A few weeks ago I was asked to write a cover blurb for a Llewellyn book, something that does not happen very often.
It was a pretty good book. Some people might have found the title obscure, but that was not my decision. But one thing stopped me in my tracks. The writer tried to use the language of “colonist” and “decolonized” and “colonialist cultures” in a clumsy way that came across as “You should hate your ancestors because they were bad people.”
I don’t if that was necessarily intended, but it was easy to read a key passage in such a way.
Underneath the language was a message about connecting with the Old Ways (or what we think they were), but the cultural-Marxist thought-template got in the way. For a Llewellyn book, I would phrase things differently. (Or for any book.)
Even a scholar using “colonization” as a psychic metaphor has to tread carefully. Anne Ferlat put her Pomegranate article on “Conversion as Colonization: Pagan Reconstructionism and Ethnopsychiatry” through multiple drafts, and still some reviewers were nervous about its implications.
Certainly we don’t approve of everything our ancestors did. In the mid-1870s, my great-great uncle Frederick was a commercial buffalo hunter in western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, dropping them with his “Big 50.” Do I applaud him for that? Hell no. Do I wish that we as a culture had taken a different approach? Absolutely.
In my early days of esoteric studies, I was told that in reality, time did not move in one direction; consequently, not only could my ancestors influence me, but I could influence them. Perhaps this is the real secret of “ancestor worship” so-called.
Some psychotherapists think that we not only carry in our bodies our own traumas, but also certain ancestors’ traumas.
Jesse revealed that his mother had only recently told him about the tragic death of his father’s older brother—an uncle he never knew he had. Uncle Colin was only nineteen when he froze to death checking power lines in a storm just north of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Tracks in the snow revealed that he had been struggling to hang on. Eventually, he was found facedown in a blizzard, having lost consciousness from hypothermia. His death was such a tragic loss that the family never spoke his name again. Now, three decades later, Jesse was unconsciously reliving aspects of Colin’s death—specifically, the terror of letting go into unconsciousness. For Colin, letting go meant death. For Jesse, falling asleep must have felt the same.
In such a case, would “healing” the ancestor help the living?
Some of today’s new shamans, like Sandra Ingerman, teach that this magical work can be done on a collective level as well.
M. and I have a sort of Ancestors Wall of framed photos in our house, now that we have room for it. I look, for instance, at a maternal great-grandfather in his little SE Kansas newspaper office—he is at the desk (editor! community leader!) while the compositor and the press crew cluster further back. What is our relationship? How does the energy flow?
And great-great uncle Frederick, did he ever in his next line of work — saloon-keeper, Miles City, Montana — look into a scrying glass of whiskey and wonder what he had done?
These are complicated questions. My modest amount of Other Side contact has been with immediate kin—parents, a sister—not with those further back. They seem closer — at times I feel my father in my body, so to speak, in some mundane action like putting on a coat.
Quantum mechanics offers fascinating ideas, as this article suggests:
Yet none of [the] one-way flow of time is apparent when you look at the fundamental laws of physics: the laws, say, that describe how atoms bounce off each other.
At the same time, I don’t feel qualified to proclaim, “Quantum mechanics proves magic works!” There are of plenty of other people who will, and they’ll write books and give workshops about it.
But if we can somehow heal the past, there is plenty of work to do. It beats rejecting our ancestors — even if they did wrong by our standards, they made us possible.