Ancestral Lineage Healing FAQ

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Altar Tending and Offering Practice

I have a relationship with the Greek goddess Hecate, but my blood ancestors are from West Africa. Is it problematic ‘mixing and matching’ to honor them with her?

This is really nuanced terrain when it comes to mixing and such, and I’ve done it lots of ways over the years. There are different lenses through which to think about this. Briefly:

Through a relational/animist lens consider asking Hecate how she sees it and your blood ancestors how they see it. If they’re both good with it, no problem! If they have concerns is some way try to hash out a reasonable accommodation with the involved parties directly.

Through a pragmatic ritualist lens, I’m pretty sure the ancient Greeks didn’t see Hecate as a steward over just their dead or Zeus as a deity of storms only in Greece. Most cultures view their sacred powers as upholding the larger world while also respecting that their gods may have regional potency and that other cultures have their own elder powers and such.  In this way, I suspect Hecate quite capable of co-existing with your ancestors of blood. It’s not so different from the multi-cultural spaces and ecologically varied habitats we walk in today.

Through a lens of discernment about cultural sensitivity, because Hellenic traditions are largely reconstructed (rather than having historically intact priesthoods), this means a lot is up for negotiation and folks rely on their own direct intuition to a high degree around protocol. I don’t think any Greeks are going to fault you for relating with Hecate in this way. And I suspect your ancestors are glad for the care and reverence however it arrives.

Please share more on the colorful mandalas throughout the website. How do they relate to ancestral healing?

These images are from one stage of an overall offering ritual/practice inspired by the Andean despacho ceremony. I learned this ceremony in maybe 2008 from Meg Beeler who learned it from her Q’ero teachers in Peru (good article from Meg here). I’ve since had the chance to sit in ceremony (just a little) with some of the indigenous elders from that region during their trips to the United States, and I’ve also had more dedicated students of those ways share the images of the fancy ones I’ve crafted here with folks from there and they like them :-)  The despacho in particular as a ceremonial form can be utilized for many many different intentions; however, the 14 images on the page for the online course are from multi-day ancestor-focused trainings I guided in the past decade.

The offerings are natural/biodegradable and the images are typically taken before the kintus (leaves) are added as prayers (sometimes they are pictured around the central offering). Eventually participants pray with the leaves to/with/for the ancestors, other offerings are added, the overall offering is bundled up (it’s laid out on a base of fabric that’s often not visible in the images), and then we determine if it will be burned (most common), buried, or on rare occasions taken to a body of water to be delivered to the spirits. I don’t tend to focus on this because I don’t want folks to think they need to make something fancy like this to honor their ancestors; it’s more something that’s because part of my style as a ritualist, especially when leading group trainings.

So…they’re adaptations/elaborations of an Andean despacho ceremony with the specific ritual intent to feast/honor the ancestors. Thanks for asking!

Example from Berkeley training 2016 after kintus were added.

How do the ancestors make use of physical offerings such as food or drink? This seems so foreign. Can you elaborate?

Most importantly think of feeding in the general sense of feeding any relationship. We may feed our connection with our children with physical food but also attention, quality time, and kind words. We may feed our house plants with water, fertilizer, sunlight, and words of praise and appreciation. Notice what feeds you…of course calories but also kindness, mirroring, fun activities, learning, etc.  So feeding the relationship with our ancestors is no different; ask them what they would like and experiment with enacting those requests (when practical and reasonable).

Offering food and drink is a very ancient and cross-cultural act of sharing and generosity between the living and the dead. Like a cat bringing us a dead bird, we bring them what sustains us and perhaps also what we know them to love. And food at the end of the day is energy. Money is like this too and a common offering for the dead. If we see the underlying essence of a thing this can help to understand how it ritually functions. In Yorùbá tradition we offer, for example, birds or 4-leggeds like ram or sheep to the ancestors. Although the living human community eats the bodies of the animals in the usual way for sustenance, the blood of the animals are shared with the ancestor shrines and so they are participant and also fed. This is a bigger topic around life force (a.k.a. blood) offerings, also very ancient, but again…ask the ancestors, the well ones, what feeds them and trust that. And more on this especially in Part One: Lesson Five.

Can you share more on guidelines you recommend for tending an ancestral shrine or altar?

I don’t want to create dogma about altar practice so I’ll share how I’ve come to see it and a little of why. I believe it’s beneficial to have a physical place to honor your blood ancestors (if there is not already a place designated in the natural world) as having a place gets them out of your body, brings the relationship more conscious, and functions in that way as a kind of depossession. The space between us and them increases intimacy and honors their reality. Shrines are also a meeting place, a focal point for the energy, a place of heightened contact.

Remember the shrine is for your ancestors, not the ghosts, not those who are still in their process of just becoming ancestors. You don’t want to call not-yet-well energies into your home but rather to safely assist them to become ancestors (the focus of the course) and then seat them on your shrine. That distinction matters a lot.

After experimentation over the years, I’ve found it best to not have the shrine where you sleep if you can avoid it. This is because it’s a focal point for spirit activity at times and restful sleep is important for life. If you don’t have a choice you can have something that’s contained/closed/covered when you’re done working with it. Or have a designated place outdoors (just ask the stone/tree/etc if they want that first).

With photos, my ancestors personally are not so into them, I think because they want to be known for who/how they are in the present In a way it’s almost like the photos are baby pictures or how they used to be. Also, I don’t tend to have photos of the living on the shrine as it can imply they’re with the ancestors, a hazard generally and especially for any living folks ambivalent about being here. But mostly once your specific ancestors are well if you have photos of them, just ask if they want them on the shrine and listen to their reply.

Lessons Four and Six (Part One) will include excerpts from the book on ways to consecrate ‘spirit houses’ or ongons and the question of how to involve physical objects to deepen the connection with the ancestors at one’s shrine is it’s own topic worthy of another thread.

After doing the meditation on boundaries I realized I have unwell ancestors on my altar that I have been tending to for years. Do I take it down until the work is done? I also call their names in libation should that cease also?

Excellent, relevant, and also tender question. Before I say more what’s really important is that there’s no implication in any way of rejecting or cutting ties with any recent ones who are not yet fully ancestralized or seated in their full potency. Here’s what I would suggest: Continue to tend at your ancestor shrine but rather than focus on specific remembered dead at this time, hold a general big space at your shrine for the deeply well grandmothers and grandfathers of your lineages. This may look like simplifying, having things like a bowl of water your change, a live plant, a candle, general symbols, other things the ancient ones request from you (we’ll dive into that more by lesson four, part one). So think of the seating (in a general way at first then more specific over time) of the well ones as temporarily displacing those who are still in a healing process, like in concentric circles it’s you in the middle, the ancient well ones around you, then those still in need around them. And in your prayers and tending at your shrine with the ancient vibrant ones, you can totally ask them to begin to deeply weave in those who are not yet fully vibrant. Which is to say that this boundary with the recent ones is temporary and for the sake of healing.

As for the libations, it’s something we’ll explore more in upcoming lessons but offerings can have different intentions, different directions/intended recipients, and in that sense different ritual outcomes. I would say for now to stop directly giving offerings to any among the dead who are not yet well and to explore a temporary pause in naming them, and instead to give offerings to your ancient and deeply awake and loving ancestors and ask them to use some of the energy from those offerings to assist the more recent dead who are still in need. This still extends care and concern to the recent ones while they’re getting healed up, still makes use of the goodness of the offering practice, and also has the effect of supporting ritual safety by not encouraging the not-yet-ancestors to hang out in your space before they’re on the level. Some traditions have practices for directly feeding the dead who are not yet well but it’s a more edgy and possibly hazardous practice, and this method aims to achieve similar results in a ritually safe way. If omitting the names in this way doesn’t sit right with you, just make sure you feel the backing of the well and ancients ones before naming, that you envision the ancients weaving in the more recent ones until they’re also deeply well, in which case great to resume naming (which is to say invoking).

I have two separate altar spaces, one for ancestors of blood and the other for ancestors of affinity/spiritual lineage/other-than-blood. Is it best to have these stay separate and to honor them at different times?

I think this is a question of personal preference to a large degree. I’d suggest asking the most well energies among your blood ancestors what they prefer about it all and to not let it be a source of stress. The main thing is that either general category of ancestor be deeply well in spirit, that you know their super well and vibrant, that’s all. Ancestors who are deeply well tend to play well with other ancestors.

What if I make food offering and when I feel that its ‘done’ that I then share it with other people and eat some of it myself? I am bringing this up because I grew up with some Hindu neighbors and they used to distribute the food offerings (prasad) to everyone in the vicinity including the Muslims who would take it. This food is believed to carry blessings.This there any particular reason I have to discard the offerings in the nature?

Great question. There are deeply different protocols for this and no one correct way although I’d encourage consistency over time, even if the plan changes at some point in how you do it. Coming out of a European Pagan background, there’s a prevalent idea that you don’t eat the food of the dead (check out the scene in Pan’s Labyrinth around this, not pretty…similar with the pomegranate of Persephone). In this way it’s cast as a kind of stealing or rudeness with adverse ritual implications. Now, having said that as an initiate in Egungun society of Yoruba culture when we offer something to the deities we almost always eat of those things ourselves and feed the people in that way. The deities get a little, a serving or even a few and the living partake of the majority of the offering. I like this protocol personally and observe it when offering, for example, roosters or rams. However I still am in the habit of giving the ancestors their own little plate, their own helping and once I’ve offered something to them not taking it back. The protocol you’re describing I suspect is to offer all of the thing at which point it becomes medicine and then is shared with the people. That’s also an ancient legitimate and wonderfully workable protocol. There’s more that could be said about all this, but in short: No, no reason you have to adopt my witchy European superstitions when you have your own ancestral protocols to fall back on.

You’ve expressed a note of caution or discernment about having photos of the dead on an ancestral shrine. How about having them in your home just in general?

If it’s not a shrine it’s probably fine. I see altars or shrines are places of heightened ritual intention or more likely contact with powers or beings seated there. If it’s not on a shrine per se, just more an ancestor remembering place, just notice the energy around it all. If it brings joy and goodness, go with that. If something feels off, also honor that.

My ancestors asked me to bring them an offering (tobacco) that has a negative association for me, but I noticed that following through with the request brought a shift in the energy. For me this highlighted bigger questions of my personal responsibility and the importance of being accountable in this work. Can you speak some to those bigger themes?

Like any relationship, our engagement with the ancestors tends to begin with a process of establishing trust. When they request a thing of us, it’s important to assess if we can agree to that. And if so, to make certain to follow through. The principle for me here is to under-commit and over-deliver. And more generally once we become aware of the need for healing with our lineages and we have skills to remedy those troubles, one could argue that this implies a moral obligation to assist. I tend to see it that way but some would feel that’s extreme or heavy-handed. Most important on a smaller level of scale is to follow through with things we agree to (and apologize when we don’t) as a way to establish trust with them.

I was asked by my ancestors to bring them an offering (tobacco) that has a negative association for me, but I noticed that following through with the request brought a shift in the energy. Can you speak to how to think about and navigate requests for ancestral offerings that as a living person you have a strong aversion to?

This is a good and common question. The short answer that would apply, for example, to foods that you don’t enjoy is that it’s for them not for you, so do your best (if you’re willing…if you’re not just let them know up front). No need for you to eat from the food also. Folks sometimes get snagged with things like alcohol and tobacco. Unless it’s a strong trigger for you around personal addiction (in which case own that and let the ancestors know), the important thing is that you’re bringing this to the well ancestors not the ghosts. If you’re feeding the well ones only this should be just fine, but that distinction holds with any kind of offering really. If you’re curious you can ask them what they like about it and they’ll likely share. Of course all the offerings have their own properties and what not. Feel your way through all this and course correct as needed, but be willing to explore through engagement with them and listening to the feedback.

I often bring food to the ancestor altar. When it’s time to remove the offering I feel bad about throwing out non-compostable foods. It feels like the food could be nourishing something else. Burying isn’t a good option for me because squirrels actually dig up food and drag half eaten things around our yard. What are some other good, earth honoring ways to dispose of food offerings?

If the offerings aren’t harmful to the creatures (e.g., chocolate’s not great to leave out, same with candies) and you’re able, I tend to just return them to the Earth. If they would be harmful to the creatures, it’s possible to return them via the trash/landfill as they still get consumed by the very smalls in that way. I don’t tend to do a huge amount of food offerings in terms of quantity and frequency so I don’t feel like this is a big ecological challenge, and I respect folks wanting to proceed with mindfulness on it. If it’s a concern, I’d encourage hashing things out with your ancestors about what you feel is possible and/or arranging with them an approach to offerings where you share a little with them and the rest is eaten by the living. The protocols on eating the offerings vary from culture to culture (see other replies on that topic). Trust your intuition, common sense, and also what your ancestors would like on all this as there’s not one script to follow so much.

Ancestors in Relationship to the Earth and the Bigger Picture

Why are things such a hot mess on Earth right now? Why did folks stop tending to the land and spirits? Is this on track to improve somehow?

I don’t necessary presume to know how things got all off-track in so many (but not all) places. I think it takes an intact earth-loving culture to check all the less awesome, immature, destructive forces we’re also composed of and when this breaks down it can be tough to set the whole system back on track. So yeah, I could say sexism, colonialism, racism, greed, etc are the reasons which is not so helpful to name the manifestations as I think you’re digging into ‘buy why?!?’ Mostly what I would say is that I don’t see it as some kind of conspiracy but more as a gradual and at times acute breakdown of grown-up behavior that spirals into whole demographics of people acting terribly for centuries. Most important is what to do about it. Generally speaking, I think what we do about it is: get excellent with own ancestors (and all that culturally implies), get excellent with the land/Earth/other-than-humans (especially those whose bodies support our lives and home), and within all that to try to get exceedingly clear about our specific destiny in the larger story and to passionately seek to fulfill that purpose while here on Earth. And then die, get born, and repeat for many lifetimes.

