My magic practice is deeply rooted in personal ancestry. My ancestors are primarily Swedish and Irish, and I work primarily within those folk traditions. I believe this is important, and in this blog I will explain a few ways you can start to invite that energy into your own magic practice. I do this for a few reasons –
First, my body is a combined effort of my direct ancestors. Every one of them literally exists in my DNA. This makes them a part of who I am.
Second, my ancestors tend to have my best interests in mind. A nature spirit or a god tends to have their own agenda, and I liken to hiring a professional. The cost will certainly be higher to work with them, and I will want to assume they aren’t interested in what I want unless they are being convinced to. A direct ancestor is more likely to genuinely care (see reason one.)
Third, this is what MY ancestors did as well. Most animistic traditions throughout the world believed in and employed ancestor work and connection as a part of their spirituality. We certainly see this as being true for the Swedes, who make up the majority of my ancestors, but I have seen the same reflected across the globe in the form of offerings, prayers, and celebrations directed at ones ancestors.
I will note – I do not directly worship spirits. I am interdependent in spirit work, rather than codependent, and I apply the same importance regarding boundaries that I would with a human relationship. I do not support unhealthy codependency with spirits, and I do not recommend my clients doing so.
Learn the Language of your Ancestors
“I’m supposed to learn a new language?” you may be thinking. The answer is yes, and no. It’s absolutely reasonable to feel daunted by the prospect of learning an entirely new language as an adult – if your ancestors were settler colonizers in America, they were asked to do the same. Learning a language brings up a lot of feelings, poses challenges, and simply may not feel intuitive to you. That is absolutely ok.
Regardless, I challenge you to embrace the aspects of this endeavour that cause you the most discomfort. I myself have spent the last six months learning Swedish, and I am only now able to pick words and phrases out of the air. More often than not I find myself enveloped in shame, anxiety, and fear when faced with actually applying my new found language skills.
However, if you are embarking on an ancestral practice, it is important to understand the basics of the language your ancestors spoke. I recommend starting with one cultural lineage, if you have a few that you feel called to, as not to get totally confused. It’s important to be able to understand the general structure and basic words of these languages for at least two reasons – you can speak to your ancestors in their native tongue, and you can better understand their metaphors when they speak to you.
This second point is especially important. Cultural context creates deeper subtext when you’re conversing with your ancestors. While you may understand them just fine in english, when the spirit of your great great great great grandmother tells you about a snake, for example, how can you be sure she’s speaking about the animal? It’s possible for her “snake” is a type of slang for biological sex, or a garden spirit. She may mention a “hill,” but perhaps she’s trying to speak with you about a burial mound. These aspects should be clarified before you interact with ancestral spirits.
Reflect on the Entirety of their Spiritual Practices in Life
Many of my clients have experienced what they might consider an abusive relationship at the hands of the Christian church, and find christianity to be a trigger. This is completely understandable, and I’ve noticed for US born practitioners fairly common. There is a huge internal drive to reject christianity entirely, and leave it in the dust behind oneself.
That being said, when you call in your ancestors, were they Christians?
What was their relationship to their spirituality?
The reality is that if they are of European ancestry, they may very well have been christians. You can try to work around that, explain to them your own spiritual realizations, but more likely than not they are set in their ways. In fact, they may feel a deep love for their christian roots. I’ve not experienced ancestors being particularly judgemental of me (I have gotten comments from ancestor spirits in the past on my boyish appearance, but more inquisitive than invalidating.)
So, whatever your personal history is with Christianity, I suggest you have an open mind. Be prepared to discuss aspects of your spirituality both in and out of a christianized context, and keep in mind – you invited them in, they are your guests, and it’s important to treat them with that level of respect.
Explore a Folk Art of Your People
This I find particularly important. I’ve realized that many Swedish-Americans don’t properly realize the overwhelming importance folk art has had in Sweden for centuries. It is through the song, dance and artistic expression of our ancestors that they truly feel at home in our lives.
I live in a modern city and a modern apartment. I’m aware of what a strange place this is for my ancestral spirits, who dutifully protect and work with me. As a point of respect, I do what I can to fill my house with folk art, figurines, and listen to the songs they would have heard and known. It is a simple gesture, but keeping the spirits happy is important.
Replace Appropriation with Ancestral Practice
This can feel like a challenge to a lot of descendents of settler colonizers, who’s families left their home and settled elsewhere. While my ancestors brought pieces of their culture – Dala horses, Sankta Lucia Day, and pepparkakor – as a spiritual person it’s not always clear what magical tools and procedures are appropriate for me to use.
At this point, you are likely well aware that white sage, sweet grass, and palo santo are connected to Indigenous American traditions and closed practices. If you are not of these groups, and not invited by traditional Indigenous practitioners to partake in using these tools, you should not. I am of the opinion that you are not only being disrespectful, but inviting the wrath of the nature spirits and spirits of the dead who have been so mistreated on US soil.
So, it is important to look into alternative magic practices. If you can find a magic practice that is culturally connected to your lineage that is a great way to go (such as burning mugwort or juniper for nordic peoples.) If that’s not an option for you, look for practices that aren’t closed or herbs that you know existed throughout Europe. It may take some research, but any good magic practice should evoke a sense of dedication, adaptability and diligence.
I hope you enjoy these first steps! As always, ask questions, seek results, and dig deeper than you thought you could. Ancestor work can be very powerful and create incredible internal change. For those who feel stuck on a “first step” – simply light a candle, and invite in a spirit from your lineage who brings only positive blessings.