Posted Under Paganism & Witchcraft

Discovering My Ancestors

Candle on Dark Background

Have you ever watched a little child who is just learning to walk? The child will stagger around, but parents and other adults make sure that the child doesn't get hurt. Very quickly the child learns to be fearless. The expression on the child's face is one of trust and joy as if nobody or nothing could possibly be a threat. The child knows that this will last forever.

Somewhere, there are some home movies of me with that expression. As with all children, as I got older, I learned that this innocence does not last forever. My father died when I was five. My mother had a breakdown and I was shipped off to relatives. Within a few months, my mother got her act together and my older brother and I moved back home.

I was very close to my immediate family, including my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. When my mother remarried, I became close to my step-father's family, too. But the years have not been kind. My grandparents have all gone on, and so have most of my aunts and uncles. A few years ago my mother suddenly died.

I was too young to know my great-grandparents, although my brother, older by five years, knew them well. My parents moved from our home in Chicago to Los Angeles when I was six months old, so I really didn't know most of my family.

A few years ago, I was teaching computers for a special, government-funded program at USC. Because of the nature of the program, even though I was working forty hours a week, I was technically a "part-time" employee, meaning I had no benefits, although I was being paid quite well.

About two years ago, while in between teaching sessions, I died. Paramedics brought me back to life, but I was in the hospital for two weeks. When I finally returned home, my life had dramatically changed.

I was certainly no longer that small babe. I was now faced with the fact of my own mortality and the realization that, indeed, one day I would die and be with my ancestors. While recovering, I made peace with the inevitability of my eventual death. But I realized that I had little first-hand experiences with my personal ancestors. All I had were some stories that my brother would tell and that my mother had shared before she died.

Over the next several months, a strong desire came up within me, a desire to know my ancestors. Not know about them, but actually experience them. I just had no way to do this. I was familiar with many rituals for getting in touch with ancestors or attuning with them, but that is not exactly what I wanted. In fact, I don't think I was even sure what I wanted.

I am very lucky to have met and been around some of the most important people in the occult and metaphysical communities. For over two decades I have been able to call Raven Grimassi both a teacher and a friend. A few months ago, I was reading his book, The Wiccan Mysteries, when I came upon a section which seemed to fit exactly what I needed. The section is called "An Ancestral Rite." The book says that "the purpose of this basic rite is to connect you with the spiritual currents that have been carried in your genetic makeup, aligning you with the ancestral memories sleeping within you." (p. 261)

It almost seemed that Raven had written this for me, although there was no way he could have known that this is what I needed. I immediately went about getting the items he suggested for the ritual:

  1. An oil (the book suggests pennyroyal oil, which is what I used).
  2. A candle. The book suggests a color associated with my ancestors, and I choose one that I had made. It was blue on one side and white on the other. This is to honor the Judaism of my ancestors.
  3. Incense. I used sandalwood. Raven writes, "The smoke of the incense should rise into the ether, 'carrying' your words into the astral plane." (p. 262)
  4. A myth or legend. This was the hardest for me to come up with since I only had bits and pieces of stories. I finally pieced something together.
  5. The book calls for an object "reflective of the culture with which you desire to awaken memories." (p. 262) However, I didn't want to attune to cultural ancestors so much as personal ancestors. I used pictures of my mother and father.
  6. The last item was an offering. The book suggests red wine and honey, a mixture that I made and put into a sealable container.

I currently live one block from the world-famous Venice Beach in Southern California. I took everything out to the sand several hours after sunset. I put out the items and began the ritual according to the book: "Sit in a quiet place, state that your purpose is to align yourself with the ancestral memories within, and then light the candle. [I put a hurricane jar around the candle so that the ocean breezes wouldn't snuff out the flame.] Next, anoint yourself with the oil in the pentagram pattern: * forehead * right breast * left shoulder * right shoulder * left breast * forehead." (p. 262)

The next step in the ritual according to The Wiccan Mysteries was to "visualize a time period with which you seek to connect. See the type of clothing that was worn then within your mind's eye. Bring any other images into your mind that will help 'fine-tune' the alignment." (p. 262) I visualized the way my great-grandfather looked. He was a wealthy tobacco farmer in Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. I had obtained some pictures of the clothes and hats worn at that time and focused on them. I didn't have a picture of him—I didn't even know his name—but I visualized it to the best of my ability.

