Honoring the Ancestors When You’re Adopted

A reader asks, “I have a question about the “honoring ancestors” tenet. I am adopted, and don’t know my biological parents. When I envision my ancestors do I just think generally? For example, I am African American, do I just think of (for lack of a better term) random black people?

Image by Cristian Negroni via Canva


Well, first of all, keep in mind that not ALL Pagan traditions include ancestor veneration as part of their belief or practice.

There’s no hard and fast rule that says you have to do this, or that if you don’t, you’re not a Real Pagan™. However, many Pagans do include honoring their ancestors as part of their practice because it’s something that feels right to them. Since it sounds like it’s definitely something you’re feeling a connection to, let’s talk about the second part of your question: being adopted.

For some people, the notion of kinfolk is quite simple: it’s blood related ancestry, and that’s it, period. However, for many other people both in the Pagan community and outside of it, your family is the group of people who have raised you and loved you, whether you’re connected to them by DNA or not.

Ask any parent of an adopted child which kid they love better – their adopted one or their biological one – and you’ll get the same look of confusion and disbelief that you’d get if you asked the parent of two biological kids which one was their favorite. Your family loves you, and you love them – because you’re family.

So, let’s go on to the idea of honoring ancestors when you have no biological connection to the people who are your parents.

You have a couple of different options. The first is that you can honor the ancestors of your adopted family. That will probably be pretty easy to do – after all, you’ve grown up around them, you’ve seen their family photos on the wall, and you’ve listened to Grandma’s hilarious stories about her gin-crazed youth over Thanksgiving dinner. You could even set up an ancestor altar with family pictures and heirlooms.

Another option, and the one that your question specifically addresses, is that of honoring your ancestors from your biological family. There are a number of different ways to do this, but it can be tricky when you’re not entirely sure where your predecessors came from.

The first way, and one that works for many adopted people who have chosen not to pursue their biological parents’ information, is that of honoring archetypes. Now, this is still going to require a little bit of research, but it’s not nearly as complex as embarking on a DNA treasure hunt.

An archetype is a symbol. Let’s say I know that I’m of Eastern European ancestry, but not much else. That’s not a lot to work with, is it? There’s a whole lot of random white people I could be connected to. However, with a little digging, I discover that there are some legends among Eastern European countries that I find I really connect with. Taking it a step further, I learn about, for example, a folktale from the Carpathian mountains about a woman who lives in the woods, protects children from hungry wolves, and brews up magical potions. Was she real? Maybe – folktales often have some basis in reality. Maybe not – but regardless, she might be a good place to start. If I think of her as a spiritual ancestor, rather than a blood ancestor, I can still pay tribute to her as a symbol of the many people whose blood could be running through my veins.

Another way of connecting on an archetypical level is to do an ancestor meditation – this is a good way to let your mind wander back and see if you can connect, on a metaphysical level, with either individuals or archetypes who resonate with you spiritually.

You mention that your genetic background is African-American. Africa is a big place, and there are many countries, cultures, and folktales to work with. Doing some research into the different areas would be a good place to start.

It’s also important to note that many people are of mixed heritage. Mechon, who is an African American folk magic practitioner in North Carolina, weighed in on this for us. She says, “I can tell by looking in the mirror and at my mother that I have African ancestry. It’s pretty obvious. I’m black. Like, I’m really black. But once we get back more than three generations, I don’t know where the trail leads. My grandfather, who was a lot lighter than the rest of us, never knew his father, and the family legend is that he was white, although my great grandmother never said. My mother is a mix of African American and Cherokee. There’s a rumor that there’s some Irish DNA thrown into the mix as well, and I have an uncle who is light skinned with red hair, freckles and blue eyes. I used to feel like I could only honor my African ancestors – after all, I’m very proud of my black heritage – but the more I learn and journey and study, the more I realize that I can honor the ancestors of my spirit as well… and not all of them are biologically connected to me.”

In addition to honoring biological and archetypical ancestors, there is also is the concept of the family of the heart and soul – these are the people who love you and count you as family, either by blood, by choice, or by happy accident. They may include your best friend’s mom who let you sleep over every Friday night in high school, or your spouse’s dad who likes to take you fishing, or that wonderful distantly related cousin that shows up at random to just drop off things she knows you would like. Family of the heart and soul, for many people, is as valuable as the family you’re genetically connected to.

So, to answer your question: How do you honor your ancestors when you don’t know your biological background? The answer can be as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it. For now, try delving into some of the things mentioned above, and see where the journey takes you.

Make a Group of Yard Ghosts

When I moved a year ago, I discovered that while I had about five boxes of Yule decor, I had over two dozen boxes of Halloweenery – it’s my favorite time of year! And this is one of my favorite decorations to put out – every fall, random strangers would stop and take pictures of my front yard, because of all the Halloween nonsense, and this group of ghosts was always a huge hit. Here’s how you can make your own, with about $20 worth of random supplies.

