Ancestors for the Outcast

by Debbie Stellhorn, edited by Lore Mistedwood

Samhain season is important to Witches for many reasons; it’s the end of the harvest, it marks the beginning of the new year, and the veil is thin, making it easy to feel the presence of spirits. Many choose this time of year specifically to honor and work with deceased family members and their ancestors. This is a lovely part of our tradition, but for some of us who might be estranged from blood family for various reasons, it can make you feel like an outcast even in our Magickal communities.

My name is Debbie Stellhorn and I’m a new board member for the Temple of Witchcraft. I learned at a young age to simply not share about coming from an abusive family to avoid the many different responses that equated to, “I don’t understand.” Although years later, I haven’t found those typical responses in the Temple of Witchcraft or the Magickal communities I’ve visited, it can be difficult to be around Samhain celebrations with so much emphasis on honoring the dead when you don’t want to be reminded of family lines. Much of the work that is done with the dead at Samhain involves working with ancestors of blood. This brings up family of origin issues, as not everyone comes from a family that was healthy. Many of us come from families that were abusive.

Healing Verses Honor

With Witchcraft being so easy to access on social media these days, it is not hard to find reminders of Samhain being a time to focus on honoring your ancestors and deceased family members. If you do a quick internet search, you will find ideas about sending messages of love, looking at photos to remember the past, and calling forth your family line to speak to you at ritual, private or public. Working to heal your family line can be different from honoring individual deceased members, but sometimes these two things get lumped together. If you are working to heal your family line, it does not have to include going through a ritual where you are energetically interacting with family who were abusive to you.

Don’t Talk About the Abuse (even when the abuser is gone)

For the most part, it is easy to get through this time by simply not sharing information about your family or not participating in rituals where you would call your abusive deceased ancestors to attend in spirit. On the other hand, it brings up another problem. Not talking about it strengthens the “don’t tell anyone about the abuse” message so many of us encountered as children, which is another form of denying that the abuse occurred.

Families where abuse takes place do not tend to support those admitting to being a victim of childhood abuse, as many times this would force them to acknowledge that they too were or are victims, with deep pain and trauma within themselves that needs to be healed. Some of this denial is based on society still not being able to accept that such horrific things are done to children, especially if people did not have that experience.

Can’t You Find One Family Member to Honor?

There is also an option to work with ancestors further back in your line. This is a wonderful alternative for those who are ready. Then again, when you come from a family with a deep-seated pattern of intergenerational abuse, honoring the abusers who created your abuser doesn’t feel so great.

I was taught in therapy and by working in the social work/psychology field that sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do is to separate from an abusive family, even if it is your family of origin. So, what about family members who are deceased? I, personally, think that’s okay too. While I do believe that as Witches, we may not have created the problems that we are called to resolve, I think it’s okay to give yourself a break and to do things on your own terms. That includes deciding not to honor perpetrators of abuse.

You don’t have to honor someone’s memory to heal a family line. Part of what might need to be done is an energetic acknowledgement of the abuse for all those in the family who were victimized, never recognized, and passed without the opportunity for someone to validate their experience. Ignoring abuse to go with the flow and honor an abuser never bought to justice while alive might not be doing much good for the family line. Perhaps your abuser was abused too, and the entire cycle of abuse needs to be acknowledged by validating those who experienced abuse at the point in time where it occurred.

Maybe you’re not ready for that yet, and that’s okay. It’s difficult to help others, living or deceased, when you ignore your own wounds. Therapy can be a great asset and as Witches, we know that healing ourselves contributes to healing the family line.

As Witches, We Have Options

Even if you are going to forgo the open invitation Dumb Supper, graveyard visits, and reciting all deceased family members’ names, there are plenty of things you can do to honor yourself and the dead at Samhain and throughout the year:

  • Honor deceased friends and chosen family, those who took on parental roles for you.
  • Honor the unknown and forgotten dead, mourn for those who were never mourned.
  • Honor those murdered in Witch persecutions and trials.
  • Honor our Witch ancestors who have passed.
  • Honor those who were victimized within the family, known and unknown to you.
  • Do a ritual to honor yourself, perhaps the first of your line to break the cycle of abuse.

Taking control of how you want to handle coming from an abusive family is an individual decision and you must decide what is best for you. Part of a being a Witch is being sovereign and that includes departing from the mainstream even in Witchcraft itself.

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