The Three Kindreds are the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits and the Deities. These categories are not completely clear cut, but they can be found throughout different cultures, therefore creating a universal concept. In the tripartite universe, in which ADF is working, they can be assigned to the different parts of the Tree of life and the Dumézilian tri-function. However here as well, the categories are permeable and although the saying comes from the Qabbalalistic Tree of life “A tree in every sephirah” – it is equally true here a: “ A tree in every world.
I will start by examining the Ancestors, the Mighty Dead, as they are the closest to us. They belonged once to us, the living folk, and passed on becoming our forefathers and mothers. In all old cultures there is a strong Ancestor veneration.
The Ancestors can be seen at the root of the sacred Tree. In the Tripartite middle they are connected to the Underworld and the Source. There is an interesting parallel in the “mitochondrial Eve hypothesis”, as Hebrew chavvah (Eve, one of Asherah’s title) means source of life. For better or worse, our Ancestors are our source. Showing their different functions they can be categorized as Ancestors of the blood, the culture and the land.
The blood Ancestors can be placed on the root, being truly our source in giving us bodily life and a sharing their DNA. Included here is the way we are brought up and this is why I believe adoption makes blood Ancestors. We often not only carry the DNA of our Ancestors, but especially in the youngest generations they represent what we have adopted through believe- and behavioral pattern in our families. You can see this most strongly exemplified in abusive pattern that can be found within different branches and generations of a family. But here you can also find the roads not taken, where someone started another path explicitly NOT wanting to be like the Ancestors – but still in the decision formed by them.
The cultural Ancestors can be placed on the crown of the tree, paralleling on some level the Shamanic masters. Cultural Ancestors can be persons from our culture, who have shaped our culture; here we obviously have an overlap with some Ancestors of the land. Cultural Ancestors I often like to call Ancestors of the heart, as they often represent persons who have influenced me, whose teachings or outlook on life I like and who are somehow intellectual or spiritual mentors.
The Ancestors of the Land again overlap strongly with the cultural Ancestors who have formed the land we live in. Some would most certainly put the latter in this category, but I actually see them on a more local level, thus fitting the middle world where we humans have our abode.
Apart from what they brought us during their live, the ancestors can bring us blessings and teachings. It is quite common to offer food to the Ancestors. But there is as well a certain ambivalence showing – obviously most people don’t want the “dead walking around” all of the time. Personally I feel this occurs too because it is not completely clear if someone really becomes wiser or more knowledgeable or changes his/her outlook on life when they die. It is my belief, that this might happen over time, but the closer the generation is to our, the more probable they won’t have changed yet.
Although the regular veneration of the Ancestors in ritual was as well one of the appeals of ADF, as I regard this as a truly ancient practice, I had most problems with the contact of the Ancestors. There were two practices that actually helped me overcome this: The first was naming my Ancestors: Literally making a list of my blood (that was the easiest because I already had done some genealogy), cultural and land Ancestors and naming them in a few rituals. The other was the realization most of my problems were with people I knew or are still living but are my Ancestors-to-be. What helped me here was the category of “the road not taken”. Additionally I had to go through the beginning of a process of making peace with the living Ancestors, which is still in progress. In ritual it has been my practices since a long time and I kept it, to call for the honored Ancestors – as I don’t invite everybody to a party. I used another word before but changed it later. So although the closest to us, for me they are still the more difficult and ambivalent to get in contact with – or precisely because they are the closest to us it can be the most difficult.
9.2 Nature Spirits
Now we proceed to the Nature Spirits, sometimes also referred to as Noble Ones or Sidhe. As the name indicates they are associated with nature.
The Noble Ones are very different from us humans, contrasting the Ancestors but even the Gods, who mostly have received various human traits and are known for their relationships with humans. The Nature Spirits are a universal concept, and universal is the reflected ambiguity of humans towards nature moreover, the wild and untamed parts. As part of the Noble Kin they are mostly friendly towards us humans. They share with us the realm of the Middle world, but as stated before the categories are not always clear cut. They can be benevolent and malicious, although it may be quite unfair to use human terms, as this brings us to the question if nature can be angry and revengeful. My answer is no. Nature is and there are things within nature that we as humans regard as cruel, but that’s human evaluation – not Nature’s. As nature is the very foundation of our lives, the Nature Spirits should be honored as the building blocks and maintainers of our lives as well.
