Connecting With Unknown Ancestors

Image courtesy of Saeed Karimi on Unsplash.

A great many polytheistic and folk religions have a special place in their practice for Ancestors and the Mighty Dead. Whether you consider yourself a Witch (like me) or a Greco-Hellenic reconstructionist or a Hoodoo practitioner, chances are high that if you’re reading this publication, ancestor-veneration plays some part in your spiritual and/or magical practice. But what if, also like me, you don’t even know your grandfather’s name, let alone anything about his life, culture, or the Ancestors before him? Or maybe you don’t know your biological parents at all. (Or maybe you do, but some type of family trauma has separated you from the rest of the family.)

The reasons why we might be cut-off from this information are myriad and unique. Adoption, fostering, trauma of thousand varieties. In fact, trauma is almost always embedded in the stories of folks who are disenfranchised from their family lineage. So before we proceed, let me say this:

I’m sorry for whatever circumstance has caused you to feel/be separated from the love, power, and protection of those Ancestors who have your care and best interests at heart. 

I offer this article with the sincere hope that it offers you keys to unlocking doors that have been closed to you. Doors that have perhaps been allowing generational wounds to fester unchecked. Doors that have kept you isolated and alone.

I can relate, in my way.

My dad was adopted, but the adoption happened within his biological mother’s family. His birth mother’s step-sister adopted him, actually. So his birth-mom became his aunt. This means family reunions on that side of the family have actual biological kin at them, and I have met my biological grandmother — twice. (Only twice, though. Things were strained. There was a kidnapping when my dad was a toddler.) As for Dad’s bio-dad: we have a name, but he was gone shortly after Dad was conceived. (My family were migrant farm-workers at that time, and “moving on” was normal.) I’ve done some deep records dives, and I think I have narrowed down who he was based on US Census data, and genealogy testing, which is turning up surnames that match my suspicions. But, who knows? 

Like many people who are children or grandchildren of adoption, I may never know for sure. Those unanswered questions never really bothered my dad. He was raised by loving parents who never treated him differently than his siblings. I was the one who felt the holes and gaps. I was an only-child to military parents who visited cousins that learned my dad was adopted before I did — and treated me like an outsider when I visited at holidays or summer vacation. 

Later, I came to understand that it was probably the military life (and not the adoption) that set me apart as so different from my cousins. They all lived in the same county, and I lived hundreds or even thousands of miles away. That — and other things that I was too young to understand at the time. Almost all of the things I didn’t know or understand then are very deeply tied to the generational traumas carried by one or both sides of my family. 

Y’all didn’t come for an Ark-lahoma telenovela, though. (If you want a witched-up version of that, let me know. I can make it happen!) So all this is to say: I am not talking out of my ass. I have real experience with life circumstance of being a human who doesn’t know part (in my case, one-quarter) of their family’s medical, cultural, or personal history. Being a Witch who has found Ancestor and Spirit work integral to my practice, I have some insights and techniques that have helped me over the last 25-ish years — and may also help you.

“Blood Calls to Blood”

First, let me remind you that your blood (and bone and flesh) carry all the biological memory of your Ancestors. Your body is already the key you need to unlock the door. Like Dorothy with her clickity slippers, you’ve had it with you the whole time. Cultures all over the world have idioms to remind us of the power of blood itself as a link to family, to heritage, to culture, to ancestral wisdom. 

Blood calls to blood.

Blood is thicker than water.

Blood will tell.

To be in your blood.

When your religion or your folk practice reminds you that your Ancestors are part of you, are with you all the time — it is a poetic way to remind you that your blood and bone are living receptacles of their wisdom. YOU are the proof that they once lived … and loved.

Within many traditional forms of Craft (and other traditional folkways), we talk about Three Souls — or the Tripartite Soul. One is usually responsible for connecting us to our Ancestors. In my Trad, we call it the Red Soul, the Bone Soul (that marrow of the bone, not the white). It is the Hamingja of Norse tradition. There are lots of names for this Soul (or Soul-part), but it, like our blood and bone, is intimately linked to our SELF. The blood and bone of the physical body links us to our hereditary line and carries an incredible amount of power — and information. The Red Soul links us to our Craft and Ancestral families and also to unfathomable power — and information! (Information is powerful, after all.)

This means that your body AND soul have the information that you are seeking! Now, all you have to do is use those keys to unlock the wisdom.

Not All Ancestors Are Biological … and other Notes

One of the major goals of this article is to provide folks with tools to connect with bio-Ancestors when they feel otherwise disconnected. For those who want and need to find these connections, this is important work, and I feel passionate about it.

I also feel that some other notes and perspectives need to get made, though. These in no way stand in contradiction to each other. They are simply different experiences and different vantage points on the topic of what ancestry and Ancestor Work is about.

