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, September 5, 2012

Working with the Dead

My ancestor work doesn’t just involve honoring those who paved the way for me to be here. In times of hardship and trouble, I make petitions to my ancestors for guidance and aid, but most often simply to watch over us and shield us from harm. I work to keep my connection to them strong so that when I find myself in need, they are right beside me and sharp in my mind. I have always been sensitive to the spirit world. I have always known when spirits were about but not in a psychic way. I get emotional impressions, not factual information.
Fresh out of college, I attended my first Psychic Fair, full of doubt and skepticism, but knowing that I wanted it to be true. After several trips to the spiritualist community of Lilydale during my time in college, I desperately wanted to be a believer. After all, if I thought I could sense spirit activity, I couldn’t be the only one who could do it.
We’re always skeptical about anything we haven’t or can’t experience for ourselves. How do we know something is real if we can’t touch it or see it or hear it or taste it? Even though I was sensitive to spirits, if I couldn’t see them well enough to describe them or hear them say what they wanted, how could I be sure anyone else could? And that’s were faith always comes into play. If I believed I could, I had to trust that others could. If I believed I had a gift that others didn’t, I had to believe that other people could have a gift I didn’t.
I wandered the room, eavesdropping on readings and using my gut responses to feel out people whose readings sounded exactly like I expected them to sound. I know now that my own interpretations are so vague that I perhaps did some of the mediums a disservice by writing them off. But what was missing for me in their readings was the emotional context, the emotional connection to spirit world that I feel. And the people paying for readings were too eager, too open about revealing information that cold readers can use. And I was young.
To be fair, in retrospect, I have worked through the fear of revealing something that might be too personal or raw to people who are practically strangers to me. I understand why people trying to make money with their gifts might hold back from attempting to offer information that would upset a potential client. You have to be good with people, both living and dead to engender trust. When the dead have something to say and they find a doorway into this world they are not going to sugar-coat or tiptoe around why they’re here. And no stranger enjoys mediating family drama between the dead and the living.
Eventually I found a woman who was sitting patiently, not trying to get people to buy her time. She offered to do a reading for me, as she sensed someone coming through. If I felt she had made contact, I could pay her. It was the right way to woo a skeptic and I sat down. She was dressed simply in jeans and a sweater. Her hair was loose. She had a deck of tarot cards with a Native American theme on them in front of her, which she had me shuffle and then laid out.
Something about a mother figure, she said. But no, I said, my mother was still alive. She said it could be grandmother, but I shook my head no. All three of my grandmothers were still alive. Except for my father’s mother. I said so but she said no, it was my maternal side, connected to my mother. I sat expressionless, knowing a thing or two about cold reading. I watched her go into what I now know as a trance state and she began to talk about how this woman visits me and watches over me and sometimes I can feel her touching the top right side of my head and when it happens I wonder for a moment at the sensation and yes, she wants me to know that is her trying to contact me, letting me know I’m not alone.
I was sitting at the table. I remembered that feeling and with it, attached to a thin thread came the memory of sitting at my Great-Grandma Elsie’s knee when she stayed with us for the summer. Her hand was on the top of my head, and it was cool like silk paper. And with that memory the spot on my head began to buzz in the room at the Psychic Fair and the air around me smelled like baby powder, musty blankets, and lilacs. Elsie spent the summers with us and watched us when my mother went out. She was like a mother to me, to everyone who knew her and all of the senses I had learned to trust were trying to tell me she was present.
Me, Elsie, and my brother, 1976.
The woman across the table was staring at me, her eyes open, and she said “She loves you, and she watches over you.” I put my money on the table, thanked her, and walked quietly outside, where I promptly burst into tears. We all want to hear that the people we loved in the world are still with us when they leave it. I do believe part of them is still here, like an echo, like energy of love that was so strong it stays behind, ebbing through the time we have left. Our spirit is only form within our physical bodies and when we die, some of it moves on, some of it becomes something else, some of it becomes part of the energy of the world around us and some of it stays behind like an echo.
I knew I would do anything to reach my Great-Grandmother again. And I started on the path to where I am now. When I received confirmation that Elsie was with me, she had been dead for six years and I had healed my grief over losing her. So I was ready to call on her, to call her to me, to ask for help and guidance from her. She became a doorway to the rest of my ancestors. I consider them like an “intuition upgrade,” adding another sense to my repertoire.
I do not know the exact length of time before you should call on a dead relative for aid, and I think that the time is different for everyone. In the same way that we all handle transitions and transformations differently, some need more time than others. I believe and worry that some spirits need more time to cross over, to adjust to not being part of the material world. I worry that those who are called to stay here before they’re ready get pulled by what is familiar and become ghosts, stuck in between living and whatever happens next. At the same time, if a recently deceased spirit is the one trying to contact you, it would seem prudent to answer, for perhaps they will not pass over until their business is finished.
We need not fear the spirits around us. In my work it would be akin to be afraid of the ring of a telephone. When we open ourselves to accepting the call of our ancestors, we are opening a larger universe of sensation that can only serve to sharpen our experiences of the world we walk upon in our breathing lives.

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