Ancestral Voices, Women's Weariness, & the Illusion of Linear Time

Click on any image in this post for info on the artist

Click on any image in this post for info on the artist

Late in his life Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to a friend that time is "a stubbornly persistent illusion." Indeed it is hard to think of any facet of our lives that seems more real than the linear nature of time, the forward arrow that rules our lives. 

And yet modern physics, indigenous science, and our own supraconscious experiences tell us that our experience of time is false, illusory, and limited by our human senses. 

To be embodied is to have enormous confines put on our perception and our ability to sense reality. Science tells us that we can only see a tiny part of the color spectrum and can only hear within a certain small range of sound. We know that our human brains must and do filter out most of the information coming at us (in his book The Doors of Perception Aldous Huxley called this phenomenon the "reducing valve" of human consciousness), and that what we understand with our senses to be true is but a tiny sliver of the vastness of being.

So it is no wonder that we give so much weight to the experience of past, present, and future, and so much finality to the happenings in our lives and in the lives of our ancetors.

What's past is past, right?

Except that, as my favorite quote from my favorite novelist says so beautifully and succinctly...

1755249-William-Faulkner-Quote-The-past-is-never-dead-It-s-not-even-past.jpg

In many indigenous languages there is no past tense; everything is understood as happening in the "historical now."

In her brilliant book Jung and the Ancestors Sandra Easter writes:

"Fred Gustafson, a Jungian analyst who has been studying Lakota for years, shared with me that in the Lakota language the past is implied in phrases like 'a long time ago' or 'yesterday.' In the English language we would say, 'Many years ago our people were killed at Wounded Knee.' In Lakota- 'Many years ago our people are being killed at Wounded Knee.' Yesterday is still happening today."

Shifting your thoughts of what has happened from a framework of past to a framework of present brings about a realization of the deep interconnection between events and people that are seemingly separated by long stretches of time.

We see that everything is ever-happening.


An example of how this paradigm shift can be applied to some of my own ancestral stories:

Many years ago my great-grandparents are burying their six week old son in a driving rain that is causing the grave to keep falling in on itself as they dig.

Many years ago my teenage grandmother is throwing her abusive father against the refrigerator and telling him to never touch her or her sisters again.

Many years ago my dad is taking the first drink of whiskey that will lead to a severe and lifelong addiction. (Many more years ago his father and his father and his father are doing the same).


Reframing these past events in this way reminds me of their continuing resonance in my present life.

The conscious mind lives firmly embedded in the forward flow of time, but the unconscious is not tethered to this illusion. This is why our dreams, psychedelic experiences, and imaginal wanderings take us into realms that are timeless or where time is fractured or irrelevant. 

Jung wrote, "There is no trouble with time in the unconscious. Part of our psyche is not in time and not in space. They are only an illusion, time and space, and so in a certain part of our psyche time does not exist at all."

At a soul level the psyche "participates in a form of existence beyond space and time, and thus partakes in what is inadequately and symbolically described as eternity."

Eternity. It's a concept I was obsessed with as a child. Anyone who grew up Christian was told that, if they were good enough, they would get to live forever. I would lay in bed as a very young child and think about forever. And it terrified me.

This deep existential fear of eternity persisted until I read Eckhart Tolle's book The Power of Now in my early 20's, and the following line stopped me cold-

"Eternity is not endless time. It is timelessness."

And in the realm of timelessness is where our ancestors live, and where our wider, higher, deeper selves live too. We dwell there, with them, together.

And we feel them and hear from them in the only way our minds, limited by being embodied in human form and embedded in physical time and space, can- through dreams, synchronicities, physical and emotional symptoms, creative urges, and peak/mystical experiences.

This stubbornly persistent illusion of time affects not only our conception of past events, but our health and well being in the present. When we (usually unconsciously) buy into the modern belief and value system that says time is a commodity and the past is irrelevant and the interior worlds of dream and myth and creativity are irrational, we subjugate that which gives us vitality and a deep connection to the cosmos and insight into our soul's purpose.

The wounding caused by this repression expresses itself in symptoms of physical, emotional, and mental ill health. Especially among women, for we stifle the very nature of our cyclically-based bodies when we try to conform to patriarchal, capitalist, linear-time belief systems and work ethics.

In a recent episode of the Starseed Survival Podcast, host Erin Rivera Merriman interviews artist, writer, and teacher Lara Vesta. Both women live with health conditions that have grown exponentially more frequent in our society in recent years, and the two talk about their experiences with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, respectively. These two afflictions affect mostly women and fall along a spectrum of ailments in which unexplainable pain and/or exhaustion serve to keep a person frequently in bed, drawn inward, and having no choice but to withdraw from the frenetic pace of modern life and s l o w  d o w n.

During the interview Lara said something that caused me to pull over and write it down- “I become symptomatic when I am not able to disregard linear time.” 

