Healing Ancestral Trauma
“Think of your existence as an incarnate being as a garden. Anything that you want to manifest in this lifetime is a plant. Jobs are plants, special vacations are plants, lovers are plants, children are plants, creative projects are plants. Your ancestors are the soil, the weather, and the water that nurture the growth of this garden. For any plant to take root and bear fruit, it needs to be supported by the ancestors. It must be compatible with their soil and climate and nourished by their sunshine and water. But once you understand how to tend to your garden properly, there's nothing you need to do to will a plant to grow. Just as Mother Nature is ultimately what causes plants to grow, the ancestors increase blessings in our lives.”
-Mallorie Vaudoise, Honoring Your Ancestors
Ancestral lineage healing is a spiritual process to connect with ancestors in order to resolve and repair their emotional distresses and traumas. This healing is done to release oneself from energetic patterns that inhibit and disrupt one’s life. While communing with ancestors and breaking passed-down karmic patterns is not new, the scientific research that many correlate with this process is. One study showed that the offspring of Holocaust survivors had a higher risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, low self esteem, and poor physical health. (Kellerman, 2001) There are more recent studies (most notably by Dr. Rachel Yehuda in 2015) that show exposure to trauma can biologically impact an individual and offspring through epigenetic modifications. Meaning these stressors can cause inherited alterations to gene expression thus dictating cell function. These studies help pave the road to a better understanding of how ancestral and historical traumas can still affect us today.
Cultivating a Relationship
Connecting with ancestors can be found in numerous cultures, from the Catholic observance of All Saint’s Day, to the Buddhist and Taoist celebration of The Hungry Ghost Festival. Choosing when and how to honor your ancestors will be based on your personal preference and/or cultural references. The suggestions below can be utilized on a consistent basis, or utilized on particular days.
Before starting, it is important to point out an occurrence that seems to resonate with many people in this work. Once you start to commune with your ancestors, time and time again a synchronicity will occur. Your ancestors will make themselves known, as well as the information you are seeking in order to cultivate your relationship with them. Introduced by psychologist Carl Jung, synchronicity is the concept of coincidental events that seem meaningfully related and do not have a direct cause-and-effect relationship. For example, the photograph I chose for this post. Without context, it is simply a photograph that was taken while the sunlight reflected on the camera lens causing the effect of light rays and hexagon shapes. When I checked the camera (yes, I am one of those people that has to make sure I like the photograph!), I could not help but feel an overwhelming sense of comfort and love. I immediately connected this to my request that my ancestor show her presence around me while visiting the cemetery just before this photograph was taken. Hexagons are a sacred symbol, and stood out to me because they reflected over my womb space. A space directly connected with maternal lineage. A space that I had been working on healing for years. My flight to Italy had taken a full 24 hours, specifically the first 24 hours of my monthly cycle. Now if you happen to have a cycle, you know how terrible that first day can be, and usually it is miserable for me. However, this time I was in minimal pain, to the point that I was genuinely shocked and able to sleep the entire plane ride over. To me this photograph symbolizes my ancestor confirming that she was always present, even before I had visited Italy. This may all seem like a stretch to some people (it sure was for my mother!), however that is part of what makes the concept of synchronicity so controversial. Even though there is an explanation for an event occurring (sunlight reflecting on a camera lens), there is still a deeply felt sense that it is cosmically connected to other events. It may only seem correlating by the person to whom it is occurring.
So, where do you start with your ancestor work? Start where ever you can! Delving into research on ancestors is a lengthy process and can be overwhelming. You do not need to have all the answers or information about your ancestors to start this practice of spiritual healing. Identify your lineage as far back as you can. You will not need to go back too far to find correlating struggles between yourself and those who came before you. However, if you have the privilege to track your family back decades or centuries, you absolutely should. Even if you only find a general location of dwelling, this will give you clues to the cultural and spiritual influences on their lives.
Try to identify the struggles your ancestors may have faced socially, economically, and spiritually. Did they have rights? In general, as a man, or as a woman? Were they forced into an arranged marriage? Were they allow to receive education and on their terms? Were they part of a religion they did not want to be a part of? What violence did they face? What social biases and prejudices were used against them? What deaths did they have to grief over? Did they live through any wars? Comb through every detail you can possibly find to paint the life of your ancestors. Through this understanding, you will be able to identify transgenerational traumas giving you the ability to resolve them for good.
A common place to start with honoring ancestors is a dedication altar. An altar is a surface upon which one places offerings and tools for religious and spiritual purposes. It is used in many places of worship throughout various religions. In this case, your altar will be a place that you commune with your ancestors. You can make temporary altars anywhere, but for the purposes of this post we will stick with altars placed within the home. Choosing your location is of course a personal one. You will want to choose an area that is utilized often. Common choices are the kitchen, living room, hallways, or which ever room signifies the center of your home. An area that you find yourself in or passing often.
Choose the surface on which you will place the altar. You can have a dedicated shelf, table top, or some folks even choose a space on the ground where they can sit directly in front of and meditate. Personally, as someone with animals, that does not work. I chose to have my altar on a small table that is still easily worked with when seated. You will want to start setting your altar with a clean piece of cloth. You can utilize a clean, white cloth, or something of more value. I like to use tablecloths that I received while visiting my family’s ancestral home. I have a variety so I may switch them out as needed. To me this makes the altar more personal to my ancestors and easier for them to connect with.
Now that your altar is set, you will want to choose some personal items and offerings. Personal items can include photographs of your relatives and items that may have been passed down to you. (Make sure when choosing photographs, you choose ones that do not have any living relatives or people. Many consider this a bad omen to include them on this altar.) For personal items, they can be anything: jewelry, religious relics, patron saint statues, letters from your loved ones, etc. The goal within this work is to personalize as much as possible to cultivate a stronger bond between your ancestor and yourself.