Ain’t no party like a ghost party!!

For each ghost, you’ll need the following:

  • 1 4-foot length of 2″ PVC pipe, cut with a 45′ angle on one end
  • 1 plastic pumpkin
  • 2 lightweight plastic tablecloths (54 x108″)
  • 1 large zip tie
  • Black electrical tape

Pound the PVC pipe into the ground, as far as it needs to go to be stable. Invert the plastic pumpkin and place it upside down over the top of the PVC pipe to form the head – it’s a good idea to stuff the pumpkin with plastic grocery sacks or an old towel to keep it from flipping around.

Place one plastic tablecloth (usually these are available for a dollar or less at party stores) over the pumpkin longways to cover the head and form the arms. Place the other tablecloth over the pumpkin, crossing the first tablecloth, to cover the head and form the ghost’s front and back.

Use the plastic zip tie to form the neck, and secure your tablecloths in place. Cut small pieces of electrical tape to give your ghosts facial expressions. To connect your ghosts to one another, simply tie them together at the arms, to make it look like they’re holding hands.

For fun variations, make them in different colors, or attach hats to them with a staple gun.


Saturday Spellwork: Money Magic

For hundreds of years, people have used magic to bring abundance and wealth of one type or another into their lives. Let’s look at some of the various customs involving money around the world.

Image by PeteLinforth from CC0 via Canva

In parts of the Ozarks, it is believed that you’ll soon receive a letter with money in it if a honey bee buzzes around your head, according to Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore. There is also a legend, in some parts of Missouri, that if you see bubbles in your coffee, if you can drink them all before they disappear, a large sum of money is coming your way.

There’s a legend in some parts of Appalachia that if you burn onion peels rather than just throwing them away, you’ll never be poor.

In Hoodoo, there are numerous potions and “tricks” designed to bring money into your life. Jim Haskins says in his book Voodoo and Hoodoo that burning green candles anointed with money-drawing incense works well, and if you own a business, money oil is a good way to increase your abundance.

The use of a lodestone is found in some magical traditions as a way to attract money. The lodestone is “fed” with magnetic sand that is drawn to it — as money is drawn to your wallet.

This practice has been dated back as far as the days of ancient Rome — prostitutes figured out that carrying a lodestone as an amulet would attract the wealthier clients.

A practicing witch who asked to be identified as Eowynne says that in her family, which hails from Cornwall, England, there is an unusual custom involving babies and money. When a baby is six months old, she is given a large silver coin to hold onto. If the child is able to grasp the coin without dropping it, she’ll have no trouble attracting money as an adult. If she drops the coin, then she’ll have a hard time holding onto her cash when she grows up (important safety tip – if you’re going to have a baby hold a coin, watch to make sure it doesn’t become a snack).

Russia is the home of a superstition that scattered money draws even more wealth. Leave coins lying around in various places around your home — in drawers, under the bed, the back of the closet, etc. — and even more abundance will come your way.

Carry a Buckeye nut in your pocket to bring money your way at the gaming table or at the races.

Bay leaf, cinquefoil, Tonka bean, sunflower, and pennyroyal are also herbs associated with money magic.

In Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, author Christopher Faraone describes how a combination of amulets and incantations would have been used to draw money — as well as other things — towards someone.

How Many Pagans Are in a Group?

A reader says, I recently talked to a friend of mine who is in a coven – the group is Pagan but I don’t believe they’re specifically Wiccan – and told her I was interested in joining the group. She told me that the high priestess has set a limit that she’ll only have [number] people in the coven, and even if someone new is interested, they won’t take any more than that. Is this a red flag that means I should stay away from this group?

Image by Stonehenge Stone Circle via Flickr

Actually, no, it’s really not, as long as all the other aspects of the group are things that work for you. There may be any number of reasons that the high priestess (HPs) may have set this guideline. Let’s look at a couple of possibilities:

  • The leader(s) of the group may feel that this number – seven, thirteen, twenty, whatever it may be – is the maximum amount of people that she can manage effectively. Remember, a HPs is not just showing up for two hours to lead a ritual once a month – she’s also managing the group’s finances, making lesson plans if it’s a teaching coven, writing new rituals so everything is always fresh, studying and reading new material to share with the group, acting as a mentor and counselor, mediating potential disputes between members, and so on. If she’s concerned that trying to manage any more than X Number will lead to chaos – or at the very least, a less meaningful experience for existing members – then she’s wise to know her own limits. It’s also possible that the group’s constraints are due to limited physical space – if they meet in a room that only fits six people comfortably, a responsible HPs isn’t going to invite ten people in.
  • The group’s tradition may have determined that their number – again, whatever it is – is magically tied to their tradition. In some groups, particularly Neowiccan covens, thirteen is considered a perfectly magical number of people to have. In others, it may be nine, since nine is also considered a power number in Numerology. Regardless, there may be a magical significance behind the number, so it could be more than arbitrary.
  • It may be that the group only accepts members at certain times of the year. One coven I know of only takes new seekers in at the time of a blue moon, as sort of a play on the phrase “once in a blue moon.” This means the rest of the year, no matter what, their membership is closed to any new people.

