How Polyamory Saved Me From Having to Hire a Canadian Necromancer to Summon the Dead to My House
Years ago, as my paternal grandfather’s health faltered, I realized I had a problem. You see, for all practical purposes, I am the sole male heir of my family, as my grandfather had two sons, one of whom only has a daughter and the other me. This means that I get to inherit about $20, no lands, no titles, a heightened risk of diabetes, and the ancestral shrine.
Lets talk about this shrine business.
Currently housed at my parents’ house, the official shrine to our ancestors sits on top of a kitchen shelf conveniently shaped to hold a shrine, electric candles, and all the incense and cups necessary for proper ancestral relationship maintenance. Once everyone in that generation dies or moves to nursing homes, it’s going to come to my generation.
It’s going to come to me.
And that’s kind of problematic. Very problematic. Let me enumerate the many problems.
- I have been drawn by the siren call of the churchmen and have abandoned the pagan traditions of my forefathers. It was a really nice siren call; six part harmony and all that. (But Wing, you ask, what about the tarot decks and piles of pictures of fox spirits you have lying around? And why is half your music library about magpies and faeries? Well, they aren’t the pagan traditions of my forefathers.)
- Proper shrine maintenance involves performing the right rituals and sacrifices every so often (the frequency depends on level of piety but seriously you gotta do it at least during the equinoxes). On the one hand, it means making piles of food and then feasting (both of which I am great at), on the other, it feels very much like appropriation when you feast to a thing you don’t rightly believe in.
- A red and gold shrine that glows dimly red at night clashes with the “how many pieces of black IKEA furniture can I shove in my house?” aesthetic that I have been going for. This sounds terrible (it is) and if I had to guess this and Christianity are the main reasons why most young families don’t continue the tradition.
All of that aside, there’s also the fact that moving a shrine cross-country is not a super easy thing to do. I know this because we moved the thing across the globe once.
There are, essentially, three parts to the shrine. The first is the cabinet that you sort of think of as the shrine structure itself. They’re not super easily transportable because they don’t fold flat or anything, and shipping a large, awkward, delicate, wooden thing using UPS or FedEx is basically asking for trouble. Thankfully, they are also the most replaceable part of the whole thing because what’s inside is the important stuff. And double thankfully, we’re in the 21st century so you can buy this stuff outside of San Francisco Chinatown.
The second piece is the engraved plaque inside. That’s technically replaceable, considering that physically they are just pieces of wood engraved with words that roughly say “the past generations of the house of $lastname” and maybe a poem talking about how the family spreads its branches through the echoes of time. But just like how you could replace a tombstone, you’d rather not do it because it would be real upsetting if you had to.
Now they are smaller and totally fit in a suitcase, which is how we originally got it to where it is in the first place, so no problem, right? Except the TSA didn’t exist back when we did it the first time. I mean you had like an X-ray scanner sometimes and that was about it? I really do not want to explain to TSA agents why I have a blessed object with golden Chinese engravings in my suitcase. Or worse, to idiot passengers that Fancy Golden Chinese Script is not Arabic and even if I was carrying a blessed piece of wood with golden Arabic engravings I would not be a terrorist please stop being racist.
But I digress, because we need to get to the third piece at some point.
In order for a shrine to properly work, it actually needs to be connected to the spirits that it’s dedicated to. Unfortunately if you move the plaque/focus, it breaks the connection and you need to beckon the spirits to the new physical location. Fortunately the dead is not bound by space so you can do the beckoning at the new location. Unfortunately if you don’t already have an established connection you can’t speak to the dead. Fortunately there are people who can speak to the dead without a connection. Unfortunately the closest person I know who does this is in Vancouver, Canada.
So in order rededicate the shrine properly, I would have to hire a necromancer from Canada to summon my dead ancestors to my house.
To some people, this is a completely ridiculous idea.
To some people, this is a perfectly normal thing.
To me, it’s maybe like 30/70.
Oh right I have to get to the polyamory part.
Anyway, this whole shrine thing would be problematic. At best I’d shove the thing in my closet and ignore it and feel guilty. At worst I’ll actually actively do all the things required to maintain it and harbor a good dose of resentment and a better dose of inauthenticity. No good can come out of this. And one day someone would ask me whether I want the shrine and I am utterly completely garbage at saying no.
Especially to people who are dying.
Except now I am pretty sure that day will never come thanks to polyamory.
Remember how I said that my grandfather had two sons, and one of them had only a daughter? Well, he actually had a son too. We just never talked about him. Because, you know. He’s a bastard. Like, literally.
Maybe not everything was exactly consensual with all parties involved when it all happened — as in parties didn’t know about each other so couldn’t exactly consent to a polyamorous relationship. I am about 100% sure that not consenting because you don’t know you need to consent to a thing is not itself consent. But that was a long time ago and now everyone’s getting old. It would be nice to have another grandchild or son or daughter-in-law or sister or whatever, right?
So long story short, said child (he’s actually old enough to smoke legally now, so not really a child) and his mother are now officially part of the family. The grandparents now have another grandkid; the grandkid now has Official Grandparents, a Legit Dad, and Two Moms without having to deal with that gay marriage business — I am pretty sure that the family is infinitely better with a man having two wives than two women being wives of each other.
And the rules of succession says that he is The Heir and therefore the person who will have to deal with what used to be my problem. So now I can continue to not deal with solving the problem of reconciling my current life with my ancestry. Problem solved I mean averted.
(In my initial draft of this thing I used polygamy instead of polyamory, which I guess was more appropriate because it’s really the Officially Part of the Family nature of the relationship that caused my cousin to actually become my cousin. But then they’re not technically married, so maybe polyamory is a better descriptor? Who knows.)
Okay let’s have an epilogue.
So first, some caveats: it is likely that I got some of the details wrong, given that it’s been a long time since I actually did anything remotely resembling traditional ancestor worship. And my tone is not serious because I don’t take any of this seriously — both due to the fact that I don’t take any religion seriously and because [redacted as I’m not actually supposed to know this family fact] — but I know that many people, including my grandparents, do. And I fully admit that I am a terrible grandchild for thinking and writing this.
But I guess I do take solace in that no matter how bad I screw up I’m not white people selling joss paper at craft store as ethnic papercraft findings level screw up. Seriously. It’s a thing.
I wrote most of the stuff above the epilogue a long while ago, after I told the story again and realized that I should probably write it down at some point. Lots of things happened between then and now. Not everyone mentioned in the story is still alive — but not anyone that would change the outcome of the story, I selfishly add. Not everything in the story is true — the ratio of magpie to not magpie in my music library has increased since then. I’ve learned that there’s probably someone at a temple in Lynnwood that could do this commune with the dead thing, so I wouldn’t have to go to Canada even if I needed to do this thing.
But the central theme remains the same: I am still trying very hard to ignore dealing with the feelings involved in juggling the guilt instilled in me by Confucian Catholic School in my childhood with managing my current life, except maybe admitting that the problem exists in epilogues to Medium articles or stories or whatever they are called.
Maybe one day I will deal with it by writing a Medium story about Confucian Catholic School.