I want to talk about worship today. Heathens have a lot of different ways of worshipping. Some heathens are intensely devoted to one of the pantheonic deities. Some are involved with the whole pantheon, but not one deity in particular. Some worship local spirits such as the landwights. Some worship their ancestors. Whatever their focus, for most heathens, worship is a matter of paying respect to, learning from, sacrificing for, becoming empowered by, and doing the work of the focus of their worship. A lot has been written about the gods and the landwights in heathen worship, but not enough has been written about ancestor worship. And, because it needs to be, that’s what I’m going to do today.
Ancestor worship is not a huge part of my religious life. My ancestors were, for the most part, rather unpleasant people. Horse thieves, murderers, bank robbers, treasonous Confederate guerillas like Quantrill’s Raiders, and genocidal maniacs like Charlemagne. But there have been some admirable ones too, including engineers on the Apollo 11, a volunteer with the Flying Tigers, explorers, mystics, and artists. So I have always included an element of ancestor worship in my own practices. It was not easy for young me to figure out the proper way to do it, faced with such a, shall we say, mixed bag. And as I was a young heathen in the early 90s, there was not a lot of guidance on the subject, for heathenry was much smaller and more underground in those days.
After much thinking, especially about what the Nine Noble Virtues indicated, I decided on some things. From what I could see of heathen ancestor worship in those days, I did not like the two dominant approaches to this problem. One way heathens of the day took was to just decide that everything their ancestors did was worthy of respect and praise, and to define their sense of right and wrong in a way that allowed them to feel pride about everything their ancestors did, no matter what it was. I have always had contempt for people who went this route. Defining your sense of right and wrong entirely so that it makes you feel good and prideful is pathetic, the act of a lazy narcissist with only a tangential relationship with reality. This is the route favored by Folkies, white supremacists, and douchebags everywhere.
The other common solution was to pick and choose which ancestors were honored, hailing and taking pride in the best and pretending the rest did not exist. This whitewashing of one’s family history seemed dishonest and irresponsible to me. The Nine Noble Virtues counsel honesty. This way is not honest. The Nine Noble Virtues counsel courage, and standing up to do what is right even when it is difficult to do so. This approach is cowardly. The Nine Noble Virtues counsel industry. This approach is lazy.
Instead, it seemed to me that if I was going to take any pride in the good parts of my ancestry, I must also take a measure of responsibility for the bad parts. If I want the counsel and spiritual energy of my ancestors, my family orlog, I must take on ALL of my inheritance. I must pay for the gift I receive from my ancestors by paying a part of their debts.
Of course, ignoring my ancestors altogether seemed a valid approach too. No reason why a person should be in any way responsible for the debts of their ancestors, BUT, if that’s the approach you want to take, then you have no right to go feeling pride in your ancestors, or praising them at sumbel.
So when the rites of remembrance come around, I not only hail and speak the deeds of my honorable and praiseworthy ancestors, I also raise the horn to the bad ones, and speak against them. I praise the worthy qualities of my dead, abusive father and also speak contemptuously of his weakness and violence. I praise the cleverness and freedom of my bank robbing Old West kin and also denounce their evil ways and the harm they caused. I acknowledge the power and conquests of Charlemagne, and also pour out the rest of horn I raised to him, a grave discourtesy and insult, because of his genocidal ways. I hail all of my ancestors. I even have a small bead basket from a tourist trap in Kenya on my ancestor altar, because it was made near the Olduvai Gorge, where the human species evolved, so it is a way of bringing my mind to focus on ALL of my ancestors, going all the way back.
This approach has consequences in my day to day life, as well. Sometimes, when it is hard to do the right thing and nobody will ever know if I don’t, I remember my grandfather who crossed the sea to go protect China from the Japanese invasion by signing on with the Flying Tigers, risking his life to help people who were not his people when nothing in the world was forcing him to do so, and I draw strength and resolve from him. When living in poverty becomes difficult, I recall the wild and free lives of my outlaw ancestors, and draw strength from them.
And this approach also means that when I have seen Folkie jerks trying to drive newcomers off of heathen forums because they were not 100% white, I had to step up and speak up for the newcomers, and argue with a bunch of jackasses about how the old lore does not in fact support their racist bullshit and actually opposes it, despite how very much I hate wasting my time arguing with halfwits. My approach means that whenever an important matter affecting disadvantaged people came to the vote, I took the time to go vote despite being an anarchist who tries not to vote as a matter of principle. My ancestors who rode with Quantrill’s Raiders have a debt to pay, so this seems an appropriate way of paying part of that debt.
And that, Gentle Reader, is what real ancestor worship means. If you want to draw pride, wisdom, and strength from your ancestors, you have a right to. That is what orlog means. But with that right comes a responsibility, and the requirement sometimes to make sacrifices and be courageous. Thinking badly of those of my ancestors who were bad people does not require me to think badly of myself. I can take pride in the good parts of my ancestry not despite the bad parts, but because I recognize which parts are bad and work to oppose them.