HOW to ACTUALLY DO ancestor work! FINALLY!

Photo by Micael Widell

I take the same approach to my ancestor work practice that I do in all my spiritual work. This approach is grounded in animism and folk magic. What does that mean?

First, let’s talk about animism. Animism is the idea that all the things – animals, plants, minerals, spirits, etc. – that we encounter have a soul, personhood, sovereignty, agency. Animism is a perspective that honors the personhood and sovereignty of all the beings we encounter, both human and other-than-human. (Check out this podcast if your curious to learn more about what animism is and how it works!)

Now, let’s consider folk magic. All magic speaks to a desire for change to some level. By its nature folk magic is a magic that requires no fancy tools, no particularly special education or lineage. Folk magic springs from you, the ancestors, and the land. Folk magic is a folk art and like folk art it is the traditional practice of a region or a community. It is magic as an art, not a set of rules, but a craft acquired through practice and cunning. It is rooted in community, in shared practices, shared at kitchen tables and over shared work. It stems not only from conversations between friends but also from conversations with elders, the land, plants, and ancestors. Folk magic matters because it flows from your own authority, your own sovereign intuition/knowledge, made into ritual practice through shared community and conversation. (Wanna learn more about folk magic? Check out my e-book, Finding Your Folk Magic!)

What does that mean for starting an ancestor work practice? A few things! It means that:

  • The ancestor spirits you’re working with are persons – they have souls, their own prerogative and desires, their own capacity for growth and change and healing.
  • This practice doesn’t have to be fancy or full of expensive spell ingredients, shiny + IG-worthy altars, etc. It can be very simple.
  • Ancestor work is first and foremost relational. It is about building a relationship with your ancestors.

That’s means that the foundation of how to do ancestor work is to build a relationship with your ancestors. So, how do you actually build a relationship with your ancestors?

  1. Identify Your Why
    What sort of conversation do you want to have with your ancestors? Do you want to learn from them? Help them heal? Recover lost traditions? Something else? First, you gotta know why you’re approaching your ancestors. Take some time and journal about it – what is motivating you to seek connection with your ancestors? Pull some tarot cards about it, if you feel like it. If you’d like some questions to help you focus and refine your intention, get the FREE Journal Your Ancestor Journey prompts!
  2. Reach Out
    Once you’ve identified your why, it’s time to reach out and speak to your ancestors. This doesn’t have to be fancy. Light a candle and address them. Write them a letter and fold it up into a paper boat and set it afloat on your nearest body of water. Whatever strikes your fancy. So how do you actually start this conversation? Say ‘hello!’ to your ancestors. Sit down – at an altar, by a window as the sunsets, in front of a candle, beneath a tree your ancestors would have appreciated or next to a flower that they might have cultivated. You can just reach out and say hey, or you can go ahead and express any wishes or desires you have for connecting with your ancestors or you can ask any questions you have. Go ahead and have a conversation. It might sound silly, and it is at first, but it becomes easier with practice.
  3. Listen
    And then you listen. As a relational practice, ancestor work is a listening practice. It requires listening to your ancestors, yes, but also, to your body, your self, your intuition. And this kind of listening? It takes PRACTICE! Many of us, most of the time, tend to listen rather passively. But this listening is a listening that is deeply intent and focused. In this kind of listening you’re listening to the silence to hear what arises from it.
    So, first you listen, listening is the beginning. And if listening is where it STARTS, the work actually happens IN CONVERSATION. And that conversation is a skill, too. It is a skill of working up the courage to ask, and working up the wisdom and the gumption to ask the right questions.
  4. Integrate it. Rinse and Repeat.
    And once you’ve asked your questions and once you’ve heard the answer, accepting what you’ve heard can be its own challenge. We’re trained not to trust our gut responses, in fact, we’re often encourage to ignore them. So, while it may be a challenge, I encourage you to try. Try to trust it. Trust is built by trusting. Through slow tentative baby steps.

If you’re someone who LOVE the idea of connecting with your ancestors but maybe some of your recent ancestors were bad or complicated people and it just feels like way too much to dive straight into that deep-end. That’s ok! There are lots of other ancestors you can connect with! Remember in the last paragraph where I said you can sit by a tree or flower as a way to connect to your ancestors? Well, you can connect to that tree or that flower AS AN ANCESTOR, TOO! As Jenny Odell notes in nature is “…witness to that which precedes it.” Nature is an ancestor themself. We can return to the lost stories of history when we talk with nature. We find the rhythm of the spiral, of the web of connection in our actions when we talk with nature. It might seem silly, but it can be profound.

Ancestor work doesn’t have to be complicated. There’s no need for fancy tools or ingredients or extensive rituals. Your ancestors were human. You simply need to build human relationships with them.

Ready to go deeper into ancestor work? Over the next few months I’ll be sharing weekly blog posts about the what, why, and how of ancestor work. Stay tuned by subscribing to the FREE Liminal Letters newsletter! Or if you can’t wait to get started download the FREE Journal Your Ancestor Journey journal prompts to help you get started establishing your practice! Or book an ancestor tarot reading with me and get one-on-one guidance for beginning your ancestor work journey!

Other Posts in the Ancestor Work Series:

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