Though the underlying cause of these afflictions is mysterious and likely stems from many factors, what I hear over and over again from women is that their symptoms are alleviated when they are able to (forced to, really) drop the masculine, outward-driven, production-oriented ways of being that have dominated our culture for so long (and have given rise to environmental destruction, social injustice, misogyny, and so much more along the way) and honor their own internal rhythms, their own inner voice, their own creativity and soul work.

As social structures and powerful institutions crumble all around us and it becomes clearer and clearer that a major shift in consciousness is taking place, I see that the most stubborn illusion of all is one of the most important ones to dismantle-

We must all learn to see through the fallacy of linear time and endeavor to reacquaint our innermost selves with the true ground of being- the great cosmic home of the ancestors, the dreamtime, and the source of all creativity. Women, some forced to by their physical symptoms, many guided to as they give birth to and grow the next generations of future ancestors, are leading this shift in consciousness. 

The approaching season has long been held as the most liminal of the year. To employ an overused but extremely beautiful phrase- the veils are thin right now. Many folks experience the season between Samhain and the Winter Solstice (or Halloween and Xmas) as a sort of portal time, and it is wise to use these darkening days to pay special attention to synchronicities, symptoms, and dreams as messages from the ancestors not bound by time, and to engage in ritual work as an invitation and a thank you to them.

In these ways we reach through time to one another.

Artwork by Kim  Keever , lyrics from the song  Time as a Symptom  WHICH IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND MEANINGFUL SONG OF ALL TIME some folks have said (me among them)

Artwork by Kim Keever, lyrics from the song Time as a Symptom WHICH IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND MEANINGFUL SONG OF ALL TIME some folks have said (me among them)

Some links & resources:

My blog post To Know Yourself, Know Your Ancestors (with the same Raymond Douillet painting and Joanna Newsom quote because I will use them both forever and ever)

My Ancestral Communion: Redwood + Mugwort Herbal Body Oil, perfect for grounding into fall and the season of the dead

Lara Vesta's upcoming donation based (!) online class Ancestral Connection: Re-Weaving Legacy

The Starseed Survival Podcast episode mentioned above

Sandra Easter's book Jung and the Ancestors (my favorite book on the spiritual/psychical/archetypal dimension of ancestral work; it is much broader than just Jung's inestimable contributions to humanity, with a large focus on native North American traditions and the intergenerational legacy of colonization)


In related news- My and Milla Prince's upcoming Ancestral Herbalism class at Kitkitdizzi in Nevada City on 11/4 has sold out, but we will be teaching a very similar class in May in Colorado at the Good Medicine Confluence (and will probably do a related Instagram Live some time around- but probably not on- 11/4 so follow me there if you're into that!)

"To be an ancestor you do not need to be dead, but you do need to know the dead– that is, the invisible world and how and where it touches the living.” 

-James Hillman

Be a good ancestor.

Online Vulnerability, Grieving Openly, Spiritual Ancestry, Unassisted Birth, Herbal Medicine, Psychedelic Healing & more...

I was recently interviewed on the Dream Freedom Beauty podcast by sisters Natalie & Lizzy. We talked about all those things in the title and more. It was an absolute pleasure to talk with them, an honor to have my mind stimulated by people who asked such thoughtful questions about the deepest experiences in my life, and a very humbling experience to listen back to my answers. You can check it out here.

Death & Life & Babies & Grief & Soul Connections and, mostly, Love

Today would have been my mom's 65th birthday. It's her first birthday since she passed in a car accident, her first birthday as an Ancestor, her first birthday dead.

Today is the day I share with you all that I am pregnant with my second baby, almost exactly 10 years after my first.

This is the story of the overlap of two souls, of the grief & joy that haunt our fragile human lives, of the meaning I'm carving out of these two unexpected and overwhelmingly life-shifting experiences.

My mom, my sister Lacey, me & baby Mycelia, and my grandmother Memere during my first pregnancy 10 years ago.

My mom, my sister Lacey, me & baby Mycelia, and my grandmother Memere during my first pregnancy 10 years ago.

On November 27th, 2015, the blackest of Black Fridays, my beautiful and beloved mama, Janis Hill, died in a car accident on her way home from work. She was my best friend and biggest supporter, the most loving, fun, and easy-going person I ever knew, and the best Grammy my daughter Mycelia could ask for.

This isn't one of those things when people elevate someone to the status of saint after they've died- my sister and I always knew we had the best mom. As my ex-boyfriend said, "That was the only memorial service I've ever been at where all the nice things everyone said was true." My ex, whom my mom checked in on via text every now and then, because she was the kind of person who made friends everywhere and never lost them.

