Updated: Dec 24, 2022
I have a lot of questions come across from folks that are seriously starting to practice a long term practice about ancestor work. Some folks want to start ancestor work, but don't know their family history. Some folks look at it, and they get so confused because everyone has a different take on it. Some folks don't want anything to do with their blood family. I also see lots of folks that want to honor folks that aren't blood family.
Ancestor work is the first type of spirit centered magical practice that a lot of systems or traditions suggest starting with, and for good reason. If you know your ancestors, even just one or 2, then you can learn how to interact with a spirit, with someone you already know. Someone you already know is probably going to be much more forgiving if you screw something up.
Starting ancestor work isn't hard in this case. Set up a place to honor them, and find things that they would like. I start with one person, and move out from there. Pictures of folks are good, as are things that they owned, or things that you know they would like. I do like food, or especially beverages, as regular offerings. Step one in this case is to set up the space, and then set aside some time to have coffee with your ancestor, same as you might have done when they were alive. I don't overcomplicate this. Spend some time with them, pouring some coffee for yourself, and for them. Make that coffee the way they liked it, which might mean it's not coffee at all. If your ancestor was a tea drinker, maybe it's tea for them. You know them, and you know what they like. Once a week for a while. Fill them in on what's going on in your life.
So, what do you do then if you don't know any blood ancestors? Some folks would say that ancestor work starts with spirits you don't know. I'll disagree with that. I'd say that blood ancestors are kind of seperate, but you are probably better to start working with someone who's passed that you already know. Same things can apply here.
Either case, couple things to note here. I only sit down with someone about once a week. That said, one thing that a lot of folks say is that the dead are always thirsty. I don't know how true that actually is, but I do know that a glass of water that's changed every day has become a cornerstone of my ancestor work.
What do you do though if you don't have anyone that you knew in life? What do you do if you don't want your family around? Well, you find someone. There's a concept of the chosen family. These are folks you're not related to, that you choose to make a part of your family. When we do this with ancestors, I call this the Honored Dead. Someone who's life inspired you? Great! We see this idea of "who would you have coffee with if you could?" Well, why wouldn't you do that? Yes, it means meeting someone new, but that's alright.
As you start to explore other ancestors or honored dead, and start looking at all the different things that you're "supposed to do" with ancestor work, there's a simple thing I want you to remember. What do these things mean to YOUR ancestors. More than most things, ancestor work is bound by your culture. Think about it this way, these folks are folks that are raised in your family, with your family values. So what does whatever mean TO your family? Alchohol is very traditional as a sort of "water of life" deal, for offering to the ancestors, but if grandpa didn't drink in life, why would he start now? If Aunt Lisa was an alchoholic, why would you encourage that?
I always suggest that while you can do the "stay quiet and listen" thing, a divination tool can help with communication. Let them talk to you through your tool, offer things you know they like, keep a space for them, and stay in touch. Ancestor work at least doesn't have to be more complicated than family.