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, August 7, 2013

Working with My Ancestors

I have the names of my mother’s mothers and my father’s fathers, some skipping back a few generations and others stretching out into the early days of the Current Era. Like a personal totemic medicine wheel, there are four directions of ancestors that converge within me, in the lines of Art, Riddle, Ruston, and Eaton. They are the foundation I stand on, they and all of their ancestors standing behind them. I am the crest of the tip of a wave that has been travelling through centuries, to be here now.
This ancestor work is both firm and fluid. What was cannot change but what will be is always in motion. I have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 great-great-great-grandparents, 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents, 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, etc. Even without names, I know that they lived or I wouldn’t be here. I know they took breath and bore children or I wouldn’t exist.
We don’t completely understand the nature of the natural world; the ebb and flow of symbiotic life, the repeating patterns in how things grow. We’ve broken down the science and we can explain the architecture and form of it, but we understand it as much as we understand what pins a soul into the human body. In our world, we accept that the soul exists. We feel it when we are moved, when our emotions are stirred, like tides answering to the moon’s gravity.
Our souls exist. When a person dies, it leaves their body. To us forest walkers, when a favorite tree dies, we feel the loss of it’s spirit. Where does it go? No one knows what that energy source becomes. But energy is energy and maybe it all just becomes that. So when we enter the natural world and touch the earth and hug the trees, we sense that larger spirit of life, that oneness of everything that has ever lived.
We may birth forth from our mother’s wombs, freed from the cord that connects us, but our connection to the earth beneath us is eternal. Our shared ancestor crawled out from the primordial depths to evolve into bipedal animals. The earth itself is our mother. Our heart beats in tandem with her. Our blood pulses in rhythm to her tides. The waters of our body feel the same pull that she does to the moon.
There are many elemental forces. The basics of earth, air, fire, water, and the spirit beings that crossover and inhabit these entities in our world. All the living things like plants, trees, animals are useful sources of energy. They are all product of our living ancestor. We’re not meant to drain these sources of their life force. That is never the goal with true magic. But we connect into it, we open a doorway of understanding and we try to learn from each other. We seek not to conquer but to become one with. It is a mutual exchange of energy. A boost.
The ancestral energy is no different to me. It is the timeless echo of every living being whose footsteps once walked this earth, whose lungs drew breath and exhaled carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. For me, the ancestral energy is just as tangible as the earth energy, as if passages of time were layered atop each other like floors in a skyscraper and I am staring down from an aerial view at each of them at once. All life exists in that moment, beneath me, layers of sedimentary rock. When I connect into it, I can touch the still-living energy of those long dead. And in this work, time magnifies the stream, as well as diminishes. It magnifies the echo-of-life-that-was, so the dead feel part of your life still, and it diminishes our human grief at the loss of the physical presence. It’s why I differentiate between working with the Beloved Dead, those we knew in life, and the Ancestral Dead. I am walking with my ancestors and they are walking within me.
I don’t deify them. But I reach out into the energy around me, for there is some echo of their life that runs through the soil still. I can touch it. And certainly some of that energy touches me while I am at my work.
When my garden is less-than-thriving, I light candles on my ancestor altar. I make a petition to the centuries of farmers who worked the soil before me. I pull on that knowledge they held, swimming in my bloodstream, and will it into my fingertips. I make an offering to them from the first of the harvest in gratitude for their guidance in watching over my hands as they toiled, so that other life may be nourished in the reaping; not just my household.
When someone I love is giving birth, I light candles and ask for every woman before me who has pushed life out into the world to stand in that room and welcome the new life into the world. I ask them to watch over my family, and my nieces, as they grow and begin their own families. I remember the toil and struggle life is for everyone, and it humbles me.
When death comes to loved ones, I ask the Beloved Dead to stand with the family, to be of comfort to the bereaved and grieving. I ask the Ancestral Dead to open the way for the newly dead to cross over, and welcome them into the next stage of being.
When a new job is on the horizon, I ask for the support of all those who ventured into new territories, or changed careers in uncomfortable times. I remember them, whether I have names or not, and I know that I am hardly alone in the hope for good things to come my way.
And when times are hard, as times get, and I don’t know how they’ll get better, I pray to all of those who came before me and I beg them for strength. I pray to those who endured hard lives, who survived war and murder, to walk with me, to curb the feeling of loneliness that hardship can bring. I know I can do it, because they did. And I forgive myself in advance, in case I lose a little grace along the way.
To those who have gone before.
To those whose names live in our hearts and dance across our lips.
To those whose names have been forgotten, lost in the sea of time.
To those whose bones lay buried within and above the earth.
To those whose ashes have traveled on the winds.

We, the living, remember you.


  1. Lovely post as always.

    What is the difference between the Beloved Dead and the Ancestral Dead?

    1. Thank you!

      The Beloved Dead are those who have passed on that we knew in our lives. We have emotional connections to their energy that can sometimes cloud working with them. The Ancestral Dead are those of your family line who died before you were born.

      When asking them for aide, or petitioning them for help, I find this to be useful. I may not, for example, ask my Grandparents to attend to a grieving family member, because I might worry that feeling/sensing their presence would be harder for the family member because their energy would be familiar... and might cause the family member more grief.


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