One of the major differences between Western culture and indigenous* cultures is our relationship to our ancestors. A deep commonality in many indigenous cultures is an awareness and honouring of those that came before, and come presently in different forms.
We can see how elaborate and intrinsic this acknowledgement is if we look at traditions like the Day of the Dead in Mexico, and the Malagasy festival of Famadihana, ’turning of the bones’. Every seven years this Malagasy community has a celebration to unwrap and rewrap the bones of their ancestors in new cloth. They dance in joyous celebration with the remains of their predecessors as the elders tell the children of the importance of their ancestors. Other cultures have daily practices, like the sangomas (traditional healers) of South Africa, who will greet and pray to their ancestors every morning, burning a sacred plant to call and nourish the spirits of their old ones. Many other cultures relate to the plant and animal beings in the world around them as their kin, and express this through deeply respectful ways of engaging and listening to them. In Western culture it seems many of us are just reawakening to the relevance of those from whom we hail, and how timeless this lineage is.
Relating to Our Ancestors
There is a passage in the book, Stepping Into The Circle by Olga Kharitidi that really inspired me. It is written as fiction, but I took it as true; the stories felt so real. The passage spoke about a notion in Siberian shamanism that tells that there is only one ‘Kham’ (the Siberian word for shaman). If this vocation travels through your lineage, with a great grandmother being a shaman, a grandfather too, and now this is your path, then this is not the presence of many separate healing beings but all the same spirit travelling through time. Just one healing spirit travels through your lineage, inhabiting progressive bodies, learning and evolving all the while.
Surely then this must apply to every being in our lineage, not only those with a specific vocation? Each one culminates in who we are now. There is only one spirit that moves through our lineage, gathering experience and knowledge as it grows through many bodies and many timelines.** There is no separation as this spirit glides across generations, and one body slips out of another.
From the inspiration of that shamanistic notion blossomed the visceral recognition that I am my ancestors. We are our ancestors. We are the culmination of all our lineage has ever been, all the knowledge gathered, the trials and errors, the explorations, the traumas and the breakthroughs. All of this is contained in the blueprint of our being, and we reap the benefit of this cumulative effort. We are at the crest of our ancestral wave, and hold the legacy and determination of this tide.
The collection of the momentum gathered through time is here in its fullness in this moment. All of it. We hold this in our veins – these veins we have inherited as this spirit streams from body to body. Our blood has this data recorded, as it is the same blood that has existed since the beginning of blood. We are the receptacle of all harvested on this pathway through time.
Most indigenous traditions keep this accumulated wealth of knowledge alive by imparting all they know to their young, teaching them, and instilling the finest qualities that have worked optimally through eons of evolution.
Handing down knowledge through the ages, pouring our oral gold into the next young vessel in our lineage, is a way of reminding ourselves that there is only one self. As our manifest form transforms, we are to remember the source of it has never changed.
Through our embodied experience we are offered an opportunity to refine the mirror that reflects this source, so that we can come to know who we are even through the most twisted lens. We continuously and always have the chance to harness this opportunity.
As flame-bearers of the light of our predecessors we carry this forward, and those that come after us benefit from how we nourish and guide it. We have the capacity while we are embodied to remedy things in our lineage that may be out of alignment and unresolved. A powerful way of affecting things beyond our realm of perception is through ceremony.
A major differentiation between our dominant culture and the way indigenous people have lived is that the presence of initiation and ceremony is central to the fabric of their culture. When something needs remedy, ceremony is performed to call on the support of all who would be of benefit to the process, and to enrol the whole of our self in moving in our desired direction.
Creating a sanctified time of focus and gesture, a moment empowered to articulate our intentions, desires and convictions, is the heart of ceremony in this context. It is a field we empower to hold special validity, and acts as a portal to amplify communication with our old ones. It is also a microcosm to mirror the macrocosm of our lives, and expose what may be needed for us to resolve obstacles and progress adequately. It instructs the field on the course to follow.
We are empowered to shift our conditions and expression in the world.
These changes have even been said to register on a physiological level, as we learn through the theory of epigenetics by Bruce Lipton. Epigenetics explains that gene expressions can be changed in a moment as we make different choices and respond in new ways to our experience. An example Dr Lipton gives is that our genetics are the blueprint, not the house. At any stage the architect can change the design and appearance of the building. We can adapt from the programming we have inherited.
We encode our reality through our belief system. Ceremony encodes the field we inhabit with our updated vision, and this sets the direction for our subsequent movement. It is a powerful vessel in which to explicitly activate these new expressions.
The work we do in ceremony, realigning and bringing remedy to our ancestral line, is to the benefit of us all. In resolving a part of ourselves we resolve a part of the collective field. Another way of expressing what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’ is to say we partake in swarm consciousness. Our collective ‘soup’ or field of consciousness is affected in a quantum like way in that one shift affects the whole. All seeming parts are intrinsic and important to the whole.
The way a concept sweeps through the internet, and shifts thinking patterns in horizontal transmissions of intelligence, mirrors the way ancestral opening and realignment offers vertical transmissions of intelligence, and shifts the collective field in a valuable way. The work we do as individuals benefits the greater being.
The Morphogenic Field
The morphogenic field, as coined by Rupert Sheldrake, explains how knowledge travels through a behavioural field and enhances the capacity of all those in the field. An experiment was done where monkeys on one island where taught to wash their sweet potatoes before eating them. The study showed that monkeys on nearby islands, with no possible contact with the previous island, would also begin to wash their sweet potatoes before eating them.