There were 350 people at her Celebration of Life & Love, many of whom had driven in to my hometown of South Lake Tahoe from out of town on a snowy December day. I spoke, my nine-year-old daughter spoke, and my mom's husband led everyone in a jubilant clapping and cheering session, singing out our love to her and allowing us all to physically and vocally move the grief through our bodies in the company of other people who loved her just as much. It was my favorite part of the service, and I've included the audio file below. Dave's cheer starts at 31:10; Mycelia's & my part starts at 42:00. Listening back, my favorite part is the story I share about how mom would trick my dad into thinking she was spanking us when she really wasn't. 

(Aside: I wasn't sure if anyone would actually listen to this recording, but it's the next day and I've heard from a few who listened all the way through and were moved to tears. So I feel compelled to share that the strong Christian overtones shared by some people at my mom's service had not been relevant to her life for almost 20 years. We all had fond memories of the church she'd raised us in, and still love the pastor, so we chose to have the service there. My mom, sister, and myself love people and the world and maybe even something like God, but we long ago stopped believing that the only way to live a good life or maybe a good afterlife is to pledge allegiance to one man, one belief system, one myth among thousands. When someone dies, people turn hard to whatever comforts them, and many people chose to ignore my mom's gentle extraction from the faith when they spoke of her after her death.)

Ever since I was really little, I've been afraid that my mom would die in a car accident coming home from work.

She and my dad met and worked at Harrah's Lake Tahoe in the late 70's. After my sister Lacey and I were born in the early 80's, he worked day shift and she worked swing shift, so that one of them would always be home with us. She worked 6pm-2am, and I'd lay in bed worrying about her driving home in the snow at night. Sometimes I'd work myself into such a frenzy that I'd start sobbing. It was "anticipatory grief" without having any proof that it would ever actually happen (that phrase usually being applied to someone whose loved one is dying from an extended illness).

And yet, my premonition was right. At the time of her death my mom had 6 weeks of work left at Harrah's, after almost 40 years. I had almost completely stopped indulging my old fear. Almost.

During our last phone conversation, two days before her accident, after we solidified our Xmas plans, I said to her, "I can't wait until you're done with that job and don't have to make that drive anymore." She felt the same way. (Ever since she'd moved out of Tahoe and over the hill to Gardnerville, NV, I'd hated the long commute she had to make twice a day. A massive, steep mountain called Kingsbury Grade is the shortest route, and it's terrifying in the wintertime.)

Me and my sister and mom were all texting in our years-long ongoing text thread five minutes before she died. She was parked after having dropped off the co-worker she'd carpooled with. She was about 10 minutes from home. Her last text said we'd all talk on the phone after she got home and settled in. (My alcoholic father, who she'd left over 10 years before, wasn't doing well and Lacey and I wanted to talk about what to do about him. She had been supporting us as we dealt with his alcoholism for years. He ended up going into the hospital that same night, though we didn't know until the next morning. It was two weeks before he detoxed enough in the ICU for us to be able to tell him mom had died).

About 10 minutes after receiving her last text, when she had just died but I didn't know it, I suddenly thought about an audio recording I'd taken of her & my daughter laughing like maniacs the last time she'd stayed at my house, two months before. I brought it up on my phone and played it for Mycelia. We laughed and talked about the special dynamic they shared- ever since Mycie was a toddler their main thing had been doing whatever they could to make one another laugh.

I caller her a number of times after tucking Mycie into bed that night. The phone rang twice, made a weird noise, and the call dropped.

Somehow, by some grace, despite my lifelong fear, it didn't occur to me that maybe something was wrong. She was already over the mountain when she texted last, so close to home. She'd get in touch tomorrow and tell me that she'd dropped her phone in the toilet or something.

So I wasn't surprised when I woke up early the next morning, turned my phone on, and saw a voicemail from her husband Dave's phone. It would be her, explaining why she hadn't answered or called me last night.

But it wasn't. It was him. From 11pm the night before. 

There was an accident. Your mom... didn't make it.

We always took a Four Generations photo when we were together, starting here a few days after Mycelia's birth.

We always took a Four Generations photo when we were together, starting here a few days after Mycelia's birth.

It's hard to explain what happened inside me the moment I heard those words. It wasn't an immediate, resounding NOOOO like people so often report, like I'd always imagined it would be. There was a feeling of, "And so it has happened, it has finally come to pass." An instant small acceptance, because I'd expected it for so long. As with the car accident Mycie and I were in when she was 3 (which I wrote about in Unexpected Healing: Past Trauma & Cellular Release), I went right into a very logical, get shit done, mental state before I fell apart and felt the full impact of what had happened.

And anyway, I couldn't start grieving, feeling, crying until I'd called Dave back and heard it again, live, made sure it wasn't a mistake, and found out exactly what happened.

He answered immediately. He hadn't slept at all. 

