An Altar for the Ancestors!

day of dead

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” -Linda Hogan, Native American Writer

My ancestral worship began early this year, at the end of August actually. I was fortunate enough to be invited into a wonderful circle of women for an in-depth story telling ritual. Our commitment was to hear each others life stories, in full, with complete attention & awareness, without judgement or critique, hopefully, with love & compassion. There were six of us and the process took approximately 7 non consecutive weeks of meeting with one another for a three-hour period. I didn’t know these women well, it was definitely a stretch to share brutal truths amongst strangers and yet, from the very beginning, it was clear to me that the ancestors had been summoned and were indeed intrigued and listening…

Maybe it’s because the intention was to tell our stories from the beginning, from our births and ancestry to present day. Imagine! How would you be able to fully tell ones life story without an inadvertent homage to all those who have come before you? Thus, we wove our tales, week after week, outdoors, by a gentle creek, with the sound of bubbling and moving water, with benevolent breezes and more oft than not, the summer’s heat. In witnessing, hearing and holding each other stories, there were tears, there were sighs, there were gasps, there was outrage, there was shock, there was compassion, there was respect and most of all there was acknowledgement for six wild women and their passionate life journey’s.

In completion, we decided to build an ancestral altar thereby introducing our ancestors to each other. Afterall, we had just heard the guts and the glory of all these family lineages. We had opened closets, pulled out skeletons, called on ghosts all while declaring our sovereignty from lineage traumas, challenges, patterns, addictions and other inflicted pains. We had stated our truths to the four corners of the universe and we were ready to release and celebrate all that we had been through, in our time together as a woman’s circle, and in our lifetimes of collected stories.

altar

We began by laying a red velvet clothe on the ground at the base of a tree, perhaps it was symbolic of a world tree. We topped the red with a sacred & pure white clothe. We began placing our photos & memorabilia, items such as a Jewish star, A Cherokee poem, a Catholic rosary decorated the altar, which also included candles, incense, alcohol, chocolate, fruit, toys, clothes, crystals, bowls, feathers, jewelry, essential oils, flowers. We collectively adorned a space filled with beauty, with heartfelt prayers, in deep reverence, we built our group ancestral altar and we allowed that sacred space to sit under the tree for 9 long days and nights.

I imagine that our ancestors spoke, while they laughed, and drank, possibly they smoked, maybe they even gambled, they definitely danced and celebrated in a joyous manner. They were remembered! When the six of us eventually returned to break down the altar, it was a solemn affair, a drum beat sounded, the wind rustled around our feet, we made our goodbyes, like a quiet dawn of a new morning, we took our ancestral talismans home, and this ritual was declared complete.

“No one can be free who has a thousand ancestors” -LM Montgomery

dead

It is that time of the year now, Halloween, when the veils are thinning, that I consciously, purposefully and willingly acknowledge my ancestors. From All Hallows Eve through All Saints Day to All Souls Day (October 31- November 2), I celebrate all three days of Day of the Dead. I have written in great length and detail on this topic before, so as not to repeat myself, this Samhein season, I will simply share my process in building an ancestral altar.

Begin by clearing a space in your home or garden to create an altar, quite often a designated table top will do just fine. I like to ritually clean it with white vinegar prior to spreading a beautiful piece of ceremonial clothe atop your chosen altar space (this varies from tradition to tradition, some require white or red clothes, some require clothe with fringe… in all matters of the esoteric world, do what feels correct to you). Next, it is important to maintain a clean & clear space, free of clutter, thus malignant or unwanted spiritual forces will not be attracted to your home. Afterall, we wouldn’t invite Great Gram over to a dirty house. Before I bring anything to the altar, I clear my home with a strong smudging ritual of Belizean copal… I begin with black copal to dispel any darkness, then I end with the white copal, which welcomes the heavenly & angelic presence of my ancestors. (Note: any smudge of your preference will do… sage, sweatgrass, cedar, etc…).

copal

Now, consecrate your space with a prayer. Because I follow a Native American path blended with some old school pagaen worship… I welcome in the four directions by turning to the east with an offering of AIR (a feather) and say, “I show honor and respect to the ancestors of my mother’s side.” I turn to the west with an offering of water (a glass) and say, “I show honor and respect to the ancestors of my father’s side.” I turn to the north with an offering of earth (a crystal) and say, “I show honor and respect to the spirits that are known to me.” Finally, I turn to the south with an offering of fire (a candle) and say, “I show honor and respect to the spirits that are unknown to me.”