You may chose to incorporate elemental items as well. Typical items would be candles and lamps to signify fire; holy or spiritual waters or a glass of water; crystals, flowers, or fallen branches for earth; incense or the use of music for air. You may, also, want to incorporate seasonal items. Recently, I have added gourds and pine cones for Autumn.
It is customary to include offerings to your ancestors to thank them. Offerings can be a wide range of items, and really depends on their purpose. My personalized offerings are usually espresso if I am communing with my ancestors in the morning, and wine if it is evening time or there is a cause for celebration.
If you do not have any of these items, it is ok! Do not feel like this has to be a lavish thing, or that you need to be spending money. When I first started out with my ancestral work, my space was temporary. I did not leave my altar up consistently as I was still figuring out what area would be the most appropriate. When communing with my ancestors I would put down a cloth on a side table or floor, with some patron saint relics, a bowl of water, and a candle. That is it. When I was done, the set up would be packed away. Another option I utilized during this time, was to make my ancestors a place at the dinner table. It is simple, and can be done every night if you choose. Whenever you eat, put a plate out for them as well with a small offering of food. (Never offer a full plate as they would not want to take sustenance away from you.)
Utilize Ancestral Plants
Only you will be able to conclude which plants were common for your lineage. The list below is of plants with energetic qualities to aid the body, mind, and spirit in meditation and communing with ancestors. For instance, while I utilize Mugwort in my rituals and practice, to my knowledge it is not a plant my ancestors utilized. However, plants like Elder, Chamomile, and Rosemary are, and is why you may notice their usage in many of my products. You may already know ancestral work has inspired one of my formulas for Gem & the Glycerites called Through the Veil, which includes a few of the plants and crystals mentioned in these next sections. These plants can be used in many ways; within your home cooked meals, as incense, smoke bundles, tinctures and glycerites, salve. When it comes to ancestral plants, the goal is to incorporate them into your healing practice, or even better into your everyday life. It is your preference for what works best for you.
- Sage(s): One of the most used plants in spiritual practices is White Sage. Most notably for energetic cleansing of sacred spaces. You can (and I often do) use Garden Sage in its place, as White Sage has been drastically over-harvested out of the wild.
- Mugwort: Also known as “Dream Weed”, it helps dreams to be more vivid for dream recall. Ancestors often visit and speak with us in dreams. It can help one relax for meditation as well.
- Bay Leaf: A staple in most kitchens. It is believed to enhance psychic abilities. Roman priests would chew on the leaves to help acquire psychic messages from God.
- Frankincense and Myrrh: A popular choice for incense in various cultures. They were two of the gifts given by the Magi to the infant Jesus.
- Cypress: This magnificent tree was said to be blessed by Hermes, the messenger of the Gods and the one who aids Spirits to cross the Worlds.
Crystals can be used as elemental altar items, or even offerings. If you are not utilizing crystals within your spiritual practices, please take this section as optional information. I utilize crystals throughout my home and in various practices.
- Angelite: A connection to higher divine realms and can aid in communicating with angels.This stone is the perfect choice to aid in spiritual growth and enhancing intuition. It teaches us acceptance and gives us strength to face difficult situations. I utilize the energy of Angelite in the Through the Veil formula.
- Azurite: A psychic stone that opens celestial gateways for visionary insights and healing. It can clear away tension, open the mind to a new perspective, and bring you into alignment for spiritual guidance. My personal favorite is an Azurite-Malachite that has a grounding force while activating the third eye energy center for a meditative practice.
- Blue Tourmaline: For aiding deep meditation to help bring past traumas to the surface for healing.
- Celestite: Elevates the spirit for heavenly communication with guides and ancestors for their guidance.
- Chrysocolla: A communication stone for truth and inner wisdom. Utilized by wise women as it honors Sophia, the goddess of wisdom.
- Rhodonite: For grounding and emotional support while release painful issues.
While this post is in no way a complete work, I hope it offers you a starting point on your personal journey of working with ancestral lineage. Below I have included a playlist. I had put it together throughout my process of creating Through the Veil and thought many of you would find it useful. One of my reasons for writing this post was to open up a conversation for this work. I would love to hear from you about your experiences!
Choudhuri, S., & Kotewicz, M. (2016). Bioinformatics for beginners: genes, genomes, molecular evolution, databases and analytical tools. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Foor, D. (2017). Ancestral medicine: rituals for personal and family healing. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company.
Kealohi, Andie & Thayer, Zaneta. (2019). Biological pathways for historical trauma to affect health: A conceptual model focusing on epigenetic modifications. Social Science & Medicine. 230. 74-82. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.04.001.
Kellerman, N. P. F. (2001). Psychopathology in Children of Holocaust Survivors: A Review of the Research Literature. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Natan_Kellermann/publication/11956567_Psychopathology_in_children_of_Holocaust_survivors/links/567e416c08ae1e63f1e612d5/Psychopathology-in-children-of-Holocaust-survivors.pdf.
Vaudoise, M. (2019). Honoring your ancestors: a guide to ancestral veneration. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide. Ltd.
Rose, S. Healing Ancestral Wounds-Why Some of the Stuff You’re Dealing with Is Your Ancestors’, High Self Podcast,(2017, September 11).
Yehuda, R., Daskalakis, N. P., Lehrner, A., Desarnaud, F., Bader, H. N., Makotkine, I., … Griffin DW. (2014, August 1). Influences of Maternal and Paternal PTSD on Epigenetic Regulation of the Glucocorticoid Receptor Gene in Holocaust Survivor Offspring. Retrieved from https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13121571.
Additional information collected from personal materia medica and grimoires.