Ancestral Healing with Extended Family and Friends

How do you suggest relating with the ancestors of one’s spouse?

In general, I suggest first getting well with your own ancestral lineages before considering any kind of engagement with the ancestral lineages of others. Ideally your spouse would be open to working with their own ancestors in a healing way. And especially if have share children, it may be warranted to respectfully and mindfully (ideally with permission) approach your spouse’s ancestors with the well-being of your children in mind. Again, this is best done after you are relatively well with your own people as it creates a greater base of safety and experience from which to engage. As a reminder on resources for this, there is a directory of folks trained in this kind of work: ancestralmedicine.org/practitioner-directory. The farther we get from our own lineages the less inherent protection and forgiveness we’re likely to find among the dead. And yes, it can be important to do this. Both/and.

Can there be tension between one’s ancestors and the ancestors of that person’s spouse/partner? If so, is it possible that this would be fueled by cultural biases held by the dead during life such as racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, etc?

Yes, this kind of ancestral tension is possible and in general I distinguish ghosts or not-yet-ancestors from the well dead or the actual ancestors. I tend to find nearly all ancestral interference that we could frame as cultural troubles source from the dead who are not yet at peace, and in that sense it’s just a specific flavor of ghost trouble rather than ancestral disapproval/interference per se. The remedy for any kind of ghost trouble is boundaries in the short term and successful ancestralization of the dead in the medium to long term. Having said that, if the well dead, the true ancestors, think your relationship is not actually in your highest good, they’re not likely to be big fans and could potentially do things to hasten an ending. In general for relationships of all sorts that we want to succeed in the long-term, it’s great to seek to harmonize the ancestors of the folks involved. This can include making offerings to one another’s ancestors with care and humility. But mostly making sure they’re ancestors and not ghosts. That resolves 90% of potential problems.

Can stepping in with this work, including the type of boundary setting called for in Lesson Two, sometimes lead to a temporary increase in intensity among living family from the troubled dead?

Theoretically like any kind of healing work it can have this effect and much more commonly it brings a bit of relief to living family. Remember when setting limits with the troubled dead that you can extend this limit setting to your children (esp. if they are minors), meaning to ask your guides and helpers in spirit to also protect your children. If living family seems to be experiencing adverse affects you can drop back in with the exercise in Lesson Two and extend additional protection and boundaries to those living family who are in your care.

How can I support my adoptive daughter with respect to her ancestors?

Good question. In general, I would suggest first getting at least one of your own lineages in really vibrant condition (ideally more) and then asking them to supportively hold a space for protection around your daughter and ask that only the goodness from her people reach her. Assuming she is not interested and/or old enough to engage this work herself, you can do further work over time but asking your own ancestral guides to generally improve the conditions for her is great. And also helping her to know about aspects of beauty, magic, and blessing from her general area of ancestral origins. Those are helpful starts.

When assessing for boundary troubles with the different lineages, I noticed they seem to be directly impacting other living family members. Is it possible and/or appropriate to establish boundaries around them when needed?

Great question and it’s one I actually feel a little fuzzy about. I tend to say ‘Yes, for sure, do that’ when it comes to living children who are minors and children of the client/living person doing this work. I tend encourage the client to check with the guides if it’s possible and beneficial to assert these kind of boundaries on behalf of adult children. This starts to touch on issues of consent to intervene and it’s a fuzzy area, because if you see the lineage healing work through you’re going to make a shift in their space anyways (by helping the unwell dead in their space to become well). With other living family is it possible? Probably generally kinda sorta depends. Is it ethical? Probably, yeah, I think so. Is it advisable? I tend to ask the clients to ask their own guides/helpers/allies (the ones they called in at the very beginning of the process) to discern what’s possible and beneficial. It’s a gray area in the work. And again if you see the lineage repair through it’ll get sorted then.

I’m struggling some with what feels like a heavy emphasis on blood lineage. Can you share more about ancestors not in the direct lineage but still related by blood? How about adoptive family?

Think of weaving a spider web. It’s hard to make all the magical in-between joists until you have a few solid beams upon which to make those connections. The emphasis on four blood lines (two maternal, two paternal) is intended to create that foundation and not to exclude anything. I’ve found having that foundation is an antidote to excluding family legacies that are impactful and tempting to avoid. And in that process folks tend to discover all kinds of hidden treasures and gifts they would otherwise overlook.

If you have the book, check out chapter nine material on weaving in extended family (e.g., siblings of grandparents, parents, you, etc). This is part of the process and will be included in this course in part two. And it’s systemic, we’re weaving a lattice-work upon which to do more involved workings.

And for what it’s worth folks who don’t have children of their own (bodies) tend to be disproportionately called into service of the ancestors. Perhaps because they have a bit more bandwidth for it. Perhaps because it’s also good medicine for them. Perhaps for all kinds of other reasons.

Ancestral healing and love is course not a zero-sum game, there’s space for all of the above in these hearts. With intent that honoring lineages of blood only encourages the exaltation of others ancestral connections of all sorts.

There was recently a fatal act of violence near to where I live. What can I do to help? How can I assist those who are not related to me by blood to transition?

This is a big question mostly beyond the scope of this course to address, although by the end of the course you’ll have learned some important principles in the context of doing your own ancestral repair work that apply to assisting those who are not related to you by blood. As a generally protocol I would say that if you’re not already well with at least one of your own ancestral lineages to not get particularly involved. If you are well with one of your lines then you can ask them ‘Hey, do you want me to get involved here?’ and trust if they say no, like really be open to hearing that. Or to hearing ‘not at this time’. If they give some version of ‘yeah, a little’ then keep it very modest and within your scope of ritual training. Sometimes, especially with homocides and such, there can be other-than-ancestral energies that are not pretty, not safe, and unless you know what you’re doing it’s easy to get in the deep end quick by getting involved. That said, you can always hold a good thought and prayer for the safe transition of the recently deceased.

And to know that if they do get stuck in a ghost state (not a given just because they died intensely), they’re likely to attach to their living family or friends, not stay in the area or glom onto you. I don’t mean to be so macabre about it, it’s just that there are 2.5 million people just in the United States who die each year and it’s important to be very intentional and follow the guidance of our own ancestors about when and to what degree we get involved. Or to frame it another way, your own lineage dead who are not yet well are just as much of a spiritual emergency even if in most cases they didn’t die as recently, they’re still more karmically proximal to you (and in some ways therefore safer to work with).

Ancestral Invocation and Prayer

Can you share about ancestral invocations and how to strike the balance between naming and in that way honoring the dead while also not unintentionally calling the unwell ones to be present?

Remember that not all traditional systems of ancestor reverence convey this respect by calling the names of the dead. One reason to not do this would be that calling their names reinforces who they were during life and can distort our experience of them in the present. And also it can be fine and beautiful to name them. I do have the view that if the intent is to invoke/call-up them rather than just discuss and talk about them (there is some difference there), that it’s best to only call upon those whom you know to be deeply well in spirit. In other words, as they become well (or as your assess them to already be well), it’s like they then have clearance to be invoked. And trust your sense, notice what feels true to you, again, I don’t wish to create a dogma about it.

Assessment and Process Questions

This method seems to encourage us to engage our mother’s mother’s mother (and so on), our mother’s father’s father’s lineage, and likewise on our father’s side. Does this mean we will not really be looking to our mother’s father’s mother (for example) or our father’s mother’s father’s lineages?

Yeah, this is a lineage-based approach and so it is my habit to limit consideration to what I consider our four primary bloodlines at the outset of the work. Once you have worked at depth to come into relationship with two lineages among your father’s people and two among your mother’s people (which is plenty), if you are then moved to engage further some chose to work with a second orbital (basically the four great grandparent lines that were not previously considered, so eight in total). And of course the math gets formidable quickly. As for understanding history and honoring our people, yeah, of course, do that, no intent to exclude any ancestors, however working within some structure at the outset can be an antidote to ancestral bias or seeking only to engage the ancestors we’d rather identify with.

Is it best to work one lineage at a time through all five steps or is it also OK to connect with guides on the main four lineages (basically working more than one line through step two) before completing with one lineage through the five steps?

Good and common question. It’s my habit to work through one line at a time first and then to do the same for the other lineages. This supports really getting to know one lineage at a time at depth rather than jumping around and ‘diluting’ the process so to speak. Having said that, there’s not really any ritual precaution around opening up more than one lineage process at a time as you’re connected with well ancestors, it’s more a style thing, and some folks have certainly worked the process in this way over the years (moving through the first two steps with more than one line before proceeding). And of course once one lineage is well they may also assist with the healing along other lineages. For some the linearity of the process is great medicine and provides a sense of safety into which people can really lean. For others the structure can feel stifling or not true to their direct experience; it’s fine to honor your instincts and just be sure, especially at the start, that you’re honoring the various ritual precautions as some of them are in place for important reasons. Finally, remember this is a repair method for cleaning up trouble and that once things get into a more healed state the braces/cast can come off and the dance with the ancestors can be a lot more organic.

The method encourages focus on what you describe as four primary lineages. What about the other four or other eight beyond that or other 16 beyond that? Do they not also have influence?

Yeah, of course. There’s no limit to what you can carve out here, but I’ve found four lineages as a level of consideration to feel more thorough and balanced than only two lineages. And I’ve found that some enjoy working eight rather than four lineages, which is fine if so. And most often I’ve found that four is about right. I’m a fan of establishing balance as you go, meaning to get very well and solid with four lineages before working beyond that. Four is plenty for more people and this doesn’t negate the others as they all feed into the four being worked with in some way also. I see it a bit like one of the lovely Tibetan sand mandalas; one can build out more and more elaborate articulations but build them out in a balanced way as you go, that’s all.

Why are we needed in this process? If the ancestors are so awesome, why don’t they just heal things up without us having to intervene?

This is a good and common question. Here are a few kinds of answers. One, they’re polite and they haven’t been asked to intervene. There is a kind of etiquette that’s also present in the realm of spirit and without being asked they may be less able or inclined to assist. Two, we haven’t tended to the relationships so there is both a disconnect that needs addressed and a kind of backlog or imbalance around the reciprocity. Even a very capable employee or contractor if unpaid or unthanked for 1,000 years may become less motivated to work hard. Three, I think they do still assist in ways that we don’t always see or appreciate. Four, they’re not all-powerful and the troubled ones among the dead still have choice and agency too. And finally, there is a way in which our involvement is important. By remembering and honoring the ancestors we complete a kind of circuit of energy and blessings between our world and theirs. This is an important part of the magic in ways that are hard to fully capture.

I’m not sensing anything along a particular lineage. What could be the reasons for that?

Assuming it is possible to get a read on other lineages, this phenomenon is most commonly for one of four reasons and sometimes a combination. One, the situation may be so troubled that you’re essentially blocked from seeing more (perhaps by the guides, perhaps by your own intuition). It’s a bit like when someone falls asleep when things are really upsetting. Self-protection. Two, it can be because they’re too close to focus on. Like on three lineages you see animals in a field and on one line you just see fur. It’s because they’re too up in your space to even perceive accurately. Three, it can be because the distortion/projection is so strong that it’s almost like you’re looking in the wrong direction or not able to see things that would be so different than what you imagine you might see. The cognitive dissonance functions as a blinder. And finally, it’s possible that the dead themselves are in active transition. For example, if there’s been a recent death it’s like there’s a change of the guard or turbulence in the water and so it’s harder to get a read on anything as it’s moving. Often but not always this is an indicator that focusing elsewhere may be best. And not always.

Is it normal for some part of the lineages to seem well and others not so much? How to hold that in this framework?

Yes, totally common. And yes, we’re aiming to go far enough back that everything before that point is (now) in a well condition. That peaks and valleys thing is truly common. Remember we’re seeking for lineage/systemic health rather than individual health, so just keep tracking back until the whole system is well and whole and healed now.

What if in the assessment I have the impression that there are no well ancestors even back into distant history? Is this common? What to make of this?

First–I would reframe this as ‘I am not at this time able to see any wellness along this lineage’ rather than ‘I have assessed with certainty the soul-level condition of 6,000 or so generations of souls along this bloodline and determined that none of them are at peace’. In the initial assessment it’s just getting a rough sense and when asking about how far the most recent deeply ancestors lie, the less good outcome is ‘beyond my current ability to perceive them’. In cases like this, work with the other lines first, sink deeply into the process in that way and then once they are all vibrant and deeply resourcing you, ask those three well lineages together to help you to see what’s needed on this line you’re speaking of. Be patient and systematic and build on what’s good and working and it’ll move eventually.

Second–yeah, could be. Of the few thousand people I’ve stepped through this process since maybe 2004, I’d guess that 20% or so have no lineages (of the primary four) above a 5 on the 1-10 scale. And a smaller percentage in addition to that have two or more lineages in the seriously jacked up 1-3 range. Sometimes it’s just that unwell. No judgment, just is. Still can be healed up, just takes a little more tending. I’ve totally seen folks starting a place of real ancestral deficiency stick with the process and end up with shiny happy dead people.

