Tuesday, September 1, 2015

(Re)Building Your Holy House with the Ancestors

"The ancestors are the real school of the living. They are the keepers of the very wisdom the people need to live by. The life energy of ancestors who have not yet been reborn is expressed in the life of nature, in trees, mountains, rivers and still water." -M. Somé

In Santería, being open to, working with, revering, the ancestors is a critical foundation of practice. The impact that previous generations of family have had on our lives – in both conscious and unconscious ways – and the influence of the family oversoul require us to be willing to delve into our personal and ancestral histories, facing both the good and the difficult. The process of working with ancestral spirits serves the purpose of helping us to address and purge the negative, to understand the humanity of our forebears, and to embrace the wisdom and sacred blessings that they offer us. Ancestor work can have wonderful benefits for everyone, regardless of the spiritual/religious path that is followed, and helps root our Selves to the earth, to connect us with a deep history that is part of who we are, whether we are aware of it or not. There is something sacred in that.

The other night I decided to pull a couple of cards on the topic of ancestor work:

1) In what way are my ancestors present for me? 3 of Pentacles
Prisma Visions/James Eads
These are the raw notes that I took about how this card made me feel:

Working with me to help build the foundation, base structure, of my life. Supporting me, giving advice/suggestions, then stepping back and watching how I implement them. My own personal team. Helping me find tools to work for what I want and need. Helping me to build my holy house.

That last line took me some time to actually get down on paper. It was floating through my head, and I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but I decided that I’d figure it out eventually, so I jotted it down.

Helping me to build my holy house.

A night or two later I was reading a book* and came across a section that compared the personal impact of Orisha worship to restoring an old home:

As you watch those old walls come down, envision your inner walls being knocked away. Close your eyes and feel the two-by-fours cracking apart within you. Watch as dirty windowpanes shatter – windows through which you might have once viewed the world clearly…Watch as workers toil, removing the house’s battered and broken parts, in order to restore its strength and beauty…Feel their jubilation along with their calluses and aching backs as they see it slowly rise before them, restored, reborn (pp. 128-29; Correal, 2003).”

As I read those words, the 3 of Pentacles with the image of the man laying bricks suddenly popped into my mind. My “holy house” is me. In this light, my ancestors work with me like the toiling workers renovating that old home, helping me to open up, break down, and rebuild into a stronger, healthier, happier, more balanced human being. That is what it’s all about.

2) How can I best take advantage of their wisdom and guidance? Hanged Man
Prisma Visions/James Eads
Again, my rough notes are as follows:

Releasing a hold on/sacrificing the ego; making time in my schedule to talk to them. Be willing to allow time for life to develop – not being quick to judge. Letting go of control and trusting them. Open up to insight. 

There is a lot to be said for learning to surrender; to get out of your head, to view your experiences from new vantage points. It has become almost cliché to say, in regards to the Hanged Man, that one must be open to “seeing things from a new perspective.” The reality is that it’s true. When you climb a tree, your entire back yard transforms; you see things you never did, or never could, before. I remember riding a Ferris wheel at a community festival down the street from our house a couple of years back. Once we reached the ride’s apex we could see lakes that we never knew were there, and even the tips of the downtown buildings were visible, driving home the proximity of important places in our environment. But those instances are exterior; we literally see things from a new perspective because our physical bodies are lifted into the sky, or hung upside down. It’s more work to be open to new angles of thought from the inside. But the analogy is potent and clear.

It’s amazing just how driven we are to do what we want to do, or not do what we aren’t in the mood to do. In a way, like with Lent, there is a certain sacrifice in not giving in to our impulses, though in another way it is also about fundamental self-control, focus; our commitment to a practice lies to some degree in the ability to remember our truest, deepest desires, our most heart-centered goals.

I say all of that because in our great rush, and our daily distractions, it’s easy to simply not take the time to sit at the ancestor altar and talk to them. Or just breathe for a few moments. To take a few seconds to call to mind your grandfather, or the name of your great-grandmother, or those nameless forebears that stream back into infinity whose essence you hold in your very cellular make-up. To hold them – even just the awareness of their existence - in your heart and mind briefly, and open yourself to their presence. So then, we sacrifice – “make sacred” – our offering of time, laying our ego out on the table because we know that in some way the benefits and blessings of that surrender might someday, stone by stone, make us whole again.
Prisma Visions/James Eads

*Finding Soul on the Path of Orisa/Crossing Press/T.M. Correal


  1. "Our commitment to a practice lies to some degree in the ability to remember our truest, deepest desires, our most heart-centered goals." This is so beautifully put, Olivia. I shall tuck it away for rainy days ;) Your post is full of what feels like the embodied wisdom of living out the questions. Blessings on the building of your holy house.

    1. Thank you, Rose, your comments mean a lot to me! Blessings to you as well! :)

  2. Absolutely beautiful! Olivia you are such a gifted writer.
    The three of Pentacles and the quote from the book reminded me off my own inner "renovation": to build a spacious open house, a sacred place, on a firm foundation where once my rickety tower stood.
    I wish your house to be magical, holy and strong. I know Love resides there so the rest will effortlessly follow.

    1. Thank you so much, Ellen <3 In fact I thought of your "house" too when I was writing this! Thank you so much for the beautiful well wishes! Many hugs to you.