Archive for October, 2013

In my post yesterday, I opened a can of worms in proclaiming that working with recent ancestors has been more meaningful to me than distant, ancient ancestors. I had more to say, but the post was already too long. So consider this post an addendum to yesterday’s.

Basically, I wanted to add some words of advice/caution in regard to this work. Note that I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I’ve found these helpful.

Get your shit together

No, that’s not a very polite statement, but it’s true. Don’t try to approach any serious ancestor work (or working with any spirit, for that matter) when you are an unfocused, emotional mess. Try meditation and some basic shadow work before trying to contact someone from beyond for insight. And know how to spiritually protect yourself. There are plenty of methods and sources for this information, so there’s no excuse for not going into this prepared.

Be logical

I know – this is just no fun. But the great thing about working with ancestors from the past 100 years or so is that there is a good chance you know something about them. Whether from family stories or old newspaper articles, it’s likely that you can get some sense of their character. (Barring some pretty heavy-duty psychic ability, can you say that about an ancient ancestor?) Even the lack of family stories about someone can speak volumes.

A picture of my grandmother on my altar to the beloved dead.

A picture of my grandmother on my altar to the beloved dead.

Why is this important? Because you don’t want to work with just any ol’ ancestor. Logic dictates that people you wouldn’t associate with in life may not be good associates in the afterlife. Yes, some things may change for a spirit after crossing the veil, but it’s not a given. Avoiding those who were abusive in their lifetime is probably a good idea.

But be sure not to confuse abusive people with flawed people. Yesterday, I mentioned working with my grandmother. She was a flawed person. She did things that hurt others. However, she didn’t intentionally hurt people and much of the problem stemmed from the fact that she was easily manipulated. I strongly suspect the reason her spirit connects with mine is because she’s realized the damage she caused and wants to correct at least some of it. And she knows I’m open to her messages. On the other hand, my late father and his mother were intentionally hateful and mentally and verbally abusive. I wouldn’t work with them even if they begged.

Don’t ask for miracles

Try not to confuse working with the ancestors with petitioning a deity or saint for help. There are many advantages to working with your ancestors: they can give insight to family wounds, provide wisdom and guidance for your life, see a situation you are in from a more informed perspective, and more. But you shouldn’t expect them to cure a horrible disease or change someone else’s mind. Instead, they could help you accept the inevitable with grace and to learn to deal with things outside of your control.

And please, don’t waste their time with things that are normal setbacks or things within your control. Asking them to cure your cold when you don’t even wash your hands in public restrooms or to make someone you’ve dated for two weeks fall in love with you is wasting precious contact with these amazing guides. And it’s just bad manners.


There’s probably a lot more that could be said about working with the ancestors and the beloved dead, but there are entire books dedicated to that (such as Christian Day’s The Witches Book of the Dead and Christopher Penczak’s The Mighty Dead). I just felt compelled to put out a few basics before moving on to other subjects.

Bright blessings!



© 2013 PJ Graham

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I have a secret. I enjoy learning about Hoodoo.

Despite being what I consider a Celtic Eclectic Pagan, with a strong interest in the Avalonian path and in gleaning what I can about the ancient Celts, I’ve developed a fascination with American folk magic.

At first, I thought I should keep it to myself. Surely some of my peers would look askance as it didn’t seem to fit well with my primary path. After all, folk magic is often called low magic – and what did it have to do with connecting to my Celtic ancestry?

Well, I’ve realized it has a lot to do with it.


Horse shoes have been used for luck and protection for centuries.

Frankly, it was my Celtic path that brought me to American folk magic in its varied forms. One of the things my Hearth group does at Samhain is to ask the ancestors to join us or to honor them in some way. These rituals also include a guided meditation, usually to meet with the crone aspect of the goddess. Most of the time, the woman I found wasn’t the goddess. It was my grandmother.

Over several years and maternal grandmother meetings, I’ve found that Samhain is also a good time to work with ancestor spirits to heal ancestral wounds – I believe that’s why my grandmother comes to me. Unfortunately, that side of my family has plenty of wounds to lick. As part of this work, I tried to learn more about my family and the different cultures from which it came. My intent was to find my ancient roots.

My mother’s maternal side is Irish or Scots-Irish, though we don’t know what her paternal side was (given her complexion, it was probably not Irish or Scottish). This side was from eastern Kentucky, deep down in the hills. My father’s side was German and probably Scottish, and that grandmother was very superstitious. From her we inherited the need to have a horseshoe above the door, to toss spilled salt over the prescribed shoulder, and were stuck eating ham and cabbage on New Years Day. This part of the family was from eastern Pennsylvania.

Taken in 1941, this picture of a Berks County, PA, barn shows several Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs - a traditional folk practice. These stars are considered protective. Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Taken in 1941, this picture of a Berks County, PA, barn shows several Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs – a traditional folk practice. These stars are considered protective. Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

As I tried to learn what life was like in these two areas over the last 100 years or so, the Pagan in me couldn’t help but notice a huge body of folklore and folk practice associated with them. Soon, I was intrigued by Appalachian Granny Magic and Powwow, which is the folk practice of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Then I found the connection between these and Ozark Mountain Magic. I grew up on the edge of the Ozarks, seeing hints of these practices without understanding them. Of course, Hoodoo is really getting notice lately and has subtly been incorporated into some other traditions, so I found myself intrigued by this as well. Many of these descended from old European and African practices. Some have mixed and mingled with Native American and Jewish practices as well.

I’ve been a little dumbstruck that so many Pagans in North America look to the ancient Celts, Norse, Greeks, Egyptians, and so on for magical inspiration – but we have so much magic right here at our feet. As Orion Foxwood says in The Candle and the Crossroads:

“Yet this country is rich in magical lore, techniques, and practices. These practices are often overlooked because they are too familiar or close, or they are seen as superstitious and not evolved. This last statement is inaccurate; folk magic is the mother of temple magic and formalized religion.” (pg 8)

Simply put, without low magic there would be no high magic.

Foxwood goes on to tell how the Southern conjure practices he grew up with seemed very similar to those of the English traditional witches he met when he was young:

“They work with the spirits of the dead, crossroads spirits, Faery beings, angels, and spells to affect our spirit and overall wellbeing.“ (pg 16)

Since I’ve stopped ignoring what was right in my face, I’ve became much more comfortable with working with the ancestors. I also realized that that means more than just our ancient ancestors – it also means the ones from 30 or 70 or 100 years ago. It includes the great grandmother known for being a healer or the uncle who’d walk a large circle around a horseshoe lying on the ground. Yes, it is great to learn what the ancients did and how it affects us and how we can learn from it, but working with more recent ancestors is just as important. Some might say more so, given the tremendous power of ancestral wounds.

Also, who’s more likely to work with you? The gods and goddesses who have thousands of people calling on them? The spirits of ancestors from 2,500 years ago? Or the spirit of the great grandmother who held you as an infant? I think that’s a no-brainer.

So I’m done separating the two sides of my personal practice – Celtic Paganism and American folk magic – here and elsewhere. One side isn‘t better than the other. They are two springs feeding the one river that quenches my spirit.


© 2013 PJ Graham

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