  1. All families can be REAL families, if they love, respect, and protect each other. If you are a child/grandchild of adoption (or some other alternative family situation), AND you have a sense of family with the people who raised you, you very likely have Ancestors from that lineage who are looking out for you. I honor my dad’s adoptive parents and their ancestral lines on my Ancestor altar, along with those of my stepmother, and I have a very close relationship with them. I know they see me as a child of their line, and I have seen them bless my children, as well. So, don’t discount step-family, adoptive-family, and foster-family as not being “real” just because they didn’t give birth to you (or your parent/s). Choice and actions matter at least as genetics — if not more. 
  2. You can chuck out the bad apple(s) without chopping down the whole tree. Some folks have needed to conscientiously cut their family out of their lives for their own well-being. I fully support anyone’s decision to do that — whether it means cutting off contact with an individual or the entire living group of them. I will also support a person choosing to block ancestral contact, because ultimately that’s their choice. However, it isn’t always necessary, and deeper Ancestors may have the tools to help you heal the generational traumas that are plaguing your family. Always: do what you need to do for your own highest good. Just consider carefully what that is, and know that you have options. You might, for instance, call out to “only those Beloved Dead of my mother’s family who hold tender love in their hearts, truth in their lips, and integrity in their actions — those Mighty Dead of my blood who agree to hold me gently and protect me fiercely from harm.” 
  3. You DO have Ancestors who want the best for you. Some of you reading this have come from seriously traumatic family experiences, so it may be hard for you to digest and believe this one. Even so, it’s true. Families have ancient protectors within the line who tend to take a special role in guarding their legacy. They want you to thrive, to succeed, to live a happy and full life. They want you to do well, have babies, make the family look good, and carry on the family name — though as Mallorie Vaudoise (author of Honoring Your Ancestors) points out, YOU are the one with the sacred rights and responsibilities living your present life. So you are the one who decides the specifics of how/if those things happen. You might try connecting with these prominent Ancestors first, as they tend to be the loudest and largest. 
  4. Everyone loses the thread somewhere along the way. Nobody can trace all of their genealogical threads all the way back to mitochondrial Eve. We all lose the track somewhere, in all of the lines. And we all have so many lines that could be traced. Two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents — and the numbers just keep doubling every generation. You get to that 10th generation of great-grandparents, and you’ve got 4,096 of them — just in that generation! NONE of us know all the names of all those people. Most of us start having major gaps 2-3 generations back because record-keeping hasn’t been fantastic. Witchy techniques can help,

A Blood-Key Spell (Framework)

I tend to work very intuitive magic and Craft at this stage of my witchery. Knowing that my blood and Red Soul (Bone Soul) hold the key to ancestral wisdom is enough for me to tap into when doing things like trance work. Anymore, I sit in a dark room or under the night sky and ride my breath and pulse (blood-beat) to … a vision, a journey. It doesn’t look or sound very dramatic, but oof! What I have seen. Been. Learned. 

If I were wanting a more concrete spell or talismanic practice, I might do something like the following:

  • Get an old skeleton key — a key that doesn’t fit any lock I know. (Even a decorative, drawn or sigilized key would work. A sigilized key might include letters, runes, or symbols related to my own name, my goal distilled as a phrase/concept, or a family name that I was tracking down.)
  • Place 1, 3, or 5 drops of my blood on the key. Could be fresh blood I raised with a ritual knife or lancet, or could be menstrual blood.
  • Whisper to the key and the blood: “Unlock for me the door to ancestral wisdom.”
  • Place the key between self and dark mirror each night for three consecutive nights of scrying practice in which Ancestor contact is attempted. 
  • Place the key on the Ancestor altar when not in use.
  • Wear/carry it during Ancestral scrying work until it comes easily.

This is an example of something that could be done — and adapted — regardless of the information you have starting out. Whether you know nothing of your Ancestors or have a decent amount of starting information, you can use this to establish a connection.

Practice and Trust

The last bits that I have to say about this are pretty straightforward, but they sound dull to some folks. 

The goal of establishing this relationship is to have a relationship. It isn’t to get something or be something or do something. There will be benefits to your life by having a relationship with your Ancestors, but a goal-oriented relationship is ultimately built on false pretenses and will fall apart. Offer things to them long before you ever think to ask anything of them. Show them that you care about them. Get to know them. Include them in your life.

If you aren’t already working on it, you’ll probably need to start developing more of your psychic skills. Communicating with the Dead necessitates stronger mediumship and some skill with one or more of the “clairs” — clairvoyance, clairaudience, etc. These are all senses that can be trained, though — not gifts that you have to be born with, or else you’re out of luck. Like all skills, some people are born with a natural talent for one, but anyone can dedicate themselves to improving their abilities with one or more of these senses in order to receive and interpret messages from the Dead and other spirits. 

Ultimately, you’ll also be learning to trust. Some of the messages you receive (names of Ancestors, visions about their lives, guidance about your life, etc) are the sorts of things that won’t be confirmed by internet database searches or maybe even DNA tests. That won’t be because the messages aren’t true, but rather because the information doesn’t exist in the physical or cyber world. Only in the spiritual, now. 

And you, as the living heir to the wisdom, love, guidance, and protection of these thousand-thousand Ancestors, are the one who is tasked with carrying these Truths and living the life you choose.

For Further Reading:

 Vaudoise, Mallorie. Honoring Your Ancestors: A guide to Ancestral Veneration.

Auryn, Mat. Psychic Witch: A Metaphysical Guide to Magick, Meditation, and Manifestation.

From My YouTube Channel (Topics Mentioned in this Article)

Ancestral Healing in Witchcraft

Why and How to Work with Ancestors

Three Souls of the Witch

15 Ways to Scry

[Written by Laurelei Black.]