On her blog, A Forest Door, Dver has challenged Polytheists to write about their religious practices for the month of September. The blog post https://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/are-you-up-for-the-challenge/ and the John Beckett’s post which is referenced, are both worth reading.
It has been months since I last wrote a blog post, let alone a series of blog posts, but I felt like this was the perfect prompt to get writing again, no matter how raw I might feel.
For almost a decade, I lived with a partner who was of Chinese descent and whose mother was born and raised in Burma (Myanmar). She lived with us for the first year and a half we were together and it was during that time that I was able to witness what a Polytheistic practice, particularly ancestor veneration, looked like.
His mother maintained a beautiful altar and shrine made from carved rosewood. There were several statues: the Buddha, Kwan Yin, Guan-Gong, and others. Incense, fruit, rice, and water were part of her daily offerings, for both Gods and ancestors. The lunar new year was filled with the smoke of burnt offerings – items that ancestors may need on the other side of the veil.
My husband is Italian, and the Catholics have their own way of venerating and caring for their ancestors. We often make the drive north to visit the graves of his departed relatives, bringing them flowers, and offering conversation while tending their plot. When we married, I was careful to follow ancient Roman customs regarding the approach of the groom’s ancestors – bringing them a coin and offering oil, wine, incense, and prayer. They are a loud bunch, and often drown out the voices of my own ancestors.
I will share a funny story about my husband’s ancestors. I became a vegan over three years ago and immediately started buying vegan cookbooks that interested me. One of my favorite authors is the winner of an episode of Cupcake Wars, Chloe Coscarelli. I often use her vegan Italian cookbook, and was excited to make fresh pasta using Chloe’s recipe. After consulting my mother-in-law, I purchased an Italian-made pasta machine and then set out to make my first batch of vegan fresh pasta.
As I was adding silken tofu to the flour, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Right behind me, a voice asked, “What the fuck is she doing?” I whipped around, sure someone was standing right behind me, but of course, no one, at least no one in a physical body, was in the room with me. I laughed and then spent the rest of the time explaining what and why I was preparing pasta this way. My husband’s ancestors continue to talk to me, offering advice on all sorts of matters.
More than the Gods, ancestors are concerned with your health, prosperity and everyday life. They are invested in your success. I approach my ancestors with the same love, respect, and comfort as I have for my living relatives, secure in knowing that they have my best interests at heart. I offer them a drink on their birthday and expressions of gratitude for their help and advice. I’ll share one last story:
One night, I had a violent, terrible dream. If you have seen the movie Easy Rider, you will easily picture the brutality of this dream – only instead of Jack Nicholson’s character being beaten to death, it was my brother. I was so frightened by my dream that when I awoke, I ran to my ancestor altar and told them about my dream. I begged them to protect him.
A few months later, walking home from a super bowl party, my brother was hit by a car. The driver, probably drunk or uninsured, drove away and left my brother bleeding and injured in the road. A woman who lived in the house near the intersection heard strange commotion and came outside to investigate. She held my brother’s head in her lap, applying pressure to his cracked skull while calling for help. An ambulance arrived just in time. My brother’s life was spared thanks to this woman.
I will always believe that it was our ancestors who whispered in her ear to go look outside, and spurred her to action.