She'd been at a main intersection at about 6:30pm, on Mottsville Ln. about to cross Highway 88 there in Gardnerville. An intersection she driven through twice a day, five days a week, for years. An intersection that usually has stoplights in place. But that day, just a few hours earlier, unbeknownst to her, an accident had occurred there that took the stoplights out.

This next paragraph contains information obtained from speaking to the investigating officer and from newspaper reports (I've given enough key words in this post that you can google and read more about the accident if you want to. I wouldn't begrudge you it. I'm always curious about these things and, in fact, have obsessed even more about the details of other people's tragedies since this happened. I can't read these articles about her accident myself, because I know that a terrible picture of her car accompanies them, and I am not now and may never be ready to see that).

The official accident report has still not been released, over three months later. But to the best of my knowledge, this is what happened...

The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and the police were on scene after the first accident (in which no one was killed), directing traffic. For reasons that the official report will reveal soon, they left when night fell, without having replaced the lights or leaving any emergency lighting in place at this major highway intersection the day after Thanksgiving. Instead, they left three foot tall stop signs in place.

In the hour since it had gotten dark, multiple people had called 911 to report the dangerous conditions, saying that the stop signs were not visible.

My mom had been in a fender bender a couple months before that somehow totaled the car she'd had for years. She'd gotten a new one, but had been afraid to drive it to work (unsure how it would handle the climb over the mountain in winter weather), and had been driving her husband Dave's car to work. But that day, she finally drove her new car. The car she'd been afraid to drive to work in. The car she died in.

As she approached the intersection in her new car and came to a stop (no doubt noticing that the lights were out but feeling familiar enough with the intersection that she wasn't worried), a young woman named Holly who was unfamiliar with the area was coming from her left, driving on Highway 88. Two cars were in the right-turning lane going the same direction as Holly, blocking the view of Holly's car from my mom's perspective as my mom pulled forward.

Holly was not speeding, intoxicated, or texting. She is just as much a victim of NDOT's negligence as my mom is. 

Her car T-boned my mom's, colliding directly into the driver's side door. Together the cars hurtled forward until they hit another car stopped at the stop sign opposite Holly's, opposite the sign Holly couldn't see because it was too low, unlit, and the two cars waiting to turn right going her direction were blocking them.

The Four Generations some time in 2007.

The Four Generations some time in 2007.

They say my mom died instantly. It makes sense that she would have, the impact was so severe. The cops gave Dave everything she'd had with her that night, and Lacey and I found the heart shaped cheap metal earrings she'd been wearing. One of them was severely bent. 

It is very likely that she never saw it coming, and in that it was kind of the ideal death. But that hasn't stopped my mind from, when I am in my darkest places, obsessing over the moment of impact, playing it over and over again in my mind, wondering if it was painful or scary for her. Those have been my worst moments through all of this, especially because of my childhood fear.

But that morning, as Dave told me the few details he knew, my mind hadn't gone there yet. I wanted to know- did Lacey know yet? No, he wanted me to be the one to tell her. Did Memere know yet? Memere (pronounced Mimay; it's the French-Canadian word for Grandma) is my mom's mom. They talked on the phone every single day. She was a couple weeks away from turning 94. We were all going to get together to celebrate her birthday on December 12th, but instead we got together for my mom's memorial service that day.

Yes, Memere knew. Unlike me and Lacey, lucky in our ignorant bliss the night before (me hanging with my daughter and finishing reading a novel in the bath, Lacey out at dinner with her boyfriend and friends), Dave and Memere and my Uncle Charlie (my mom's brother who lives with Memere) knew something was wrong. Dave knew that his wife hadn't come home when she should have, and Memere knew that her daughter hadn't called at her usual time.

They started calling each other around 8. And of course they called my mom many times- going through her phone weeks later and seeing their texts and hearing their voicemails was beyond heartbreaking. Then Dave called hospitals and the police. They told him nothing, though the police certainly knew by then. The accident was big news in that sleepy town. 

Finally, at about 10:30, a knock at the door. 

Dave says he knew right away what it meant. Two officers stood there. When they left half an hour later, he knew that mom had been pronounced dead at the scene and was on her way to the coroner, and he had a small cache of her personal items they'd taken out of the vehicle.

Memere called as the cops were leaving, and he told her. All three of them were up all night in shock and grief, after hours of anguish. Going through all that was always part of my fear fantasy as a child- the waiting, worrying, knowing something was wrong. I hate it so much that they lived through that. And I am so selfishly grateful that I was spared it. I think it would have made the whole thing much, much harder for me.

When he hung up with Memere Dave called and left the voicemail. (In case you're wondering, I am not at all miffed that he told me via voicemail. I much preferred hearing the whole truth right away, rather than "There was an accident... call me." And I understand that he was deep in shock at the moment and was focused on conveying this information to me as soon as possible).

The first two hours after I heard were so hard, because Lacey didn't know yet, and she was sleeping in. I called a hundred times. I couldn't relax or fully drop into my feelings until my sister knew.

