I ended my last blog entry, Our shameful white ancestors, with the question: "So then, how can we work with white ancestors, who might be wonderful and/or awful, and who were certainly human and subject to human flaws, and do it well?"
I never encountered ancestor work when I first came into the Pagan community. Even in the Dianic Tradition, which offers a certain amount of reverence to one's female line, I did not really encounter deep work with ancestors. It was not until I began learning more about the various African-diaspora Orisha traditions that I truly began working with my ancestors. It has been my observation that, apart from Samhain, white western witches don't really engage with ancestor work very much.
Take a pause for a moment to consider: why might ancestor reverence be more precious to those whose ancestry was taken from them, and less so to the people who took it from them? I think it's really important to think about this question, because although one's initial reaction might be, "I have nothing in common with my racist ancestors!" unless you REALLY take the time to think it through carefully, and in different contexts, you might end up inadvertently replicating some of their attitudes. After all, deep behavioral programming, modeled on what is witnessed generation after generation in a family, can leave an imprint on one's consciousness that has quite a big blind spot in front of it. So, if your family, your relatives, your ancestors were racists, or if they enslaved people, or if they profited from slavery, or if your ancestors were colonizers, or if they carried racial prejudices (we are now at pretty much everyone, I think), watch your own mind carefully: even if you are doing the intellectual work of standing against those things, you still might have behavioral tendencies toward prejudice or aversive racism. And it's pretty sneaky when they catch up with you, especially if you think of yourself as being beyond them.
The good news is, you can destabilize ingrained patterns of prejudice and aversive racism. I suggest destabilizing them with education and personal ritual. The education part I leave up to you. Go do the work. Look up articles and read further on aversive racism. Read Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy. Follow Crystal Blanton's writings and the writings of other women of color on Daughters of Eve. Check out Colorlines. Seek out detailed information about your own family, and dig harder when you see something you don't like. Really root it out. Think to times you have felt uncomfortable about race, about your whiteness, or about your family history. Gather resources that help you move beyond negative behavioral patterns. Read more about how racist attitudes prevail subtly in American culture. Really dive in and decide to counter any sense of resistance you might have to doing this with curiosity about finding the truth of the matter. Then, get to work on the ritual aspects.
For those who know there were racists in their family history: Gather the names of your white ancestors, as well as any other data you can find, especially those you know were racist. This even includes grandparents or relatives who were not "outright mean" racists, but were even just "slightly" racist "because of the times." What were their names, where did they live, what did they do for a living, how much money did they have when they passed on, where did they come from? Why were they how they were--what factored in? Look for any resemblance to your own life, views, or circumstances. Write their names on a piece of paper.
Get a black candle, and on a Dark Moon place it on a fire-safe surface, with the scraps of paper placed next to it. Wash your hands and face with some blessed water (meaning holy water or water you have blessed yourself), and let them dry. Sit with the scraps of paper with the names, and light the candle. Create a sphere of rainbow light all around you, and using meditation and focus, fill that bubble of light with the vibrations of purification and resolution. Name your ancestors out loud as you invite them to climb up from your family's past along the double-helix ladder of your own DNA. Envision that this ladder comes up out of your belly or along your spine, and that then they appear in front of you. Whether you are imagining this or actually seeing it happen, either is ok.
As they reach the top of the ladder, they stand in front of you. Create a bubble of purification and resolution around you. When you encounter the ones who are racist, who participated in slave trade, colonization, or harming indigenous people, envision them standing face to face with you as you say to them, compassionately but firmly, "So-and-So, I am of your line but not of your ways. I now vow, in your witness and the witness of all of my ancestors, that I will rise above the racism in our family's history, and create healing where I am able." Then, envision them passing out of the bubble of purification and disappearing. If you do not know their names, or cannot get ahold of good family history, just acknowledge them collectively, "All of my unknown and unnamed ancestors, I am of your line but not of your ways..." etc. You aren't "banishing" them when you do this, but you are setting an intentional energetic shift that separates your choices from their patterns, beliefs and behaviors. After this is complete, bury the piece of paper on which the names are written to lay your ancestors back to rest. Do this for as many Dark Moons as you need to. Renew periodically. From there, continue to educate yourself about the realities of racism in history and now, and move on to the next ritual.
For those who do not know if their family was racist, presume there was at least one or two, and perform the above ritual. Then move on the the next ritual.
For those who have performed the above purification, and for those who know their family was not racist, nor participants in enslavement, but still want to help: The following is a collective atonement ritual. In this rite, we basically choose to take responsibility for creating healing even when we may not have been the cause of the problem.
Get a rainbow candle or a candle with more than one color in it. Light it at the Full Moon and set it on a fire safe surface. Hold a crystal or stone that you will carry in your pocket or purse after this. Perform a meditation in which you start thinking about everything you own, such as money, food, property, cars, luxury items, clothing, precious things that were inexpensive, family mementos, books, shoes, and the like. Think about who may have suffered so you can have these things. Envision yourself giving each of these things away to the people who have been harmed by racism. If you know your family participated in slavery, specifically envision yourself giving these things to the people who were enslaved by your family, and all of their descendants. Otherwise, just envision giving everything away to those millions of unknown individuals who lost their lives due to racism. As you give each item away, it miraculously multiplies and changes shape and color to suit its recipient, so that soon everyone has everything they need and want: food, shelter, clothing, nice things, safe transportation, art, beauty. In the vision, you have these things, too. Everyone does.
Next, begin to think of symbols that represent your non-material wealth: your personal qualities, such as honesty or confidence, your talents, your education, your health, your freedoms, and your privileges. Anything to which you have grown accustomed or felt entitled, that other might not have. Anything that has benefitted you at all. Envision yourself giving these things away to those negatively affected by the legacies of racism, colonization, and slavery. Envision each and every person who has been stripped of their dignity and rightful place of empowerment being elevated, until all beings are truly, truly equal on all levels: materially, in terms of power, in terms of privilege, and so on. As you give each non-material item away, it multiplies, so that by the end of the visualization, everyone on Earth has everything they need to be successful: health, education, good conditions, empowerment, rights, freedom, and ample unique talents to share. In the vision, you have these things, too. The feeling of equality and enoughness creates a spark of light that grows in your heart like a bubble.
Now, resting in the space of this feeling of abundance for all, and make the following vow out loud: "I vow, here in the witness of my ancestors, to help others gain what is needed for their well-being to the best of my ability." Send that vow forth from your heart in the bubble of light. It rises and bursts, showering the entire world.
In this ritual, you are acknowledging that all people are deserving, worthy, and you are vowing to act that way, regardless of what your ancestors did. You are vowing that you will help those who do not have your same level of privilege as you, from your position of relative empowerment, mindfully. Repeat this practice as often as necessary, and carry the crystal or stone in your wallet or pocket to help remind you to be of service as best you can, from the small act of giving change to a homeless person, to referring someone you know for a job, to writing a letter of recommendation for a scholarship, to helping raise funds for a local organization benefitting people of color. There are many things you can do, and many things that need to be done to right the wrongs perpetuated upon people of color and the marginalized and colonized. Get involved in doing those things.
I don't think these rituals will solve all of our problems, so please don't just do these and then think, "Ok, I'm done!" Confronting racism, and any -ism, really, is an ongoing process of learning and growth. However, it is my experience that when we sanctify our political aspirations and intentions, we are more likely to follow through and take them seriously. I hope these methods are useful for you.