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.

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)
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.

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
-H