“To my ancestors, all those remembered, I honor you. To my ancestors, all those whose names have been forgotten, I honor you. To my ancestors, those who dust is scattered to the four winds, I honor you. To my ancestors, those whose bones lie within the Earth. I honor you”.. http://www.africaspeaks.com/reasoning/index.php?topic=2775.0;wap2-

It is now time to conjure up your ancestors and decorate the altar. Contemplate who you are inviting to the altar this year. If you are not adept in this sort of ritual, please use extreme caution in inviting any deceased family members who committed suicide or who died a traumatic death, or anyone who was emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive and/or those who had an unresolved substance abuse. These characters tend to bring disruptive energies to your life if they have not been assisted in an elevated crossing. Pets? Yes, you can welcome deceased pets. Living people with who you are disenfranchised? No, do not put a picture of a living person on the altar lest your bring some harm to their lives.

Old photographs, objects of memorabilia, flags, stones from their birth country, dirt from a graveyard, jewelry, names written on paper, official documents, alcohol for the drinkers, tobacco for the smokers, family heirlooms, money, food, fruit, candy and lastly, flowers are a MUST. Some traditions insist on white flowers, white candles and white everything! Being from Caribbean ethnicity, I use lots of color!

ancestors

Prostrate yourself in front of this beautiful creation with a commitment to communicate with these wonderful relatives over the next days (or whatever time frame you deccide on, I leave my altar up til after the Winter Solstice holidays). Bring them food, refresh their water, direct prayers at them, share their stories with your living relatives. They are pleased to be called on, they would love to assist you in the current dilemmas of your life. Celebrate them! Remember them! Honor them! They are the road map that has led you to the place you currently find yourself in your own life.

We all will die, maybe we will be remembered, by a future ancestor, possibly our story will be told!

Death

Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps. Continue reading

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The Ancestors, the Maya & the Calendar

children's book

children's book

 

It’s that time of the year when I climb into the attic and find my two boxes of family photographs.  I’ve never bothered sorting these photos into albums, they are simply a hodge podge mess of hundreds of photos stored in small boxes.  I once again promise myself, as I do each year, to file these ancestral photos separately so I wont have to go on this annual hunt for faces that have long since passed this world.  Even as I promise myself, I come to a realization, I actually love this ritual which takes me down my life’s memory lane.  Slowly, I flip through each photo after photo in search of my daughter, my mother, grandmother, great-grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, animals, family homes, and anything else that has come and gone. Sometimes I even pull out people, not dead, but long-lost in my life.  I am preparing myself to build our family’s annual ” Day of the Dead Altar”.  I gather flowers, candles, incense, chocolate, perfume & oils, tobacco,  and alcohol as I arrange the photographs into a beautiful table display which depicts my genealogical lineage.  Voila!!!  The ancestors and I are all together again.

In the Mayan belief system, humans and everything in our world are sung into existence from the Otherworld.  The Otherworld is where the ancestors live as spirits.  The spirits love to watch humans with their bodies.  They love that there are hands with which to paint, draw, write, bake, cook, massage, and farm.  They love that there are feet with which to walk, dance, or run.  They love that humans have bodies with which to feel and make love.  They, the spirits, are mesmerized with our existence, so they continue to compose creation songs which sing the world continually into being.  Interestingly enough, I remember reading about an African village where upon birth, a musician had to hear and capture the emerging child’s birth song.  Then he would teach the song to the whole village.  That song would be sung to the child throughout their respective life, but especially in the tough times that required discipline.  The purpose of the song was to always remind the child who they were.  The song would lead the child back to their path and purpose if they had strayed too far away.  There are many shamans that heal and restore health to a body with the power of song and sounds.

When we arrive here, on the Earth, via the birth canal, we are beseechingly overwhelmed by the colours, the beauty and the human forms on this Planet.  When we arrive, unbeknownst to us, we have been coded with a purpose and we have been fully equipped to fulfill that mission.  As many of you are aware, Mayans are born under certain glyphs/signs and tones that reveal their life purpose.  Arriving souls subsequently develop an acute amnesia regarding where they have come from and how they were created.  We will not “remember” the Otherworld in detail until much later in life as we begin to draw near to that lovely place again.   That is why in the Mayan belief system, the elders are revered for the wisdom they impart within the community, for it is these very elders that hold the necessary information regarding the Otherworld.  The Maya are born with original debt, unlike the Christians who are born with original sin.  It is the Mayan elders role to hear what the Otherworld is saying, what it is sometimes demanding, and to convey these messages.  The elders are a constant reminder to every one of their debt and their inherent obligation to pay their debts.

