Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ancestor Prayer Beads

I am always searching for new ways to experience my ancestor work, physically, visually, energetically, artistically. I find that more experiences and points of view give dimensionality to intangible theories, which gives it more flesh and weight. One of the first things I learned about ancestor worship came from the Yoruban religion of Ifa, built around the core belief of ancestor reverence. They say that if you do not know seven generations of your ancestors- those who walk behind you and paved the way for you- then you cannot know who you are.

That is something easily done in a culture that prioritizes holding onto the names of ancestors past, but in Western culture it is easy to forget those who traveled before. It is possible to lose an entire branch of history in one generation; a forgotten sibling, the sudden death of a parent with no other family, adoption, etc. It is easy for facts to become lost. But we all come from somewhere. We all have histories that trace back to the first signs of life.

When my work deepened, I wanted to see how far back I could go. How much of my own history did we already know? That thought prompted me to look into the genealogy notes we had. There were very few names to my mother’s family, and a couple blocks we’d been stuck at in my father’s. I could only go back seven generations in one line and we had yet to verify if it was accurate. Thanks to the help of the information age, the improbable became more possible and I more discoveries were made.

So I have these names, interesting, strange and old and all belonging to people whose blood flows in me. I have sat and recited their names aloud, bearing witness to their place in the journey of our family. And recently, I found myself wanting something different, something fuller, something with a weight I could hold in my hand.

Prayers beads are used by many differing religious faiths as a means of repetitive prayer, chant or devotion: Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Anglican, Islam, Hindu, Sikh- just to name a few. Having experience with both rosary and mala beads, I was drawn to trying to create something towards that purpose. I started simply, buying plain wood beads and hemp rope at the local craft store.

In the generation above me, both of my parents are still living so I started my prayer beads with the first generation of dead relatives, my Grandparents (both bio- and step-). I placed four beads for four Grandparents, tying a double knot afterwards. In the next section I put a bead for each name I had for my Great-Grandparents, and then tied a double knot. And I moved into the next section and so on, for 7 generations of dead. When it was finished, I had a necklace made of 120 names, long enough to double-wrap around my neck.

In my meditations I hold each bead in my hand and speak the name of an ancestor into it, learning their names, calling their memory into the wood and paying homage to them.

This necklace is another way to process what it means to have those generations supporting me, with that tangible weight upon my shoulders layering another perspective into my awareness. With every step of my foot and shifting of the wood around my neck, I am made aware of the presence of support I have gathered in the spiritual world and, if nothing else, I am humbled by the lives that gave way for mine and reminded that I am not alone. I am never alone.

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