The Ancestors, those Mighty Dead who went before us and who now dwell in the Underworld, have been the Kindred with which I have struggled the most. While this difficulty started as the common fear that my Christian recent-ancestors would dislike being called upon, and then shifted to the problem of ignorance of my family tree, ancestor worship eventually became far too real and far too visceral for me to feel comfortable with it. I have, however, recognized my difficulties as the result of a trauma and come to realize that worship of the Ancestors will lead to an eventual healing of past pain. I honor the Mighty Dead of my blood, heart, mind, and spirit: this includes my relatives, close friends, intellectual heroes, those dead who cross over to become deities, and pagans of the past.
My ancestors of blood include my older brother, who died when I was 19, and the grandmother I lost during my Dedicant Path studies: I added a new ancestor to my personal pantheon while I was learning about the ancestors, which makes them much more real. It’s hard to talk about my brother, even on paper, but I know that he is still with me, and I share a beer with him on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. I’ve never known much about my family tree, but I’ve started learning. I honor my Great-Grandfather McFarland, who was also a jewelry-maker and a trumpet player, and that mysterious Great-Great-Grandmother Piceau who adopted him. I’ve learned the my background is 100-percent northern European, probably of Frankish descent. Despite my Scottish name and Irish hearth culture, I have hardly any Scottish or Irish blood!
Ancestors of the heart and mind include those people I admire and whose influence on my life and work I celebrate. These include influences on me as a writer, those teachers who shaped my development, and the unknown folks who shaped the world I live in. My invocation of the Ancestors frequently includes the description, “You who beat the path that I might tread it.” The Ancestors are those who went before me and made my lifestyle possible. This includes Pagans and Neopagans, writers, women, and dreamers of all sorts. I feel connected to these Ancestors largely through my lifestyle: for example, I feel connected to the women of the past every time I use my cast iron cookware or work on my rag-rug, and I imagine honoring my Irish ancestors in the future with a retelling of some of their myths and legends.
I honor the Ancestors at my altar by keeping relics: a silver ring my great-grandfather made (which I have dedicated to my well), my grandmother’s engagement ring, a rose from my grandmother’s funeral, and a photograph of my brother and me in the mountains. While Samhain is the High Day associated with this Kindred, I try to honor my ancestors year round by making offerings and asking for their guidance, wisdom, and blessings. I live very near to where most of my recent relatives are buried, so I can take offerings to their graves and spend time with the land that now cradles them. In the future, I’d like to visit the ancestral lands of my heart (Ireland and Scotland), and I’d also like to learn more about my family tree.
The Nature Spirits are the Kin who share this realm with us and, as I see it, those realms alongside ours, unseen but parallel to our own world. They are the Sidhe, the genii loci, the wights, and the fae of all cultures, pixies and fairies and brownies and elves. They are also the spirits of the world we see around us: the soul of this tree, those birds in the canopy, the small furry creatures that scurry on the ground. They are the animating spirit behind every laughing brook and caressing breeze. In short, they are the spirits of every creature and force that share this world with us, and we honor them for their wisdom and beauty.
The Nature Spirits were of immediate interest to me when I started the Dedicant Path, and I could feel the foreign nature of the spirits around me in New Mexico. They were friendly, I think, but not what I’m used to, and while I never felt at home among the cacti, the waving aspens, and the shared water pouring from the acequia, I had a friendly accord with the spirits residing in the mountain village where I lived, but no true connection. Now that we’re back in Indiana, however, the spirits are familiar old friends: the spirit of the hardwood forests and the little brooks called me home when we lived far away. For me, the shape of the land and the trees themselves are the face of the Nature Spirits as a group, and I come to know the land through its forests. Here in Indiana, the sycamores speak to me with their mottled-white bark and golden autumn leaves, and they are trees that soothe me everywhere I go, like friends waving at me in a crowd of strangers.
In this realm, I’m working to find my animal ‘totem,’ or the spirit I can call to for inspiration or strength. I haven’t identified it yet. I’m a great animal-lover, and I have difficulty recognizing which animal spirit is currently guiding me. I’ve always loved horses, and I actually have a tattoo of a horse, but I’m not sure I feel called to name that my totem. I’ve been working some with birds lately, in honor of the barred owl who called (during the day!) at my grove initiation and the mockingbirds that sang at my wedding. This is work in progress, and I hope that continued meditation and time outdoors will help me identify my animal spirit.
