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  • Kristy Johnsen

The Practice of Setting Out Water for The Ancestors

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Setting out a small cup of water for the ancestors is a practice that grounds us in gratitude and acknowledges the hardships of those who went before us. It is a simple, yet profound, practice that can transform and heal the wounds of the past with Santa Muerte's assistance. As a nation, we need to acknowledge the good and the horrible in our history in order to move forward. By looking at our personal history and embracing it all, we can begin our journey toward healing.

Many of us have done DNA tests or genealogical research into our past. It confirmed some of what I had heard from relatives as a child: an American Revolutionary General, Puritans who traveled on the Mayflower, and residents of Salem during the Witch Trials. It enabled me to find biological relatives of adopted ancestors and Irish Kings. My DNA also revealed deep-seated racism against African Americans and fear of the "One Drop Rule." The family story was that we had Native American ancestry. Because of racism and the Jim Crow laws that were in effect in most of the country, it was safer for my ancestors to say that the wide eyes, high cheekbones, and olive skin were from a Native American heritage because they were viewed as "Noble Savages." My African ancestors are hidden away, even now. When I look at some of the Family Trees from relatives on, my 5th great grandmother, an African slave, is nameless and referred to as "Owned Slave."

As I set out water for my ancestors, I think of them all. My heart goes out to those hidden away because of shame and prejudice. I think of those who journeyed to make a better life for themselves, yet still viewed others' lives as less valuable than their own. I think of the strength of the women and men who, through simple kindness, made life better for others. I think fondly of my mother and grandmother, who taught me so much about gratitude, love, and compassion. All of these people are my ancestors and have contributed to my history; the good and the bad that I need to acknowledge and learn from. So I set out a glass of water for all of them every day on my mantle. It is a simple act of kindness that many of my ancestors did not receive in this life. As I set the water on my mantle, I ask Santa Muerte to look after my ancestors as they continue their journeys in the next life. I also ask Her to remind my descendants and me that all people bear her sacred image within them and are a part of one human family.

Utterly Wicked by Dorothy Morrison

Santa Muerte: The History, Rituals, and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death by Tracey Rolling

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