Which is not to say that I wasn't already grieving by then; I was a mess. My boyfriend Owen and Mycie were with me, and Mycie and I were crying together on the couch while I tried (and failed) to eat the food Owen had brought.

I finally got Lacey. She'd seen all my missed calls and assumed something had happened with dad (which it also had, but we didn't know it yet). I knew that would happen, so I told her immediately in the most direct way I could- Mom died in a car accident last night. She thanked me later for telling her that way, for not dragging it out, even by a few microseconds.

Unlike my reaction, she immediately started wailing, and interspersed with her questions over the next 10 minutes she kept saying, "I can't feel my body, I can't feel my body."

A friend called soon after that and asked through tears, "Is it true?" I said, "Didn't Lacey tell you?" "No," she said, "I saw it on Facebook."

A friend of my mom's had already posted and had tagged her in his post. He apologized later that day and said he hadn't understood that it was tagging her, thought that only close friends of theirs could see it; I believe him and have no hard feelings about it.

But it did immediately put me in a place where I needed to craft a Facebook post so that our important people would hear it from us first. By then I'd called all the family and close friends, and felt ready to make the public announcement.

Even though it was only a few hours after finding out, it felt good to immediately connect with so many people who loved her and for Lacey and Dave and I to receive such a strong outpouring of love and support. Times like that, I really love social media. It helped me so much in those initial weeks of shock and overwhelming grief.

Oh, hey, it's us again.

Oh, hey, it's us again.

I wanna go back now to early November 2015, 2-3 weeks before my mom died. It was the New Moon in Scorpio, and Owen and I spent the day together. We'd been together 2.5 years and had talked a few times about having a baby, but always ended up deciding not to. We have my daughter, and just sort of thought we'd save our time and money and energy for the three of us.

But somehow, by the end of that day, we'd had a spontaneous series of conversations that ended with us deciding to start building a life together that could support a child in a couple of years. I went to a New Moon ritual that night hosted by the ladies of Holy Sponge, and everything that came up for me there supported this decision. The themes of that dark, powerful night for me were ancestry, death, and motherhood. I spoke those words aloud a number of times.

Over the next few days Owen and I revisited this new baby idea, and it solidified. We would have a child.

I wasn't sure if I should tell my mom or not. I told her everything, but I knew there was literally nothing she wanted more than for me to give her another grandbaby (Lacey decided long ago that motherhood wasn't her path), and I didn't want to get her hopes up in case it somehow didn't happen. After her imminent retirement she and Dave were going to move here to Grass Valley/Nevada City to be closer to us. We were all sooooo excited about this, and the prospect of a new baby would make it even more exciting for everyone. If I told her, I couldn't let her down.

I told her. I called her and told her. And she was just as happy as I knew she would be. I didn't know that it would be one of our last conversations, but I knew it was one of our happiest. 

And it means so, so much to me that she carried that happy news with her the last two weeks of her life. 

This is my mom's face a few hours after Mycelia was born in 2006. This is how happy my having babies made her.

This is my mom's face a few hours after Mycelia was born in 2006. This is how happy my having babies made her.

The first few days after my mom's death I felt strongly that her passing was even more reason for us to have a baby, to bring more life into and create more love within the world.

But soon after that it shifted for me- my mom moving here was such a big part of why I felt that I was capable of having another child. I had so little support the first time around; it would be a totally different experience with a loving caregiver who wanted nothing more than to be involved and helping.

It made me so sad to think of experiencing all that joy and not having her here to share it with.

Owen understood, and supported me in taking as much time as I needed to settle into this new reality and decide how we would move forward.

So, when I ovulated around the Winter Solstice, my first ovulation since my mom's passing, we used a condom.

And I got pregnant. 

I saw the positive result on the pregnancy test on January 3rd, and sobbed my eyeballs raw for 20 minutes, saying "oh my god oh my god oh my god" out loud. It felt like just as much as a shock as getting the news that my mom had died, but tinged with joy and awe instead of devastation and despair.

It, of course, feels so meaningfully connected to my mom. I thanked her over and over, and I remember pleading with her, "Please let me keep it."

I had a miscarriage 7 years ago, and my mom's death made it so real to me that loss happens. I was afraid that I'd lose the baby and that if that happened I'd of course find it significant in a heartbreaking way- it wasn't meant to be after all, this baby isn't spiritually connected to my mom and her passing, I am not supposed to have happiness in my life again.

Fortunately/unfortunately, the strong nausea, frequent vomiting, and extremely tender breasts told me throughout the first trimester that the baby was sticking around.

We finally heard the heartbeat two days ago, right as I hit the second trimester, and I am so happy to finally be sharing this news with everyone. It's real, I really am going to have a baby. I wanted it, then I didn't want it, but always I really did, and even though we "took precautions" we got pregnant, immediately after my mom's death.

