When we pass from this incarnation I do not believe that we suddenly become enlightened gurus or even much better people (at least not for quite a while), but I do wholeheartedly believe that we gain some perspective on our lives. We are able to see our lives a little more clearly and size them up by whatever moral and ethical standards we acknowledged in life, even if we did not live by that moral/ethical standard. This has been my belief for some time now but since I began ancestor work, my beliefs in this department are particularly pertinent, primarily because they can in some instances put me at odds with traditional beliefs about the so called dishonored dead. Basically, criminals, thugs, and delinquents are not supposed to receive libation/offering because when we call to those ancestors we essentially bring that energy into our own lives. Consequently, those rites are reserved for the honored dead, those who lived moral, upstanding lives and who supposedly have the kind of energy that we want to bring into us.
It seems logical enough. Why work with ancestors who were criminals? Well, how are we defining criminal? Is it simply someone who went to jail once for something that they promptly regretted or is it someone who was in and out of prison his or her entire life for various infractions both large and small? Just because someone spends time in jail, does that mean that they were not self-reflecting people who wanted to better themselves? Does the crime factor into this? Drug sales versus murder for instance? What about the ancestors who seemed moral and upright but actually harbored a secret darkness that only they and the Gods know about? You did not know about that darkness so you poured libations for Aunt Hattie or whoever all the time. Maybe it’s not like that. Maybe the Gods and the upstanding Egun know that Aunt Hattie had a dark soul though she managed to behave herself in public, so they run interference by not allowing Hattie to wreak havoc on your life. Or maybe, just maybe, Aunt Hattie’s “crimes” were of a nature that she could make sense of them after her death, because there is nothing like a major transition to bring about a little perspective. I think death definitely qualifies as a major transition.
I do not pretend to know what happens to a person’s mind and soul – their thinking process about their life – after death. I don’t know much about people’s minds and souls in life for that matter! All I know and trust is what I see, hear, AND feel from my family. My uncle, my mother’s brother, was not an upstanding citizen by any stretch of the imagination. He was a criminal (mostly drug activity) but he also had a deep desire to be better than he was. His time in prison gave him a chance to reflect and introspect about who he was and what he wanted from life. In letters, he shared a slice of his personal pie of regrets with me and my mother. I knew that he never imagined his life would turn out the way it did. His early high school photos betray that fact (they were full of smiles, good spirit, and hope!). So, when sources say that we should not libate our “dishonored dead”, I have to pause for a moment and really ponder how I define “dishonor”. My uncle did not die thinking that his life was the greatest thing ever and that his drug activities were right with the world. He died in a period of reflection and deep introspection. My uncle died in a process of finding his wisdom, rooted in trials, tribulations, and gigungous mistakes!
So, is my uncle less wise, less able to help me than an “honored” ancestor who lived an uneventful life and who learned little because he didn’t do much wrong? I think not. I am not saying that massive moral lapses are the road to wisdom but I am saying that my uncle started on the path to honor BEFORE he died. That path was cut short by complications with an illness that those same sources may say further reveal my uncle’s problematic life choices. So that’s would be a double wammy for my uncle: criminal and the victim of a questionable illness. By this rule, I could not even talk to him, let alone libate or make other offerings. I have to say that, in my uncle’s case, I disagree with this take on things. I want to honor my uncle and the wisdom that he does have as it was hard won!
That said, I feel the need to emphasize that I am not naive. I would make an exception for my uncle BECAUSE I KNEW HIM IN LIFE pretty well and I trust my intuitions about him. I am not sure I would make offerings to the (supposedly) dishonored dead that passed from this incarnation long before I had a chance to know them. I will leave their management to my elder, honored dead. At some select times during the year, I think I will pray for their elevation, as suggested in the article that I cited above.
Blessings to my ancestors, to my many dead. May all find their way!