Honoring Your Ancestral Gods and Goddesses
Choosing a God and Goddess
When beginners come to the pagan path, the first thing they typically want to know is how to choose a god and/or goddess. This isn't necessarily the first thing you have to know, but it can definitely help you begin your spiritual journey. Often, the experienced pagans will tell the newbies to go with whatever god or goddess calls to them - whatever deity they feel the biggest connection to. For example, many women might feel a connection to Aphrodite or Diana. Perhaps the men are drawn to Odin. These are just examples, and while choosing a deity that you feel drawn to is perfectly fine and beneficial, as you move along on your spiritual path you should look further into your ancestors' gods and goddesses. We will explore the reasons why it is beneficial to work with your ancestors' gods in this article, as well as discuss how to begin this enlightening process.
How to Choose An Ancestral God and Goddess
Choosing an ancestral god or goddess isn't as difficult as it may sound, though it will require time and effort.
1. Get to know your ancestors.
You won't know how to choose an ancestral god or goddess if you don't know who your ancestors are. Typically the excuses for pagans not working with their ancestors include: "I don't know anything about my family", "I'm adopted", or "my family doesn't talk to me". These all seem like valid excuses not to speak to our ancestors, don't they? Wrong. If you don't know anything about your family, you can start by speaking with the eldest person in your family and asking them questions. You'd be surprised what that person might know - even if it's just a random story about an ancestor who died in the 1960s. Even if it's a rumor or family legend about where your ancestors originated. Whatever that person tells you, write it down. Talk to as many of your family members as you can - anyone who might know a history of the family. Grandparents. Great Aunts and Uncles. Even older second cousins or family friends. Just put in the effort, and you'd be surprised what information you find. Often people don't ask these questions. If you don't ask, you'll never know, right? Secondly, for those who are adopted, get your DNA tested. There are dozens of companies testing DNA now including Ancestry and MyHeritage and 23andMe. They sometimes have discounted rates around the holidays, so keep an eye on the prices if you are on a limited budget. Or ask for it as a present for your next birthday or Christmas. Once you know your DNA results, you can trace your heritage back to certain countries and regions. From there, you can dive into the history and culture of the area. For example, if your DNA shows you are from Scandinavia - start studying up on the Norse and Viking peoples! If your DNA shows you're from China, learn all you can about Chinese history and culture. If you are estranged from your family, bite the bullet and begin talking to them again OR see the DNA suggestion from my previous sentence. Also, you can do a simple google search on your last name and mother's maiden name to determine where those names originated. For example, I would google "Wolfe last name origin" or "Giffin last name origin".
2. Work with your ancestors.
What does this mean to "work" with your ancestors? Cultures all around the world believe and participate in ancestor worship. It is calling on your ancestors and honoring your ancestors in your spiritual practice. You can set up an altar or a corner of a room and dedicate to your ancestors. Hang pictures of them on your walls. Give offerings to them based on what they might've liked while they were alive (anything from food to incense to flowers). Talk to them.
3. Find out what gods and goddesses they might have worshiped.
Now this might not apply to recent ancestors, as much of the world has been converted to the major religions such as Christianity and Islam, but you can go back in time to before the rise of the world religions and research the pagan gods of your ancient ancestors. Keep in mind when you discover the potential gods of your ancient ancestors, there is going to be a bit of guesswork and intuition that comes into play. What do I mean by this? At some point, much of the world was in a tribal state of community. And each tribe sometimes had their own god and goddess which was different from the next tribe's god or goddess. Depending on the time period and region, you might find a god or goddess that was widely venerated which can be the deity you choose to work with. Or the deity might choose you. For example, I researched extensively the gods and goddesses of Southern Germany, Switzerland, and Northern France, as my DNA is majority from this region and much of my ancestors are from these areas. I had a difficult time finding information on deities, as much of the information has been lost or watered down over time. After digging into the history, folklore, and fairy tales from that region I found my Mother Goddess. Or perhaps she found me.
Why Are Our Ancestors' Gods Important or Beneficial?
Working with our ancestors' gods is not only important, it is entirely beneficial to your spirituality and your life. This is because your ancestors' blood runs through your veins. Your ancestors' DNA combines and makes up your DNA. Not only does their physical traits transfer over to you in different ways, but their memories pass on to you, as well. No, you might not remember your ancestors' lives, but it is an inherent part of your four bodies - physical, mental, emotional, and ethereal. There is a literal blood link between you and your ancestors, which means that their gods are passed down to you through your DNA.
