and the Ancestors
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Incorporates the previously published "Seidhr for Spirit Rescue"
Heathens identify with and work with ancestors in a variety of ways. Some of us picked this Pagan religion as opposed to the many others available at least partially because we are descended (in various proportions) from the "old-time" Heathens. I freely confess to this being the case for me. My own Viking ancestry comes from Viking settlements in Northwest England, where Gamel (Gamal) de Pennington held land, along with his kinsmen Ketel and Ulf. Gamal is even commemorated in a runestone to be seen to this day in the parish church in the village of Pennington. I also have ancestry from the heavily-Viking-settled and even Viking-named Channel Island of Jersey (Geirs Ey). I have a substantial amount of less glamorous but equally Germanic Anglo-Saxon ancestry as well.
Many Heathens get into genealogy to better know their ancestors. Disir, or at least some of them, are seen by modern Heathens as female ancestor spirits. Alfar to me at least seems to be a bit of a catchall term. Some of them may be male ancestor spirits parallel to the female Disir. There was and is in our religion an element of reverence, even worship, of ancestors. These can include folks that adopted a person or who married into the family, not necessarily just "blood kin." They are remembered at such rites as Disablot, Mothers' Night, Tyrsblots often held near (US) Veterans' Days to honor those of our family Alfar who served in the military, and of course the "mynne" or memory sumbel. There is certainly no reason for Heathens not to decorate graves with flowers, etc. I pour mead at the graves of my dead Kin and sometimes leave food as well. A few simple and heartfelt words of offering are enough. No need for an elaborate ritual unless you wish to hold one! Many Heathens seek out or are sought out by one or more of these Ancestors and build a personal and mutually beneficial relationship with them.
All of this is great. The only place where ancestry can get ugly in Germanic Heathenry is when it is used as an excuse for racism, and for trying to keep people of non-Germanic, especially non-Caucasian ancestry out of the religion. You'd think folks would have enough sense to realize that people join religions for different reasons, and that there can be more than one valid reason to do so.
Most Heathens enter the realm of the Ancestors by dying. We seidhfolk, of course, go there beforehand on various errands, especially to get answers from dead folks to questions posed by living Heathen folks. These dead folks are where they are supposed to be and doing what they are supposed to do. They cause no problems for themselves or for others. The "earthbound" spirits of the dead are another matter entirely. More on seidhfolk and earthbound spirits later.
The realm of the Ancestors was seen by the old-time Heathens in various ways. At times these could be mutually contradictory. We haven't and shouldn't try to iron out all the inconsistencies in our lore. The "peoples of the book" have over the centuries devoted a great deal of time to such efforts. I see no need to follow in their footsteps. H. R. Ellis (Davidson) wrote of these Heathen concepts of the Afterlife in The Road to Hel, which should be on your reading list and hopefully in your personal library as well! She wrote it before her marriage, I believe in the mid-1940's, so look for it first under her maiden name. Thank the Gods, once again, for Interlibrary Loan. I'm pretty sure it's out of print. A common view today seems to be that a dead Heathen goes toward the God or Goddess to who s/he was closest in life. From my own spae-work and that of others, it seems possible (but usually not necessary or desirable!) to contact the abodes of the Dead of other faiths. I see no reason for Heathens to fear being cut off from their Christian friends and Kin after death. The Afterlife isn't quite as rigid a realm as Midhard.
There was a belief in Heathen times that some folks became Gods after death. Bragi may have first been a poet called Bragi the Old. When Christianity was starting to enter Norway, the Gods made it known that while they didn't want anything to do with the White Christ, that they were willing to receive the recently deceased King Eric into their midst if the good folks of Norway felt they didn't have enough Gods! There are UPG's that some mechanics, jewelers, etc. may get invites to join the Svartalfar. Could be. As Anita Bryant so succinctly put it "they cannot reproduce; so they must recruit." I'm just kidding on that quote, of course, but don't rule out the possibility of a dead grumpy blacksmith getting a bid from the Svartalf fraternity.
One presumes that the old-timers believed that most folks, once buried with the proper rites at least, made the transition successfully. Ibn Fadlan quotes one Rus (Swedish Viking in Russia) as saying "we burn him now so that he enters paradise at once." It's the ones who don't go on that one hears about in the sagas. The draugR (modern Icelandic draugur and Norwegian draug) is an interesting phenomenon. In modern Icelandic it means "ghost." The sagas present a somewhat different phenomenon, roughly that of the walking corpse, somewhat but not entirely similar to the Haitian "zombie." One draugR, when it was finally killed and burned, was reborn as a really big, mean bull after a cow licked up some of its ashes. Frankly, I'm somewhat skeptical as to how literally such tales should be taken. The zombie is evidently the product of a fascinating if thoroughly nasty bit of ethnopharmacology (indigenous medicine). Nevertheless, the old lore can yield useful information on what the Ancients believed about various possibilities for the Afterlife.
