“Is this thing on? Is anybody listening?” These are questions I often ask my ancestors when sitting with a cup of tea, coffee or mead. Usually, I leave some for them, and some bread. Sometimes, this makes me feel a little strange: after all, shouldn’t they be too busy doing their own things? Shouldn’t I be solving my own problems? If they want to check in on us and see how we’re doing, can’t they do that any time they like? Even so, as a Heathen, that connection is important to me. On our feast days, we prepare the first plate for the ancestors. I have a small shrine dedicated to the ancestors which sits in a corner of the living room on my grandmother’s table. It enjoys a natural place in our daily life and during most gatherings. When we hold Sumbel (a Heathen cup-sharing, story-telling, merrymaking tradition), this shrine becomes the centerpiece of the room.
An occasional chat with my deceased people is calming. Frequently, though, I enjoy connecting with my ancestors a little more actively. I mean that literally – I like to make or do things that I know they used to enjoy themselves. Every Thanksgiving and Yuletide, I try to make my grandmother’s cranberry relish. It’s a simple enough recipe, but there’s something soothing about working with the fruits and waiting for the Jello to set. My grandmothers also liked to bake. I haven’t tried to replicate the famous zucchini bread yet, but I have made my own banana bread and pumpkin bread from scratch. My grandfathers had their own pastimes. Whenever I build something, I think of my dad (still with us, thankfully!) and his father, and their well-stocked workshops. I have fond memories of running Grandpa’s riding lawnmower around his massive backyard whenever I smell freshly cut grass. My mom’s father collected stamps and coins. It’s not my passion, but sometimes I leaf through the half-finished albums he helped me start, remembering him.
Mom was fond of tea, a taste I’ve recently re-acquired. She also enjoyed cross-stitch, a hobby we shared for a time. I should pick it up again, but I haven’t yet. She encouraged me to write poetry and such. I still do this, and I often think of her kind criticism of my early works. Mom taught me how to cook, and while I don’t cook as often as I should, I enjoy it when I do. I would probably enjoy playing my mother’s clarinet, although it was never my instrument. I haven’t tried it in years because it’s now in the care of my niece.
I also want to briefly mention my newest hobby, brewing. There’s something deeply satisfying about brewing a batch of mead. There’s a lot of cleaning and sanitizing effort, but the actual brewing is simple: mixing honey and water over fire. Just the way the ancients did it.
Some of these activities are specific to just one or a few of my ancestors. I often find that I have just one or two people on my mind when I want to connect. Other times, though, such as Yuletide, I feel the need to remember and honor them all, so it’s good that many of these activities can be combined. I can eat a slice of the bread I made yesterday and drink some tea while I sketch plans for a project. Sometimes, I leave them all a little tea and bread to say “thank you.”
How do you connect with your ancestors?
This article is cross-posted at The Pagan Princesses.