Some of our Ancestors may have become part of the collective known in Haitian Voudon as “the Ghede”. They are the spirits of the “forgotten dead”, unnamed and unremembered but no less sentient for it. Voudon recognizes that even in cultures where honoring ancestors is important, not every name will be remembered and the religion gives those who practice it an “out” in the form of the Ghede.
I try very hard to honor my ancestors throughout the year. I have a small ritual which I learned when I was in college from those who practiced sevis lwa; service to the lwa. One makes an offering of the first drink of the day, whether it is coffee, milk, juice or water, while deliberately saying the names of those who have gone before. The little ritual is rightly done outside and the offering poured on the ground but at six thirty in the morning in January in Alaska no decent spirit would have the heart to make me go outside. It’s all I can do to open the door for our St. Bernard. In the winter, the offering goes down the sink. In summer, though, my Sitka roses benefit from my devotions.
Take the glass or cup that holds your beverage of choice in both hands and make an X in the air in front of your eye line. Bring the glass to the center of the X and toss it for just a second into the air. You are only releasing it very briefly, so spillage should be minimal. Say: Great ancestors, I honor you or something like that. I’m giving you my recitation; making up your own will add meaning to your ritual.
Now pour out some of the beverage and say: For those whose names are remembered, then recite the names of those family members who have died. I reach back as far as 300 years, to Big Rene and Rose Beluche but that is only because I know them. Perhaps you only have your grandparents’ names at hand; that is all you need. First names are plenty as well; it’s all family.
Now pour a bit more liquid out and say: For those whose names are forgotten, yet do I remember you here. Take a moment to meditate on all those ancestors that you have no knowledge of. I particularly remember my ancestors who were indentured and enslaved, who died in a place that was completely foreign to them without being able to pass on their names.
Pour a last bit of your drink and say: And for those who bones are buried in this earth upon which we tread, ancestors as we honor you watch over us. Now your ritual is done and, should you have a touch of good fortune during your day, it wouldn’t hurt to thank your ancestors again just in case they engineered your luck in response to your remembrance.
At this time of year you might consider taking up this or another ritual that brings you closer to your ancestors. They await your call and they will respond in kind. And then brag to their less fortunate friends about the honor done them by their descendants, like the proud parents they are.
Header: Dwapo lwa (prayer flag) of The Ghede available for purchase, along with many other lovely pieces of Haitian art, at La Sosyete Belle Fleur Ginen’s website