Of Ancestors, Native Americans and Blackened Candles

I’ve been working with my ancestors a lot the last few months, as well as my animal spirits.  My ancestor altar is right next to my animal spirit altar and, although I don’t mix them together, it works well for me to have them side by side.  The basis of a lot of my animal spirit work comes from Native American traditions, such as studying and using my Animal Medicine Cards.

I wanted to do some candle work with my ancestors recently and I decided to use an Indian Spirit Guide candle to sort of bridge the elements I had been working with.  Since I had been connecting with my animal spirits through the Native American tradition, and having some success, I thought I would use that connection to help draw my ancestors closer.  I thought that the “Great Chief” might assist the communication between me and my ancestors.  Spoiler alert, I learned my lesson!

I placed the Indian Spirit Guide candle on my ancestor altar, dressed it and prayed over it, placed the pictures of my ancestors around it and asked for the Great Chief to serve as a guide to bring me and my ancestors closer and help us communicate.  I lit the candle and never snuffed it out for the seven days it took to burn down.

The candle started out burning very clean and even.  When I checked on it and sat with it, it was burning smooth and steady.  About half way through, on day three or four, the black soot started appearing.  Now when I checked on it, it was burning more erratically and was getting hard to even see the flame through the glass because of the coating of black soot.  Now when I sat with it, I got a more uneasy feeling, a sort of “hurry up and get this over with” feeling.  Nonetheless, I left it where it was and let it burn all the way out.  By the time it was done, at least three-quarters of the glass was black with soot.  Now, I’ve had some candles get sooty around the top before, but never that much or that thick.  Never ever.

So what did it mean?!  Having sat with the candle and my ancestors for a little bit each day, my feeling was that they just didn’t like each other.  Not that the Great Chief or my ancestors didn’t want to work with me, but that they weren’t happy with each other…they didn’t want to help each other and were maybe a little upset with me for putting them together.  But why?

Most of you already know this about me, but I also study genealogy and am working towards my professional certification (you can check out my genealogy blog at The Rootyard Porter).  Genealogy and ancestor work go hand-in-hand for me, so I turned to my research to see if I could figure out why my ancestors and the Great Chief were so opposed to each other.  My maiden name is Benefield and most (but not all) of the pictures on my ancestor altar are from the Benefield side of my family.  About a year ago, I came across a book written by another genealogist that was specifically about my Benefield family and their origins from France and England to North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.  In this book I found the answers I was looking for!

There are transcriptions of two different letters, written and signed by a group of men in Heard County, Georgia in 1836, addressed to the Governor asking for assistance.  The men were asking the Governor to send military troops to guard their towns from the “savage Indians”.  Four of the men who signed those letters are my Benefield ancestors, one of which I have a picture of on my ancestor altar.  Georgia in 1836 was going through the Second Creek War (or The Creek War of 1836).  The white men were taking more and more of the native land and there had already been many brutal battles.  You can read more about the Second Creek War here and here, but in a nutshell the Native Americans were bearing in on them…

 “In the spring of 1836, the Yuchi, Hitchiti and other bands launched a campaign to drive white intruders from their lands…the war parties burned homes and farms, killed whole families, disrupted the mail stages and destroyed the town of Roanoke, Georgia by burning it to the ground.”

Needless to say, the white men and their families were afraid of the Native Americans and felt they had to defend their homes, right or wrong.  My ancestors and the other men of the county describe their experiences…

“The undersigned beg leave to represent your Excellency that the entire frontier from West Point upward is exposed to the tommahauk [sic] and scalping knife of the savage….we know not how soon our wives and children and relations may be bleeding under the reeking knife of the red-stick and our homes and plantations crumbling under their curling flames.”

“…many of the citizens took alarm at the menaces of the Indians and fled from their homes and in very many instances leaving all their property behind them….our roads here are crowded in every direction by men, women and children flying from the savage and trying to make their escape….thus in a few hours was a scope of well settled country of 30 or 40 miles in manner depopulated….the upper and lower Creeks are expected soon to unite and make common cause by frequent attacks upon our citizens”

So after this little history lesson, to bring it back around, it’s very clear to me now why my candle burned the way it burned.  All of a sudden I felt like, how dare I use a Native American spirit to help me connect with Benefield ancestors!  These men actually battled with the Native American tribes around them.  How could I do such a thing!  My next course of action was to cleanse my ancestor altar and try really hard to make nice.  We’ve since made up with each other and I’ve discovered that my pendulum is a much better tool to use with my ancestors.  I’ve also made up with my Native American allies and keep them happy working with my animal spirits…separately.

I really learned how to listen to my ancestors and other spirits through this experience.  I also learned about the focus of energy in doing candle work.  It was an amazing feeling to dig a little deeper, outside the magical realm, and be able to put an actual, real-life experience in context with what was happening on my altar; to find that bridge between the historical past and the spirits who carry those experiences.

Thanks for reading,

Sara Magnuson

(candle purchased from the Lucky Mojo Curio Co.; genealogy book – Footsteps To The Past, by Charlene Francis Gifford Bakkensen, 1993)

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