Today I will share with you an essay I wrote about my understanding of and relationship to the Three Kindreds, ADF’s collective term for the Ancestors, Nature Spirits, and Deities. Reflecting on the nature of the Kindreds proved spiritually fruitful. Also, this is my personal understanding only. It does not reflect the spiritual diversity found in ADF as a whole. You will see references to the Upperworld/Heavens, the Midworld, and the Underworld. These Worlds are simply a way to approximate locations for the Kindreds (and make Them easier for us humans to understand).
The Three Kindreds are categories of Beings that ADF uses to distinguish Them from each other. These Beings are the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, and the Gods and Goddesses. All Three Kindreds reside in the Otherworld, the spiritual plane that is beyond our normal senses but overlaps with our world. Each of the Kindreds can be reached through formal ritual or informal spoken or silent prayer that may or may not include offerings. For some people, meditation may be an ideal means of contact, though I personally have difficulties meditating. In my experience, appropriate offerings include coffee, milk, and water for the Kindreds in general. All of the Kindreds have provided me with blessings throughout my practice, such as assistance getting a bachelor’s degree, healing loved ones, and comfort in difficult times.
The first specific Kindred I will discuss is that of the Ancestors. I personally divide Ancestors into three groups: those of blood, those of heart, and those of spirit. Ancestors of blood are those to whom I am biologically related, like my paternal grandfather or the Vikings (known through a DNA test). Ancestors of heart are friends and pets who have passed, like my dog Sammy who was put to sleep, or my friend Phil who died during a kidney transplant. Ancestors of spirit are those peoples who have influenced my spiritual practice, like the Ancient Druids, the Vikings, and even Isaac Bonewits, ADF’s Founder. Most often, I offer coffee to the Ancestors because that is something more recent Ancestors would have liked in life. I have offered Them white sage before, since the herb reminds me of my small percentage of Native American heritage.
My personal relationship with the Ancestors is a bit odd. In many cases, I didn’t like my relatives much in life. Once these same relatives died, however, I immediately mourned for their loss and respected them. Now that I am older, I realize that without my Ancestors, I would not exist, at least not as I am today. The mere existence of the Ancestors has taught me to be grateful for the family and friends with whom I am alive.
I associate the Ancestors with the Underworld because the bodies of Ancestors are generally buried within the Earth to become part of the material that nourishes Life. This is Their way of providing sustenance for the Nature Spirits that once sustained Them (the Ancestors) in life. I associate the Ancestors with the Land because They provide this sustenance for the Spirits, and They are buried within the Land itself. To me, the Ancestors are also associated with the Sea. Ellis Davidson mentions in various places in her book Gods and Myths of Northern Europe that many Vikings were buried in a ship or even cremated with a ship set to sea, resulting in my association of the two.
The next specific Kindred I will discuss is that of the Nature Spirits. I feel that They are often overlooked in people’s personal practice that isn’t officially within ADF, since much discussion on the mailing lists seems to center on hearth culture and ritual in general. The Nature Spirits provide sustenance for humans in the form of food and drink. They also provide us with timber for shelter and fibers for warm clothing. They make our lives possible, and thus deserve more respect and worship.
I feel as if I don’t have a close relationship with the Nature Spirits, but as I wrote in my nature awareness essay, I have a relationship with Them nonetheless. I take a moment to look for birds in the tree outside my window when I get up. I observe the sun’s position in the sky at the same general times of day throughout the year. I pay attention to the phases of the moon. I am happier on long sunny days, especially those in spring, because I am filled with joy and hope as I see new life appearing. I maintain this relationship in a number of ways, one of which is making offerings to Them both within and outside of ritual. Usually I offer bread, though They also seem to like organic lavender flowers and simple bottled water.
I associate the Nature Spirits with the Midworld because we humans interact with nature on a daily basis, though often just in the form of road conditions or temperature. Of the Three Realms, Nature Spirits are associated most often with the Land, where most of Them live. I also associate Them with the Sky because birds and rain (and other forms of precipitation) have strong ties to the Sky. Precipitation ties the Nature Spirits to the Shining Ones. Precipitation is formed by Nature Spirits put into motion by Shining Ones such as Thor, Zeus, or Frey (gentle rains). In addition, the sun is usually personified by a Deity. Its warmth helps plants (Nature Spirits) grow.
The final specific Kindred I will discuss is that of the Shining Ones, the Gods and Goddesses of various Indo-European cultures. The Shining Ones are generally Whom we call upon for strength, fertility, extra money for bills, and matters of the heart. Individually, They often choose a group of people who will dedicate themselves to Their service. They also help ensure the Order of the Cosmos remains by Their power and magic.
My relationship with the Deities is generally one of asking for assistance with life issues. However, I do offer Them simple praise and worship many times through the year, not just on High Days. When I do ask for something, it is always accompanied by an offering, whether a lit candle left to burn itself out, food, a beverage, or just a few words of praise. When I was working with the Hellenic pantheon, I often offered wine (red and white), bay leaves, and olive oil. Now I commonly offer the Norse Shining Ones herbal incense made with wormwood, thistle, and dandelion, as well as mead on High Days. I believe I have also offered Them frankincense a few times.
I personally see the Deities both around me (as the wind or fertility) and above me, so I associate Them with the Upperworld/Heavens and the Midworld, though They also have a presence in the Underworld as “ruler” of the Ancestors. Related to this idea are the two groups of Deities of the Norse: the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir are the Deities of Asgard, the Norse version of the Heavens, Who govern abstract concepts like wisdom and war. The Vanir are Deities Who govern concepts like death and fertility, related to the Earth. They have a special hall called Vanaheim. I see the Shining Ones in all Three Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky. They are in the Land as fertility and as the Earth Mother Herself. They are in the Sea as rulers of the Realm and the winds blowing across the water. They are in the Sky as the sun, rain, thunder, and lightning.
Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Penguin Books, 1964. Kindle edition.