Over at The Bad Witch Files that Bad Witch posted on about her roots a few days back. I read her entry and I was marveling and nodding along (as I tend to when she gets on a slant about something) and we ended up having a small discussion about this growing trend in paganism in which those who connect with their akhu (ancestors) will pick and choose who they pay homage to. So for example, they’ll cut out Great-Uncle Joe because he beat his wife, but they’ll keep the wife in question because she was a down-home soul who weathered the storm her husband inflicted upon her and came out right on top. After chattin’ with the Bad Witch about this, I began getting thoughts in my head that I had to blog about this. I’ve been feeling this way for a while, but the nudge really got going when she touched on her roots first.
I have to admit that I’m a bit stumped by those who pick and choose their akhu. Don’t get me wrong; I get it to a point. Why would you want to give any bit to a person who was shitty in life? Or, at least, that’s the prevailing theory I have about those people – shitty in life means that they don’t deserve anything after the fact. The thing is that, to me, it doesn’t really matter who they were or why they were or what they did or any of that jazz. We don’t know why they did what they did because we don’t, as the Sister said earlier, have a Tardis to go back in time with. (I don’t understand this reference except that it has something to do with Dr. Who and that he flies in time in it.) You can’t just pick up a psychology degree and start going through your family tree, trying to understand the ins and outs of every personal nuance that created the asshole apple on that particular branch. And ignoring the akhu in question doesn’t deny that they are a part of what made you as you are today, genetically anyway.
Case in point, my daddy was not a good person. He wasn’t a bad person, either, but he did a lot of fucked up shit to his first wife, to his kids, and to his second wife (my mother). He also did a lot of good. He adopted me without a single boo about it, willingly able to take on the responsibility of someone else’s kid. But, as I said, he wasn’t all that terrific about everything either. He was an alcoholic. He had some serious demons eating away at him. And while I could easily snub him because of what he did to the family with his callous actions, I wouldn’t do that. Damned if he did or damned if he didn’t, the man is still my daddy. He is the man who would have sat on the front porch with a shotgun if he had lived long enough to scare away the boys. He would have watched Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony with me over and over and over again if I needed him to. Even though I consciously know that he did some fucked up shit in a lot of different ways and to a lot of different people, I would never snub him out of my akhu, my remembrance, my love.
And maybe it’s because of this that my view is skewed.
A lot of people who have prominence in my life were not all they appeared to be. I’m finding this out now, after the fact. A prime example is my grandmother’s blatant disregard for blue-collar and that lovely attitude she has invested in some of her children to this day. Another example is my Papa, who I only just learned was probably one of the gods’ most perfect assholes. He was a nasty, sick old man with serious issues, but he still holds a place on my altar.
Now, these people are people who I grew up around, loved to be with, looked up to, and just generally felt love in return. But as I grow older and people are more willing to tell me things, knowing that I can put it into a different perspective at 29 that I wouldn’t have been able to do even ten years ago, I find out that they were all, in some form, an asshole. They fucked shit up in some major epic ways and screwed the pooch in more minor ways. However, they all still hold a place in my akhu shrine and I go to visit them and I feed their kau and I love them, to this day. However, in the knowing of them, in the remembering the people who I thought they were, shouldn’t I be more likely to want to remove them from my sight? To know that they will not be touched by anything I give them? To get them the fuck out of my life when I learn that they are horrible people?
And the reason is because they were human. They were happy and they were sad. They were angry and they were fearful. They made mistakes and they corrected those mistakes. They showed me love. And while I know that they had their screw ups and that they weren’t always perfect, I don’t expect them to be. I did as a child because all children have that unique perspective where all the adults in their lives are super in some way or another. But, this isn’t the case. As we grow up, we learn that the people who held special provenance in our hearts are not as picture perfect as we always assumed. And in some cases, we can accept this fact and in others, we cannot.
I guess I’m lucky because I accept this fact.
But all of my examples have been of real, live people who I lived with, loved, and miss terribly. What about all the other akhu in my shrine? I have places for all the people of my father’s family line, my mother’s family line, the family line I was named after, and any Deadz that are sad and lonely with no one left to care about them. (I usually pick them up on my way out of a cemetery I tend at, mentioning that I’m all for giving attention to the unwanted and forgotten.) That is a serious a lot of Deadz to give attention to and to feed. But, even though that shrine is kind of all-purpose resting place for all of the Deadz I come into contact with or I have some connection with either by blood or in other ways, they still have a space. They still have somewhere to go to on the nights where I honor them in the most devout and loving ways that I can think up.
This includes any asshole apples in my family tree.
The reason I don’t cut them out is partially because I don’t cut out the toxic ones I knew in life. If I’m not going to cut off TH’s grandfather who was a very angry, brutish man in life and is little better in death, then why am I going to cut off people I don’t know? Or whom I know only in name and by a few stories we can tell now and again? Why would I want to pick this person and pick that person, but completely ignore this other person? To me, that’s not fair for what’s left of their souls. And to me, that’s not fair because not everyone is angry after the fact. And even those who are, they probably have their reasons. And again, it’s not like we can go back and figure out why they did what they did. And why would we want to?
The Sister has been very fond lately of telling me that thinking about the past is useless because we don’t live there anymore. I’m both amused and irritated by this statement. But, in this case, that statement makes perfect sense. We don’t live in the past and the souls that have stuck around, even those asshole ones, don’t live in the past anymore. They can be angry and they can be frightened and they can be alone. They can lash out and they can cry and they can want company. They are just as human today as they were when they had a meat suit. (Oh, can you tell I’ve been watching Supernatural lately?) They may still hurt and use the souls of the people they did in life but they may not. They may have learned from their mistakes and they may not have. It doesn’t matter. They’re no more perfect now than they were then. They made mistakes and in some cases they probably still believe that they made those mistakes doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter.
Those asshole apples are still a part of the bloodline that runs through the veins of the practitioner who is communing with them. And picking who goes where on the altar space seems a little childish to me. It smacks more of favoritism than anything else. It reminds me of those days when I was picked last to play team sports in high school. All the popular kids got first dibs and I was left in the cold, per usual. While we can’t quite honor everyone with a specific spot (we all have too many akhu now to have mementos out for everyone), we can at least have an all-purpose communal moment now and again. And that’s what I do.
I have an all-purpose ritual at least once a year in which I connect with the Deadz; mine, yours, theirs, and strangers. It doesn’t matter to me what souls come on down for a feed because while you reject them, I won’t. I don’t do this to make it seem like I am better than you. It’s not like I’m saying this to be all smug and an asshole. In some cases, I get it.
For instance, I was chatting it up with a friend of mine about this recently. And she remarked that while they all have ties to her on a genetic level, they didn’t go into making her who she is today so she feels no compulsion to honor them. In this instance, I can see the point-of-view. In some respects, I can even agree with the point-of-view. But again, I won’t deny those people who she may deny a place at my altar space, eating the spirits’ meal that I make for them. She may not wish to give them the energy they want and desire, but I will. I do. The reason being that I don’t think that who we are today, as in the very essence and personality, that we are today is the reason we should honor our akhu in the first place. It’s not a matter of giving love and energy to beings that are part of who we are, but who are tied to us by sweat, blood, labor, birth, death, hate and love.
And frankly, if I can honor the akhu of the man who denied having any genetic tie to me, then I think everyone else can at least give it a shot.