Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Badass Ancestors” by Patti Wigington

Full Title: Badass Ancestors: Finding Your Power with Ancestral Guides
Author: Patti Wigington
Published: September 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Witchcraft, Magic Studies, Angels & Spirit Guides, Spirituality
Edition Details: 256 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – requested by me
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know you don’t usually judge a book by its cover, but a good cover design can get your attention long enough to have you reading the description. That happened here, where the cover art drew me in and then the details had me requesting an advanced readers’ copy on NetGalley.

I don’t work with ancestors in my current practice. My family is a far-flung mess of people, with my biological father’s side completely unknown to me. I’ve always wondered where you would begin to work with ancestors in that kind of situation.

Positive Bits

To be honest, I only made it to the end of Chapter 3 before pre-ordering a physical copy of this book. In the introduction, the author already drew me in with a discussion of chosen family, adopted family, and purposefully severed family ties. She then followed through with that promise from the start, covering different definitions of family and ancestors than just blood relatives.

This book provides both research guidance and ancestor rituals with equal balance between spiritual and mundane methods. I found myself browsing some of the suggested resources just to see what I could find, losing a few hours just poking around online. Thanks to prior family tree work, I know there’s one branch of Filipino heritage I can trace back to ship records, but the author provided suggestions that led to a local ancestor’s grave and a marriage to an actress in the 1930s. Neither of those details came up in previous searches, because I didn’t know where to start.

Meanwhile, the rituals are very approachable and intuitive. Her suggestions for tying in culturally relevant foods resonated with me the most, as I’m a foodie at heart and love trying unfamiliar recipes. The idea of integrating that love into something I can share with my ancestors to show them appreciation just made sense. Again, I found myself down a research rabbit hole as I looked into traditional Filipino recipes and clothing (prior to colonization), but I enjoyed every minute of it.

Less Enjoyable Bits

As with most books, there were parts that didn’t speak to me. As a polytheist, I couldn’t connect to Chapter 8 as the author discussed calling archetypes in place of unknown ancestors. The idea hadn’t sounded strange when it was mentioned prior to that chapter, but then she used deities as if they were archetypes throughout this section. That may work for a non-religious witch or someone who believes deities are archetypes of the Unnamed Divine. However, as a person who’s worked to develop relationships with individual deities along my path, I can’t connect to the idea of treating them like ancestors or symbols instead of actual gods.

I’ll admit that I felt a little lost and left out at times, though it’s not the author’s fault. My family is a tangle web of marriages and divorces, immigrants, lost records, and poor folks. I don’t have family heirlooms or anything older than my grandparents’ generation. We have almost no pictures older than that, either. And don’t get me started on how being poor means not putting down roots! All of that is to say, sometimes the author’s descriptions of how her research progressed (talking to elder living relatives, asking about family heirlooms or where traditions started, looking up local newspapers) felt unfamiliar and almost impossible.

Efforts were made to pull in options for those without steady family trees. They were imperfect, but I appreciate the attempt. By the end of the book, I could tell I’m still out of luck on some fronts when it comes to ancestor tracing and the related spiritual workings. Thankfully, there were plenty of other parts that spoke to me and gave me guidance for working with the ancestors I can reach.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Our ancestors were survivors of things far more frightening than our first-world problems. They were strong. How do we know that? Because you’re here. Your bloodline survived millennia of plague, war, pestilence, famine, infant mortality, and just plain old bad luck… just to make you. That means your ancestors were badasses. – in the Introduction

It’s not that a rebel is unaware of those constraints; they simply don’t allow themselves to be held by them. The rebel brings about freedom by way of dissent and justice by way of rebellion. – in Chapter 8, Connecting to Archetypical Badasses

Family traditions tend to have other benefits as well. In our hectic and chaotic, non-stop busy lives, a ritualized tradition offers a feeling of comfort. They give us a constant. – in Chapter 11, Your Badass Legacy

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – because I had a free digital ARC and still pre-ordered the physical book. This is the best introduction to ancestor work in a spiritual context that I’ve come across, and there’s value for both the traditional family person and someone like myself with a less structured family tree.


bookdragon, poet, witch

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