It is crucial to understand that there is a delicate balance that must be maintained between our world and the Otherworld.  We actually make an agreement, a binding contract, with our ancestors to remember them and most importantly, to remember to feed them once we are on the Earth.  We must feed the ancestors the things that they love.  The ancestors love art & beauty, they love eloquent speeches or exquisitely composed music, they love hand-made meals or objects of interest, they love dances and parties, they love altars and flowers and quite frankly, the ancestors love to see humans lose their minds with alcohol when used ceremonially for ritual or celebration, and they love deep expressions of heartfelt emotions.   In an ancient Mayan home, (pre-/Christopher Columbus) you would consistently find a house altar containing idols, icons and mementos to the ancestors.  On all festivities, the ancestors would be welcomed and ritually fed.  At all difficult moments, the ancestors would be summoned and ritually fed.  The Mayans were more than aware that in order to live harmoniously, a fee was extracted, and that fee was the ritual foods being offered which must hold all of life’s beauty.   It is no surprise to the Maya that in our present times, the world at large is so dangerously unharmonious.  There are centuries of unfed, starving ancestors.  It is no accident that 1 in every 6 person on the Earth is malnourished and dying of hunger.

photo by suzanne barbezat

photo by suzanne barbezat

Our modern-day problems are compounded.  Not only do we have unfed ancestors, but we have ancestors that were not grieved to their death in a proper, beautiful burial manner.  This creates an exorbitant amount of entities and ghosts.  According to Martin Prechtel, an infamous Shaman from the Guatemalan Highlands (www.floweringmountain.com), the entities, ghosts and the unfed ancestors, cannot be ignored, left unfed, or displaced into a corner of Western civilization’s emotionally sick mind as mere superstition or nonsensical primitive religious beliefs.  The Shaman says the problem is real large.  They (entities, ghosts, ancestors) will extract their payment one way or the other, they will be fed.  They, comically enough, will feed on our psyche’s causing depression, lethargy and mental or emotional illnesses.  When they are done with the psyche, they will feed on our bodies, causing physical harm or illness.  When they are done with their immediate family member, they will feed on someone near and dear who the family member loves.  Wow!  Ignoring the ancestors can cause harm to ourselves and to others we love.  How profound!

ancestral altar

ancestral altar

Pretchel says that even in the most indigenous, balanced village, all humans actually wreak havoc on the world and offend the Otherworld.  It is the elders responsibility to point out how we have done our damage.  And if the damage is too large, then the village shaman is called upon to correct the delicate balance which has been disturbed.   Many years ago, I received a shamanic soul journey with Char Sundust (www.charsundust.com).  I sought out Char because I was having difficulty remaining in the present moment of life.  I was always running away from myself and anyone else who triggered off my deep emotional wounds.  Due to a childhood of ritual sexual abuse, I had learned to escape into various corners of my mind.  Char delved right into the problem and located my grandfather, the source of the problem,  in the Otherworld  (Yes, he had crossed because so many people loved him, grieved his death, and sent him to the Otherworld with glory and pomp.  Thank goodness.  Once back in the Otherworld, he understood his mistakes.)  Char was able to dialogue with him and have him communicate with me:  He came to me as a frigate bird, he was apologetic and promised to assist me on a path of  sexual empowerment.  He asked me to carry apologies to all his relations for the wrong he had inflicted.  This session was emotionally charged, tearful, deep and explosive.  One conversation, one heartfelt apology and years of abuse was forgiven.  He said he had been waiting to release his healing balm, but no-one had communicated (fed) him as of yet, so, in fact, he was feeding on his own son’s psyche, who was meanwhile sexually abusing his little daughter.  Was it Shakespeare who said, “oh, the tangled webs we weave” ?  All parts of my shattered soul were returned to me in this powerful healing session which Char facilitated.  I began to build my altars.

my altar

For the Maya, though, it is much more than building an annual altar.  ” Day of the Dead” is a Catholic custom coinciding with All Soul’s Day which was the conquerer’s compromise to the native pagans for all their ancestral worship.  The Maya’s constant communications with their ancestors was a daily, live and intricate relationship built on survival and interdependence.  We can liken it to one’s relationship with God.  They kept little ancestor altars in their own houses so that they could draw on the strength, knowledge and assistance of the ancestors at any time.  They kept these houses as a reminder of their daily debt.  Remember the Lord’s Prayer?  My new version:  ” Our Grandfather who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, deliver us  from evil, for Thine is the Kingdom and the Glory and the Power, forever and ever.  Amen”.  The ancestors actually are the Biblical concept of God the Father.  The ancestors created our world and continue to feed us, so we must feed them. It is pretty simple…