One thing that’s operative here is our mental picture of the history. If we’re considering European lineages (I believe this to be the case for the questioner but it applies really to anyone), we need to be able to dial it back to pre-Christianity (or arguably pre-Judaism) and pre-Roman Empire to contact the strata of our blood ancestors who, generalizing here, lived relatively closely with the Earth and tended to be animist folks likely to be tending with the ancestors during life. Basically before the cultures of the continent took a major detour in some bad news colonized traumatized madness of the last 2000 years.

If you find that it’s been 2000+ years since your people on any given lineage have been deeply whole and well in spirit, then, yep, that’s not only common but really understandable given the history. Good news is that time is all bendy and weird and we can contact those ancient ones right now by ringing up the bone telephone and being like, “Holy shit, it’s a disaster down here, can you please intervene?” and they tend to be like, “Cheers, yeah, been waiting like 2,000 years for that ask, we’re on it.”

As a therapist, I’d also note that allowing for the possibility of anything beneficial, safe, healing, and wholeness connected to family can cause our fear brain to react with, “If I allow this in or allow this to exist it must mean all the boundaries I spent years building are going to collapse and it’s gonna be shitty powerless childhood all over again, oh hell no!” But actually that’s not the ask at all, to the contrary connecting with the ancient ones, is kinda like ratting out the recent family (living and deceased) to the adults we wished were there but weren’t during the shitty childhood, so it’s totally compatible with having healthy boundaries, supportive of that intent.

Concerns Relating to the Troubled Dead or Not-Yet-Ancestors

When setting boundaries with the troubled dead along our blood lines is it possible to also realize that you need to set boundaries with ghosts that are not of your bloodlines (e.g., deceased friends or just ghosts from your work/environment/etc)?

Yeah, this happens at times. Remember that culturally many people have a big blind spot around the reality of the dead and so once they’re on our radar we may realize that we have all kinds of guests who no longer get to draw without consequence on our personal energy. So yeah, this happens and it’s good to trust your sense on it. If any spirits of any sort are up in your personal space and then don’t seem deeply well and supportive, it’s fair to insist that they have a super good explanation if you’re to allow them to remain. No different from physically incarnate humans in that regard.

When establishing boundaries with the troubled dead as is suggested in Part One, Lesson Two (Chapter Five of the book), is it common to have to reinforce or strengthen these boundaries again later?

Absolutely common, yes. This will be reinforced in subsequent lessons and it’s not only common but quite important. Remember that the boundaries are temporary in the sense that they’re only to create safe working space for the healing up that’s needed. And while they’re needed they’re quite important. I tend to encourage folks to reinforce the boundaries daily until they’re holding then space it out. Basically keep at it until they’re firmly in place and let it stay that way until they’re no longer needed because the dead are well-seated ancestors.

Can it happen that the dead who seem well then kinda slip, meaning that they go from like an “it’s fine now 7” to a “not quite on the level 5 or 6” (for example)? What’s up with that?

Yeah, this totally happens. I think it happens with the living too, we’re not so different. Like if you’re trying to quit smoking you might get there in fits and starts over a period of time. The most common reason in my observation that the work for the dead doesn’t always stick is that it’s not a lineage orientation. It’s kinda like “Hey ghost, go stand in the light! Stay there!” (uh, ok…wanders back to where the food is hours later). This in contrast to having the older wise kind lineage ancestors deeply welcome and weave in the one returning. And even so sometimes things need reinforced. I’ll ask routinely what can I (or the living client/practitioner) do to reinforce this shift that has now taken place? Just resetting a bone doesn’t insure the work’s done. And we’ll unpackage all this more in Part Two.

Martín’s chapter seems to suggest that some people are functionally an ancestral dumping ground or scapegoat for unmetabolized lineage troubles. Are you suggesting this is avoidable and have you seen examples of people transforming this in positive ways, including with living family?

Sure, yeah, it’s often workable, and I can think of lots of examples. Martín’s great and he’s a little dramatic. I mean the calculation changes when people in the family have the skills to actually transform the heaviness and funk. I have deep knowing that this is possible from having stepped over 1,000 people through this work in the last 13 years and seeing it in my own life. As soon as we call the ancient grandmas and grandpas onto the scene, so many other things are possible. The dramatic doom scenarios Martín describes (and which are so common) happen when nobody is at the wheel.

I don’t think ancestral connection and empowerment and relationship with them is anything special. By that I mean it’s normal, it’s doable, it’s common, it’s accessible to the average person with an open heart and mind. That’s really good news. Let me know by mid-Feb if you feel like this process is bearing fruit for you in a hopeful way, and if so, I’d suggest you’re probably like most people (not presuming to know you). I guess I’m pragmatically hopeful in that way.

What’s your take on mediums or psychics? In my case, my father passed about a year ago, living family sensed him to not be well in spirit, and so we consulted a medium to get support. This included dialogue with him and doing some ritual on his behalf and now I wonder if it was a good idea to interact directly. Thoughts?
Good mediums and psychics can be fantastic. Of course some are a hot mess and some are in it for the money and some are generally good but just having a bad day, but that’s like with anything. Let’s assume the situation of a quality medium who is accurately tuning in with the person you want to connect with…
Mediums who are connecting well are not necessarily trained ritualists. I have at least one very psychic (like professional level) friend so I’ve seen this in action. Just being able to see a thing doesn’t mean you know what to do about it one way or another; priest/ritualist and psychic are in some ways different trainings. People can have both but most have one or the other. Most mediums in this culture aren’t raised with a frame for how to skillfully assist the dead and so many people don’t make a strong enough distinction (for my settings) between the ancestors and the not-yet-ancestors.
So, I wouldn’t stress about it and trust your sense on if a strong boundary is needed now and if so, just establish that. And remember that you have your own ability to listen in and relate directly with your own ancestors, to trust in that even if it’s not as crisp or dramatic all the time as it can be with mediums, you can do this! (and yeah, wait until they’re well first, get them situated as ancestors first)
I believe that the trauma from my childhood that I experience from living family was compounded by the fact that my unwell ancestors were, at least to a degree, acting through them to relate badly with me. I feel like this makes establishing a boundary with the unwell dead even harder. Can you speak to this?

Respect on what you’re sharing here. A good percentage of bad behavior from living humans has an element of the unwell dead (or other unwell or unkind forces) acting through people at the time. So, good chance you are perceiving accurately. That alone can increase the imprint that family/ancestors (in an undifferentiated way) are a source of harm and betrayal.

Add onto that the failures of primary caregivers, which is the most horrible source from which to experience trauma as we are also dependent upon them for our very survival (for example, google: disorganized attachment), these failures can create a trauma imprint that extends to the ancestors generally.

Fortunately the well ancestors are one ideal source of healing for this as they are a reliable source of secure attachment, a kind of sacred steadiness that can be one antidote to a shitty childhood. Additionally they can bear witness to what any given person has endured, and they are invested in our well-being. So the crux here is to discern between well and unwell energies and to ask that the well ones come close around you and shield you from those less well until the healing for the lineage has occurred. Be steady and tenacious and look out for ritual safety throughout. You can do this!

Death Process and Relating with the Recently Deceased

Does the 1-10 scale you describe still apply to the recently deceased, like those who have only died in the last two weeks or so and are therefore still in that earliest stage of the post-death journey?

I like encountering questions I’ve never been asked. I’d say yes and no on this one. Of course we can apply a general 1-10 wellness scale to living people, companies, countries, etc. so in that sense we can apply this also to the very recent dead. And at the same time the recent dead can have all kinds of initial reactions and still find their way, no problem, depending on the degree of heart-felt grief, ritual involvement, etc.

I think of newborns and the Apgar score only for the newly deceased. A high score indicates a good prognosis that they’ll become a well ancestor soon and a low score a less good prognosis. And there are lots of factors and death is a natural process.

My parent passed only three month ago. What can I do to support him in his journey so close to his passing?

Great and common question. The questioner gives further context:  “I do not want to ignore that my parent’s spirit may need continued honoring and support on his journey. I read most of your book (Chapter Twelve) and learned that after the initial mourning period and memorial service, in most traditions living folks adhere to a kind of silent, ‘turning away’ period to allow their ancestors to complete their journey without interference.

This raises a concern for the one asking because, as they write, “I have an altar set up in my house that has pics of my dad and his ashes (because I haven’t gotten a clear message about what to do with them yet). I have items on the altar that includes pics of him and others that I used for his memorial services. I have food offerings–nuts and dried fruit, sometimes flowers, and water. I tend the water every day, the food about once a week. Today, for the first time I put a little of the dinner the family had out on the altar as well. I pray almost daily at an altar I set up downstairs. It has no pics, but a few other items. I put dried fruit, nuts and flowers there and daily offer water, sometimes tea or coffee if I have it.

And finally, they say, “I don’t want to welcome any unwell energy, but I also don’t want to, by ignoring or not supporting, cause him to stick around… does this make sense? Suggestions?

This makes total sense and I think I’ll respond by grouping practices recently after someone has passed into three general categories of: go for it, be somewhat cautious, and I wouldn’t personally recommend it. It’s really a big topic but this is a start. I could say more about why I view it this way, but practically speaking, I’d say to just focus on the first group of practices (which is plenty) and notice if you get results (meaning they become well in a way that’s also good for you and your family lines). So….

‘Go For It’ Practices
-Honor (when sensible) last requests of the deceased
-Have closure with their physical possessions also as a way to minimize ties
-Grieve in a way that gradually aims toward forgiveness/acceptance and *does not* involve direct dialogue with the deceased
-Make offerings to the well ancestors and ask them to in turn assist the deceased (rather than you doing it)
-Get the lineage before that recently deceased deeply well and ask them to oversee the deceased’s process of ancestralization (this is a really big and helpful thing to do, like make the entire road before them open and don’t interfere with their walking the path)
-Make a donation or other kind of good action in the name of the deceased, dedication of merit practice
-Generally visualize the deceased being received by their own older well ancestors (without calling attention to you in the process)

‘Be A Bit Cautious’ Practices
-Make offerings for the elevation of the deceased without specifying so much how the offerings are functioning or who they’re directed to
-Grieve just kinda generally in an open-ended way that doesn’t give consideration to ritual precautions or the state of the deceased
-Spend a lot of time at gravesite when you don’t know if they’re yet well or not
-Speak directly to the deceased as part of your own grieving process
-Seek to directly heal/help the deceased without giving any considering to the larger lineage they’re a part of
-Intervene a lot with the deceased directly in the first few weeks when a lot is already happening

‘I Wouldn’t Personally Recommend It’ Practices
-Make offerings to the deceased directly for their elevation
-Continue to tend to and invoke them on shrines around the house before you’re certain they’ve been ancestralized
-Speak along to them in your grieving process as if they are present before you know they’re well seated as an ancestor
-Seek to personally heal them with your own energy and conscious intentions only rather than partnering with well ancestors or other guides
-Continue to relate with them by asking things of them or having them make a lot of asks of you before they’re ancestralized

My relative is dying but this lineage overall is unwell and I haven’t worked with them yet. What can I safely do?

There are a ton of generally helpful things to be done around recent deaths. See the reply to the question in this section beginning “My parent passed only three months ago.” In addition to those things, I would just concentrate prayer/intent/energy with your helpful and trusted guides (whoever they are) with the intent that the road be open for her to be received by well and loving ancestors. Hold that vision and intent for her and continue to feed energy into that system from a distance in a kind way that doesn’t draw too much attention to you. You can also ask your guides what, if any, further actions may be useful for this intent.  Remember death is a natural process so don’t assume it will go badly for her in spirit and do some tending to improve it all on the margins and keep an eye on how it’s playing out in the coming months+.

DNA and the Physical Body

Is it fair to assume that doing this work also improves the actual DNA or physical health of living family (and perhaps of future generations)?

Yeah, that’s my impression. We’ll get into this in the final lessons of Part Two. Remember the online course is intentionally slow and methodical in pacing to try to ensure ritual safety of a process that I’ve much more often guided in person. In other words, I explicitly invite the ritual ‘update/upgrade’ of the physical body to reflect the healing that’s occurred at the end of the cycle once the lineage itself is deeply well. I’m a science-minded, pragmatic person or partly Germanic ancestors from the Midwestern U.S. which is to say that I’m not inclined to claim all this spirit stuff magically heals your 12 invisible strands of DNA or something. And having said that, scientifically speaking the epigenetic research strongly implies that this-life experiences really do impact our physical/cellular/genetic reality, so yeah, that’s my impression.

Is it possible that illness can manifest in my body through the clearing/healing process of the lineage? I’ve been moving through the process and now I’m laid up with intense stomach pains, etc and wondering if it’s connected. Thoughts?

First off, sorry to hear you’re hurting there. Kindness and speedy recovery. And yeah of course it’s possible. Typically it’s one of three generally different types of things (if it’s not just a stomach bug or happening for some other reason).

First thing would be interference from ghost or other funk. In this case do whatever helps you to re-establish energetic boundaries and to cleanse your overall space just in case anything about how things were playing out was moving too fast or otherwise resulted in funky/ghosty energy being in your space. You might also consider repeating the assessment in Part One, Lesson Two in order to systemically turn attention to each of the four main lineages and ask that any of them who are not yet well are outside your personal space. Sometimes this kind of specific focus can be more effective than being like, “Hey all heavy energy generally, please go away” but whatever helps you to clear your space it worth the effort. Warding, banishing, purification, cleansing, intentional baths, all of it, whatever serves.

