The ROI on Family

We've been honoring our beloved dead for several decades now, but it's only in the last eight years or so that the work has expanded beyond the confines of this time of year. I wish we'd done it sooner. Because of all the spiritual practices of our household, the one with the best Return on Investment is our work with the ancestors.

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I'd describe my entire religious and spiritual life as, well, relational. I'm always focused on the relationships I can build. With Deities who've shown an interest, with spirits of place, and with my actual relations. The most reliable and most supportive are, by far, our beloved dead. After all, they have a vested interest in seeing our family do well and a much better grip on the challenges and issues of the modern world than a lot of ancient spirits.

Plus in my case, the Deities I work most closely with are not gentle. They're tough and they challenge me. They aren't nurturing. My family on the other hand? Well, they watch out for me.

Please note that when I talk about Return on Investment (ROI) I'm not necessarily talking about financial return. In fact, both the investment in and return on magical and spiritual practices can be physical, emotional, mental, time-based, and so on. Despite this, I think that considering ROI is an important tool for deciding how to prioritize your magical work.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in what's cool or trendy, what the latest popular book suggests, or what pleases us aesthetically, that we forget to focus on what works. Experimentation is fun, but the question we have to ask ourselves is whether we're getting something back for our efforts. Not only good fortune, but also emotional, health, or personal growth benefits.

That means that when I say that honoring the dead gives the most return for the effort, that's my experience and my experience alone. Still, I'm not the only one who thinks so. After all, honoring those who've gone before is so ubiquitous throughout the world, throughout history, and across all different kids of religions, it might be close to universal spiritual guidance.



The investments we've made in honoring our ancestors are relatively small. First, we brought them out of the closet, literally, and into the center of our home. Second, we honor them in small ways (with a greeting or good morning) and offerings on a more regular basis. Third, we ask them to watch over our household. Finally, I've integrated my relationship with my grandmother into my CircleThrice work as a patron. And of course, we still do a major offering at this time of year.

In terms of results, without getting too personally specific, here are some areas where I've seen an impact:
  • Improved relationships with living relatives.
  • Increased good fortunate or luck.
  • Positive household energy and smoothed interactions.
  • Uncrossing and road opening.
  • Stability in the desired areas -- particularly those that are beneficial to the household.
  • Enhanced divinatory intuition (this is probably specific to my background, but if you have relatives who had the same kind of job or hobby as you, I recommend calling on them for assistance).
This work has been so helpful that I hope to extend it as part of my year-long personal project. Here are some of the areas that I'm working on:
  • Adding additional extended family to the ancestor wall -- this was by request and they will be introduced tonight.
  • Being more regular with small offerings.
  • Being more specific about the things that would be helpful.
If you're not in the habit of working with your ancestors, this would be the perfect time to give it a try. Simply get any photos or other objects from your beloved dead and set them up someplace in the middle of things. Just make sure there aren't any living people in the photos. If you don't have anything from them, write their name or 'title' (ie grandmother's grandfather) on a piece of paper and mark with a drop of your blood. Add a flame (lantern, candles) and incense and then set out the offerings. Our SOP includes: tea, liquor, flowers lying on the alter (dahlias this year but often roses), pomegranates and apples, gourds, pet treats (we have 4-footed beloved dead too), chocolate, etc. 

Frankly, I don't make a big fuss about it. I just call on them by name and we toast them. These are family members after all -- no need to be formal. This year I have some wonderful Dia de los Muertos gourmet chocolate skulls (so I can be all culturally appropriative in my celebrations). In past years, they've gotten part of the budding psychonaut's trick-or-treat haul. In the earliest years, they got a bit of whatever we happened to have.

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Everything will sit out overnight and tomorrow all the offerings will get composted. It's always interesting how flat and, well, dead they seem. Very different from offerings to the Gods, where there's this sense of sharing with and enjoying the thought more than the essence. No, the dead drain the essence of the offerings in a way that makes me wonder about vampire legends.

Your mileage may vary of course, but I recommend reaching out and back to those who've come before you and those your remember. It's a smart investment.

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