Honoring Our Ancestors

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We are in extricably woven with our ancestors.  My belief is that if we tap into that fertile unseen world much healing wisdom will surface.

-Gigi Stafne

The timing of Halloween coincides with several ancient holidays and festivals which not only marked the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, but also served as an opportunity for people to remember ancestors and departed loved ones (The Day of the Dead in Mexico, All Souls’ Day in the Christian tradition, the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Norse festival of Winternights).  It was believed that the veil between the world of the living and the ancestral realm was particularly thin at this point in the year.

In the modern western world, we don’t have many formalized rituals that help us honor our ancestors.  We might display photographs of them in our homes or own cherished heirlooms that they passed on to us.  Maybe we occasionally get into the kitchen and prepare old family recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.  Or maybe we share fond memories and stories about our grandparents and great-great grandparents around the dinner table.  You might have been fortunate enough to grow up in a family that placed some importance on reaching back through time to connect with those that came before you through food, stories, heirlooms or genealogy research.  But what if you didn’t?  Maybe that information was never made available to you, or maybe, through complicated family dynamics, the connection with your ancestors was deliberately severed at some point along the line.  It is not uncommon to not particularly like or agree with those that came before you.

And yet, we sense that there is something about our ancestral connection that matters, regardless of the complex human relationships that come with it.  I recently heard a podcast interview with John Lockley, author of Leopard Warrior:  A Journey into the African Teachings of Ancestry, Instinct, and Dreams.  Mr. Lockley is a South African healer and shaman who writes about the importance of our ancestral connections.  He writes:

“To forget one’s people represents a sadness beyond words.”

He goes on to explain that it’s not about liking or agreeing with your ancestors.  It’s simply about having an appreciation for the life that they have passed on to you.  I love this idea of stripping down the honoring of our ancestors to a very basic practice of gratitude for the gift of life that we received from them.  Maybe your grandfather was a real jerk and you would rather forget that you were related to him altogether.  But by simply honoring the life that he passed on to you, one can set aside his imperfect humanness for a moment and see that he is just one in a line of many that made you being here possible.  When we can find this basic gratitude for the life force that flows through our body, we can see that this ancestral connection runs deep.  Everyone descends from someone else.  This realization brings with it a sense of peace, humility and interconnectedness that runs through all of life, not just the direct line of people we came from.  Suddenly it’s easier to sense our connection to the ground beneath our feet and the humans, animals and plants with whom we share this Earth.

As this season of remembrance begins, honor your ancestors in any way that speaks to you.  Make your grandmother’s cookie recipe or tell your children the story of your great-great grandmother fighting to save her home from a raging grass fire on the desolate windswept plains of the upper midwest.  If you are sketchy on what your roots are, ask your living relatives for help or join http://www.ancestry.com and do a little research.  They offer a free two week trial which is plenty of time to get a basic idea of your family history.  If you really have no idea about your lineage, take an online DNA test (also available through http://www.ancestry.com)  and find out where you come from.  Do some research on those cultures and see what resonates with you.  But most importantly, be willing to take a moment to offer gratitude for the roots of your being, regardless of what they look like.  See if that simple act of appreciation opens you up to a greater sense of connection with all of life.

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