Her soul left, this soul entered.

Try as I might in this post, I can never put into words the emotions I've felt these last three months. I could write forever and ever about how it feels to lose my mama, and about how it feels to be having a baby again almost exactly ten years after my first (babe is due three weeks after Mycelia turns ten), but no writing can capture the breadth of these totally unexpected turns my life has taken.

I feel grateful, joyful, terrified, excited, devastated, overwhelmed, worried, and full of love. I can't believe I'm going through all of this without my mom being a phone call away, and yet I wouldn't be going through it at all- not in this specific way at this specific time- if she hadn't died.

I feel like this baby is her parting gift to me, to her other daughter, to her granddaughter, to her mother, to everyone. I feel her so much in all of it. Some days I feel like I haven't really lost anything at all, because we shared so much love and she gave me such a solid foundation in this life.

And it's not just a bullshit saying- those things truly can't be lost. They're mine forever, and they are just as real now as they were when she was embodied here on Earth next to me. I haven't lost her love at all.

But some days I do feel like I've lost everything. It seems unfathomable to me that the most important person for most of my life is gone, that my oldest fear came true. Until very recently I secretly believed that it was still possible that this was all a mistake, that she'd be calling me soon with some crazy story of where she'd been all this time. We texted every single day, and I still look to my phone expecting to see her name there.

The hardest part now that the shock has worn off is, of course, how badly I want to be able to call her and share each little step on my pregnancy journey with her. I completely fell apart in the car after hearing the heartbeat at the midwives two days ago, because that heartbeat made this pregnancy real, and I was finally confronted with a future of infinite moments where my impulse will be to tell my mom some funny or exciting or scary news about her grandchild and I won't be able to.

And yet. I don't doubt for a second that she's part of this. I'm learning to navigate our new relationship. With me here, in this body she gave me, this body she birthed. With her there. With this new baby who, hey, is maybe part of her spirit in some way, in my body, waiting to be birthed.

If you've read my unassisted birth story, Matrilineal Love, you know that I was stuck in my labor (with only Mycelia's dad present) until my mom and Memere showed up. And then the thought that the woman who gave birth to me was standing next to me, and the woman who gave birth to her was standing next to her, and envisioning that line extending backward indefinitely in time, gave me the strength I needed to finally push my own daughter out.

Uncle Charlie, Papa Owen, me & new babe, Memere, Lace, and Mycie, taken today as we got together to celebrate my mom's birthday

Uncle Charlie, Papa Owen, me & new babe, Memere, Lace, and Mycie, taken today as we got together to celebrate my mom's birthday

I told her many times that if I had another one, I'd want her there at the birth from the very beginning. No one brought me more comfort just by their mere presence, and I felt safe whenever she was with me.

I don't know how I'm going to do this without her, all of it, any of it, but I am. I have so many people still and so much love.

And I have her too, I'll always have her.

Happy Birthday Mama. You're gonna have another grandbaby! We love you. Thank you.

The Deepest Magic: To Know Yourself, Know Your Ancestors

I wrote this less than a month before my mama died in a car accident, after which I immediately got pregnant. That experience enhanced the way I view the march of generations and the connections between souls separated by time. You can read my blog post about all of that here).

But stand brave, life-liver,

Bleeding out your days

in the river of time;

Stand brave:

Time moves both ways.

-Joanna Newsom

(image source unknown)

(image source unknown)

You come from a long line of healers, midwives, songstresses, herbalists, dancers, birth-givers, artists, and wise women. 

You are a direct descendent of powerful visionaries and earthwise geniuses, and their ancient knowing resonates today deep in your marrow.

These are not empty platitudes or the wishful thinking of modern spiritual yearners; these statements are genealogical fact.

You have billions upon billions of ancestors, who lived at all times and in many places across the globe. The human species evolved over millions of years and took many paths to spread out across the planet.

You need not know the specifics of who they were, where they lived, or what they did. In fact, you will never know the concrete facts about the lives of 99.99% of your ancestors.

They are lost to history, because they lived in prehistory.

They lived in a time when everyone was in a state of constant direct communion with the earth and sky, with the animals and herbs, with the water and weather. They couldn’t survive otherwise.

They lived in a time when knowledge of the body- the magic of healing and the holiness of sex and the miracle of birth and the necessity of death- was held by every member of the tribe. They couldn’t thrive otherwise.

They lived in a time when reverence and a sense of the sacred spoke to them in hallowed whispers throughout the mundane tasks of daily life. They couldn’t find meaning in the universe otherwise. 

Today many of us ache for these old ways, yearn for the wisdom that seems so inaccessible to us in our denatured, hyper-speed modern life.

