Everybody has ancestors. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. We inherit so much from them: Our genetic traits, aspects of our appearances, our qualities and our flaws. While not every witch takes interest in ancestral work, it’s a vital concept in practicing witchcraft as well as pursuing spiritual growth. This doesn’t change if you’re an atheist witch.

Atheist witches vary in our beliefs, but we all share one important one: We do not believe in gods or goddesses. The beauty of ancestral work is that it doesn’t involve deity-worship of any kind. Our ancestors existed, and they were not mythological beings whose existences are open to question. These were living, breathing people who saw to the survival of their bloodlines, resulting in who we are today as individuals. Each one of us come from ancient people who passed down not only their DNA, but also their genetic memories that have assisted in the evolution of mankind.

The paranormal side of ancestral work as an atheist witch

Many people believe that our ancestors are here to guide us through life and protect us from harm. They believe that we can directly communicate with them if we so choose. Many times these people are religious witches who either follow Wicca, or are following some other path that involves belief in gods and goddesses. However, there are also atheist witches who believe in the paranormal aspects of ancestral work. There’s no rule that says atheists can’t believe in the paranormal — contrary to what some people may tell you. An atheist simply rejects the belief in gods or goddesses; nothing more, nothing less.

Regardless of what you call them — spirits, ghosts or souls — they are not gods. They are the essences of people who did indeed exist on the material plane. If you gain any kind of spiritual enrichment from exploring the possibilities of spirit communication, then go for it. Nothing is stopping you! You may find that it’s worthwhile, and could open you up to new ways to practice your craft. Of course, this depends on the limits of your own individual beliefs as an atheist witch.

Ancestral work without the woo

A lot of atheist witches have a hard time believing in ghosts, as well as other things that are considered to be “woo.” The idea of talking to the spirit of a dead relative may even be on the side of absurd to some, and worthy of an exaggerated eye-roll. However, even the most skeptical of atheist witches — and they do exist — can benefit from working with ancestors in their craft. As I stated before, ancestors are people who actually lived, and with that they do offer wisdom if you’re willing to seek it. If spirit communication is too far on the “woo” side of things for you, then the wisdom your ancestors offer could be found in other ways. It could be found in how they lived their lives, how any of their memories were passed down or what they symbolize to you on a personal level.

Ancestral work as an atheist witch absolutely does not have to involve any kind of spiritual communication or believe in spirits or any other kind of otherworldly entities. It doesn’t have to involve anything you struggle with believing in at all. In fact, the beauty of ancestor veneration is that you ultimately decide how you choose to honor your ancestors according to what resonates with you.

Tips for exploring ancestral work as an atheist witch

Research your family tree: Do deep research into your ancestry and “get to know” your ancestors through their lives, on paper. Every birth record, immigration document, passenger list and death certificate tells the story of your ancestors, little by little. Many genealogy sites make it easy to even find photos of your ancestors through yearbook collections and newspaper clippings. Doing this gives you a visual connection to any of your ancestors who lived and existed — real living people whose blood pump through your veins today. Of course, not everyone has the privilege of being able to do this — so it’s just a tip.

Add ancestral elements to your altar: If you maintain an altar for practicing your craft, then adding something related to an ancestor could help you connect to them. This could be anything at all that stirs any kind of feelings of connection such as jewelry or other trinkets that once belonged to an ancestor. I have an urn of my maternal grandmother’s ashes on my altar.

Explore traditions that your ancestors may have observed: You don’t have to convert to a religion or commit to a way of life that’s not part of your current culture. However, adding a few practices here-and-there to honor your ancestors is a fulfilling experience. Of course, try to do this respectfully.

Visit ancestral homelands: Take a road trip or long-distance vacation to a place that is connected to your ancestors. Let your feet touch the same ground that your ancestors’ touched and connect with them through visiting some of the areas where they lived or gathered.