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.

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.)