Ancestral Prayers: How I communicate with Spirit
Initially, prayer was one of the strangest aspects of my healing journey. When I felt the need to recondition my mind and expand my form of spirituality, my biggest concern was...well, how do I pray? How do I speak to the divine without begging like something that needed to be saved? How do I talk to God? How do I speak as if I am a god speaking to the greater source I come from? Then there was the introduction to God the mother and God the father. It was quite uncomfortable and confusing. I wanted out of Christianity so bad that I consciously decided to take a break from it all together. I stopped praying. I desired to be more mindful of my words and how I chose to use its power by taking some time to reflect. To my surprise, my new journey brought me back to some religious aspects of prayer, however. At the end of the day religious practices came from the indigenous ways of ritual.
At first there were little things that made it easier. I remember being back home when I was younger in Burkina Faso, West Africa, riding in a car with my family, when my aunt randomly mentioned (in french so excuse my faint memory) that the ones before me (ancestors) had said the greatest prayers on my behalf and all I had to do was simply express from my heart. Every once in a while I would also hear in family conversations about the woman in town who in a sense was what I now call a prayer warrior. People would go to her with a request and she would pray for them. She was known to be very powerful and every request granted. There was no religious context spoken of in terms of what role this woman played in the community. Nonetheless even today, I still admire the religiously prayerful folks that can sit and pray for hours at a time. That is devotion. Religious or not the power of prayer has always been present and an element of every society, whether it be at a church or a river, with a candle or water; on your knees or standing.
No matter how many times I've doubted or downplayed the power of prayer, in my highest states of trance or inspiration, when the spirits and my higher self take over, my spirit always moves into a place of prayer in words that begin to sound like poems and at times unfold as a song or chant. At the end of the day, prayer is what I have found to mean entering codes into the universe or even a form of GPS navigation for energy to move, and finally, it is a highly personal journey. The words must resonate and ring true for you. My ancestors can tell when I am just checking off prayer on my to-do list versus when my whole heart, mind, and attention is fully present in my expression. I know the difference because my words will invoke chills/sensations within my body or my own words will move me to tears or I will begin to say things I wasn't even thinking to express and have the most profound realizations as if my words are the drumbeat to the voice/vibrations of spirits.
My prayer life varies greatly depending on what is happening with me or the intent. There are elements that I find significant to share as you navigate your way through prayer aka affirmations aka codes ;-).
To begin, just as when you are meeting someone for the first time, you introduce your name. From an ancestral perspective, your name is very important. It was given to you by a family member. It's how the village or world identifies you. Your name is what will be called upon by the griots who recite the story of the lineage. It is what connects you to the ones that came before you. It is your clan and your origins. Even today Africans will not only introduce themselves by name but by last names first, daughter or son of so and so. An African name tends to tell a story. My paternal last name is actually a long sentence in Moore (mossi language) which describes the type of people we are. In my own words, my father's last name means if you knew them you wouldn't f*** with 'em! LOL. Okay, but on a serious note: name all the ones you know, and don't forget your mother's maiden last name! The ones who recognize you or the name will hear, tune in and focus their attention on what you have to say.
Because indigenous people were so much more immersed in nature and understood these forces as elements within their being or a reflection of themselves they also called on these forces the same way we call on our ancestors names. If I truly accept myself as God/Goddess and all that is, I/we also invoke the energies that are present within: the air, the fire, the waters, the earth, the moon, the stars, the sun, the yin the yang, the deities, etc. You can name the many or focus your intention on one or a few frequencies to work with.
There are so many tools... Across traditions and religions, you may notice that some form of physical tool is used to assist in the ritual of prayer. Some of these tools are specific to certain lineages or to certain spirits. Sometimes an ancestor will reveal a tool that he/she used that you must or can also use to open the way for communication with the other realms. A tool, of course, is not always necessary nor mandatory. An important aspect of prayer in terms of tools is that they are here to helps us find or remember the right channel we are seeking to reach. A tool can help you invoke a feeling that later you now know how to invoke under any circumstance whether you have the tool on hand or not. The energy is much more important.
Think of your late grandmother's bible or prayer beads, for example, which was used by her mother before her. That's generations and many decades of energy that is being housed in this tool that you can now use to channel energy. These types of tools were and are passed down traditionally. This is another form of inheritance and why so many of our lineages were successful in certain pursuits for so long. I know many of us were not handed these kinds of tools but the ancestors are showing us what we can use now and bring back into use.
