Honor Through Absence

I don’t have any ancestors.

That sentence is difficult to write, and I know the very idea is anathema to many people’s beliefs and practices. Yet it is the truth. And a hard truth it is, particularly for a spirit worker and a shaman who works with the honored Dead.

It goes without saying that I have parents, and grandparents, and so on. So the question arises of how can I not have ancestors? To answer that question, I have to tell you a bit about who I am, and more importantly, where I come from.

I was raised in the Jewish religious and spiritual tradition. Even today, my Semitic heritage is obvious to anyone who knows what to look for. There is a saying about Judaism, one that has been used by everyone from learned Rabbis through the ages, to oppressors who sought the eradication of the Jewish people, to a deity I was had the honor (and terror) of discussing the matter with: Judiasm is a religion of blood. Blood suffuses Judaic laws and traditions, from their practice of ritual amputation, to dietary restrictions, menstrual taboos, and laws about bloodlines, inheritance, and the very nature of what it is to be a Jew.

Perhaps most of all, shared blood binds the Jewish people into a Tribe, connected through the ages by threads of bloodlines and traditions. Faith, tradition, and race all run together to form a broad concept of what it means to be a Jew. To be born a Jew is to be a Jew for all time, this is a foundational idea in Jewry. The concept is so ingrained, that it is not unusual to encounter people who identify as Jews, yet do not go to worship services, or perhaps even believe in the Judaic concept of the divine.

Where all of this becomes relevant is that I was not called the service of the Hebraic god, I serve and worship other deities. The very center of my life violates the most cherished of Jewish commandments. To give you a sense of how monumental this is: of all 613 sacred laws, the prohibition against worshiping a “false” god is one of a tiny handful of commandments that may not be transgressed, even if doing so would save the life of another human being.

In giving myself and my oath to other deities, I betrayed my blood and my Tribe. I committed the most grievous sin imaginable in the eyes of my People, and in doing so, went into an exile of the spirit and soul, if not the flesh. Though my blood may be Semitic, I am not a Jew. I am a broken link in a chain that goes back centuries beyond memory.

If I had to do it all over, I would make the exact same choice every time. It is possible to have regrets without believing yourself to be in the wrong.

All my Ancestors are of the Tribe. As an exile, I have no claim to them, and will not offer insult in the form of praise or worship, particularly in my pagan ways. The best devotion I can show them is to leave them alone.

In living my life as an exile, a broken link, I honor the beliefs, traditions, and wishes of the bloodlines that came before me. In the end, that is all that I can offer, and all that would be accepted.

Note: Please be aware that this essay only speaks to my personal experiences as a shaman and spirit worker. It is not intended as criticism, or a statement on other people who have or have not chosen to break with their milk religions, Judaism or otherwise.

6 thoughts on “Honor Through Absence

  1. Do you dream about them? Your parents and grandparents? I told my swamp Yankee grandfather before he died that I was pagan, that I believed in witchcraft and called myself a witch. I found out after he died that he was Baptist. A woman officiated at his funeral. he married an Italian woman which, back in the1940’s, was bad because italy had been one of the Axis powers. My grandmother got called the n-word to her face, and back then, being a Catholic was like being a leper. I’m a lucky, lucky woman to have ancestors so strong and powerful, and so socially subversive!

    I don’t know my more distant ancestors. They don’t know me, yet. I feel that they won’t until more of my relatives “die off” if you’ll forgive the expression. But i see my grandfather in my dreams, and his favorite place to be is at his home with all of us there. It always was. His religion never made a difference in how much he loved his family.

    He did get mad when I told him i was Pagan. He was gruff and wandered over to our house to ask me about it in person! And I told him how I saw that he fed the birds and the deer and made a garden and how much i loved that, and how being pagan made me feel closer to him that way. He didn’t speak for a few minutes.

    We wandered in conversation about gay marriage, too. He asked me, “why can’t they get a civil union and be happy that way?” and I said, “they would if they could, pop, but that’s what is being taken away right now. It’s the legal part that’s being fought over. There are churches who will marry gay people without a problem, but the government is refusing to recognize it.” And he thought about it.

    Is it still ok in the Hebrew faith to share that you love your immediate ancestors? Is it okay to remember their loving moments with you? I apologize if this comes out the wrong way. I mean neither you nor your ancestors disrespect and I’m asking more out of morbid curiosity than anything else! 🙂

    • I have immediate family, most of whom are still alive. I DO occasionally see my grandmother, who died many years ago, but still after I swore my oaths to the Lady. I am actually rather close with several members of my biological family, who have come to accept the course my life has taken.

      When they die (hopefully not for quite a while), I will honor them in their traditions, light yahrzeit candles for them, go to shiva calls, etc. In the case of my mother, I will say kaddish, because I know how much it means to her to know that I will. None of my biological family will have a place on any altar, and I do not call their names at Samhain, although my partner sometimes does. It has been a long journey for them to respect my faith and traditions, and I feel that it is important that I do the same.

      I suppose that I am a bit odd in that I draw a distinction between family and ancestors. Anyone who died before I swore my oaths are forbidden to me. If someone chose to embrace me as family despite my break, that is their choice and they are beloved family, but not ancestors. It’s a fine distinction, and one that I’ll have to work harder to elucidate.

  2. I can only wish that I could have the same feelings of ancestory, I have my family(all loving and excepting to my knowledge) However I seem to always feel that I do not belong, any where, I would like to know more about my family past and where everything began. Winter I hope we can hang out and maybe you can help on my journy as a pagan, and maybe the feelings that I do in fact have ancestors.

    • I’d be happy to talk about how I might be able to help with your journey.

      But if you want to learn about ancestry and family stuff, you should consider contacting Elizabeth Vongvisith, of http://twilightandfire.wordpress.com/ or Raven Kaldera (ravenkaldera.org) to see about having a BloodWalking done. Because I have no ancestors, all ancestor magic is forbidden to me, but if you’re seeking to understand spiritually and magically where you came from, Elizabeth and Raven are the best folks to help I can think of.

  3. Pingback: Should We Honor All The Dead? « BarkingShaman.com

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