How I use ancestor veneration to navigate my Mother’s Death
I started being intentional about Hoodoo because I was grieving and wasn’t managing it well.
by Hess Love
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child… a long way from home- Negro Spiritual
Sunday is Mother’s Day. And the grief of losing my mother regularly brings me to my knees. I don’t imagine this day being any different.
Sometimes my grief is a distant shore, sometimes the water of it wades and hugs my legs – moving me to stillness, to breath, to slowing down. Sometimes it hits me from the waist up until oceans come from my eyes and I’m on the floor viewing my world from sea level.
I learned early that praying isn’t the only thing that can make you bend.
When I was seven years old, I lost my mother to murder. After my mother’s death, my paternal grandmother raised me, even paid for my mother’s funeral. Then that grandmother died when I was twenty one years old.
I don’t know what it’s like to be an adult and have a mother, or what it means to experience the ways a relationship with your mother changes and evolves as you get older. This is a particular thing that I miss out on and it brings me sadness to know that I was forced to find derivatives of mothering and “home” elsewhere.
I am still grieving my mother, and my paternal grandmother. I always will. It will never end.
I don’t know why life saw fit not to let me have a mama well into old age, but here I am: young, and motherless twice over. It is a lie to say that the grieving goes away, or that it gets smaller and stays smaller. It doesn’t. At times, I wanted the grief to go away but now I know that the most intelligent thing we can do with grief is learn how to manage it, how to coexist.
Now I see how grief is necessary to the cycle of life, just as bacteria is necessary to the balance of life the world over.
I started being intentional about Hoodoo because I was grieving and wasn’t managing it well. The one off “I know you’re watching me” moments weren’t cutting it. I felt naked and vulnerable to the world, and at times even angry due to feeling cheated from not having my mother around. Those feelings are all natural parts of what we’ve come to know as “the stages of grief”. However that container of explaining grief never seemed to quite fit what it means to be both Black and grieving.
I became interested in Ancestral reverence through stumbling across Dia de los Muertos celebrations, seeing how a Mexican tradition navigated loss and reconnection between the living and the dead, and then wondering if there was a system like that for Black people in the U.S. I found out that there was, and that not only did it have a name, but that it’s so ingrained in our culture that many of us practice aspects of it without even knowing.
Reclaiming Hoodoo (a Black American Tradition that is simultaneously magic, medicine, and religion) on my quest for mothering has been the adventure my soul was calling for. Hoodoo gave me answers to questions I didn’t have, and gave me questions to what I thought were the answers.
I learned more about community, and that the village it takes to help your mother raise you is still being possible, and present, even after her transition. I learned more about the Earth as a vessel and container of Black Motherhood. Pivoting my grief towards overt ancestral reverence has helped me feel more covered and accompanied, the loneliness portion of grief is a memory, and I am now traversing what grief means when you aren’t lonely.
Occasional sadness is present even when you are well loved. It’s a natural response when you’ve experienced major loss. My ritual has brought incredible loves, and incredible love, into my life in the form of a loving community, both inside and outside the practice of Hoodoo.
And so I offer this ritual as an invitation and witnessing to all who are grieving; whether they’re missing their own mother, or mourning the type of mothering their living mother never gave them. Along with this offering is a reminder that you don’t have to practice Hoodoo to participate in this ritual.
What you’ll need:
- A cool basin of water
- A white candle
- A pen
- A place near your home and/or near a tree where you can bury your paper
- White night clothes and headwrap
- Your sincerity
- Light your candle.
- Take a large basin of water and add salt near the candlelight.
- Stir until it dissolves.
- Ask for your ancestors, guides, and your mother (those that were present at your birth) to accompany you.
- Speak out loud about the nurturing and love that you miss, while at the same time writing down the nurturing and love that you miss.
- After you’re content with what you’ve written and spoken, ask the universe, your ancestors, and especially your mother (if she is dead) to bring those things to you while you are living.
For example, if you miss your mother’s encouragement write down “ encouragement “. If you miss her cooking, write down “nourishment”. If you miss her hugs write down “affection”, etc. Write in your own language and how you speak to your family.
Next you’ll fold the paper up really small, then:
- Go outside and bury the petition near a tree, covering the petition with dirt.
- When you come back inside, take the candle with you and place it on a safe surface in the bathroom.
- Allow yourself to cry as long as you need to.
- When you get to a point where your tears are less numerous, go into the shower and dump the cool basin of salt water over your head.
- Afterwards air dry (don’t forget to moisturize, no need to be ashy).
- Put your white night clothes on and white head wrap on. Go to sleep.
Repeat the spiritual bath part (dumping the cool salt water over your head) for up to 9 days if needed. Some people have success with one bath, some people have had success with 3 successive nights. Be open to all signs.
May you be comforted in your grief and beyond.