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, October 14, 2015

Unwanted Ancestors

Every family tree has bad apples. It’s that simple. I mean, history is full of bad people. Every one of them had a mother and father, and perhaps siblings, and many of them had children of their own. If you go down far enough, some of us dangle at the end of those branches. This is a notion that commonly steers people away from ancestor work. They worry about what kind of spirits they’ll open up their world to.
Every apple tree bears some bad fruit. Every orchard sometimes suffers the rot of an entire tree. It happens. And sometimes blight will devour an entire orchard and kill off a species. You are who you are because of every person on your family tree that came before you.
Everything is interconnected. Everything. Just as you control who you open your front door to, you can control what spirits you open yourself and your heart to, without keeping that door locked. As long as you remember and believe that, you can work with or around your unwanted ancestors with ease.

When Bad Seeds Fall Close to Home
It’s hard for people to contemplate what sort of ancestors they might have had when the only family they’ve known were bad seeds. I have known people whose immediate families were so toxic they didn’t believe that they, themselves, were capable of being good people. In this way, reaching backwards into the line of ancestors can be healing. Every pattern of bad behavior starts somewhere, no matter the catalyst or reason. Remember that, because there were ancestors who existed before that pattern began. They are waiting for you.
In this world, we all have scars. It’s not a competition over whose are worse. It’s just a sad circumstance of our culture. For cases where the scars run deep, I heartily endorse and recommend therapy, as cycles of hurt are hard to overcome. It’s difficult to believe in a perspective outside of the world of hurt. Therapists, counselors and psychologists can offer that help.
It only takes one person to teach hate and fear, releasing it onto further generations. It also only takes one person to stop the cycle of violence, hate and abuse. If you can recognize the behavior, recognize the triggers that prompt it in yourself and/or prompted it in others, you can find the strength of will to stop yourself from repeating them. You are of your family, you are not your family.
Being able to see the cycle that your parent hurt you because their parent hurt them because their parent hurt them because… allows you to see the bigger picture and the larger energy. You can step back and see it without the personal attachment to it which allows you to decide that you don’t want to be a part of that energy. And your stepping out of it lessens its momentum. Sometimes we have to remove ourselves from one current of energy that’s polluting us, to a healthier one. It only takes one person. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” No one has said it better.
I do not argue nature or nurture. I believe in both. I have watched a boy, nurtured in a loving family struggle with his angry outbursts and violent tendencies. A boy who never knew his biological father and struggled with emotions he could not control until he was a man, meeting the mirror of himself in his father. Without being exposed to him, he struggled with the same fights he himself had. Growing up nurtured was one step of his evolution. Learning to nurture himself was the next. This is why it’s important to have a connection to something that reminds us of the length of time stretching before us and the length of time stretching after us. Our world is bigger than us.
You don’t have to do work with the dead who hurt you. You don’t even have to honor them. But if you allow your emotions to block their presence in your past in your heart, you block everyone who came before them too.

Ancestor Ritual of Self
Here’s a simple and symbolic ritual designed for attachment and detachment. It is specifically tailored here to help you disconnect from pain associated with specific spirits- not the spirit itself. This is not a cure-all, or a solution to feelings you have not dealt with yet. This ritual is not about forgiveness. A Buddhist teacher once told me that forgiveness is something you give when you need to because your anger is hurting you. It is never about absolving the other person.
Anger is a response our animal bodies have to situations that hurt us. It is supposed to act as that little burst of energy that propels us out of a bad situation. What it has evolved into, culturally, is something greater than it was meant to be. In that vein, this ritual is also about walking your body through a physical action of detaching to help change your actual brain chemistry and emotional response to the ghost of the person who hurt you, and, over time, to how you respond to being hurt in general.
Light a candle to focus your energy. Gather two slips of paper. If you need a stronger visualization, you can use pictures. On one paper, write the name(s) of the deceased family member(s) that caused you pain, and on the other paper, write your name. Put a hole in each paper and tie them together with a piece of red string or yarn, visualizing your connection.
Call on your ancestors, however elaborate or simply you wish, to offer support and witness. Concentrate on the red cord (this is meant for people who have done the internal work first). Acknowledge the hurt done to you from the deceased person. When you are focused and ready, and clearly see the thread between you, cut the red cord where it meets your name or picture, with the intention that you no longer accept the energetic hold the other person had on your heart.
Discard the paper with the cord still attached however feels natural in the moment. You can burn it. You can bury it. You can put it in the garbage.
Hold your name or image, free from tethers, and feel that strength run up your arms and into your heart. Then hold it in your heart and pull it down into your core. Remember that strength. This is where your magic lives.
You are not cutting these ancestors out of your family tree. Rewriting history never solves anything. But you are severing the cycle of hurt between the two of you, and passing peace onto your children and their descendants. The other benefit of doing this kind of work is that, as your ancestors see you working towards wholeness, you may be unknowingly equalizing a generational cycle of bad turns that will allow your ancestral energies some semblance of peace as well- and perhaps at last.

[Revamped from an article originally published November 10, 2010.]

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