Walking corpses or not, some of the Dead do not make the transition, at least not right away. Dead Folks who choose this knowingly and willingly probably become Disir and Alfar, in this Heathen's opinion at least. Some aren't so lucky. There's a movie out with Bruce Willis called "The Sixth Sense," in it in which a pyschic kid, who nearly went nuts since there was no one to guide him, train him, and show him his psychic "off switch" or at least his "dimmer switch," said: "I see dead people. They're everywhere." That's pretty well true. Most folks don't notice them. Others, like myself, can see them but usually only when I make the effort. Others, like Kevin Bacon in yet another popular movie "Stir of Echoes", become "receivers". In traditional cultures, such folks, if they are taught to use and control their gifts, become fine tranceworkers and useful and valuable members of their communities. These days, most are not so lucky. I know several folks like that, mostly Heathens and Pagans. To have "the gift" to THAT degree is something that I for one don't envy!
Why all those ghosts? I suspect there have always been plenty to go around. A friend of mine had an interesting experience working with a Native American howe (burial mound) in Eastern Kentucky. Many hundreds if not several thousand years old and nevertheless the ghost was there in full, still royally pissed off about how she got there, and NOT interested in any sort of transition. People have always died with unfinished business, or suddenly and violently. This seems to raise the chances of ghosthood. Despite all this, I suspect that the advent of Christianity made things worse. Plenty of guilt and fear of double-L "hell" keeps many spirits earthbound.
What does all this mean for the Heathen who is not a trained spae or seidh-worker? Well, in practical terms one may want to have a trained spae-worker check for the presence of newly dead loved ones to make sure that they have "gone on" and are not hanging around in a state of confusion or distress. An alternative technique would to be to invoke Odin, Freya, and/or the family ancestral spirits (this could be done quietly at wakes or funerals held in other religious traditions) and ask that they come and render any needed aid to the spirit of the newly departed. Offerings afterward should not be forgotten. On a very personal level, try to live as best as you can so as to die with a minimum of regret. If your death has been medically or otherwise predicted for the near future, use the time to tie up loose ends. How we live from day to day is of course still very important. We don't always get any warning, as has been all too clear lately.
I have done this sort of spirit rescue work upon occasion in the past. I suspect I may have to do it again sometime in the future. Fortunately, I have someone I can work with here who is much better at seeing and dealing with spirits than I am. That has gotten me off the hook lately. This sort of thing is NOT for the faint of heart. I am NOT a ghostbuster. I'd do it for family, close friends, and compatible Heathens in real need. Anyone else can find a competent psychic somewhere else! There are enough out there, but I'm sure digging through the flakes, nuts, and con artists would be no picnic. I've listed a well-regarded one on my seidhr page. On to spirit rescue! I think you'll find the following account informative.
In Summer 1996 I had the occasion to adapt oracular seidhr to help a number of ghosts pass on from a local 200-year-old farmhouse which has been in the same family for over 200 years. This is seidhr for spirit rescue, or as I've been known to call it, "seidhr for de-ghosting." My guide while I was in seidhr-trance and going into Hela's realm was a local Neopagan psychic and trance medium whom I had previously briefed in seidhr techniques. She is one of those folks with no off-switch. I had the enthusiastic permission of the house's owner, a dear older lady whom I like and respect a great deal. Not everyone gets this from me! The first session was conducted upstairs with just myself and my guide. I journeyed into Hel while my psychic friend, Ramona, talked to the ghosts and asked who would like to pass on but needed help. She took them into herself and grabbed my hand when ready. I was prepared for what followed, but it was still a unique experience. The ghosts passed from her into my left hand, through me, and out my right hand into Hela's kingdom. I felt three pulses in what felt just like a fairly powerful electric shock!
I put in a request while in Hel for family members or Disir to call the ghosts on over to facilitate matters. I saw an old woman with very distinctive features respond to my request. I sketched her later when out of trance, and the farm's owner said "Oh, my God," went to a bedroom closet, and dug out her portrait!
When we went downstairs, she informed me a much larger group of ghosts bound to that part of the house wanted to go too, but I wasn't up to it and we arranged with the house's owner to return at a later date.
Several of the owner's friends came on the agreed-upon date to help raise energy for what promised to be a much more extensive working. All went well until the owner decided to ask a question before the ghost work. I evidently was batting 1000 since she collapsed in tears at the answer and my guide, WHILE I WAS IN DEEP TRANCE, had to go get her settled. When I started feeling a bit cold (it was 80 degrees in that room and I was wearing a normally stifling linen ritual robe) I called my guide back. By the way, I sometimes feel cold after trance work and usually am both exhausted and ravenously hungry. Afterwards(I normally do seidhr after dark) I get a second wind, or as I call it, a "seidhr rush" that sometimes keeps me up until 5 a.m. unless I carefully ground myself about an hour before my intended bedtime. When my guide returned, we finished the spirit rescue and ended the ritual. I was prostrate with exhaustion at the end. I have no idea how many spirits went through, but it felt like I had hold of a live wire in each hand! While doing all this, Hela spoke to me and indicated she would rather not have so many Christian ghosts entering the Afterlife through her realm. She graciously let them by this time, but I had the definite impression that the next time it would be preferable to ask the ghosts' Disir to come back to Midgard with me, and lead the ghosts to where they needed to go via a different route. Your clairvoyant guide would need to keep an eye on the spirits until they to got where they needed to go in that case. I think this would also save wear and tear on the seidhkona or seidhmadhr also! I hope my experiences as a seidhmadhr are of help to you, and would like very much to hear from others doing the same or similar types of trancework.
May you and yours enter the halls of your Patrons full of years and honors!
last modified 07/21/2003