Another thing I’ve seen on occasion is less about spirit interference/intrusion and more like when toxins get in the sediment in a river for example and then there’s a flood and all that gets stirred up. In this case it’s about pacing, especially for folks with a sensitive constitution. In this case you’ll want to be sure that you’re working very closely with the guides and asking them to pace the work and asking them to proceed in ways that are also good for you.

A third thing is really just about our own inner learning and healing being churned in a way that has somatic repercussions. This is like any other case of being emotionally/psychically lit up by a strong process and it’s on us to pace and set limits and take it bit by bit. In this case you just want to honor your own process, similar to the second scenario really.

And it could just be a bug. And great to ask the ancestors if you can and trust your sense of it all. It’s totally possible to get lit up physically. Keep reaching out!

I am having trouble discerning why I may be experiencing sensations like: tingling, numbness, trouble breathing (deeply), spasming in the extremities. I assumed this stemmed from inherited (what looks today like) anxiety, or from Spirit- unseen messages, but would appreciate more guidance on troubleshooting this. Are these signs of needing to work on boundaries? On being present? Maybe gifts that I haven’t accepted? I would like to learn how to expand my communication skills/faculties with the more subtle things, which I already pick up on, but also bridging them, honing them, being in right relationship so it makes sense on a general consensus level and that it’s useful.

Thanks for this. First layer (and I’m not just saying this in a rote way) is to be truly curious how Western medicine would frame what you’re experiencing. The numbness/tingling and spasming make me curious about nervous system functioning including possible skeleto-muscular elements of that, so do all the doctor/chiropractor/cranio-sacral body oriented inquiry for certain. In addition to that you might consider tracking personal physiology with something like a fit-bit as funny as it sounds, so you can notice if there are micro/sub-awareness events like this happening and if so, start to piece together possible triggers and such. Having said that, it’s also possible that it’s a largely spirit-driven kind of thing in which case you’d want to first focus on ritual safety and healthy boundaries to make sure you’re in your personal choice/power around your body and space. Beyond that start to come into relationship with wise, kind, helpful guides/powers and get their perspective, that’s also great. If there’s one thing on a subtle energy/spirit level that I would give care to first-off, yeah, it would be the boundaries thing. I’ll be interested to hear how this unfolds for you. Honor your rhythm, be kind with yourself and speak up if this starts getting more activated by any element of this work.

Dreams and the Ancestors

Can you say a bit on positive dreams of the ancestors? Specifically living family who are dysfunctional in the waking time appeared in a very positive way after making an offering to the ancestors before sleep.

Congrats on this! In general with dreams involving ancestors be curious if it feels like a dream of contact or more a process about the dreamer (of course it can have elements of both). If it’s a dream of contact then treat it with the same gravitas and protocol as you would an encounter with the ancestors while awake. And remember to ask if there are any further actions suggested by the dream or if it feels like a complete experience/encounter.

A dream where living family appear more favorable/conscious than they are in reality suggests to me that you’re successfully repatterning aspects of your experience of family. Ancestor work is a kind of reparenting in that way, we find (sometimes for the first time) favorable qualities in our lineages that reorganize our sense of what’s possible with family (even if living folks don’t change much). In other words living family symbolically stand in for the entire lineage behind them or at least they can in the dreamtime.

Emotions and Ancestral Healing

Any general guidelines for honoring strong emotions that arise during this work?

It’s a big question we’ll unpackage more in later lessons, so I’ll say some general things here. First off, for most people most of the time it’s good to just allow for a full and messy range of emotional expression. This is tender and charged and confusing work, so get messy with it. There’s that, full stop.

Next, you want to make sure that you have strong, clear energetic boundaries with any among the dead who are not yet well so that you’re feeling for others so to speak. This can happen with grief, anger, also joy (less concerning). I know this often brings up the question intensely of “But how do I know!?!?!” to which I reply, “If you just hold the question of mine/not mind, most of the time you can kinda know” and if it’s not so much yours then it might be best to hold a boundary for now with it all. A way to tell is to make sure you’re well resourced and protected by the awesome supportive guides.

This doesn’t mean you’re not going to get rocked by waves of grief or anger. I sometimes will drop to my knees grieving about something and it rolls through eventually and then it’s passed, it’s fine. It’s good to feel deeply.

So mostly just roll with all the strong feeling without having to make any sense of it and just make sure you’re personally staying clear with your own energy is all. And more as we get into grieving practices…

I’ve noticed that the invitation to embody the gifts of this lineage of ancestors is really lighting me up, like a blend of grief and stretching in my psyche around new capacities and just generally super intense. Thoughts?

Glance the concept of titration (one reasonable link here: http://www.new-synapse.com/aps/wordpress/?p=1842). This pacing or strategic slowing down to a speed your nervous system can handle…this is sometimes important in this work. And yeah, to embody the gifts our psyche and even physical body sometimes does need an upgrade and when that’s the case it just takes time and following their guidance on it. And sometimes any given lineage just has a lot of lightning and they’re kinda spiritual drama queens just by virtue of being uber-intense. At times working with a different line also/in addition can be good because their gifts might be like, ‘grounded folks, good at laughing and growing food, able to brew good beer and see through bullshit’. Or whatever, just intensely earthy to complement all the star fire. But mostly just allow time for all the feels and pace yourself.

Genealogy and Family History

I have very little information about my blood ancestors and this information is difficult to obtain. This feels discouraging. Is this an impediment to doing the work?

No, it’s not an impediment or at least it doesn’t need to be. Your ancestors are as far from you as your blood and bones. I’ve seen adoptees come into profound and sustained relationship with their blood ancestors. If you have met or have the names of even one of your parents, you have more information than some. I say this with respect to the grief and loss associated with limited means to know your recent ancestors; that cut-off is no small thing. And ritually speaking it does not need in any way need to prevent you from connecting in spirit with your ancestors. If anything I find they often have great compassion in situations like this, so be hopeful and tenacious. And remember the process begins with everyone, even those who know a lot about their people, connecting with more ancient ancestors who lived before remembered names. Those with little info on family history often think that others have so much information, but really the norm is to only have a few generations of names or perhaps 6-10 generations which is still just a few hundred years, a fraction of our much larger history. Be hopeful and tenacious!

I’ve engaged the genealogy research process in all the ways I know to, and I still don’t have access to much. Should I ask the ancestors themselves to assist? How can I learn about the earlier cultures of my people if I don’t have more information? What happens now?

This is a very common and also tender question. Remember that many if not most people in the urbanized Western world don’t know much about the earlier animist, ancestor-honoring cultures of their ancestors. That’s certainly true about my own European ancestors. Sure, I could say Celtic or Norse or general things but the info I have drops off in the 1600’s at the earlier and the intact ancient ways really have broken down by like year 900 or 1100 probably at the latest in any coherent way. So that’s *at least* a 500 year continuity gap. Which is painful. And not going to get filled in really. So first thing is to look around and so just how many people are in this situation. Also African-Americans and Native American peoples, many of whom also have no specific cultural anchor for their larger sense of ancestral identity.

The main thing here is to trust in the process of connection with the older ancestral guides all the same, even if you don’t have the details. I don’t want to say the story doesn’t matter, but in some ways the story doesn’t matter. Partly because it’s who they were, not who are they in the present. The ancestors dwell in the present as dynamic, changing forces. And sure, they’ll show you some of their older selves on Earth sometimes, who they were, how they lived, and we’re dealing with collective currents of energy. Sink in with Lesson Four on connecting with ancestral guides and once you’ve made that connection ask these ancient ones to help hold you while you grieve for the historical bridge that’s been swept away by the catastrophy of colonialism. And also from that grieving to come into the present with the ancient ones who never left.

Finally, when you have a general area and you’ve exhausted historical research pathways, yeah, you can also ask them to intuitively guide you. If you know a lineage is West African, you can notice where the well ancestors show you. I’ve done this with several European lines. And what’s important is how those energies live in the present. You got this, be steady with the guide connections and let the work unfold from there.

I’m fortunate to have lots of information about family history but I notice this makes it harder to actually connect with the ancestors in spirit and to decide which lineage to focus on because I have all these stories and opinions about them. Is this a thing? If so, what’s helpful in overcoming this block?

Yeah, this is totally a thing and the general response is to make sure to include the much older ancestors in your consideration (Part One, Lesson Two // Chapter Five Assessment Exercise in the book). Even if you have a few hundred years worth of names, this is still only the recent extension of a much older lineage. And just based on what you’re seeing with the older span of the lineage (meaning before remembered names, like up to let’s say 2,000 years ago or more), in that older span of the lineage you want to get a sense of which of the four is most vital along the older span of the line and probably let that be your focus unless you have a strong call elsewhere.

In this way part of the practice itself is to let the ancient ones set the tone for the line. So yeah, the recent ones who you have names for certainly can function as a block or more specifically it’s easy to project our knowledge of them onto the older ones. Even people with knowledge only of their grandparents do this projecting onto the older ancestors. So just bring awareness to that tendency and try to intentionally see past it all and let the ancient ones guide your first moves with the work. And keep reaching out about how this goes!

I know from genealogy research that my people are from one part of the world but the guided journey takes me to another and the guide presenting is not from the ‘actual’ place. What to do with this? What I have been doing is going with what feels experientially right and attempting to loosen my grip on the ‘facts.’ Should we prioritize felt-sense over historical realities?

Great and common question. It’s a bit of both and important to try to reconcile them. When this happens, I try to make sure that it’s not an apparent disconnect that actually does check out (meaning like your people just moved around a lot or you have some ancestry you weren’t aware of but is quite real on a body level). And sometimes it’s really just not possible to reconcile with this life and body. Like, I just really don’t have any reason to believe based on my family of origin or DNA ancestry test that I have Polynesian ancestors in the 1700’s. It’s a possible thing that those ancestral spirits could for some reason show up, but they’re never going to be blood ancestors. And this method does focus on blood ancestry as the process eventually leads there. And also I don’t want to tell people (including the spirit people) who they can and can’t appear to.

So…my suggestion when ancestors clearly not of your blood appear in the visioning is to express something like, “OK, peace, I see you’re showing up, hello, good to see you, and I’d love it if you could also take me to a blood ancestral guide on lineage X. Sorry to be so particular ancestral-spirits-not-of-my-lineage, you’re welcome to come along, but I just kinda need to do this thing right now.” And then to see how things unfold from there. If need be, you may just walk away from the interaction as there are 100,000 spirits who love attention, many of whom are awesome.

Don’t reject what’s showing up and also be tenacious from a heart-kinda place with it all and see how that unfolds.

Guiding This Work for Others and the Practitioner Training

Does this online course equip me to guide others in ancestral healing work? How does this course relate to the practitioner training you offer?

No, this training does not in any way presume to train participants to guide ancestral healing or repair work for others any more than doing one’s own therapy qualifies a person to do therapy for others or going to the dentist empowers one to do dentistry work. There are just too many factors that can arise when doing the work for others to account for in an online format where I don’t have the chance to drop in with folks in a direct in-person mentorship kind of way. You can of course share about your personal experience, help to supportively educate others about ancestor reverence, guide them to resources like the book, the practitioner directory, this course (open until Nov 16th), and the good work in this terrain by others. I just wouldn’t take this course or even a few lessons of it and then be like, “OK, I’m going to step others through this work now”. You can of course use the material in the course to work through multiple lineages of your own for the intent of personal and family healing, yes to that!

Just to emphasize it, if anyone gets snagged in your personal work with the ancestors as the course unfolds and you could benefit from one-on-one contact, the practitioners (in the directory, link above) are wonderful, encouraged to reach out to them for individual session work. And there are also a few others not listed there (still completing their hours) if you’re wanting to connect, for example, with a guy, with someone Spanish-speaking, with someone of African ancestry, etc.  Those are the people I’ve trained so far in the work.

If you’re drawn personally to train in this kind of work, that’s also a possibility, please see the practitioner training info page, give that a careful read over and reach out if moved. Having done your own ancestor work (through this course or in other ways) is totally an important consideration, just like having done your own therapy is foundational for being a good therapist for others. Thanks all!

Cross-culturally is there a name, role, ‘position’ or hierarchy of medicine practitioners who deal specifically with ancestor issues?

Kind of, but the way this is understood and talked about varies from place to place. Like work with plants or with water spirits or with midwifery, the ancestors are a human thing and so it’s quite common that there are specialists in lots of cultures and that they notice common things and compare notes so to speak. I see the ancestors as a mystery that all spirit-oriented folks ideally engage with a bit, on a level of proficiency if you will. To use a university metaphor, everyone at least does a little coursework in ancestry. Some get a minor and really do no more depth inquiry. Some major in the topic but don’t put it to so much use beyond family tending which is fine. And some even major in the topic and through choice or calling really give it a lot of attention, including in service to others. Apparently I’m one of those people (and I’m also an initiate in Egúngún/ancestor medium society in Yorùbá culture for what it’s worth) and I also train folks who happen to have such a calling (the practitioner training). And everyone ideally engages a bit. I see this course as like doing your one required undergraduate class in the topic, a depth introduction, but ultimately an introduction.

Historical Trauma and Cultural Healing

I was so surprised to learn that France was the third largest slave trader in the world. This information has shaken me. Even if my lineage ancestors were not directly involved in the slave trade, how does the history of my country affect the wellness of my lineage? And what can I do about it?

These are critically important and layered questions ultimately beyond the scope of this course to fully unpackage. For the moment I’ll give some general guidelines.  Let the older ancestral guides hold all of this. Seriously. Don’t try to somatically process the history of any given historical oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, colonialism, war) through your mind and body and personal nervous system alone. These bigger troubles require pacing, titration, and an intentional approach. So connect with the ancient ones and first focus on getting your four very specific bloodlines (meaning the four I consider primary in this method) deeply well first. That creates a foundation from which to more potently ask the question.