It is hard subdividing them. Some are very chtonic and hard to differentiate from titanic, chtonic deities. Others have adapted many human traits, that they might be very near to the Gods like the Sidhe, the fair folk of the Elves. Others reflect the Elements, some divide them into the four Elements Air, Fire, Water, Earth; others see the three realms of Land, Sky and Sea, while others again subdivide them in the plant, mineral and animal kingdom.
With some of the Noble Ones we can have a rather closer relationship: Our Spirit guides, power animal or spirit plant with whom we work. As contact usually is made through some shamanic, pathwork, trance or vision quest, I place them more strongly into the roots of the tree. Specific local spirits I place on the tree stem, the middle world. A very specific example spirit is the guardian of a certain house, wood patch or field. In Germany various folktales see a fox as a protector of the crops, which is found as well in the last sheaf. We call our Household spirit “Tomte Tumetott”, this started after reading Astrid Lindgren to our son, so he can relate better to him. While the Sidhe I place them on the crown of the tree because their closeness to the Gods and stronger human traits. This is as well true for the so called “Elemental Kings”. In ADF ritual they are connected to the Tree, symbolizing the connection through all three worlds and standing especially for the middle world.
We’ve come to lose most of the respect our ancestors had. Probably because we live under the false impression that we “tamed” nature, which seems to give us the right to behave like “conquistadores”. There is of course the countermovement grown out of the 18th century romantic view of nature. In this view many see Nature Spirits as the all popular “fluff-fairies”. I believe this attitude doesn’t help giving the honor and respect back and building a reciprocal relationship. The first step to build a mature relationship is getting rid of the fluff-fairies and to learn to live with ambiguity. This means going outside where the Spirits live, and experience them in their different realms. Does a Tree spirit feel different in a wild wood versus a tended park? In my experience “yes”, but the feeling is hard to put in words.
Most people in our time are less aware of our dependency on nature. We have a greater harvest with less human effort and supply chains all over the world. Not having enough food is a matter of wrong dispensation and poverty. Who of us really slaughtered an animal and really saw the life literally “pouring” out? Many of us don’t even grow some of their own food. One way for me to connect to nature and Nature spirits actually is through the everyday preparation of food. This is something I can easily integrate into my daily routine and I believe it is in this fertility, this continuity of taking care of the relationship that lays a key to the connection. Without a connection to nature one cannot really connect to the Noble Kin and because they are so strongly connected to the middle world, I need all of my senses.
The Noble Ones can give us the blessing of their respective realm. In ancient lore we can often find reference given that a patch of land is set aside and let be wild, or that the last fruits of the tree are left over for them, or we leave them something to eat.
I worked quite a lot with the Nature Spirits, especially the ones connected to the four elements and my power Animal. With the garden proceeding, I plan on strengthening my contact to the Noble Ones connected to this land patch.
I believe that the many different Gods are real beings that can be experienced in the physical world, as well as in others. Infinite in number, some are dormant or forgotten, but still existing somewhere. Even the so called dying Gods are still immortal, usually changing their abodes. In power they are not equal to us and not equal to the Ancestors and Nature Spirits. They are the Gods, the world formers, shapers, sustainers and creators.
On the sacred Tree their abode is mostly the crown, but here again there is no clear cut categorization, as some Gods are connected to the Underworld. Most of them have many functions some have evolved through integration of similar local Gods into Gods having a greater realm. In ancient times they were often contacted through the transforming power of fire, which is taken up in ADF practice.
A few years ago I developed a model to reconcile different concepts. It is heavily influenced by my Qabbalistic training, though adaptable. In my perception there are four planes, levels or worlds of existence: Union, creative, archetypal and physical. None is holier or more powerful than the other; they are simply different densities of vibration (matter).