To continue the ritual, the book said to "read out loud from your myth or legend." (p. 263) I only had notes, but I began to tell the story as best I knew it. The book says, "Read to the flame of the candle as though it were a person, looking up into the flame as you finish a sentence here and there. The flame is the portal, the animating etheric substance of this rite. Fire is symbolic of passion and energy; passion and energy are terms we associate with blood, the link, the portal to the past, within you and outside of you." (p. 263)

The story of my family is certainly mythic in nature. My great-grandfather was persecuted because of his religion. As a result of the violent attacks, his family sold their farm and valuables for next to nothing, married him off to a temperamental woman, and put them both on a boat to the freedom of the US. I don't know what happened to his parents, but I assume they were killed by the violent pogroms against the Jewish community.

The boat voyage took a long time. My great-grandmother took sick and stayed in her room. My great-grandfather found an intelligent woman from his homeland to talk with. She was a doctor and she was beautiful. My great-grandfather had never met the woman his parents had married him to, so although he respected her, he was not in love with her. He and the doctor fell in love.

Their romance was passionate and sweet. But he honored his marriage vow and would not divorce his wife. They had a daughter. She had a beautiful singing voice and was trained for the opera.

At the turn of the 19th century, there were almost no women doctors in the US, and certainly none with East European training. This elegant, highly-skilled and trained woman was forced into a relatively low-paying job as a nurse. But on the weekends, the woman my mother only knew as "Auntie Doctor" and a friend would go into poor communities and rent a room in a cheap hotel. They would scrub down the room and sterilize it. Then they would provide the women of the community with inexpensive medical services that they couldn't afford or obtain elsewhere. I have no idea how many hundreds or thousands of lives she saved.

She never asked my great-grandfather to divorce his wife. She never got in the way. But my great-grandmother was no fool and she realized what was happening. It drove her insane. She was committed to an asylum. For the rest of her life, my great-grandfather visited her every week.

He brought up his daughter and she married a young man with potential. Very quickly they had a daughter, Aline. As a result, she (my grandmother) gave up her singing career to take care of her child. She grew bitter at the loss of her career. But her husband loved her and tried to do his best for her. He became a stock broker. This was certainly a great job, because the market was booming. He even got a seat on the stock exchange. He took the seat at the beginning of October, 1929. A month later, the market crashed. Friends committed suicide. He was out of a job.

While seeking a job, he walked behind coal trucks with a wagon. When pieces of coal bounced out of the truck, he would grab them and put them in his wagon. Later, he would sell the coal to those who needed warmth. It wasn't much money, but they were surviving. Still, he knew that something had to change.

He took his family to Chicago. He had a license to be a pharmacist, but there were no jobs. Looking in the paper, he saw a job opening as an estimator for an insurance company. He interviewed for the job, describing all of the experience he had in New York. They asked him when he could begin. He asked for two weeks.

When he went in for the interview he barely knew what an estimator was. For the next two weeks he was at the library from opening to closing, studying up on the subject. By the time he retired, his work in the field was well respected. Museums would send him art work for authentication.

My grandmother's bitterness made her daughter's life difficult. She envied what she saw as her daughter's beauty and talent. She had Aline do every chore and set strict rules, which could result in vicious punishments if they were not promptly obeyed. When my grandmother had another daughter, Aline had to raise her. Aline worked hard, and got accepted to Northwestern University. There, she did a radio show, and put on the first interracial dance at the school. At one party she met a football player, who took one look at her and said to a friend, "That's the woman I'm going to marry." Much to the dismay of her parents, they were married shortly after. It was finally Aline's chance to get out of the house. It took several decades for her parents to forgive her for marrying without their consent. But soon an event took place which would interrupt their schooling and their marriage: "a day that will live in infamy."

World War II came and Aline's new husband, Marv, was stationed in Georgia. Aline joined him there. She got a job as a secretary at the base. Once, she missed a ride and had to take a bus to work. The bus was very full, but she saw an empty seat...at the back of the bus. She walked there and saw a bunch of men who were soldiers. She felt very safe. Unfortunately, at this time it was not appropriate for a white woman to sit in the back of a bus in the South.

