For this essay, I was asked to elaborate on the Ancestors of hearth and heart which I only just touched on in the original essay, as well as explain why we honour the Kindred.
The Three Kindred are interwoven, together and with the Three Hallows, at the heart of Ár nDraíocht Féin’s Indo-European view of the cosmos as I understand it. The Ancestors dwell within the Underworld and are reached through the gate of the Sacred Well, the Gods and Goddesses dwell in the Upperworld and hear us through the gate of the Sacred Fire, and the Spirits of the Land live in our own world where the gate of the Sacred Tree sends our voices to them.
The ancestors have been, rather counter-intuitively perhaps, the most distant of the Kindred for me. I think that there are two explanations for this. The first is the general Western movement towards a more nuclear view of family. The second is more personal, which is that I never really knew any of my grandparents. My father’s parents died when I was very young such that I have only the fuzziest of memories of them, and my father had his own reasons to rarely talk about them. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was still young. This left only my maternal grandfather whom I saw infrequently and mostly only remember as a chain smoking, whiskey swilling old crank who had no use for his grandchildren and who in any case passed away when I was still a young man. It seems no wonder to me, then, that I have always felt disconnected from my ancestors.
These issues may not have been so difficult to manage if I could at least say that my ancestry is firmly rooted in my chosen hearth culture (Celtic). The disconnect could then simply be seen as a temporal interruption within a lineage. However this is not the case; my paternal ancestry is entirely Finnish and my ancestry on my mother’s mother’s side is entirely Germanic. It is only from that crank of a grandfather that I get my Celtic bloodline.
As a result of these difficulties, I have had to work pretty hard to form a personal relationship with the ancestors. For those of my blood, I have been doing so by keeping items that belonged to them on my hallows altar, by engaging in genealogical research, by asking my parents to speak of them, by reaching out to them in ritual, and to a lesser degree through meditation; I have a Phillip Shallcrass book which includes a lesson for an ‘ancestor tree’ meditation which I have found to be quite effective. Perhaps the best way I have found to connect to them has been through photographs; when my aunt passed away five years ago my mother, sister, and I found a trove of old photos in her house and spent a long evening looking through them and discussing who they were and what they were doing.
Beyond the Ancestors of my blood and bone, I do always try to honour those of my hearth and heart. The former refers to the Pagan Celtic Ancestors from whom I draw much of the wisdom of my chosen hearth culture; the Celtic peoples who lived in the pre-Christian period and who worshipped the Old Gods, crafted marvellous items, and told the old stories. The latter, the Ancestors of heart, refers to those who have passed on and whom I hold dear; these include the departed elders of the modern Pagan movement, inspirational heroes, and dear friends.
As far as the nature of the Ancestors, I see them as the Mighty Dead who have great wisdom which they are by and large willing to share with their descendants. And so in ritual I typically making offerings of ale to them and ask for their guidance. Occasionally during the offerings phase I will ask them to welcome in as ancestors any newly departed friends or loved ones in the community.
In comparison to the Ancestors, I have found the Spirits of the Land to be easier to contact and yet much harder to communicate with. Unlike our ancestors, these Kindred have entirely alien minds. It is generally not too difficult to appease them and thereby hope to gain their favour, but working with them is an entirely different matter. For instance the faery folk I will leave offerings to, generally of wine and honeyed bread and especially on Midsummer’s Eve, but I am far too wary of them to yet ask of them any boons.
There is one Nature Spirit that I have been working on forming a relationship with, which is the White Hart, of course. The Hart is the guide to the dark, secret, heart of the forest where the Mysteries of the Goddess are to be found. I have sought the Hart through magic and mysticism, and am slowly working on building him a wonderful outdoor shrine.
Other than the White Hart, the Spirits of the Land are great in number and diverse in type. Our Indo-European fore-fathers identified a vast array of them: the Sidhe, nymphs, satyrs, leprechauns, goblins, trolls, dragons, dryads, mermaids, the list goes on and on. These are the Old World spirits, although many of them have followed our ancestors across the waters. Then there are the Spirits of the *this* Land, those which were identified by the natives. Some we know of by an animal name; buffalo, coyote, fox, raven. Then there are some which are very far more alien such as the Wendigo and Thunderbird. Although they do not make up the stories of our Indo-European ancestors, we live and walk and practice on their lands and so we must give them due honour as well.
We give the Spirits of the Land this honour during ritual with invocations and offerings. My offerings are typically edible things that come naturally from the land; seeds, nuts, and fruit, although as mentioned earlier I also sometimes offer man-made stuffs such as bread and wine to the Fae.
As far as my own locality goes, I mentioned in my Nature Essay that I live on twelve acres of Carolinian forest ravine land . Although there are some paths though it, it is mostly wild and uninviting towards humans, with thick rose brambles, dense pine groves, frenetic webs of vines, creeping poison ivy, and a creek whose alternating flows has created steep banks. I have been trying to feel out the spirits in this place, and have discovered a couple of places where I can feel the energy of some great hidden spirit. I have yet to determine how to, or indeed if I even should, interact with these spirits however.
Finally we come to the subject of the third of the Three Kindred; the Shining Gods and Goddesses. On this topic I do not want to delve too deeply into my personal relationship with these beings since this will be the primary focus of my next essay, on my spiritual practice. I will, however, discuss my evolving understanding of the nature of the gods, however.
It is hard to articulate this evolution, although I suspect that it is common amongst Neo-Pagans. It may be easier for the younger generations, fortunately for them, who were not coerced into reciting The Lord’s Prayer every morning at school, but for my generation and those that came before me even if our families did not attend church every Sunday we were still inculcated with Christianity at every turn. Yes, we read the stories of the gods of the Norse and the Greeks, and they spoke to us on some deep level that the Bible never reached, but at the same time we were told by our teachers and parents that they were just myths — they weren’t real.
To make matters more difficult, when one is indoctrinated into a culture of monotheism it tends to limit the possibilities for belief even if one disavows the ultimate being of the predominate religion. For some, another type of monism may take the place of “God/YWH/Allah” but for most people atheism is the only alternative that seems to make sense. The road from monotheism back to polytheism is hard indeed. So, when I was introduced to modern Paganism via Wicca back in the 80′s at age 19, even though I felt the call of the gods I still felt more comfortable perceiving them as either archetypes or personifications rather than real beings unto themselves. It has taken me much of my adult life to peel away those artificial layers and return to the Gods and Goddesses of my ancient ancestors.
But I have finally arrived at the point where I see the Shining Ones as my ancestors once did, as individual entities limited in time and space but with great power and sublime personalities. I honour them both personally, as I shall discuss in more detail in my next essay, and in ritual. In ritual we generally call upon all of the gods who are willing to attend, and to which I usually offer wine, as well as the Deities of the Occasion, whose offerings tend to be richer and as appropriate as possible.
Why do we honour these three Kindred? Within my Grove, we have adopted a standard set of phrases which we use as part of our invocations which explain why we call upon them; we honour the Ancestors to show our respect for all that they have done for us in the past and so that they might grant us their wisdom and guidance; we honour the Spirits of the Land to acknowledge that we as humans have built our dwellings and fields upon their Land and so that they might grant us their aid and their magic; we honour the Gods and Goddesses to show that we are their humble children and so that they may bestow their blessings upon us. In other words, we give to the Kindred so that they may give.
I would like to conclude with a note that the lines between the Three Kindred can sometimes be blurred. As mentioned, great ancestors can be deified, and for certain great and individual Nature Spirits the differences that set them apart from the Gods can be subtle. The delineation is in some ways artificial, but well suited to the limited grasp of the spirit and spiritual world that humans have.