There are many tools that are common such as pouring libation (water or a form of drink) as you say your prayers. In South Africa, it is common to also use snuff or a form of tobacco sprinkled on the ground as you speak or burn impepho to communicate with the ancestors. There is also a 7 day ritual where specific herbs are mixed and used to communicate with the ancestors. There are many tools, variations and these types of tools are common amongst all peoples.
When there are no words... Many life situations have brought me to deep painful moments of silence where I just sat in front of my altar and starred. In these moments I can't speak and I can't formulate meaningful words. That is okay at times. Alternatively, I will just start to talk about every inch of the things that are bothering me. I don't force myself to speak from an elevated space. My prayer is thus more of a confessional where I spill it all out and hand it over to the beings that know what to do with it. And when all else fails I will lay and sleep at my altar to let the prayers I've invoked in the past and the energy I've generated there to hold me.
Tones and Song... Another thing I appreciate about SOME church folks is that they can speak in such a tone where they are directing energy in an assertive manner as opposed to begging for something as if they have no power. They speak in a way of affirming what is already done. This is where faith and trust truly kick in. I must add that I don't completely reject the concept of being "saved" because I innerstand how I'ved saved myself on this journey with a lot of assistance! I am still exploring different forms of expression. It can be tricky but your tone is so important more so from the perspective that you mean what you say. Sometimes we recite a prayer like someone is forcing us to do it or like we aren't really clear what all of this will do for our bank account or to change global circumstances. That is a longer topic for another day but for now, I will say be genuine in your tone.
I was definitely one of those folks that when asked to sing for the ancestors or in any situation really felt like finding a cave to hide out in. I did at first because it was expected and asked of me through my process but over time it's like my throat and heart chakra was set free. If you've been following me for a while you know my love affair with singing sacred songs/chants. This was a major breakthrough for me and opened a way for a deeper connection. Sometimes when I feel the spirits it's actually a song or frequency that I'm hearing. I start to hum and this repetitive sound comes into my ear as if I am hearing another realm far from earth. The power of music is often talked about especially with all the sound baths and sound healing that is emerging. Song and sound is the most original form of spirituality I know based on not only research but my personal experiences. In a ceremony, as we sing we are also praying. As the energy rises through the sound we also make our requests at the moment that the energies are high. When translated these songs speak to the human experience in the relation the spirits. They are a conversation with the gods.
Last, I would like to share about the importance of alerting the ancestors about our life changes. There are many challenges that we experience today because certain rites/rituals were not done at the moment of significant life changes and crossroads. From an African perspective, when we are born there is a series of processes to introduce this new life to the community, to name the child, to pass through puberty with wisdom, to introduce our husbands/wives to the ancestors so that all energies can get along smoothly, Lolobo or dowries to be exchanged, rituals to divorce, to wage war, even when your last name is changed, of course, the transition through death as well...and there are even some circumstances that require alerting the ancestors before leaving the house to go to work or school or wherever. I know some of that may seem extreme but the African way of thinking is more COMMUNITY and not just the INDIVIDUAL mindset. They are family, they care, and whether we see it or not they are already involved, we are simply ignoring them. Just as you may let your mom know things as you move through life, culturally it is also done with the ancestors. If we wish to be successful through the transitions like the ones I listed, we must include our elders in the decision making or alert them in a way that they can be of assistance. As I'm typing, the ancestors are saying some of us are moving through life without them as our life vest or wrestling to swim through waters to get to the other side when we could simply walk on the bridge they could provide us. They can act as a shield when we include them through prayer and other forms of ritual.
In the Ubungoma tradition, we speak of a collective of spirits amongst lineages who was an ancestor in the family who prayed a lot and acts as a messenger or spirit guide for us. This could of been a church going person, a monk, or a priest of some form. This could also be a family member who was forced into a more religious form of prayer life because it was dangerous to practice the indigenous ways. Since many of us come from cultural backgrounds where our original forms of spirituality were demonized, this type of ancestor is very common to walk with us as well. Learning about these spirits has allowed me to embrace the mystical aspects of religious practices and not shame what is also in my blood because of history.
I hope something I shared here opens the way for you to delve deeper within yourself. My intention is not to create rules but offer perspective & inspiration. I will be sharing more posts about mantras/prayers/affirmations/etc to explore soon!
Blessings to you on your journey.