The bus driver insisted that she move forward, but Aline refused. The driver finally told her that the back of the bus was for the "colored folk" and that if she didn't move forward he would have to put her off the bus. Aline stood and looked at the soldiers around her. She said, "These men are good enough to fight and die for our country. I'd rather sit with them or be off the bus than be with you!" The bus driver opened the rear door and she left. All of the soldiers on the bus followed.

After the war, Marv and Aline went back to Chicago. With his military experience in distribution, he obtained a job as a representative of an importing firm. As soon as they became settled (her parents still wouldn't see her), they had their first son, Steve. But Marv started to have lots of pain with asthma and arthritis. Aline was pregnant again, but they decided to move to a place Marv's doctor recommended as being better for Marv's health, a place where it was warmer and the air was clear: Los Angeles, California.

Their second son was born. Trying to appease her parents before the move, Aline told her father that they wanted to honor him by giving the new baby the same name as her father, William. Her father gasped. In Jewish tradition, a child was never named after a living relative. So instead of William the baby boy was named after a deceased female relative, Dora, and he became Donald—me. Six months later, we moved to LA.

The rest of the story (which I have told briefly above) I knew and didn't need to add it to my family myth. The instructions for the ritual in the book continue, "When you have finished your tale, hold the libation in your hands, close your eyes and take three deep, slow breaths, exhaling fully between each breath (into the libation). Open your eyes and then pour half of the libation out on the ground as an offering and leave half in the bowl for the 'Fairy Folk.'" (p. 263)

I completed this and sat under the stars for some time. I honestly think that nobody could have made up the stories of my family, as they are way beyond any novel. The book continues, saying "The rite is now completed, and all you need do now is allow the memories to come to you on their own." (p. 263)

I let the candle continue to burn while I closed my eyes. I have always loved doing what I call "listening to the ocean." At night, when the birds are quiet and the number of people at the beach is nil, you can hear the sounds of the ocean. The waves make a sound, the water running down the beach makes a sound, the foam makes a sound, and even the silence between waves makes a soundless sound. You will discover that the waves come at irregular intervals, giving highs and lows of volume and pitch at varying times. This is very much like speech. And if you listen closely to the ocean, she will talk to you.

As I sat and listened, the ocean came alive. I heard her saying two things. "We are here..." and "Sleeeeeeep." Sometimes the words came fast. Other times they came slowly and were drawn out. But the message was clear.

Although the ritual as described in The Wiccan Mysteries was technically over, the final and perhaps most important part was yet to come. I blew out the candle, gathered my things, and went home. Normally, I take showers, but because I felt that I was still "in ritual," I took a bath. The only light in the room was the same candle I had used at the beach. As I soaked in the warm water, I let my mind gently wander over the images of my ancestors.

After my bath, I went to bed. After a quick banishing ritual, I closed my eyes and allowed my consciousness to visit my astral temple, a "place" on the astral plane I have spent years creating. While here, my body goes to sleep and I am free to wander the astral plane in my dreams.

Tonight, though, I was not in charge. One by one, my ancestors seemed to come to me. Each would embrace me and then, for a moment, merge with me. In that instant, I felt all that they felt, experienced all that they had experienced. I truly became one with my ancestors.

One of my teachers once told me, "Learn from the past. Live in the present. Create your future." I take my ancestors' experiences, feelings, emotions, fears, joys, and lives with me wherever I go. I feel it makes me a better, more well-rounded, more complete person. I find I "know things" even though I have never read about them or studied them. I chalk that up to the merging of experiences—a true blessing—given to me by my relatives.

Perhaps more importantly, I no longer feel alone. My ancestors—my family—are always here. I have a continuity with the past which I did not have before. And this has brought great joy to my life.

For the small amount of time spent preparing for and performing this "Ancestral Rite," the rewards have been enormous. I know that this may not have been the original intent Raven had for the ritual, but it certainly worked for me. I would respectfully suggest that if anyone reading this feels alone, isolated, or not part of their own past, that this simple ritual might be of benefit for you, too.

About Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig graduated from UCLA with a degree in philosophy. He also studied public speaking and music (traditional and experimental) on the university level. After a decade of personal study and practice, he began ...

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