If your friend’s group maintains a wait list, or at the very least, a contact list of interested prospective members, make sure the leaders have your name – this way, if someone does leave the group and will be replaced, the HPs can reach out to you to see if you’re still interested. All other things being equal, don’t let a limited membership roster scare you off.

It’s not uncommon to encounter, and it’s not a warning sign at all.

Image by Stonehenge Stone Circle Creative Commons License CC by 2.0 via Flickr 

Pagan Clergy and Confidentiality

A reader asks, “What guidelines are there in Pagan religions for clergy in matters of confidentiality? I am an ordained Pagan priest, and a member of the community has come to me with a problem. If I get involved, someone will end up in jail. However, if I don’t speak out, someone else will continue to be victimized. I don’t want to violate anyone’s trust, but I can’t stand by and see someone hurt. How do you think I should proceed?

Image by Goran Bogicevic via Canva

You know, this is a slippery slope that clergy of all religions have walked for centuries. There is certainly a need for confidentiality with any religious leader. After all, if we, as clergy, are to offer effective counsel to those who ask for it, those folks have to know that we will not betray their confidence.

On the other hand, there’s the matter of doing what’s right. If someone is being harmed, and you know about it, most Pagan traditions would argue that you have a responsibility to speak up and put a stop to it.

When someone comes to me in confidence and asks to speak to me as a priestess, it’s typically because they need advice. They’re trying to decide what to do about a potential job change, they want to know if they should go back to school, they need help communicating with their spouse or partner more effectively, and so on. It’s rare that anyone has come to me with anything as dramatic as what you’re describing, but here’s what I would probably do in your circumstances.

First, I’d ask myself why the person chose to confide in me. Do they just want someone to talk to? Are they hoping I’ll offer advice? If someone is in danger – either the person I’m speaking with, or someone they know – and they’ve come to me with their concerns, it’s because they want help.

Next, I’d figure out the seriousness of the issue, and how it impacts the individual or the community at large. If someone comes to me and tells me they’ve just been diagnosed with a fatal disease, or that they’re in recovery for addiction, that’s no one’s business but their own. There is no reason to share that with anyone – and chances are that they just want someone to listen to them.

I’m happy to do that.

On the other hand, if someone were to come to me and tell me they know their neighbor is abusing a child, or that their brother has killed someone and hidden the crime, then we’re talking about not only an ethical and moral obligation here, but a legal one as well. While you can’t be forced to speak out, most traditions would argue that it’s your responsibility to do so.

Also, depending on what state you live in, there may be laws that require you to report certain situations, regardless of your status as an ordained clergy person. For example, in some states, anyone who has knowledge of the abuse of a child is required to report it to law enforcement, no matter who they are.

Finally, in any of the cases above, I would counsel the individual to seek help with law enforcement or other appropriate agencies. Perhaps you could sit with them and offer support while they make that phone call, or while they speak with social workers, and so forth. I’ve driven a battered woman and her children to a shelter, because she was afraid to do it herself, and couldn’t take that step on her own. Empowering someone else to ask for help is often what they need you to do.

There’s a great article from back in 1985 by Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, in which she described the dilemma of a pastor who was made aware that a teenage girl in his congregation was being sexually abused by her father. Although the girl was terrified, the pastor told her how glad he was that she had come to him with this information. He also told her that although she didn’t want anyone to know what was happening to her, the only way to stop her father from hurting her was to get other people involved. After much discussion, she finally understood that if she wanted to be safe, other people had to help too – and she called Children’s Services from the pastor’s office. The father was charged and convicted, and later went into treatment. The girl herself was able to get counseling from a qualified mental health professional. The pastor was able to help the girl to help herself, and so did not violate the trust she had placed in him.

Certainly, I would say if you believe a crime is being or has been committed, you’ve got a responsibility to the victim to make sure they get help. Because not every case is the same, you’ll have to weigh the balance of your obligation for confidentiality against your role as a leader and helper of the community. It’s all part of being clergy, and it isn’t always easy. However, if you follow your ethical guidelines, and those of your particular tradition, you’ll be far better equipped to make the right decision.