I sat down to chat with Ben Stimpson about his upcoming book from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ancestral Whispers: A Guide to Building Ancestral Veneration Practices. Ben is a therapist, lecturer, student, and spiritual director. Our conversation, while focused on ancestral veneration, covered a lot of ground. But I think the parts that really stood out to me as being important to queer people dealt with understanding who our ancestors are and the transformation that death brings.
Exploring Vastness through the lens of Queerness
If you've listened to the show before, you know that the first question I always ask my guests is "What does queer spirituality mean to you?". I wanted to highlight Ben's answer because parts of it really struck me. Ben defined spirituality and then related it to his queerness. Here's the quote:
Spirituality for me is the idea of unlocking my vastness by unzipping, by taking down constructs, by moving and experimenting with parts of myself in this liminal space of temporal reality that we exist in right now. So unlocking those higher aspects of self through the lenses of my queerness, so whether that be my gender identity, whether that be my sexuality, and then how does that connect with others of those communities.
This idea of exploring the vastness and liminality of gender identity or sexuality and how that relates to community is a really interesting idea because our spirituality does (or at least should) affect how we relate to our communities. I also thought it was interesting that this idea of liminality or being at the edge of things that Charles Harrington discussed on the previous episode surfaced here. I suspect that this idea of queer people exploring liminal places and the edges where different ideas, worlds, and realities meet will continue to come up.
This idea of unlocking your individual vastness by taking apart constructs really resonated with me as a gay man. Queer people are often doing this in terms of dismantling the social expectations around gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. What hadn't occurred to me before is just how much this really unlocks our own vastness and helps us better conceive of the infinite.
Dealing with Problematic Ancestors
Talking about ancestor veneration seems to always bring up the issue of ancestors that were either problematic (i.e. slave owners, etc.) or those with whom we had a difficult relationship when they were living. I jumped right in and asked Ben how we should navigate our veneration of these ancestors. His answer surprised me. He dealt with both situations a little differently but they both come down to understanding who the ancestors are.
We often think of ancestors as only our blood relatives. But maybe we need to expand our idea of an ancestor. For example, many queer people have struggles with their biological family and develop a chosen family. This opens the idea of conceptual and affinity ancestors. In my own work, I've often talked about the Queer Ancestors as being any Queer person who came before. We honor these ancestors because many of them paved the path that we walk today or made walking that path possible. We'll be exploring Queer Ancestors more at my Sacred Kin Samhain retreat.
Ben also mentioned that death itself often transforms the people who pass through. The people we had difficult relationships with during life, are often very different in death. But there's also our ability to choose if we want to continue a relationship with that ancestor. We get to decide.
I think we need to not so much focus on the temporal, kind of very close ancestors that we had unfortunate relationships with and fraught relationships with, and to look at ancestry as being expansive."
Developing Relationships with your ancestors
That leads well into the overall point of ancestor veneration. It's about the relationship we create with our ancestors. In Ben's book, he collects a lot of examples of living practices from around the world and asks, "What would it be like to be in relationship with your own ancestors in this deep way?". That's a powerful question because in the west we tend to diminish the power of our rituals by looking at them solely through the lens of psychology and as Ben mentions, as a result we don't really connect with the alternate realities that are available. And this is important, because our ancestors are still with us just in another reality. And many traditions believe that the ancestors can have an impact on this reality. If we don't properly honor them, they can make things difficult for us. This is a very different viewpoint than the typical lip service that is often paid to ancestors in modern spiritual practices.
"Spirituality is a Buffet"
One of the things that really stands out about Ben's book and his approach to ancestor veneration is that he provides the building blocks for you to make your own practices. It isn't about Ben providing you a script or a set of practices that you need to do. Instead, he's gently guiding and providing suggestions of what you might want to use or think about. In our discussion, I found that this reflects his own views on spirituality. He told me that "Spirituality is a buffet that anybody can come and take from". Queer people have been picking at that buffet and then making what they take work for them in unique and creative ways. Spirituality is about coming back to ourselves and understanding our own stories.
About The Guest(s):
Ben Stimpson is a therapist, lecturer, student, and spiritual director. He is the author of the upcoming book "Ancestral Whispers: A Guide to Building Ancestral Veneration Practices." Ben has developed courses on various topics, including ancestor veneration, the power of story, and folklore. He is passionate about helping people reconnect with their ancestors and explore their own spiritual paths.
Ben Stimpson, author of "Ancestral Whispers: A Guide to Building Ancestral Veneration Practices," joins host Julian Crosson-Hill on the Queer Spirituality podcast. They discuss the importance of queer spirituality and the role of ancestors in our lives. Ben shares his personal spiritual journey and how it led him to explore ancestral veneration. He explains that ancestral work is about unlocking our vastness and connecting with our higher selves through our queerness. Ben also emphasizes the need to expand our definition of ancestors beyond blood relatives and embrace the idea of affinity ancestors and conceptual ancestors. He highlights the healing and empowerment that can come from working with our ancestors and encourages listeners to write their own stories and connect with their ancestral lineage.
- Queer spirituality is about unlocking our vastness and connecting with our higher selves through our queerness.
- Ancestral work is not limited to blood relatives; it can include affinity ancestors and conceptual ancestors.
- Ancestor veneration is a way to heal and empower ourselves by connecting with our ancestral lineage.
- Spirituality should impact every area of our lives, not just during religious rituals or ceremonies.
- Writing our own stories and connecting with our ancestral lineage can bring healing and empowerment.