The dearth of this once commonplace wisdom has led to a craving in our culture so intense that it leads many to embrace nonsense, sometimes dangerous, teachings in an attempt to feel connected to something, anything, sacred.

This need not be the case. For those of us who hunger for a deeper spirituality, the simplest, realest, most powerful, and most personally meaningful way to find it is to find our ancestors. Everyone I talk to who has engaged in any sort of ancestral work has found it to be the most important source of connection, reverence, and wisdom in their lives. 

There is a reason that every indigenous culture on earth practices what anthropologists call “ancestor worship;” the spiritual imprint of those who came before us in our bloodline resonates more strongly within the molecules of our bodies than any other source of knowing, being, or loving.

Our ancestors shared our same genetic blueprint and the physical and non-physical gifts & foibles that shape our lives today. Even though we’ve never met in the physical plane, we understand our family on a soul level, and can communicate there as well.

These people once lived and breathed, just like we do now. They know what it is to be embodied, they gained a lifetime of wisdom, they’ve experienced the portal of death, and have graduated to the other side. 

From there, they continue to influence our lives. I’ve found that connecting and communing with my ancestors is much easier than I’d imagined. They want us to reach out. Just as when they were living, they are still deeply entwined with and concerned with the fate of their descendants. They are our kin, they are us, and they are our surest path to self-knowledge.

There are three ways to connect with your ancestry:

 

1. Recent Genealogy-

 

This is how you can get to know the .01% of your ancestors who left written records, the ones closest to you in time, the ones you may have known in this life. Start by talking to the oldest living member/s of your family or anyone who knew them. You want two pieces of information from them- all of the names and dates you can get (full names, maiden names, birth and death dates and places) and any stories they may be able to tell.

The stories will give you insight into your own life and the human condition, and if you’re lucky will carry you through joyful and tough times for the rest of your life. Even if the stories aren’t all that meaningful, they will at least give you a glimpse of who these people who made you were.

The names and dates will get you started on ancestry.com. At this point, decades after it was founded, hundreds of your ancestors have already been input into the databases at ancestry.com by other descendants of theirs (your many heretofore unknown cousins!), and the company has uploaded millions of files and documents and sometimes photos related to those who lived in the past. 

Once you input the names of your closest ancestors- parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.- those who came before them will magically start to fill in on the higher branches of your family tree. What used to take people many hours of travel and searching through musty library stacks and filling in family trees by hand is now available at our fingertips with a few strokes of the keyboard.

Learning about your recent ancestors on the internet is easy and deeply fulfilling (I dare you to start digging into your roots and not become completely fascinated and totally obsessed), and modern technology has also made uncovering your deep ancestry possible. 

 

2. Deep Ancestry-

 

Deep ancestry uses your DNA to trace your lineage back to ancient times, to about the last Ice Age, around 2,000 generations ago.

This is the prehistoric period discussed above, well before agriculture or writing or even settled villages. This was the hunter-gatherer period that spanned the vast majority of human history.

By uncovering your deep ancestry, you can know where your people were living at the dawn of humanity. This is done by using your DNA to trace your pure matrilineal or pure patrilineal line. The matrilineal line is traced through the Mitochondrial DNA we each inherit from our mothers, and the patrilineal line is traced through the Y Chromosome, which only males carry and pass on to their sons.

So for women, if you wish to trace both lines (might as well!), you need to have your brother tested instead of yourself. If, like me, you don’t have a brother, you have to perform two tests. You can test yourself for the matrilineal line, and then have any male on your father’s side tested for the patrilineal line.

I did my tests (on me and then, years later, my dad) through The Genographic Project by National Geographic. I love everything about this project and highly recommend it. I also recommend their film The Human Family Tree.

I especially loved knowing who my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s (etc. ad infinitum) people were. If you’re a woman, then every single woman before you gave birth to a woman who lived long enough to give birth to another woman. This is an unbroken line stretching back eons. That is amazing! I cried my eyes out when I got the results back on my matrilineal line. You can read that story in my 2012 blog post Deep Ancestry: My Ancient Heritage in Haplogroup V.

(If you do this and find you come from Haplogroups U, X, H, V, T, K, or J you MUST read the book The Seven Daughters of Eve by geneticist Bryan Sykes. It helped me get a much fuller picture of the lives of my ancestors in Haplogroup V.  And if you don’t know what a Haplogroup is- I didn’t either! But it’s basically your ancient family group).

Although our Ice Age ancestors are so far removed from us in time and are so many more generations further back that those ancestors whose names and life events were recorded in the last few hundred years, there is a deep resonance with our ancient kin that I have found just as real and rewarding.

 

3. Direct Communication, Honoring Rituals, Dreams & Other Ways of Connecting

 

What if you’re adopted though? Or if finding this information is too hard or costly or time consuming? Or what if you’ve found these names and places and stories and now wish to bring your relationship with your ancestors to a deeper level? Or you just miss your grandma and want to talk to her again?