You can awaken your DNA memory by simply working with your ancestors. Research their origins - location, culture, religion, history, etc. Once you do this, you might discover you have awakened to your ancestral memory and an ancestral god or goddess might easily come through to work with you on a spiritual level. Think about this. You initially choose the goddess Sekhmet, an Egyptian lion-goddess of war, revenge, and ferocity; however, you have no Egyptian DNA or ancestors. Another person of Egyptian blood seeks to work with Sekhmet on a spiritual level. Who do you think will benefit more from this relationship? Sekhmet will see the direct correlation with the individual whose ancestors once venerated her in Ancient Egypt and gravitate towards that person. It's NOT racist. It just makes sense. This isn't to say that this goddess would deny a person of non-Egyptian descent, it's just pointing out the benefits of one who may be of Egyptian descent.
Another benefit of choosing one of your ancestors' gods is that sometimes obscure gods and goddesses who haven't been recognized in hundreds or thousands of years might be more willing to help you since you are one of few who actually address them. They might have been forgotten in the annals of time, and UP pops little ol' you! You've built an altar for this obscure god, you've researched your ancestors' beliefs about this obscure god, and now you are trying to honor this god in your own way and bring your ancestors' memory alive. How excited and willing to help would you be if your family forgot about you for hundreds of years than suddenly some kid decides to honor and talk to you out of nowhere? You can see the benefits of this relationship with obscure ancestral gods and goddesses. There's a lot more out there than you could ever imagine. And they're waiting for SOMEONE...ANYONE to remember them.
A benefit of choosing one of your ancestors' gods or goddesses is that sometimes obscure deities who haven't been recognized in hundreds or thousands of years will be more willing to help you, since you are one of the very few who even address them!— Nicole Canfield
Arguments Against Working With Ancestral Gods
Some arguments against working with ancestral deities involve the person's heritage. I made it seem simple above when discussing how to start working with one's ancestors, but sometimes it's difficult to decide which ancestors to focus on. Why is this? Because the majority of people on this planet have heritage from many different places and cultures. So how do you decide which flock of ancestors to work with? If you can't figure this out, you won't be able to choose an ancestral god or goddess. The choice is up to you whether you focus on the majority of your ancestors and their ancient beliefs or try to include a god or goddess from differing ancestors' cultures and regions. Yes, it could get sticky, but you will figure it out eventually. And your ancestors will be there to guide you.
To some this is a deeply controversial topic, working with ancestral gods and goddesses, as it seems to denote the label of "racist" to those who don't understand the deeper purpose. Why is it racist to honor your heritage by working with your ancestors and their ancient beliefs and history? No matter what your heritage is, it shouldn't be considered racist to honor your ancient origins - be it indigenous African, indigenous American, Aboriginal, Celtic, Roman, Greek, Indian, etc. Be proud of who you are and be accepting of others who are also proud of who they are. And know that NO ONE in this world is of pure heritage (as some claim), unless their people have lived on an island or place completely separated from the known world. That being said, there are indeed racist pagan groups who use this knowledge for their own hateful and ignorant agendas. Be wary of anyone who tells you to be proud of who you are but degrades others who are different.
Another argument against choosing an ancestral god or goddess is that many people believe they are drawn to a deity because of a past life. Perhaps you feel you had a past life in Egypt and are drawn to the Egyptian deities. This could be true; however, don't completely ignore the fact that your ancestors' gods might be calling to you. Another possibility is that you had Egyptian ancestors that you might not know about. These are all things to consider. It might also be a possibility that we lived our own ancestors' lives in the past.
It's Totally Up To You
It's completely up to you what god and goddess you choose, as paganism is a liberating and personalized path to growth and connection with the divine. If you feel connected to your ancestors or a call from your ancestors, try incorporating your ancestors' gods and goddesses into your practice. If you feel no connection but feel pulled towards another culture's deities and practices, continue with this path but be careful to be respectful of another culture's precious ancient beliefs as they are fragile in a world that's been dominated by the Abrahamic religions for the past fifteen-hundred years or more.
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© 2018 Nicole Canfield