In the Material world you find the “hard polytheistic” Gods, culturally and tribe specific. In the Archetypal world you have all your Stormgods, Firegods, Earthgoddesses etc. The paragon of this practice can be seen with the Romans conforming foreign Gods to their own Gods’ names. Unfortunately we lose the specific cultural attachments e.g. Freya and Ishtar are fertility Goddesses, but not essentially the same, as Freya loses most of Ishtar’s stellar connotations. Working with them feels quite different too. More of the Divine individuality is lost on the creative level, where all Goddesses are one Goddess. Only the creative polarities, the currents needed to (pro-) create exist. You may call them God and Goddess, Sky and Earth, Sun and Moon. On this level “Moongoddess” stands for a concept, not the actual moon, this is important, as e.g. Freya is not a Moon goddess in the sense that she has dominion over the moon. In the last world you find Union, the pantheistic view in which everything is a part of the Divine ALL. For us this world can only be reached in mystical unions. The farther away the more it is difficult to work with the respective plane. I believe the deities most easily accessible are the polytheistic ones, because they are simply closer, and we have less “cultural misunderstandings”.
I believe it is easier to build a relationship with a specific Deity than simply with an Archetype, paralleling a relationship with a specific human and not with all “married women with children”. To have a knowledge of the Archetype can help when you need to switch pantheon, but every mythological deity has an own vibration and personality and is not completely interchangeable.
Starting a relationship with a specific God or Goddess needs time. I experienced other Pagans shrink when I bring in the word “awe”. But a real deity contact is exactly that. If you receive a full blessing from a Deity, you end up on your knees, everything else was tuned down. Having a Goddess as a best friend from my point of view is like needing a “superhero” friend. There are special relationships to Gods, some you might even call in a sense friendship, but usually the way you approach them is not the same as you approach your best friend – you’re not really on eye level and reducing them to “best friend”, you probably won’t get to know them properly. As we learn from the Ancients, the approach is one of respect and devotion. When having a good knowledge of the Deity involved in a ritual it is wise to use appropriate gifts, as the response is stronger. As everybody enjoys more receiving something they really like instead of “just some present” because it’s appropriate.
During my workings I have already experienced many Deities and especially the “in the temple” workshops of ritual magic, working with a specific pantheon and Godform assumptions for a complete weekend, have been some of the most powerful experiences. When starting reading about ADF, already before becoming a member, I started to include devotionals to the Deity I knew I was to assume before, with what I feel stronger results.
I try contacting Gods who have been worshipped in the place I’m living before. Unfortunately they often lack names. This brings me to inventing Gods. We have most prominent examples of this with Grimm’s Ostara (Golther, 2004; Grimm, 2003a, 2003b). The archetype was there, but the name was definitely not Ostara. However a Goddess with this function and this name exists now for over a hundred years – and you can experience her. I started to do the same with a Goddess I call Rigani-Ardana; Ardana being the female Celtic name of an important river nearby. She is starting to response.
I have the strongest connections to some Gods, surely influenced by my prior training. I am curious to see how the quality will change through my continuing involvement in ADF.
Although the lines between the Ancestors, Nature Spirits and Deities are sometimes quite blurry, e.g. a local river Goddess or an Ancestor who has become venerated like a Demigod, it does make sense to me using these categories, bearing their permeability in mind. This is actually a good thing, because this means there is flexibility in the work which makes the system adaptable and living. They fulfill different roles and it is rewarding building a relationship with them and keeping it up, in this way, keeping the fire burning.
Golther, W. (2004). Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie. Mit einem Vorwort von Dr. Hans-Jürgen Hube. Wiesbaden: Marix Verlag.
Grimm, J. (2003a). Deutsche Mythologie Band 1. Wiesbaden: 2003.
Grimm, J. (2003b). Deutsche Mythologie Band 2 (Vol. 2). Wiesbaden: Fourier Verlag.