Moving away from the spirits we see every day, I’ve always been fascinated by fairies, and have long lectured my husband on the necessity of being nice to them—and I lecture only partly in jest. The fairies are the spirit of mischief and laughter in the world, to me, whether they are represented as Victorian flower fairies or gnarled, savage beings who dwell in dark places. Their personalities cover as wide a range as their artistic representations, and they are a force to be respected and never treated lightly. While I keep a ‘fairy garden,’ it’s not a place for pets: it is a place to make offerings to any spirits who want them.
So how do I honor these varied and mercurial spirits? I make offerings to them during my devotionals, of course, as well as physical offerings to the birds, and I do my best to clean up our shared world by picking up trash when I’m hiking. I also call on them for inspiration and beauty, as they are behind many physical sources of beauty in our world. At Beltane and Midsummer, I make offerings to the fairies. I do my best to keep on their good side, as this world would be far less beautiful and fun without the spirits of nature.
While I’ve started each Kin’s section by attempting to define that Kindred, that’s harder to do for the Deities. They are the Shining Ones, associated with the Sky and Fire, those whose power and beauty is far beyond that of mortals, and they include Ancestors and Nature Spirits who have risen to widespread eminence and influence. It would be easy to stray into the quicksand of trying to define what the Deities are and how they function, tripping over the context for words like grace and divinity in a Neopagan religion, so I’ll sidestep that trap and focus on describing who the Deities are and why we worship them.
The Shining Ones are individual beings (or powers—insert nebulous noun of choice here), stronger, wiser, and more beautiful than humans, but neither omniscient nor omnipotent. They are distinct beings with traits that distinguish them from one another, personalities that include strengths and flaws, just like any other being in existence. While we know many of them through myth and legend, there are others whose names have been lost to the blank spaces of history, much of which is unwritten or written by Christians. We worship all the Deities, known and unknown, because of their power, their beauty, and the blessings they can give us.
As I’ve said, their power is not universal, but restricted to their individual spheres of interest and influence. While I might pray to Macha for physical prowess or protection, for instance, I would not ask her aid to end a drought: that simply is not her area of power. (I might however, ask her aid if she were one of my patrons, because my more general interests might fall into her realms of concern.) Furthermore, because the deities are individual beings with unique temperaments and preferences, I would not approach a strange deity and ask for aid, which would be akin to asking a stranger on the street to let me borrow their car. While that stranger might grant my request, they’re just as likely to ignore me or even report me to authorities. Conversely, I found in my High Day work that I needed to get to know deities before propping them on the Deity of the Occasion pedestal, or my rituals ended up feeling like a birthday party for a stranger. Because of these things, it’s imperative to develop personal relationships with the Deities.
To that end, I’ve been working over the past eighteen months to develop relationships with deities of my Irish/Celtic hearth culture through research, ritual, prayer, and meditation. My work has enabled me to forge a deep connection with several deities. Discovering Brigid is part of what called me to paganism, I believe, and I take great joy and comfort in the patronage relationship I have developed with her. My other patron, Manannán mac Lir, was unknown to me before I joined ADF, and I discovered him through trance work, meditation, and good old-fashioned research. I honor both my patrons in my devotionals, but I also make offerings to all deities, known and unknown, named and unnamed. My patrons are simply the deities to whom I am closest and with whom I have, for the moment, a strong working relationship: it’s the difference between a coworker and a true friend. I honor other deities as Kin I would like to work with and know better in the future. In High Day and other rituals, I honor deities suited to the occasion or to the working.
Developing connections with a multitude of Deities was, for me, one of the most exciting parts of the Dedicant Path. I was raised Catholic, but I never had a strong relationship with Jesus, Mary, or any of those folks. I always believed very strongly in the Divine, but I never felt comfortable with the definitions offered me. I loved learning about saints and I loved the notion of having ‘specialized’ divine powers on my side, and the thought of developing a truly personal relationship with the divine enraptured me, but I quickly learned that that style of worship was ‘wrong.’ Coming to a religion where hard polytheism is encouraged felt like coming home.