Ancestor veneration has been a part of many religions, spiritualities, and practices. Whether we call them the Mighty Dead, the Hidden Ones, or Gram, they offer advice and counsel no matter our culture. In Ancestral Whispers, Stimpson offers a deeply grounded and well-researched look at many (MANY) ancestral practices around the world.
Grounded in the belief that the dead still have some connection with the world of the living and, therefore, can maintain relationships with the living. It is not death-focused so much as how we can use the knowledge gained by our predecessors to navigate our lives and build community. Stimpson's knowledge comes from a wide landscape of scholarship and practice, and the author insists you approach this book with discernment.
As you go through this book, I recommend reflecting on the content using three specific questions: How do I relate to what I’m reading? Do I agree or disagree with what I’m reading? What do I need to know more about this topic?
This book shares the important distinctions between working with ancestors of one's blood, lineage, and affinity while learning to recognize the signs that your ancestors are responding to your petitions and offerings. Readers are introduced to foundational concepts of how we are seen when we die. At no time did I have a sense of "This is how it is." Just the opposite. I was constantly asked to reflect on my worldview, my beliefs.
Under Stimpson's guidance, we explore the distinction between mourning traditions and veneration. We are also given guidance as to the hazards of working with the dead (essentially the entire second half of the book) so we can develop a practice that's uplifting and affirming for you. The dead are not all "pure" -- think about how many protection charms and rituals of appeasement exist in so many cultures. The dead, just like the living, can have trauma responses. They can also be manipulative as heck, with the best of intentions.
Chapters end with journal prompts to help you capture your thoughts as you move through this material. The scholarship and depth of knowledge offered are breathtaking. This is an excellent book in every way and I am so glad it's available to us.
~review by Lisa McSherry
Author: Ben Stimpson
Llewellyn Publications, 2023
pp. 272, $19.99