Two, don’t let historical oppression (on whatever side of that equation) define your ancestors overall. It’s tempting to focus in on especially horrible aspects of history and see our people only through that lens. I’m not suggesting we minimize at all, only to include the full spectrum of humanity in how we approach relationships with the collective currents that are the ancestors.

As a starter approach to a much larger question, get the lineage who participated in the historical oppression (directly or indirectly…Transatlantic Slave Trade aside, France also has a terrible colonialism problem throughout continental Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia), get this lineage to a place of being deeply well in spirit and then ask them how they see you ideally participating in or still being affected by this legacy. Let them be part of your cultural healing and accountability team because they’ll guide you to engage those questions in ways that are more likely to be in alignment with your particular destiny than if you just read a bullet point Facebook post on how to be a better white person.

How to suggest we apply all the additional cultural resources on death, soul, etc included in the lessons? How to those relate to the experiential work and the overall process?

When I first designed the course, I didn’t anticipate getting anywhere need as involved with the additional readings and resources. But then I realized I have this whole nerdy academic professor side that doesn’t get much play because I went down the teacher helper priest path rather than academia. But there’s a really rich case to be made for understanding just how pervasive ancestor reverence and ritual is worldwide.

So, the first way to apply all the reading and such is to zoom out from them and see that all these cultures and authors and views are coming from folks who are just as coherent and loving and complex as ourselves but who generally speaking never lost touch with the relationships we living are asked to tend with the dead. I say that because in the modern West (meaning culturally more than geographically) we’re shamed for honoring the dead and it’s a horrible colonialist, racist, mind-fuck of a thing, but it’s there all the same. I’ve seen this conditioning in myself each of my four trips to Nigeria in some moment or another when a wall that I had unconsciously put there melted between me and my Yoruba hosts and I felt internal shame to even realize it had been there. That I felt myself superior due to my education or something, but what I was really doing was standing outside the circle of life afraid to get messy with it all.

And so the readings are mostly an encouragement to get messy with all the wisdom of all these rich world cultures and to notice what brushing against that wakes up in your in your process.

Intergenerational Blessings & Burdens

Can you elaborate on what’s meant by “inherited difficulty” from our lineages in general? And in particular as (the one asking is) an Indigenous (from the Americas) trans man of color?

This is something we’ll be expanding into a little during Part One: Lesson Two and then especially during Part Two: Lesson One. I find it useful to consider different lens through which to consider inherited troubles (many of which may not be consciously inherited of course).

One is of course our experience of living family (not limited to parents) and the degree to which they have shown up as loving, conscientious people or not so much. So the family/psychological levels.

A related lens is that of the ancestral lineages, the bloodlines, which of course inform recent/living family but which are deeply/older storylines and pathways of influence. This is the scale of inquiry for this course for the most part, and it can be a relief to frame family pain and trauma through this lens as it reframes parents and the recent dead as the face of a much older, larger system (and in that sense we can assess them more fairly even if they haven’t shown up well).

And then there’s what we can think of as the cultural lens which includes troubles like sexism/patriarchy, colonialism, racism, homophobia and transphobia/restrictive gender roles, unequal distribution of wealth/poverty wounding, religious intolerance, earth disconnection, etc. All the shit we’re culturally trying to barf out and stop replicating at this point in history. After years of guiding this work, everything starts to look like cultural wounding even if it’s playing out at the family or even intra-psychic/internal level of scale, and yet it’s useful to try to transform the cultural toxins at the personal and ancestral lineage level of scale (too overwhelming to just wade right into collective patterns on a ritual level).

Final thought for the moment is to know that there are resiliencies, blessings, gifts, and beauty along each lineage and that these ancient manifestations of goodness operate at a level of depth beneath/alongside the troubles. They’re the antidotes and the focus of much of our work in this course.

Can you share more on addiction and severe mental illness as manifestations of ancestral wounding? My ancestors were slaves and the side with the most brutal experiences has a long history of mental illness, especially among the men, that persists up to my generation.

Yes. Respect on the reality of painful ancestral legacies. In my view it’s fair and critical to recognize the history of oppression and the way in which this can appear as ancestral wounding that needs addressed. And to be honest I don’t know that I’ve observed the ancestors of any given group being worse off than another. Meaning that the resiliencies around the sacred and around community that many enslaved Africans brought with them from Africa and continued here, I believe served, at least at times, to temper the amount of soul-level wounding reflected in centuries of oppressive conditions here in the Americas. 

Check out this article by fantastic scholar and anti-racist thinker Ibrahim Kendi: http://www.aaihs.org/post-traumatic-slave-syndrome-is-a-racist-idea/. Seeking to apply his perspective, I think he might say that it’s best to frame the specific condition of that lineage as quite real for all the reasons you say, and to be careful to generalize about what this would mean for any other African lineage of your people or anyone else’s people. That’s my experience as well that people experience tremendous adversity in all kinds of different ways on a soul level. There are numerous co-existing truths here and it’s very tricky terrain to navigate skillfully. I think part of the memo is to keep it specific, to not generalize too much from one case to another and with respect to this method to ask the older wise and and well ancestors show you the specific truth of the experiences of any given lineage or individual.

My maternal grandmother’s line seemed to have maintained a degree of health by actively practicing the same skills through the generations – sewing, cooking, gardening – and making an art/craft of these things. It is possible that practicing the habits/skills/crafts of our ancestors is a form of ancestor reverence?

Of course, decisively yes. This is one of the keys ways the ancestors speak through us. We’ll get into this more in Part Two, Lesson One but the continuity of ancestral gifts (both tangible and less tangible) are a major part of what holds all that’s wholesome about human culture together.

Can unresolved ancestral curses or burdens contribute to phobias (e.g., to certain animals) in this lifetime?

Sure, yeah, that’s possible. As a therapist, I don’t want to suggest that all phobias or intense hard-to-otherwise-explain fears are the result of ancestral dynamics any more than they’re the result of childhood dynamics or some kind of symbolism or what. We’re complex creatures. And I have seen it where folks realize that fears they hold are ancestral inheritances, unresolved burdens, and in doing the ancestral repair and reconnection work, these things shift. In general with fears related to certain animals or natural forces, often but not always this can indicate there is an important gift/medicine/learning embodied by the source of the fear and that finding safe, supportive ways to explore what that is can unlock some of the energy around it (all of which can be a lineage story of reclaiming forgotten gifts). And also sometimes the brain is just a weird bundle of OCD contortions for who even knows what reason. We’re such creatures.

I’ve noticed that I seem to inherit blessings or gifts from some lineages more than others, and that the ancestors themselves seems to confirm that I’m more in the line of succession along some bloodlines more than others. Does this make sense? And if so, does this tend to follow sex/gender (meaning I inherit the gifts of my mom’s people and my brother inherits the gifts of our father’s people)?

Yeah, I’m following. I do find that we tend to be especially aligned with some lineages more than others even if we still have access to the gifts and important blessings of all of our lineages. And it’s hard to discern which lineages we may be more aligned with until we’ve really facilitated the healing up and restoration of the gifts (as well as healing our perception of them). And this emphasis can change over a person’s life to some degree (meaning one lineage is helping you a lot for a period of time and then it’s a different one). Also, which line you feel spirit-level affinity with may not be the one you were closest to during life.

In Yoruba tradition when we do a birth reading (esentaye) the diviner will sometimes ask ‘From which lineage has this child reincarnated?’ and statistically odds are 50/50 that it’ll be father or mother and from there the father or mother lineage of that parent.

As for these affinities and gifts mapping along the pathways of sex/gender (be generous folks, I know people use those words in all kinds of ways), in my experience it’s a little more often that way but not so much, lots and lots of exceptions. And where our affinities lie with respect to ancestral lineage can be a surprise just like the actually gifts of those lines can be a surprise when we get to know the ancient roots.

LGBTQI Considerations and the Ancestors

The language and assumptions of the four lineage approach you work with can come across as non-inclusive to transgender, intersex and/or non-gender conforming folks. For instance, when you say “father” do you really mean source of the sperm? For instance, what if the source of the egg is your father? How much does this process emphasizes biological vs social vs intuitive?

Great and layered questions worthy of careful exploration. I hope you’ll start a thread that folks can engage in more of a dialogue mode on this and I’m certain course learners are in widely differing levels of awareness on some of the terms and implications, etc. Before I try to respond more, here’s the paragraph from the book (Chapter Five) where I tried to skim some of these topics (more reply after this excerpt)….

 

So, to answer your question, yes, the most succinct way to trigger the least misunderstanding is probably to say that I’m tracking the sperm and egg, the DNA if you will. But there can be a poetic breakdown if I revert to something like “envision an ancestral guide along the lineage of sperm-contributing humans before you on the likely (allowing for chromosomal variance) Y-chromosomal lineage of your X-chromosome contributing likely-assigned-female-at-birth person’s Y-chromosome person before them.”

I know you’re totally not suggesting something so lacking in poetry and I’m not at all minimizing the translation and emotional labor required for trans/queer/non-binary/etc folks in engaging the method, and just in a practical sense the language of men/grandfathers and women/grandmothers still has really beneficial charge and psychological/spiritual utility for many many people. It’s a real concern of mine how to be inclusive while still honoring what is structural about lineages and conception (in most cases, talking egg and sperm now, and I know even that is not always so).

I can say with confidence that I’m totally not at all making assumptions about the gender expression or sexual orientation of any of the ancestors in any given lineage. That’s easy (and radically beneficial for some folks). I’m also not actually making assumptions about the gender identity of any given lineage ancestor although the language of grandmothers and grandfathers can admittedly imply a kind of erasure if folks construct that narrowly or don’t consciously claim space in how they approach the work.

For course participants who don’t know what you mean about, for example, one’s father as being the source of the egg and giving birth to a person, I’m almost certain you mean someone who was born female or I have also heard assigned-female-at-birth (meaning like has the hardware to grow a baby) and transitions to identity as a trans man (a.k.a. a man). So a man, a father as we’re apt to call them, who gives birth. As an aside I deeply appreciate how this scrambles the binary in useful ways. With respect to this method, I haven’t encountered this situation in practice, but let’s say someone in the course is the child of this man (who is also genetically speaking the mother or source-of-egg for the participant) and that their father is now deceased. You’re asking the perceptive question of ‘Would I encourage them to work with this ancestor as their father or their mother within the structure?’ If I say father my whole genetic answer of sperm and egg is out the window because I’m basing it more on gender identity and if I say mother I’m reducing identity to biology and erasing/invalidating one’s identity which is so much more than biology.

I’ve already written a lot here, so mostly I want to say 1)I totally don’t want to create any dogma around the topic 2)in this situation I’d likely ask the living person what their sense of it is, what helps them to find their way into the heart of the work as trans/queer/non-binary/ intersex folks are just as embedded in lineages as anyone else and 3)as it’s a lineage based approach that works from the guides toward the present I might side-step the question until the ancient ones are well-present and then let them guide the organic organization of it all as they steer the ritual work and don’t tend to be judgmental. And it’s a layered important discussion with so many facets that I believe touch on very sacred questions of inclusion for trans/etc folks. The lineage approach is especially important here also for that reason as it structurally implies inclusion (and on that note, do remember the both/and if we’re talking non-binary).

We’ll touch on this a bit more in Part Two and I’m happy to recommend a practitioner in this work Pavini Moray (transcestralhealing.com/ancestralhealingservices.html) and P’s fabulous queer-friendly ancestor-oriented podcast (bespokenbones.com). Which is not to dodge the topic only to encourage a multiplicity of voices. And start a thread on this one folks, there are at least a dozen diversely identifying non-binary folks (not to mention all the LGB people and otherwise gender stereotype non-confirming humans in the course)!

Can you share about how individuals who are trans/queer/non-binary and/or who are lesbian/gay/bisexual may be restoring a blessing to their respective ancestral lineages? My son is transgendered and this could be useful context.

Yes, rich question and terrain of inquiry. The basic principle here is that differences/diversities come with blessings and important medicines for the larger community. Many cultures on each link third, fourth, fifth, etc gender roles with specific kinds of spiritual and communal responsibilities (of course this varies from culture to culture in how it’s understood). The same is true in some places for non-heterosexual community members; their other ways of doing love and relationships also imply differences that have benefit, meaning, etc for the larger community. There is nothing new about gender fluidity/variation or about same-sex love and partnerships in the human experience. These particular gifts have been well articulated in many other times/places.

Proceeding from this, we can ask ‘Is the gift that is the LGBTQI nature of me/my child/my sibling/etc an inheritance that is returning from one of my ancestral lineages?’ For this to be the case does not imply that one’s recent ancestors necessarily embodied these blessings. Like many blessings they go underground for generations and resurface when conditions are right. Of course this reframe can lead to a feeling of greater acceptance for LGBTQI folks, but that’s a beneficial secondary effect of holding an intergenerational lens to this just like other blessings and diverse qualities (meaning it’s not a reframe only to lead to good feelings, it’s real so to speak).

I can think of one friend (and different course participant) whose son is also trans. In this individual’s work with the ancestors at one point she asked her healed and well father’s father’s lineage to extend an inclusive blessing to her son, to in essence recognize/validate/celebrate his gender identity in the eyes of the ancestors. Personally I believe this blessing for her son also reaches her son in a good way, but at the very least it helped the living participant in ancestral healing work to see her transgendered son held in the light of the kind and well grandfathers and that was a sweet moment.

