Humans are neurobiologically hardwired to need community and companionship, but modern society seems to make us more and more isolated. Urban living in large cities, social media and technology see us sitting alone in front of a screen when in the past we would have sat with all generations of our village around the fire. And yet we are not alone.
The concept of connecting with and venerating my ancestors was completely alien to me when I started shamanic work. My most recent ancestors had gotten up to all manner of questionable activities, suffered from addictions and inflicted significant difficulties upon my parents which made it difficult for me to feel affection for them or to consider them my allies, but my shamanic teachers and colleagues insisted that relationship with one’s ancestors is imperative.
With that in mind, I signed up to an ancestor workshop with Malidome Somé. One of the women on my shamanic training invited him to teach our group and remarkably he agreed to fly over from the States. Malidome was taken away from his Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso as a child by Christian missionaries. He had a Western education and only returned to his tribe as an adult. He went through initiation into their ways and, with one foot in both Dagara and Western societies, he understood the deep wound Westerners suffered without spiritual connection to their ancestors. He and his then wife Sobonfu (who has since sadly passed away) set out to change that.
Malidome was a very entertaining teacher with lots of foibles. He wouldn’t tell us what time we would start work in the morning. Instead he got up, breakfasted and, when he was ready to teach, went to the work room and began to drum. He used a Djembe drum with his own personal rhythm. He fostered the analogy of the village in our sessions and we were free to come and go as we needed, all ages were respected and everyone’s needs were tolerated. It was a comfortable, fun and happy atmosphere, yet very powerful.
We set up shrines to the ancestors and the elements of fire, water, nature and minerals. We all brought pictures of our ancestors and some of the string we were using to hang them up with spontaneously combusted. I found black lines drawn on my hand in a pattern but had no idea how they got there. It really was magical.
Malidome explained that we all enter life on this planet for a purpose. This is decided before our birth by us, in conjunction with a council of ancestors, but we aren’t expected to carry out our life purpose on our own. We should do it in partnership with the ancestors and are meant to have their help. He said that as Westerners, used to organised religion, we think we have to be solemn and serious with our ancestors but this is unnecessary. We can be irreverent, jocular and cheeky with them and, we can call them out on their previous bad behaviour. Of course when they died, they became all-knowing, wise and compassionate like the other spirits, so they were probably already kicking themselves when they understood the bigger picture of their lives.
Malidome also said the job market in the other world is lean. The ancestors have plenty of time because they don’t have to work, eat or sleep and they are just waiting to help us. We are their family and they love us but because we have free will, we have to ask.
We performed a ceremony in which we made a symbolic journey to our ancestors’ fire. We honoured them and requested their help in our lives.
This different slant on things completely changed my understanding of the ancestors. I allowed them into my life and now I ask them for help every day. When I am faced with something beyond my control, I hand it over to them and the more I do this and witness the startling results, the more I trust that they are present and helping in my life. They have very inventive ways of dealing with issues that I simply would not think of.
Another part of my shamanic training was to go on pilgrimage – a journey with a spiritual purpose in ordinary reality. I did a shamanic journey to find my place of greatest blessing in the UK and Ireland and saw a church by a cliff on the West coast of Ireland, near to the place some of my ancestors came from. I saw a symbol, an equal armed cross, and I was told to try to find it on my pilgrimage. I researched online and found a ruined church that looked like the one in my journey. My husband and I crossed Ireland to the spot and inside the ruin was a gravestone with an equal armed cross carved out on the top. By this time, weird coincidences were delighting me and I took it as a sign I was in the right place! As I sat in the little, old ruined church, I closed my eyes and sensed the presence of my ancestors. Our reconnection was my reward for making the pilgrimage.
The presence of my ancestors and all their help in my life is such a comfort. My transcended family are full of love, compassion and wisdom and I can depend on them always.
Article by Dr. Mary Hernon
The Shaman Doctor and
More to Life Elder