Continuing with the theme of hearth cult, I want to touch base with all of you on one of its central pieces. Essential to Fyrnsidu, and just about any other Heathen or Pagan custom. Ancestors and ancestral reverence. To look at this integral part of practice in both the ancient sense, and see how it applies to those who practice Fyrnsidu today.
It takes little effort to explain who ancestors are. They are, of course those from whom we are literally descended by blood, or by adoption or marriage. Others may go to further steps to provide other qualifiers, I leave that to the groups and individuals themselves to determine.
To explain why they are important should, in most cases, be self evident. After all, without them, you would not exist. It isn’t always a matter of fondness, though it can be. We may have tales of some of our ancestors. Or had been very close to some who we knew in our lives.
In the past, the Elder Heathens, of course, deeply revered their ancestors. Not that such a thing was uncommon throughout the world, it certainly wasn’t. In England, during the Anglo-Saxon age, we see that many people are buried with grave goods. This shows a process of continued gifting with the departed.
Before I go any further, it is important to mention that there was not a universal way of how the dead were interred in this time period. In almost any area, there is evidence for both cremation and burial.
To quote Stephen Pollington, in his work ‘Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England’ (page 446, paragraph 4):
“The two planes for the dead were the horizontal – the inhumed in their graves – and the vertical – the cremated who escaped the material world in the funeral fire.”
To touch on my next point, of ancestral reverence in the historic context, same author and book, this is said (page 447, paragraph 4):
“The impetus for ancestor-worship among the Anglo-Saxons and their neighbours may have been nothing more than a strong bond between kinsmen which could outlast and overcome death.”
This is the point that really drives it home. These were a people for whom familial ties could mean life or death. So, a closer family was more likely to survive, since there was not the social ”safety net” we see today. This can be shown in the reciting of ancestral tales, as well as the offerings such as food and weapons left in graves.
What this shows is that to the Elder Heathens, death was not the end of the gifting cycle. Once one died, and was regarded as ancestor, offerings continued. We see this being discouraged in laws post conversion. Such as in Theodore’s Penitential, written in the seventh century:
“He who causes grains to be burned where a man has died, for the health of the living and of the house, shall do penance for five years.”
As often, laws made by the early church can sometimes shed light on what might have been Pagan practices, burning grain for the dead seems to be one way offerings were made to ancestors.
In the present, there is little reason, with regards to Fyrnsidu, to not continue the gifting cycle with our ancestors. I would say almost none. After all, we are here because of them. Their ears are likely the most open to contact from practitioners. Not the only, but the most likely.
After all, from wherever your ancestors hail, they have survived wars, plagues, and countless hardships that have led to your existence. Some of you may have tales about those very things. Such that perhaps in some way, it inspires you to do things that later generations in your own line will remember with pride.
Ancestor offerings can also be either general or specific, to a particular ancestor at a particular time. Regardless of the case, it is an integral part of any serious practitioner’s custom. It is the reforging of broken chains through history. An element of practice not only seen in Fyrnsidu, but countless other practices the world over.
Even today, it is taboo to disrespect the dead. There are also many different burial customs that practiced in modern Western societies. Even the laying of flowers upon a grave is a type of offering! In many places there are also traffic laws regarding the passing of a funeral procession.
In our day to day lives, small offerings can be given to them periodically. Or, at least, words of thanks, or the recitation of ancestral tales. This is “bread and butter” Fyrnsidu. Perhaps the most important rituals we have are our ancestral rituals. Its place immovable, like a massive tree. The reason such is immovable is its roots.
There are, of course, those for whom this may be a sensitive issue. Not everyone gets along with their families, or some of their ancestors may have done terrible things. Though optimal, it isn’t always about love. Remembering our connection to our ancestors is also about remembering how we arrived to where we are today.
Just as we may thank Thunor for rain, we have our ancestors to thank, if for no other reason, for the fact that we exist. Without them there is no you, there is no Heathenry to revive. So, even if your relationship with them is less than well, since through them, you exist, you can then take it into your hands to bring about the deeds that you find worthy of pride.
It still starts with them. Honoring that connection starts with you.