An ancestral guide on one of my lineages is presenting as neither male nor female gendered but as fluid between the two in an interesting and magical way. Is that a thing? Can you say more?

Oh yeah, that’s totally a thing. Ask magically inclined living LGB and perhaps especially TQ folks about this when you have a chance. Many many cultures recognize third, fourth, etc gender roles, some but not all of which are characterized by fluidity and flexibility with respect to underlying polarities, communal roles, magical/spirit-level abilities, etc.

This general terrain of gifts (as it’s not just one thing) is totally compatible with having and raising children and doesn’t necessarily fit into any specific contemporary categories about gender or sexual orientation. This is precious and there’s plenty of material to be explored here. Check out the links in upcoming Lesson Four of Part Two for a few good leads.

Mind-Related Challenges and Difficulty with Connecting

What can help with the tendency to doubt my experiences with the ancestors?

This is a common question that warrants a whole book. In brief be curious about your doubt, listen to the message, and also don’t let it consume you. Consider teasing apart different kinds of questioning. For example, there is the questioning that anything at all is real or if anything in the unseen is ‘real’. I tend to see that as cultural wounding and as something that warrants teasing apart some of the assumptions of modern Western materialist culture. Or give a look to modern physics or actual science which respect how mysterious reality actually is.

Then there is the doubting that is your own specific ability to perceive (most common). This goes something like ‘other people get it but I don’t/can’t’. This is often a self-esteem kinda thing that just requires patience and tenacity and practice and experimentation with trusting your own ability to know. And to remember that your inner knowing and ability to perceive the ancestors and other-than-humans will get stronger over time and with practice. Yes, being around supportive others is great for this strengthening.

And there is the doubt in one’s ability to perceive specifically the ancestors rather than other spiritual/unseen forces. That often relates to lack of knowledge of family history or complicated feelings about one’s ancestors. As will get more clear by Lesson Four, this process emphasizes connecting with much older, deeply well ancestors. This means reaching before remembered names, and so while it’s definitely important to seek to know what is knowable (genealogy research, DNA testing, etc), it’s also true that there’s a bit of a leap of faith/trust invited.

Finally, the concept of ‘belief’ is a bit of a Protestant Christian thing. See Graham Harvey’s work Food, Sex, and Strangers on the topic. What’s more important to staying open in your personal experience to contact with your actual ancestors and don’t stress believing or not believing in a thing.

Any general suggestions for the mind that wants to understand everything, for settling the super active mind to be able to sink into the intuitive work?

Common and important question and it’s *so* variable from one person to the next. Generally people tend to find hyper or hypo arousal useful with respect to opening channels of spirit contact. Meaning commotion or quiet. Things like the drum tracks, chanting, ritual work while dance or walking or rocking or talking to yourself or tripping on some substance (not recommend everybody, seriously, not at the start of this)…those might be examples of hyper-arousal. Sacred commotion. And hypo-arousal mostly being the whole quiet the mind thing, meditation, fasting or isolation, slowing way down. In general for Westerners the commotion route is more accessible and both are good to explore. Whatever gets you there is perfect.

Get in the habit of talking out loud when you’re alone (or not) with the ancestors and guides and powers. Just normalize all of it by talking out loud to them. And be stubborn and tenacious and try a bunch of stuff and notice what works. And once you find something that works go with that and also try to find a few other things that also work, reclaim the ground.

When I try to drop in and do the assessment, I am finding that it’s hard to get much and that additionally I feel tired and/or like crap afterward. Thoughts on that?

This happens sometimes and in my experience can be for a few different reasons. Most commonly, it’s because the not-yet-ancestors / the ghosts / the troubled dead, they’re already up in the person’s space trying to do the assessment. Metaphorically instead of looking at animals in the distance, all you see is fur. This doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, it’s actually that the tired/crappy feeling is precisely the accurate intuitive information. In other words, it’s not a lack of connection, it’s a lack of distance or space, an over-connection that calls for clearing, cleansing and stronger boundaries as the first move.

It can also be that if intuitive sensing is an under-emphasized faculty in one’s life that trying to drop is can provoke a kind of fatigue or soreness not unlike returning to the gym or yoga for the first time in years. Not always an awesome feeling, so that can be an element.

Also, sometimes our inner knowing and/or helpful spirits can shield us from difficult material. This can look like dozing off, blanking out, forgetting, or just ‘not getting anything’. A test for this is to see if you can connect with something positive and familiar in an intuitive way. If you can do that but can’t see ancestor-related things it’s probably topic specific zone-out. If you can’t see either, it may be more about your ability at this time to tune in.

On a very pragmatic level, all you need to know from step one (the assessment) is 1)are any of my four main lines already decisively well or not yet? and 2)for the ones that are not, are any of them all up in my personal space/energy (or the space of my children)…and if so, handle that, reassert boundaries. So practically speaking if you’ve having this kind of experience trying flipping the sequence…establish strong boundaries, clear the room and then once you have some breathing room trying to look again at what’s actually going on with them in a basic way.

Can you speak to the role of belief in this process? I notice my skepticism around all things ‘spiritual’ or ‘unseen’ really present and am curious how others navigate this.

This question about belief is actually really dear to my heart, because I think the emphasis on ‘belief’ is a Protestant influence that doesn’t have much place in animist or indigenous epistemologies (ways of knowing what’s real). Meaning that more than probably any other group on the planet, Christians tend to focus a lot on what you profess/believe rather than what you do/how you are (for more on this see: Graham Harvey’s work ‘Food, Sex, and Strangers‘).

Rather than belief, I encourage working with the four or five core working assumptions, the acting as-if foundations of the work (lesson one….something continues after death, dying doesn’t automatically make you wise and loving, the dead can change, we can communicate, and we influence one another). I don’t know what’s ‘true’ or what I believe exactly, but I’ve found that acting as if these assumptions are functionally true/real has me living in kinder more relational ways. This framework also allows for a wider range of experiences (including events that feels best explained by direct contact with the dead). Plus I’ve seen over the years tons of benefits from acting as if the ancestors are ‘real’.

I think what we’re really talking about more than belief sometimes is that our organs of perception/communication are under-developed when it comes to people who are not other living humans (e.g., animals, ancestors, mountains, stars). Microscopes and telescopes revealed a whole range of kin that were real even before the development of such technologies. And yet without such tools our ability to really understand the very small creatures was more limited. In this way relating with ancestors requires re-enlivening or reclaiming our capacity to engage in these other types of relationships. And like any skill the clarity of that channel of communication may start off shaky or faint and then become more clear over time. Plus the communication may happen through visual, auditory, sensory, dreamtime, synchronicity, other people, and a half dozen other pathways….not always when sitting down to try to make a thing happen.

I feel a sense of being an orphan in relation to family and this feels very present in how I approach the possibility of ancestral connection. Can you speak to this experience or dynamic some?

Yeah, this…(nodding, pausing)….this is layered. Good to notice at least a half dozen ways this critically important need of being seen/met either happens or doesn’t. Some people have high marks in one area but not in another, and some have low marks in pretty much all of them. And again it can more or less all shift, often gradually.

There’s how well our family of origin meets our basic physical and psychological needs. There’s how well they and others in our life accurately see our specific soul-level gifts and ancient self (not quite the same thing as physical and psychological needs). There’s the specific cultural matrix we’re raised in (like the way POC might feel suffocated or worse by WASP-y suburban life) and then there’s the larger culture (e.g., modern America or Australia or South Africa). Like you could be have good people around you but still grow up in Apartheid and take on damage from the relentless lack of welcome for your beautifully brown body. And then there’s the very condition of being here on Earth, incarnate, anchored to these often painful and clunky and vulnerable flesh houses when some other aspect of who we are knows the original reality is stars and spaces and the play of light on water and nothing at all to do with deadlines and body pain and loneliness. Which is just to say that it’s also a kind of exile to be here unless you start having some full-on unitive states and dismantling the illusion of density we’re pickled in. Sure, sounds good Daniel but hey the orphan experience.

So about that, we could talk psychologically about healing attachment type trauma which is both totally possible and can be a bit like breaking and resetting bones d/t how deep those structures are in the psyche. Or just really scary b/c it means trusting (in the connection with the well guides) in ways that look like reopen cauterized receptor sites for trust experiments that went badly in the past. There are people who embrace the orphan consciousness as a kind of stance and I’m wary of it, because on a deep structural level we’re just not and have never been and will never be alone. We may have been failed by our families and culture in very very real and extremely painful ways, sometimes fatally so, and even so, this is not the same as actually being objectively separate from the web of relationships that sustain us. But taking that intellectual concept and translating it into heart-level lived experience are two different things.

Mostly I’d say we melt some the terribly lonely and painful experience of not being accurately seen and met on a soul level bit by bit over time through calculated risks to trust that, if they go well, provide other kinds of experiences and start to repattern things a bit. So “I am an orphan” if things go well starts to looks like “I just had a long and nearly fatal 30-year walk about in a snow storm that I would rather not repeat” (said next to a fire while thawing).

I just took the time to sit in stillness and mindfulness with one of the drumming recordings. There was so much happening that I was almost overwhelmed. Is there a useful way to discern what is the pure visionary imagery and what is the mind trying to make form in order to try and grasp for sense but potentially lead away from clear visionary message?

This is a great and common and layered question. The short answer is that it comes with time and practice and even then it’s still possible to miss the mark (not so different from relating with incarnate humans). Also, each person’s style for discernment accuracy and truth is organized a little differently. Lots of folks find that keep things body-oriented is useful, like there is a feeling associated with contact/truth and a different feeling with non-connective mental activity. I personally like the strategy of just double-checking things, like looking away and then looking back. Remember that things aren’t always going to be visual in how you experience them, even if the visual pathways is well developed for you. In that sense checking through other pathways can be a way to cross-check things. And checking in different moments or from different states of awareness. And also it’s ok to just experiment with trusting that you’re sensing what you think you’re sensing and recalibrate as you go. Most of the time folks err on the side of under-trusting. So be kind with yourself and know that it’s a process over many years and getting more skillful at relating with the ancestors or other powers.

Reincarnation, Past Lives, and Multiple Souls

What about the blood ancestors from previous lifetimes/incarnations? Are they being worked with in this course also? What if I’m a reincarnation from a line I’m working with?

The short answer is No, reincarnation is not a focus of this course.  The longer answer is nuanced and touched on especially in Chapter Eleven of my book in the section on Past Lives, Reincarnation, and Multiple Souls. In general, I find that it’s best to identify with who we are in this lifetime, to seek to fully inhabit our particular circumstances in this life. One reason is that there are major psychological and cultural incentives to seek to identity with people from other times and cultures, especially for European-ancestored peoples whose sacred traditions have often become highly fragmented and/or whose ancestors have committed atrocities toward non-European peoples. Another reason is that standing in the specific details of this life encourages greater embodiment which is a kind of potent self-love and embrace of the Now, of the details of this moment in time. A third observation is that although most Indigenous folks I’ve communicated with on the subject of ‘past lives’ do recognize some kind of cycling or return of different aspects of the soul or souls that we’re comprised of, I’ve never heard any of them give any ritual focus to the subject of past lives (referencing especially here my interactions with Buryat Mongol shaman Sarangerel, Native North American elders, and Yoruba priests). I don’t mean that to be dismissive, only that I do weight the wisdom of living Indigenous elders and in that sense I give priority to work with the blood ancestors of these bodies, this lifetime.  And sincere respect to other approaches.

Having said that, reincarnation in some sense does seem to occur (and remember I’m functioning personally from a multiple soul framework, so it’s a both/and approach). For example if you are the returning of your grandmother along your mother’s mother’s lineage it’s still also true that she exists as a distinct soul and you’re also still you. The lineage is the larger structure that holds both of you, or you could say that you’re both incarnations from some other elder, both dippers from the same river. I feel that way a bit about my father’s father’s lineage. My experience of them is very close to my experience of my own baseline energy, persona, sense of self. This doesn’t really hinder me working with them. If anything it can make things a little more tricky in the sense that I could project stuff onto them, but it’s still relational for me, still the case that individuality is honored, that’s it’s both/and.

Can you explain more about what’s meant by ‘multiple souls’ and how this relates to the post-death experience?

Yeah, it’s a big question. Just off the cuff, traditions I’ve encountered that view the soul as a convergence of different energies include: Yoruba tradition, Lakota ways, Buryat Mongol teaching, Norse tradition, ancient Egyptian views, esoteric Judaism and aspects of Christianity and Islam, also some Buddhist teachings, etc. I would venture to say that more traditions on Earth view the soul as multiple than singular. This implies that the post-death (and pre-birth) experience can include multiple realities, multiple narratives. It’s quite a relief really. For further exploration of one model (Buryat Mongol tradition) see Chapter Eleven of the book. In general this model emphasizes relating with those who continue to be available as ancestors (which doesn’t rule out those same ones returning here). Many traditions really do hold a pragmatic both/and view of it all.

Do ghosts reincarnate or do they have to be ancestralized in order to reincarnate?

This is a perceptive and tricky question, I like it. I’ll start with ‘who knows?’ as that’s also true for me in these terrains. So beyond that, I feel of two minds on this a bit. One, it’s my sense that those returning to Earth are from the ancestors, the ones who have fully died and arrived in the other reality if you will. This is how most traditions I know speak of it as least. In that sense the answer would be ‘No, those returning are the ancestors and not the ghosts.’ This also feels true in the sense of the return portal being in the ancestral realm or something.

