People ask me how to honor ancestors. Many of us don't know much about our ancestors, and some of us despise our ancestors. How do you honor people you despise or don't know?
One of the keys is that we are not necessarily honoring the behavior of our ancestors. We are honoring that every life that has ever passed across the skin of this Great Mother Earth has been a hard life, full of turmoil, dilemma, joy, grief, wrong choices and bravery. (This is actually one of the reason we come here to be in the body - we learn lessons faster and more deeply in the body than anywhere else.)
There is that old truism that forgiveness is not about the other person - it's about freeing yourself from a spell that keeps you small, locked in pain, locked in martyrdom. Forgiveness is not at all about forgetting, or pretending or denying reality. Forgiveness is about releasing a curse placed on you by trauma, or in shamanic healing terns, it's about releasing the energy pattern embedded in you. In Spanish this is called susto – the energetic remnants of trauma, embedded din our energy body. Releasing that curse, freeing yourself from that energy, clearing that susto, allows you to make a new world - one that operates very differently from the unhealed one. Forgiveness doesn't change the past; it changes the future.
I believe that many of us (meaning peachy-moon-colored people of European ancestry) have come here in this life in part to do the healing on our ancestors that has been needed for centuries. If you are searching for a purpose in life, this is a great one. We do this healing on the ancestors in two ways.
One way is through ceremony, like this one. We ceremonially give healing to our unhealthy ancestors - we heal the way the life force had gotten twisted in them, and in this twisting, had blinded them to love, and made them deaf to beauty, and had made them into such hungry creatures that all they could think about was gathering more food to them - in the form of actual food, but also in the perverted form of all addictions, including the addiction to status that comes from wealth. (I urge you not to do this kind of ancestral healing on your own if you are new to shamanic work, but work with someone who understands the ancestral world. If you do feel compelled to do this on your own, please ask your helping spirits to make you invisible to the unhealthy ancestors.)
The other way we continue the healing of unhealthy ancestors is to live differently than they did. Change the inner reality from which their lives and actions sprung. This involves doing the very difficult personal work of undoing the patterns in myself that have been handed down, or sung into me. It involves opening my comfortable ignorance.
There is a tremendous amount of this going on right now! A great deal of discomfort is pouring out of many of us. I believe this is because Spirit is cleansing us. Now that seems like a nice thing to say, but I want to make clear that I'm talking about a scouring, not a warm washing. The scouring is coming to all of us, there is no escaping it. The main questions as I see it, is do I try to run from it, and delay it, or do I jump in and be the first wave to get through it? I believe those drawn to shamanic practice are part of the early wave to open the new future, a very different future form our current one. Shamanic practice builds the spiritual foundation upon which this new world will stand.
So when we "honor" our ancestors, we are honoring the fact that our ancestors carried the Life Force their entire life and they passed it on to us so that we may carry it, so that we may protect and defend and work with it. Whether we love them or despise them, we stand on their shoulders. For those ancestors who we admire, we ask that they send strength and wisdom up through our bones so that we may work with the life force with as much courage and beauty as they did.
For those ancestors whose behaviors disappoint, horrify or wound us, we do the hardest and most wonderful act: we send them beauty, medicine and food through ceremony in order to heal what was unhealed in them during their life - and in that unhealed state they perpetrated things that were wrong. We use some of the strength we get from the healthy ancestors, and send it downward to clear susto in unhealthy ancestors, so they no longer need to reach up through our bones, and into our lives, and grasp at our life force to feed themselves. And we commit ourselves to doing a better job wielding the life force than they did.
It is a tenet of shamanic practice that life exists on a circle, and to heal any part of the circle brings healing to other parts of the circle. Here is a secret: When we heal our ancestors we are healing ourselves and our descendants. We cease the repeated generational distribution of spiritual poisons. Here is the other secret: unhealed, we repeat the perpetrations of our ancestors. Healed, we awaken and create waves of different actions in this world.
The shamans remind us that we have our human ancestors, but we also have our non-human and pre-human ancestors: the fertile earth, the fruitful sea, the rocks, the winds, the stardust, the tides, the lightning, the creatures great and small - all of these are our ancestors and we will honor them and feed them the food of beauty in our ceremony. This is work you absolutely can and should do on your own. Stand outside and say hello to every living thing you lay eyes, ears or skin on. Make prayers of gratitude and send them love and strength for the coming winter. Thank them for the gifts they bring to the web of life. This kind of prayer, done regularly, can change your life.
I'm wishing you a bountiful and beautiful autumn.