The simplest way I’ve found to commune with my ancestors is to simply talk to them. I first did this spontaneously on Samhain a few years ago, while driving in my car. I knew that, in many cultures, October 31st/November 1st through the Winter Solstice is known as the time when the “veil between worlds is thinnest”, and I’d noticed that I could feel this heightened sense of another realm being close by during that time. I felt I was being beckoned.

So I decided just to say hello. I went backward through the generations, speaking the names and saying hello to those grandparents and great-grandparents I was lucky enough to know, reminding them of times we had and thanking them for loving me, and then greeting by name those before them who I hadn’t known personally but whose names are known to me thanks to my genealogical research. 

(For those who don’t know their names, or were adopted, you can still greet each ancestor in turn going back in time.  We all have the same number of ancestors- two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc. Greet them one by one.)

This simple act laid the groundwork for a future of communication between me and them (especially the ones closest to me in time, the grandmothers who I knew), and I now speak to them frequently and feel their influence, their love, and (in the case of one great-grandmother) their fierce protection in my life.

Adding a ritual element to this saying hello practice can add greatly to the experience. Lay out whatever objects are meaningful to you, help you access the deep places, or remind you of your ancestors. I have a red glass bell painted with roses that was my paternal grandmother’s that I always ring when I start my ritual, and have found that its presence has enhanced the experience greatly.

I don’t hear direct words spoken to me or have blinding flashes of insight during these rituals, rather a feeling comes to me that helps to guide me forward.  And often things will happen afterward- worldly things like coincidences or opportunities or otherworldly things like dreams- that seem like a direct gift from the ancestors brought about by our communication. 

Dreams that feature ancestors or that seem to contain a message from them are magic working on two levels. When our ancestors enter the dreamtime in order to communicate with us, we best heed their message.

Making art related to the stories and lives of our ancestors can deepen our connection to them as well. 

Years ago I had a dream in which I found a rolled-up scroll embedded in the bone of my right wrist (I am right-handed and write with that wrist), and when I unfurled it the name of my three times great-grandfather, William Newton Wright, was written on it.

The message was clear- write!

I’ve only ever wanted to write in this life, and that dream told me unequivocally that it was time to start taking that desire seriously.

Wright/right/write. The scrolls are in your bones. Write!

Word play is a great way to get my attention, especially when the message comes in a dream and an ancestor is featured.

My first project after that dream was to write out the story of the death of the first child born to my great-grandparents, the Wrights, both of whom I was lucky enough to know as a small child. I’d always heard about how their firstborn child Cleatus had died at six weeks old during a freezing backwoods Arkansas winter and how the mules hauling his tiny coffin had given out in the driving rain on their way to the cemetery and how the hole they attempted to dig kept collapsing in on itself during the muddy burial (my dad’s people like to tell stories, however sad they may be). 

Writing this story out seemed like a good way to honor my dream, the life of the boy who would have been my grandmother’s older brother, and the grief of everyone involved. It was a beautifully healing experience to cast my mind back there, and I loved making art out of this ancestral story. 

When it was done, I read the story out loud to my father (Cleatus would have been his uncle), my sister, and my then four-year-old daughter. Then we rolled it up into a scroll and buried it beneath a tree. It was a simple and spontaneous act, but it tied us all to one another and to our ancestors in a way we will never forget.

I’ve also been able to connect with my deep ancestry through drumming, something I had never had an interest in before I came upon a Saami drum at a yard sale a few years ago. I am not descended from the Saami, but they are also a part of Haplogroup V, so we are descended from the same ancient people of Northernmost Europe, where the indigenous Saami are still living today. Finding that artifact and starting to use it in ritual has opened me up to a whole new level of relationship with my prehistoric kin.

If you have unresolved issues and/or bad memories with an ancestor that is impeding your recent genealogical, deep ancestral, or ritual work, I recommend the podcast episode The Parallel World of the Ancestors from Sounds True.

Whatever your story, wherever you live, whoever your people, you are the product of the love of billions. You literally wouldn’t exist if every single one of your ancestors hadn’t existed.  Your existence is wildly improbable, and yet you’re here. Because they were here. They live in you still, and you can know yourself most deeply by knowing them more fully. 

This autumn, and then forever after, talk to your ancestors.

(Photo at top taken by Milla when we went down to the river a few days after Samhain/All Souls Day/Day of the Dead. Our Halloween weekend had been very busy and I used this quiet time to finally say hello to my people, as per the custom of so many cultures around the world at this time of year.

Milla and I will be teaching Root Medicine: Ancestral Remembrance & Folk Herbalism at the Spirit Weavers Gathering this June, and hope to bring this workshop to more places. Click here to learn more.

I also offer Ancestral Remembrance Phone Consultations for any wishing to deepen their connection to their lineage.)