And at the same time, I have the sense that some of the troubled energy coming into the world (e.g., troubles at birth, sociopathic tendencies in children, other conditions that arrive with the child), at least a good part of this feel ancestral, that the troubles previously unresolved are returning. So is this the ghosts returning? Yeah, it kinda feels that way. And I think some traditions also speak of this.

As I’m unpackaging this, there is a topic of intentional conception. Meaning being sure to call in a vital and healthy soul. The implication here is something like the portal of conception may at times allow for a soul who is less well/conscious/etc to make use of that opportunity if there is not a ritual vessel in place. None of which is to imply blame of parents when tough situations occur.

So, it’s an interesting topic and I think the two realities alluded to above are compatible. My two cents on an area of some mystery in any case.

If you sense someone to be an ancestor returning from a certain lineage but that ancestor or ancestral lineage is not yet well, how does this impact the process of establishing boundaries with that lineage?

This gets into how returning/reincarnation is mapped. I work as do many many cultures from a multiple soul framework so this means the ancestors can be both part of the lineage and also returned, no contradiction. Maybe think of how the same river water can be both in a clean and a dirty glass with one not affecting the other. I know it’s not very linear, but what I’m saying in a pragmatic way is that when the ancestors along a certain lineage return it’s almost like a dipper full of that lineage returns and the specific ancestral soul/form/identity remains available as an ancestor. Based on that, it’s not really my experience that it’s harder to set boundaries with a lineage one is strongly linked to. Partly this is because setting a limit can actually increase intimacy and connectivity. And practically speaking, great to just heal things up as soon as possible or at least call in more whole and healed energies who inherently help with limit setting

Relating with Ancestors Not of Your Blood Lineage

Could you provide some additional context or advice for those who may already feel strong involvement from adoptive/chosen/spiritual lineages but perhaps find the blood lineage work to be newer/quieter?

Sure. It’s something I explore at greater depth in Chapter Eleven of the book and only touch on in this course. In part it’s because so many people would wish to distance from blood ancestry and by extension one’s cultural roots, and I’m biased that there’s so much benefit to grappling with all that. But to your question a few principles here include:

1) Whoever is already part of your spirit team is of course warmly welcome to resource you in your choice to engage with what’s beautiful and beneficial from your blood lineages. Let who you already know and love support you in this layer of the work.

2) Once your blood lineage ancestral guides come more online and into the picture, seek to harmonize them with ancestors of lineage/adoptions/cultural, have a kind of otherworld meet and greet, don’t let the work get compartmentalized.

3) Favor work with lineages over individuals just in general. It’s my bias with the work that it’s safer and beneficial to relate with groups of ancestors in most cases. This is certainly true with blood lineage ancestor but can also apply to spiritual lineage, to ancestors of culture, to ancestors of vocation, and even to ancestors of place (seeking to relate with them as a collective).

If for some reason your ancestors of tradition or adoption don’t support your work with ancestors of blood, I’d be curious or even suspicious of that. Most of the time ancestors who are not-of-blood are jazzed to participate in the blood lineage ancestor work.

How do you suggest relating with ancestors who are seemingly unrelated by blood but who still appear to you in a significant way surrounding this kind of work?

Sure, this is common. With my emphasis on blood lineage ancestors I’m mostly saying to make sure to include them, not that we need to exclude ancestors from other regions, cultures, etc. I don’t think the spirits themselves are so picky about it all most of the time.

We can be connected to a lineage through spiritual practices/initiations which are a kind of adoption. For example, I’m an initiate of Orisha ways but I’m not Yoruba by blood. And yet these ancestors and I now have this connection, like the ancestors of tradition and my ancestors of blood work together some.

We can be connected to ancestors of places, often where we live for a minute, who are not related by blood. These in a sense are ancestors of proximity, neighbors that can become close friends or even a kind of family. On those two topics, there’s an exercise in Chapter 11 of the book around harmonizing ancestors of blood, of place, and of spiritual lineage/tradition.

We may have ancestors of blood whose presence doesn’t show up on DNA tests in any obvious way. This has to do with how those tests function and just how all mixed up together our blood lines often are.

There can be what we might think of as a soul-level affinity (not blood explained) that some reach for a a past-life model to explain. I personally think it’s enough to just allow for affinity with certain places for whatever reason. I’ve felt that with ancient Babylonian cultures but don’t have any Iraqi ancestry I’m aware of.

On a practical level, I’d just anchor in well with your ancestors of blood and ask them if there’s anything they want to say about these other ancestors who are appearing for you. If your people support it, all good. If they don’t be curious and err on the side of trusting that. It’s ok to decline spirit connections and if you do that for any reason they’ll tend to diminish and not continue. It’s also for things to change and evolve over time, sometimes they’re with you just for a period of time. In that way I see our blood ancestors as our lifetime advocates who at times help to screen what are beneficial new connections and what are possible but less beneficial contacts.

Trust your sense on it all and let it be joyful!

Relating with Ancestral Guides and Lineages

Are the ancestral guides sometimes so intense, so available, so ready to get down to business with the healing, that’s it’s overwhelming? And if so, what’s helpful in that situation?

It’s an astute question that makes me smile. Yes. Sometimes they are just like that. In my kinda silly 1-10 scale, I think of this quality as being indicative of those in the 9-10 range, the quite potent ones. Most of the time if you ask them nicely to dial it back, nicely reel it in a little, that’ll do it. If that doesn’t do it, you can kinda stand back from them as you would someone with a giant bubble/aura around their body or someone emanating heat and they’ll get the idea. Otherwise, ground in and nicely ask them for their support in getting your nervous system up to speed to be able to hang out with them. And enjoy the ride, it’s good!

Is it appropriate to call upon the well and vibrant ancestors anytime, anywhere, and from any state of being? Any precautions on calling on the guides, the well ones from our lineages?

Yes, pretty much OK whenever as I see it. No real precautions. I suppose the exception would be if you find their presence sufficiently intense as to be destabilizing then you’d want to titrate and pace everything. If you’re three hours deep into strong LSD or ayahuasca or something you might want to go for the gentle connection rather than ask to merge with the consciousness of your people through all time and space. But really, if they’re well and vibrant, truly safe and settled ancestors you should be good to feel them with you whenever. And it’s a relationship so notice what works for you and also for them over time.

Is it common for ancestors to take the shapes of things that aren’t human? Is it common for us to have to enter into other states/ways of being in order to learn from and relate to them?

These are questions with deep roots and implications. Is it common that the ancestors appear to us in other-than-human form or that we ‘shapeshift’ into something or than our usual form during the visioning practices to facilitate our relating with them? Yeah, somewhat. It certainly happens, so nothing to be alarmed by and it’s good to tease out what’s going on. This could be a book unto itself but briefly…

I’ve seen them appear to the living in other-than-human form (animals being most common) for any of the following reasons 1)they want the person to understand the animal/other-than-human connection is important along the line 2)this form at first is easier to trust for the living person, often because they’ve been hurt by living humans 3)they want to highlight a quality of shapeshifting or fluidity of form that’s a gift of this lineage and more rarely 4)they had to go deep underground when the uglier worldviews crashed in and they wove a kind of complicated magic to reside in parallel forms and dimensions and it takes a minute for that to unravel and heal, generational preservation magic. If they appear this way just gently also invite the human ancestors to present themselves, it’s a both/and. This can also happen with deities, but deified ancestors is it’s own big topic.

Do you need sometimes to take a different form to approach them? At times, yes and it seems slightly less common. Often this is more for the sake of the living person as we unconsciously don’t associate humans and bears for example being of the same bloodline and so to relate with them as ancestors we need to become that, pull up a bench as it were to have the conversation. Meaning it may be more about what we need. And there are other reasons also.

In general when this kinda thing happens, go a notch slower, ask other trusted guides to confirm that all’s safe and that you’re actually relating with blood lineage ancestors, redirect as needed and approach with a spirit of both/and. And check out the focus of Lesson Five, Part One and the later part of Chapter Six in the book on affinity spirits.

I’m curious about the concept of ‘journeying’ to ‘upper world’ and meeting ancestral spirits there. Few months ago I “journeyed” to the upper world and met spirits who said they were my ancestors. I cannot stop thinking about them as I have received so much love from them. What would be the best way to connect with them during lineage repair work? What are your thoughts about it?

The language of ‘upper world’ is one that Harner-method shamanism adopted from Indigenous Siberian peoples and possibly some others (e.g., Shipibo, Haida) with whom Michael Harner had a little contact. By calling his method ‘core shamanism’, he fueled the idea that this framework for things is universal which is not accurate and does a true disservice to people seeking to appreciate the great diversity of traditions surrounding spirit work in general and the ancestors in particular.

That said, the word ‘journeying’ when used generally to refer to being in a light to strong trance and from there communicating with the spirits, yeah, that’s done in this method. I strongly prefer to do that from an embodied place rather than being out of body (although that’s also possible). Practitioners of Harner-method shamanism use it variably to mean 1)stuff that happens while drumming or trancing out and/or 2)projecting some aspect of the soul out of the body to facilitate meeting with spirits/etc in other places/dimensions/etc. So, yes to the first (however gets you there) and caution on the second as a methodology as it’s unnecessarily risky when actually done at depth and when actually working with the spirits.

As for the Upper – Middle – Lower world mapping it’s fine and just not universal, that’s all. Some experience the dead in the Earth, in the stars, in the mountains, or, as is the case for me, in a kinda of sidereal or inverse dimension that closely overlaps and interweaves with this word. They’re in the other world and we’re here in this world but really there’s just one world stitched together crosswise and tangled. But there does seem to be some cross-cultural precedent for a ‘this world and that world’ mapping (see Chapter Two of the book and the readings including the one on Kongolese traditions in Lesson Four). Inversion and mirroring seem more common than a vertical stacking but both happen. And if there is a verticality, the dead seem to more commonly reside in the Earth (e.g., Mongolian ways, Mayan Xibalba, Norse Hel).

As for the experience with the well powers personally, great! Whatever works is great, and for the sake of this work just be curious if they’re ancestors of blood and if so, which lineage they’re associated with.

After making a solid connection with the guide from this lineage, I’m having trouble keeping in my body. Their energy is so strong, their desire to put me to work and ‘upgrade my dna’ if you like is so powerful that I’m struggling to balance with them and to integrate all that I am learning. Are there ways to pull back a bit, take it slow or techniques for grounding that would be useful? Would it be valuable for me at this stage to seek more in depth support?

This happens sometimes. Try asking them to appear at a distance to you, like across the way and ask them to work with you on finding the right distance for your nervous system at this time. Working with practices to keep you grounded (e.g., eating and sleeping well, exercise, time out in the wilds, even journaling), all that’s great and helpful. And it’s hard to generalize…could be that you’re hard-wired to work in a mediumistic way (doesn’t mean you need to do it that way, but some are set up to do so). Could be that you have a trauma history that’s getting lit up here and that it’s especially important to move slow and ask the powers to dial it back or have something like a spiritual chaperone that functions like a adapter/power converter. Could be a mix of both. Could be that it’s fine to be a little blown up for a little while, make some time for the experience. Or it could be that such an invitation is not a safe/beneficial invitation for you. So, it’s hard to generalize, right? But overall, ask them to dial it back. Like, really everybody? Do we have to do the whole “I’m gonna blow off your chakras approach?” or could y’all be spiritual enough to notice the audience, thank you. Sass them. Ask for what you need.

You seem at times to suggest connecting with an ancestral guide (singular) and at other times suggest working with them as a group/collective energy? I’m feeling a little snagged on this difference and hoping you could elaborate.

Good question and there is ambiguity on that in the method, in part because both are true a bit. Think of it a bit like talking with a bee to greet the hive. Or that the ancestral guide is able to function as the face/mask/representative of the larger energy of lineage. And how we experience that will vary. For some there’s a sense of interacting with a group consciousness. For others it’s just that the guide is a kind of energized figurehead or embodiment in singular form of the bigger energy of lineage. The guides are the guides in part because they are able to wield the energy of lineage, they are leaders if you will among the dead. And of course as we become well with the ancestors this same weird kind of perspective shift happens with us too, bees in the hive.

My partner and I are having experiences that don’t make sense outside the context of “blood memory” (e.g. he has ancestors giving him Tshiluba names, I have ancestors asking me to practice what appears to be Tengerism)? What’s up with that? Is that a thing?

So yeah, blood memory / blood ancestral memory / ancestral memory / lineage memory…it’s like that and I think the mind that would love to at least have a way to talk about this can go a few ways with it (or more than one). Could be that it’s a genetic thing so really a ‘blood’ connection that surfaces in hard to quantify ways. Jung for all his shortcomings, posited this kind of collective consciousness with a biological anchor. Personally I feel ambivalent about this way of seeing it. Another lens is that of the spirits, that the ancestors themselves are communicating and that we (and this is really common) have a cultural habit of saying “my thoughts/feelings” rather than spirits talking. So maybe it’s just that the ancestors are real and they’re sharing what’s up. A third lens (perhaps my favorite narrative to fall back on) is that lineage is a deeper structure than individuals and that your question is a bit like mushrooms asking about their weird feeling of being connected to the mushroom next to them, almost like sharing thoughts….and the reply is: mycelium. The ancestral lineage is the mycelium of all of the individual lives, it’s the more primary structure. I know it’s weird but try it on as a lens. And at the end of the day who knows, it’s all about what way of holding it gets good and kind and healing results.

Can you say more about how an ancestral guide acts as the face or lens through which we experience lineage?

