What is Ancestral Witchcraft? Intro to My Tradition, Beliefs and Practices
I’ve been on the path of a witch officially since I was fifteen years old. At least, that’s when I began calling myself a witch. But the dreams and spiritual experiences were happening long before the label. Now I’m 36, and still walking the narrow path of the witch and with pride. But my path has changed over the years and morphed into something I call ancestral witchcraft. My way isn’t going to be the way for everyone, but I figured I’d share it with you here, in case you feel a pull to work with your ancestors in your craft.
What is Ancestral Witchcraft?
I don’t know that I’d say I invented this term, but I haven’t seen much about it online or elsewhere. Ancestral witchcraft is a witchcraft tradition that focuses heavily on connecting to one’s ancestors spiritually and magically. While it seems many modern witches tend to honor their ancestors around Samhain, I prefer honoring my ancestors year-round. My own personal tradition, I feel, is similar in beliefs to many other indigenous practices; HOWEVER, my practice is different in a few ways.
Ancestral Witchcraft vs. Southern Conjure
Ancestral witchcraft relies heavily on the ancestors’ guidance, protection and aid in magical workings, similar to Hoodoo. But the difference is, where Hoodoo honors their ancestors (the people brought here from Africa and sadly enslaved), ancestral witchcraft is based on the practitioner’s personal ancestors of whom can be from any and every culture. I am not of that particular culture, so I do not claim to practice Conjure. Where Southern Conjure and Hoodoo are considered folk magic practices, ancestral witchcraft is considered a solitary witchcraft tradition. And to me, it’s more than a religion, it’s a way of life.
Ancestral Witchcraft Practices
Where other witches may evoke gods and goddesses, the ancestral witch relies heavily on his or her ancestors. This means prayer and daily communication with the ancestors. It also means when performing a ritual or casting a spell, the ancestral witch calls on his or her ancestors for aid. This isn’t to say the ancestral witch never calls on other deities or spirits, but his or her ancestors are the mainstay.
Divination and Talking to the Ancestors
When I need an answer to a question in life, I go to my oracle cards or runes. I look at my oracle cards and runes as direct lines to my ancestors – sort of like a telephone line. I’ve dedicated my oracle cards solely to my ancestors, so when I have a question I can lay down some cards and hear my ancestors’ message with ease. I know that it’s them talking to me because of the way they speak through the cards. Asking for your ancestors’ to come into your dreams is another method of communication that won’t fail you. And, truthfully, I don’t make ancestral prayer a big elaborate thing. I often just talk to them like I’d talk to my family members in real life.
Where some witches may have an altar dedicated to a god or goddess or the Universe, I keep my main altar dedicated to my ancestors. Photos, heirlooms, and offerings are kept on the altar. I refresh a cup of cool water daily, burn incense, and keep a bowl of herbal offerings on the altar. On special occasions, I also give offerings of flowers, fresh herbs, food and alcoholic beverages. By lighting a candle in their honor, I show them my gratitude.
Ancestral Witchcraft Holidays and Special Occasions
The older I get the more I place an emphasis on holidays and time spent with my family members. Even on holidays like Christmas and Easter, I invite my ancestors to the table. To the party. I ask them to be present and share in the celebration of special events like graduations, weddings, anniversaries, kids’ birthdays, etc. They are part of the family, so make them feel like they’re part of the family. In addition, research holidays your ancestors might have once celebrated and consider adding these traditions to your repertoire. I recently started honoring my Disir (ancestral female spirits in the Norse tradition) on Mother’s Night (Modraniht) by cooking a sacred meal and creating a gratitude simmer pot. Choose holidays that mean something to you and your own ancestors.
Your Ancestors’ Gods And A Note on Racism, Appropriation, and Backlash
I talk about researching and asking our ancestors’ gods to be part of our practice and lives. And I’ve had a lot of pushback from certain folks who believe it’s either racist, appropriative, or historically incorrect. In my experience, honoring my ancestors, be it from the recent past or distant past, includes honoring potential pantheons of gods we have record of them worshiping. Of course there’s a lot of room for debate if we are looking at it through a strict historical lens; HOWEVER, not everything in a person’s spiritual life has to be historically correct. And how do we know what happened a few years ago let along a thousand years ago if we ourselves weren’t there personally?
As for being racist, some say if you are from a “white” racial background, you have no business practicing ancestral witchcraft. That it’s racist and excludes other people from other cultures and backgrounds. Here’s the thing – I’m not appropriating if I’m honoring my own personal ancestors. And, in my opinion, there’s NOTHING wrong with walking MY path my own way. This is why I stay solitary. I make up my own tradition and my own rules. And you should too, if you feel the solitary way is right for you. All of that being said, here’s more on honoring your ancestors’ gods.
Connecting With Ancestors
You don’t have to know your ancestors’ names to work with them in your practice, though it does help if you have names. For a long time, I never called on my ancestors by name. Now, I have four particular maternal ancestors whose presence I feel in my life and I will call on these four ladies at any given time. I speak or pray their four names 3 times each to activate that line of communication. You can do the same. Learn more about how to connect with your ancestors here.
Building a Family Tree = Respect
If you have the ability to build a family tree online or on paper, do it! DNA kits help those who are adopted or estranged (just be prepared to deal with potential family secrets, etc.) Dig into your family’s history if at all possible. This shows you care about your ancestors. In many places in the world, ancestor worship is an integral part of daily life. In sects of Buddhism, if one’s ancestors are completely forgotten, they can turn into something called “hungry ghosts”. Don’t leave your ancestors hungry and forgotten. They will take care of you if you take care of them.
Ancestral Magick: Protection, Healing, Comfort
In times of need, my ancestors are always there for me. They are there for me when I don’t need anything. They fill my home and sacred space with healing and protective energies. When I cast cleansing and protection magick on my home, I invite my ancestors to fill my home with their guidance and protection. Their presence isn’t some intangible thing – I can feel it. It’s very real. I’ve often seen (spiritual presences) and smelled my ancestors’ presence (in the form of floral perfumes, food, etc.) Have you ever smelled your granny’s perfume out of thin air? That’s because it probably IS your granny. Acknowledge her presence and thank her.
The Ancestors Teach and Heal
Because you carry your ancestors’ DNA and blood in your veins, they are a real part of you and can heal you. You only have to ask for it and believe it will happen. They will comfort you in times of despair and sorrow, just call on them. They warn of impending dangers and teach lessons, as well. I’ve even been in situations where other practitioners were attempting to jinx or curse me. And my ancestors warned me by sending numerous signs. I was able to up my protection wards and break the practitioner’s attempts at harming me. All because of my ancestors’ watchful eyes.
Where To Start With Ancestral Witchcraft
Start slow. This tradition isn’t a race to the end of the family tree. It’s about building a relationship with your ancestors. A lifelong relationship and bond that won’t EVER fail you. Build a family tree. Get your DNA done (if you so choose). Write down names and cultures. Study your family’s origins. Set up an altar to honor your ancestors and talk to them daily. You’ll learn more and more as you walk the path. In the meantime, I teach ancestral witchcraft in our Otherworldly Oracle FaceBook group for FREE. You can join us here.