The study continued to explore the experiment of a town that received a crossword puzzle ahead of nearby towns. While it took the residents here a week to conclude the puzzle, when the nearby town received the puzzle days later – with no contact from the previous town – they took a much shorter period to complete the same puzzle. In the morphic field this pattern had been deciphered.
Like a positive contagion the same applies as we resolve and heal elements in our lineage. As we iron out the kinks in our ancestral path, we open the way for energy and intelligence to flow through unhindered. We can access more knowledge and wisdom as this resource opens up to us. This expansion enhances the whole field.
If we are not limited by the idea that we are bound to this appearance and expression, we can continue to track where we really come from, and expand our sense of “self”.
If we trace our journey back through our ancestors, we will see we are related to a lot more people and cultures than we were cognisant of. If we trace back further still, we will find we are related to everybody. Digging deeper we will see that we are related to the animal kingdom too, the plant kingdom, the mineral kingdom. Our bacteriological ancestry has accompanied us for longer than we have been human. They were here before us and began to structure our DNA functioning before we were fully humanoid. We have evolved for millions of years together with these kin. They have made fine choices for our best evolution, and continue to do so, selecting systems and resources for our highest awareness.
If we trace back further still, we will find we are related to everybody
These are the same ancestors and facilitators of plant, animal and mineral functioning too. We are all family. When we include in our ancestral line the elements that all material emerged out of, we see that everything eventually is of the same stuff. There is only one dreamer of this incredible dream, and we each have full access to it.
As our attention comes to include all that has held the mantle of our being, all the ingredients in our timeless lineage, we notice that where our attention is, there we are. Where we place our attention is what is real for us. Our attention is gold dust.
We can begin to feel our self as one very tall being through time. We can recognise our elemental ancestral being in the earth beneath us; our familial ancestors in our feet and legs, supporting us and giving strength to the journey. In the core of our body we find our optimal state is to rest most comfortably in the heart, and if we care to orientate from here we find it induces a multidimensional capacity for understanding, or as it is expressed in Tibetan, bodhichitta, the blossoming of compassion or loving-kindness. This motivates our vocal expression and inner vision, which forges our path forward as we dream this life into being. This is what lies in wait for our descendants, our future expression. This creation will take instruction from our imagination; our ancient wisdom tends to be the wisest instruction.
How Do We Animate This Wisdom?
We can call upon and enliven our ancestors through opening a correspondence. As with any respectful conversation, we both offer and receive.
We make a gesture of offering, and open ourselves to listen. We strengthen this muscle through practice, and the portal of communication opens more fully.
When we visit someone we respect to garner their advice, for example, often we will bring a gift to show our appreciation. Our ancestors are our “old people”, and it is natural to have considerable respect for them. We owe our presence to them. An appropriate response to this, regardless of their history and character, is gratitude. If for nothing less than their journey grants us the immense opportunity now to move in any way we like and determine the unfolding of our own and future descendants.
To open the portal of communication we begin with this gratitude. We offer something that our old people will like. In most traditions tobacco, alcohol, the essence of a plant, and candlelight are offered. Thinking of what those in our lineage enjoyed will guide us to appropriate offerings: favourite foods, sweets, flowers, smells…
As we offer this gesture and extend our awareness to include those beings who came before this body, we begin to encompass the fullness of our self. Essentially it is a gesture of self love.
This practice then broadens where we draw knowledge from. We expand the scope of what we consider accessible and tap into this wisdom, this age old record, transcribed in the archives of our blood. As we offer, we open more to receive. As we expand our self, we access deeper guidance.
Learning to Navigate Our Natural Operating System
I was told once by a tree (yes, really), that the spirit of the plant lives in the sap; medicine is in the bark; power is in the leaves; connectivity is in the roots; and love is in the fruits. I was told to use the parts of a plant in this way to facilitate what I want to achieve. The teaching then continued to unfold months later, where I was told the same is true for a human. The spirit is in the blood; medicine is in the skin, (including the skin of each organ, anywhere information is exchanged with its environment); power is in our hair and nails; connectivity is in our root, our pelvic bowl and feet; love is in our fruits, our creativity, our children, our song, our expression.
It went on still to show me that the same is true in the macrocosm of earth. The spirit is in the waters; medicine is in the skin of the planet, the soil; power is in the plants; connectivity is in the roots, the rock and crystal kingdom tracing into the centre of the earth; love is in the creatures, the animals and humans.
The macrocosm of earth
Harnessing this map of the self as a methodology, we can use our own being to activate, reconnect or alleviate the parts of our self we wish to.
We can dance to connect with our ancestry, our roots; meaningfully create to come into our hearts; heal through touch, planting, walking barefoot on soil, cleanse our blood to awaken our spirit…
To remember who we are is to claim the sacredness of our self. To recognise that the sacred is the effortless flowing pulse of what is, knowing our self as best we can in this moment. It is in the choice to let things nourish and heighten us. To have the possibility of being ‘awake’ in ever increasing measures, and to willingly set our intent in this evolution.
When we develop this knowing, and encompass all of who we are, ever were and ever will be, we stand in the centre of an ancestral symphony, as the conductor of the melody it is playing now.
* By indigenous I refer to old world traditional cultures still living in close connection with the earth.
** Of course we have other ancestral elements across time and timelines, we are not only bound to our bloodline ancestors. For the purpose of this article we will focus on our direct ancestry.
Featured Image: An excerpt from Wisdom of the Ages, by Autum Skye Morrison