This is a good and nuanced question that in some ways is best experienced, so I’ll revert to a few metaphors or key words that might capture something: masks, bees, and the role of a spokesperson. Consider masks and how they function. The mask conceals and in that way erases individuality to allow for some other energy/force/person to be present. To wear a mask of Wolf is to imply that any aspect of the Wolf spirit may move through the one masked. The mask is a kind of face but also a focal point for a bigger energy.

Consider group insects like many hymenoptera. Individual bees have implicit knowledge of the hive. The dead who are well can function as a group intelligence and in that way any given individual ancestor on the line can also drawn up and is indeed comprised of the deeper structure of lineage. Having a specific face to interact with is efficient and less likely to overwhelm us living humans. In other words, we tend to interact with lineage through the face of individuals. But it feels different and often has a different gravitas than interacting only with the dead who are individual/separate/not yet woven into lineage.

Finally, the ancestral guides can be seen as a quite refined and representative energy of what is awesome about the line. They’re exemplary incarnations that can accurately function as spokespeople for what is fantastic about that specific ancestral lineage. They’re able to cause the other dead in the lineage to feel well represented at the convention of humanity, they’re inspiring, they’re guides.

An ancestral guide who otherwise feels quite well in spirit is relating with me at times by fusing/joining/merging with me in spirit during the visioning work. Is that alright? What should I be tracking around that for ritual safety?

Yeah, this is a big and nuanced terrain and one that I explore at some length in Chapter Nine of the book. In brief, a few key points:

  • Know that you have choice about any kind of merging with the spirits (at least under most circumstances), so good to honor your personal boundaries and ethic of consent throughout, meaning you can ask to ‘unmerge’ with the guides at any time if this is happening.
  • I tend to invite this after the lineage itself is deeply well and healing (if it’s going to happen at all, not necessary ritually). This is to reduce any risk of the not-yet-well dead coming into play.
  • I tend to encourage folks merging (if it happens) with the lineage rather than specific guides, however, remember that the guides can function as the face of the lineage, as access points as it were.
  • If it is happening and you’re fine with it, try to gently invite some specific intentions while in that state (e.g., personal healing, prayers for your living family and their wellness, prayers for the lineage).
  • Try to encourage a discreet end to the experience, to intentionally unmerge even if it takes a minute for that shift.

But check out Chapter Nine of the book and some of the info there. Some folks work this way a lot, some not at all. Trust your gut sense on what’s good for you there.

In my assessment a relative recently span of the lineage (mid 18th century) showed up as troubled with wellness before that. After connecting with the older ancestor guide, the relatively well ones who lived before the mid 18th century trouble and after the lifetime of the guide seemed to all be returning to join with the guide with a sense of being (further) released. Can you help provide context on why this might be even though they initially presented as already well?

It’s important to think of wellness on a spectrum. For example, we tend to culturally think of those at a ‘6’ as being well insofar as they’re not obviously troubled and yet compared to those at an ‘8’ on the scale, they’re still in need of healing and elevation. It’s almost certainly that kind of thing of then just becoming more well in the process. And once they’re settled, it’s also an option to just ask them about their experience of it all. Even those at an ‘8’ aren’t as decisively potent and of collective wellness as those at a ‘9’. Of course the numbers are silly but the point is to recognize a spectrum here.

Ritual Safety, Boundaries, and Protection

What are your thoughts on calling in the directions to establish a ritually safe container before engaging the ancestors?

Yeah, that’s totally fine. My usual three-step protocol for ‘dropping in’ which I believe I follow in the videos, but I don’t recall exactly what I said that day is:
1) Get rooted in your body/inhabit your personal space and center.
2) Call upon your trusted guides/allies/powers/etc.
3) Ask them to establish an extra layer of protection around your overall space.

That could happen in 30 seconds or 30 minutes depending on your personal style and the depth of the working. I’m super not attached to whatever ritual style folks have so long as it works and achieves the purpose. In practical terms if you’re using the video/audio from the course to guide the process, just pause it while you take the time you need to get really anchored in an safe. And yeah, I do encourage doing as much of the ritual work as possible from an embodied (rather than out of body / journeying per se) stance; safer that way.

Can you speak to the idea the only spirits in this realm are “ghosts”, are you familiar with that and where it might come from? And the core shamanism teaching that it’s “safer” to journey to the lower world or the upper world to work with an ally or guide? What you are teaching here seems to make more sense, that coming from an embodied presence is safer. Thank you for this guidance, this work resonates deeply.

Although I benefitted, as many others in the West have, from the popularization of shamanism (and by extension some types of not-universal-but-nonetheless- awesome Indigenous wisdoms/practices) by Michael Harner, I also have some strong critiques of Harner-method shamanism. Briefly in this context, I don’t tend to construct reality into upper, middle, and lower worlds; it’s only one way and not the most prevalent and certainly not universal or ‘core’ (to use the language of some Harner-trained folks). See the question and answer in the Relating to Guides section of the FAQ on “jounryeing to the upper world” for more on that topic.

The idea that the only spirits in this dimension are ghosts makes no sense to me and seems like some kind of sad child of Protestant Christianity and Western scientism who misread some anthropologist’s misreading of some Indigenous culture they weren’t initiated to. So, not sure how to salvage that besides to say ‘run it by your own intuition’.

Now the idea that the ancestors go somewhere else and if you’re still hanging around here then you’re a ghost / earth-bound spirit / not-yet-ancestor / haven’t-finished-transition-missed-the-boat soul…that idea is recurrent and has some cross-cultural significance and it’s one I find to be a partial truth. I say partial because the well ones, the actual ancestors, they can also be quite involved here, moving through this world as a glove, stepping dimensionally in and out, at times through full, voluntary, beneficial possession of trained ancestor mediums, etc. But it’s very different to be stuck here in confusion than it is to choose to inhabit this space. And there are more places than just here to be stuck.

And also who knows, it’s more important to sink way into the healing of what needs healing up and then ask the ‘how it all works’ questions later, because we’ll have more perspective from which to hear the answers. When we’re asking them up front (this isn’t pointed at you) it often sounds more like ‘this is scary stuff’ which is totally fair, it can be. Establishing safety is good.

How does this approach to ancestral lineage healing work relate to family constellation work?

I’ve never participated in family constellations work and obviously not trained in it. I’ve been asked about it a few hundred times and heard maybe 50+ different accounts of the work from participants and a few teachers and have formed a basic impression of it, but please note that this impression is not from direct experience. My general answer is that this work is different and that whatever is beneficial for folks, that’s great, it’s not my place to judge other approaches.

My more specific answer is that this is a ritual-based approach rooted in indigenous/animist epistemologies (meaning that the spirits are real, the ancestors are real). In that way, this approach is absolutely and starkly different than constellations work (although some have adapted constellations work in a generally more animist direction, that’s a minority in that field). In practice the tendency among some but not all practitioners of constellations work to relate with the ancestors as a field of energy, as metaphor, as something like that…that stands in marked contrast to related with the dead as people, as discrete persons in the present. For example, I would never have someone embody another person’s deceased relative. For me, that seems ritually hazardous (and the stories I have heard of constellations work often confirm this caution).

I’m aware that Hellinger spent some time in South Africa. That’s cool. It doesn’t mean he is working as a sangoma or that he was ever initiated into those systems. Those systems generally relate with the dead as actual people/forces/spirits in the present, worthy of consideration. In that way constellations work seems to me like a partly beneficial and partly hazardous way of dabbling in the spirit world. When I take the filter all the way off, I see it as messy and lacking sufficient ritual safety, but people benefit from it also and I truly try to not be just another righteous judgmental spiritual teacher dude. And also, I haven’t trained in that work, so because of that I also can’t say so much but those are some impressions.

When I did the assessment in lesson two of part one, I felt unsure of how protect myself. Although I tried to stay in my body, I found myself afraid. One lineage in particular was disturbing- I saw them eating my right side of my body and attacking me. Another lineage was also attacking me and jumping into my space despite me establishing boundaries and asking for my guide to help. I need help with protection for me and baby girl as I do this work. I just woke up from a vivid dream which directly relates to what I experienced when looking at that disturbed lineage. At the end of the dream I saw my baby girl badly hurt and now I am deeply afraid.

Kindness on this, and sorry you’re feeling a little spun/freaked out. This whole terrain can be scary and activating. First thought from guiding all this over the past 15 years is that just by observing what’s already happening, rarely does that make things worse. To use a grim metaphor, if you notice you have a tick on your ankle, despite the sinking feeling and serious creepy factor, this is actually better than not noticing it. So realizing that the not-yet-well dead are having an adverse impact is a first step to truly shifting that (including getting them what they need to not be ghosty weirdos).

As for how to establish strong boundaries, it’s a big and important topic that of course relates to doing so with living humans. A few general principles: Being incarnate is a human advantage. This calls for being all the way in your body and really digging into your space. Claim your space and the space around your young daughter, without fear if possible and just be assertive. Fear can multiply and replicate and become it’s own kind of trouble. Another thing is calling the helpful positive healing energies close around you…loving wise ancestors, deities, plant/animal spirits, angels, God, however it is for you, surround yourself with awesome loving protective people (seen and unseen). Also, consider the use of environmental baby-friendly kinds of things to shift the energy (e.g., aromatic smokes in moderation like cedar/sage, blessed/rose water, peaceful music, protective charms, prayed with herbs/plants with good energy). It seems basic but making sure to lift up the energy of your space can help. And then working with someone like you, to know that you deserve the caring and support and that it’s available. Keep speaking up about how it’s going, you’re not alone, and you can do this!

Synchronicity and Ancestral Communication

When inquiring about an Irish lineage, I sensed them to be very unwell in spirit and later than day came across information on the British genocide of Irish people during the so-called famines of the 1800s. Is this kind of thing common?

Yeah, this is sometimes referred to as synchronicity and it happens a lot in this terrain. The ancestors can communicate directly like through light trance or spirit contact but also through dreams and meaning-charged events like hearing a certain song or coming across the right information, etc. Check out Sinead O’Connor’s song “Famine” and the words. Or 1,001 other more academic sources on the colonialist and ultimately genocidal policies of England toward the Irish in recent centuries.  Trust that you’re perceiving accurately and hold intent that these ones among your people will eventually become deeply well and at peace.

Can you speak to the role of divination in ancestral communication?

I’m a big fan of divination in general and personally practice traditional Yoruba ways of going about this with my ancestors (esp. kola nut divining). Having said that it’s very important with divination to not over-rely on it as that can so easily play into our tendency to discount our own inner knowing. So try to get the answers yourself first. Like, you wouldn’t want to divine on whether or not you’re understanding this response right, you rely on your own sense that you got it. So, divination can be fine but don’t let it override your own intuitive ability to just carry on relating with them. And if you don’t have a divination system, don’t stress it, trust that you know what you know.

Tending to Human Remains and Relics

Do you have any advice, guidelines, best practices, etc for respectfully working with the remains of the dead (esp. ashes, like on an altar)? How about ancestral relics? Are the suggestions any different if there are not your ancestors of blood?

At the risk of being cautious I tend to see remains as a kind of extension of the spirit/soul of the deceased and in that sense you just engage the same protocols you would with the actual spirit/soul. If they’re deeply well, no problem. If they’re not yet, best to not have them in your space until they are. But what then do you do with a loved ones’ ashes? If they’re not yet well and you want for whatever reason to keep the remains around, I tend to encourage ritual containment (e.g., an intentional cloth, a ritual box/container, whatever serves for that intent) until the one whose remains you are stewarding can be ancestralized. At which point you then also ask that this beneficial shift on a soul level be reflected in the condition of the remains. As the dead become well you hold intent that this transfer also to their remains. I know it’s esoteric but it’s the natural extension of the principles and it’s poetically sound as their remains are their reverberation in this dimension.

I see relics in the same way really although often to a lesser degree. I mean if it’s just a trinket that your people gave you and it doesn’t have much juice then that’s one thing. But some ‘objects’ are quite enlivened by virtue of their connection with the deceased and so the question again of do you want that person in your space or not? Once they are well, it’s possible to ask that they bless and in a sense consecrate the relics you’ve inherited (or they may be like, hey, why you keepin’ that sad broken pocket watch…good to stay open).

If they are remains not of your blood ancestors I default back to consulting closely with my own ancestors to ask what, if any, is my involvement. If I am to be involved I try to make sure that the well ones oversee this process carefully and ideally in partnership of the well ones I’m seeking to assist (by caring for their remains).

Trouble That Can Arise in this Work

What about other sources of spiritual problems like past lives or curses or entities? How to know whether the issue is ancestral vs. one of these other causes?

It’s a good and big question. In general as we’ll get into in Part Two of the course (and Chapter Eight of the book), curses and unhelpful other-than-human-ghost entities are dealt with in this process. If you’re systematic about it, most things of that nature can get transformed in the course of the lineage work and following the steps.

I speak in another post to past lives some and also in Chapter Eleven of the book. Basically, it’s not a focus of mine although it seems to occur at times. None of my teachers have ever emphasized it and I prefer to frame experience as this-life and ancestral and then account for what’s left when that container is well established and holding what fits there.

Because so many things in my experience are a result of undigested ancestral funk and intergenerational family stuff, I tend to thoroughly address that and see what remains. Diagnostically it’s like the most likely/obvious thing which doesn’t rule out other stuff too. Also having a mess of an ancestor situation functions kinda like being spiritually immune compromised and so it let’s in a whole host of other problems which although they’re not technically ancestral are indirectly related to the conditions.