My mother died 21 years ago.  I have not felt her spirit around me much over those years.  Most recently though, my brother was coming to visit to introduce me to his fiance.  I pillaged through a jewelry box in search of a gift for my brother’s future wife.  I spied a beautiful gold ring from my mother with a “C” initial on it.  Since the fiance was named Christina, and my mother’s name Cynthia, I thought this would be a perfect gift.  I placed the ring on my finger and awaited an opportune time to give the gift.  That time never arrived.  From the moment my mother’s ring and I merged, I magically conjured up her spirit and an ear full of information.  She kept telling me- “this wedding will never happen- do not give my ring away”.  She was so adamant, that, truly, I never gave that ring away.  One month later, my mother’s favourite brother, my Uncle came to visit.  He spied that ring up on my finger and had to manuever many of his own feelings about missing my mother.  My husband and I were in economical distress at the time of his visit.  “Hey”, he said at some point in his vacation, “did you ever go apply for your mother’s pension funds?”  Long story short, 20 years after my mother’s death- I was receiving some long forgotten, unclaimed, magic money, just in time!

cemetery caye caulker, belize

cemetery caye caulker, belize

On October 31, 2009, Halloween, in Latin American countries, some family member will head to the graveyard to clean the family gravesites. The Halloween children will don their costumes and sing, “trick or treat, money or sweet, give me something good to eat”.  The Wiccans/Pagaens will celebrate the veil being so thin, Samhain, and commence to communicate with their dead.  On November 1, 2009, All Saints Day, churchgoing Catholics will attend mass and recite their Hail Mary’s as they think of their most revered saints and their dead relatives who have made it to Heaven.  On November 2, 2009, All Souls Day and Day of the Dead, families will convene at the cemetery with marigold flowers, toys, candy, incense, tequila and food.  Like I said, the ancestors just love a party.  In a traditional Maya home, it will be another glorious day of life with the ancestors.

As we approach the Mayan Calendar end date and our own evolutionary transcendence, I have to state bluntly, if you have residual shadows, entities, ghosts, past hurts and pains left unprocessed within your family tree; it will be very difficult to craft your crucial and necessary body of light, your merkaba.  “In order to realize and plant the seeds of a new worldview, our bodies and souls need more than the human world” (Geoff  Stray, Shaman).  That’s right, we need the ancestors.  Just as Mother Earth is currently undergoing her own earth changes (which will begin to intensify now) in an effort to shed unwanted emotional debris, darkness and heavy vibrational energies, we must do them same (as within, so without; microcosm to the macrocosm).  We must be free and clear of all emotional baggage, despair, fear, anger, frustration and depression, especially in regards to our genealogical lineage.  Turn around and face your ghosts, those frightening entities and all your ancestors.   Any grievance from the past can be healed right now! I know there are so many terrible and awfully painful stories in this world.  I have swallowed and digested enough of the global sorrow to be empathetic.  There does come a time though, when we must transcend the dark ages with grace, when our horror stories must be transformed to touching works of art (watch “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”).

In the psychological clearing work called Family Constellations, the therapist emphasizes the importance of healing all family member’s past actions; events like suicide, sexual, emotional or physical abuses, squandering of inheritance funds, incessant gambling, manipulation, alcoholism, fraud, corruption, greed, murder, adultery, etc…   All past actions of our relations left unhealed will revisit us or someone we love right here in our present destroying lives.  I have been told that all conscious souls are completing their lifetime karmas’ at this moment- cleaning up, clearing out.  Again, our light bodies have to be feather light. Build your ancestral altars and don’t bother to dismantle them.  Call on everyone who has been a part of your biological make-up to join you at a family council meeting in the ethers and begin the difficult discussions that need to take place- heal, forgive, release, let go, resolve, unravel, unwind, purge any difficult emotions- come to peace with your families, your ancestors; feed them with your life! Know that they are the source that sustains you or maims you here on Earth.  If situations are too rigidly stuck, call in a shaman to help clear the debris and restore balance.  Do this now so you can ascend!  We are at five minutes to midnight on the Mayan Calendar, be crystal clear, in the new Earth paradigm, only the healthy minds are invited and you will be too heavy if you haven’t resolved your ancestral dilemmas.  I leave off wishing you a very Happy All Souls Day/Day of the Dead.

Isa's flower

Isa's flower

Navajo

concludes this post by using her birth name,

Denise Camille Fuller,

so the ancestors can find her-

and dedicates this article to her gorgeous fairy daughter that graced her life for two short years,

Shine On,

Isabella Camille Roggema-Fuller,

and to a special benefactor-who was stuck in the etheric shadows but now can cross-

see you both in the Otherworld!