I imagine you’re here because you’re feeling called to connect with your ancestral roots. Having acknowledged this call to connect, you have already begun to speak with your ancestors. It doesn’t take more than heartfelt intention to shift your consciousness into a place where you can begin to connect.
If you’re like me, you can become easily overwhelmed by the process of speaking with the dead. Thoughts like “what will others think?”, “Am I doing this right?” These valid and often judgmental thoughts are enough to keep us from exploring our desire to connect in an authentic way with our beloved ancestors. It’s ok to be that person that speaks to the dead, trust me.
And, It’s ok to feel nervous and a bit ambivalent when beginning this journey. And why wouldn’t you? For the majority of us living in the modern world communing and building relationships with those who have passed before us is not a part of our upbringing. As someone of European ancestry, living in North America, I have had little to no guidance on tending the relationships to our ancestors.
As a child I was always drawn to graveyards. Having come from a small farming community in North Central Washington, the graveyard held several members of my family on both my father and mother’s side. Each summer I returned to visit my grandparents, my first outing was always to visit the graveyard. I would put flowers at the base of the headstones, in silence call forth their names, and marvel at the dates of their birth and death. Beyond this, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I didn’t even know why I felt so compelled to visit them.
Looking back, I am still unsure whether these adolescent graveyard visits occurred because I was unconsciously seeking to connect, or if my ancestors were reaching out to me. What matters most to me is that there has existed a thread between this world and the other that has kept us connected. I imagine they have been patiently waiting for me to gather the clues that they were seeking connection, and yearning for acknowledgment.
The Power of Nonverbal Communication
We often defer to language, whether in words spoken or written when we think of communication. This is our most common and seemingly accessible way of making connection with someone. And yet, we have more options than just verbal language when we begin communicating with the ancestral realm. If you suddenly could not speak or write, how might you show someone you cared? Although non-verbal communication is often more difficult for us to engage in (if we are out of practice), it can also be more powerful. I also find that it can feel more comfortable when beginning to connect with the ancestors, particularly if you feel self-conscious about what to say, or worried that someone might hear you.
Here are a few ways that I have experienced positive connection with my ancestors. Some will resonate with you and others may not. What has served me the best is to stay curious and open to all of these. Over time and with patient practice you will develop your own portals into relationship with the ancestral realm.
We all sleep, we all dream. The first time I started to work with my dreams was through an assignment in an undergrad class. I can still remember details of those dreams, and that was nearly 20 years ago. I hear many people say they can’t remember their dreams, but if you really bring intention to remembering, I bet you can recall the smallest something.
Dreamtime is a journey into the unconscious, it’s a portal into psyche and the realms of Spirit. The reason many of us claim that we can’t remember our dreams is that we put little effort into the intention. Often, our dream experiences culminate in falling asleep, and if we consciously remember our dreams when we awake then we feel we have gotten all we can from the process of dreaming.
My grandmothers have often come to me in my dreams. I will intentionally invite them to visit me in my dream state. Sometimes they arrive, and other times I am visited by animal spirits, or given other messages that are helpful to my journey.
Dreamwork takes practice with intention. I will often light mugwort by my bedside as I set intention for my dreamwork. No matter what is revealed I continue to ask, to practice, and to get more diligent at acknowledging what I have received. Have you had experiences of ancestors visiting you in your dreams?
Visioning, or journeying, is an experiential process involving access into the realm of psyche and the unconscious where we set intention to ask for help or guidance with the purpose of bringing this new wisdom back into the conscious realm. Through this process we can help ourselves, our communities, and the more-than-human world.
Because we are limited to what is available in written story and information regarding our ancestors, particularly our most distant and ancient ancestors, journeying provides us a way to access connection and guidance through direct experience.
If you are new to journeying you might seek out a trusted practitioner who is trained in journeying to assist you in the process. I have had the opportunity to experience this work from several practitioners, all with a different style in the approach to this experience. Find someone you can trust to guide you through this journey.
I tend to be a solo journeyer and have become accustomed to journeying in a quiet space at home. You can find many resources and approaches for journeying solo. I often use a recorded drum track that is specific for journeying. Once you feel comfortable with the process of journeying, the solo experience has the benefit of creating a sacred space and ceremony that resonates with you.
Again, this process works best with intention and curiosity. I have kept a journal to record these experiences so I can return to them as needed for guidance and support.
Altars & Offerings
Creating an ancestor altar is one of the most rewarding rituals you can engage in for making intentional contact and reverence. An altar can be as simple and small as you desire, or as large and complex as you feel it needs to be. Some choose to have a temporary altar at certain times of the year, or it can be something you choose to have year round. Trust your intuition as you begin the process of creating an ancestor altar. A few things to get you started in the process.
Gather photos of your recently dead, and those you may not know
Place any objects that belonged to the dead such as jewelry, vases, and trinkets of any kind that they may have imbued with their energy when alive.
Depending on the season you may want to add flowers, leaves, stones or any adornments that reflect the season. This will help to create a connection that acknowledges the here and now.
I work best with a loose structure when engaging in ritual. I tend to stay away from any instruction that appears to rigid and does not leave space for individual input guided by intuition and feel. How you engage with your altar is up to you. I will often leave a food offering on the altar, either something I made myself or something I know that my most recent dead enjoyed while they were living. Again, the energetic intention is paramount.
An altar provides a container for your ancestral work so that it has boundaries for your well being and theirs. All relationships require consistent effort and showing up. With an altar you can create a consistent practice of engagement that works for you. Stay open and be creative.
The Most Simple Way To Connect…
Just begin with intention and ask for connection. Is there someone in your family that you had a loving relationship with that has passed? This will be an easy way to begin contact because you already have a familiarity (and a loving relationship) with this family member. As you invite in connection, practice observation of the feelings that arise as you engage. This is where you will begin to practice trusting your intuition. Through deep listening and sensory awareness you will become more confident in the process. And remember, it IS a process.
Protecting Your Boundaries
One of the most important things to be mindful of when you are working with the ancestors and the beloved dead is to ensure that you have energetic boundaries in place. Not all of our ancestors or beloved dead are well in spirit. To ensure you are only seeking contact with those who are loving and well you will need to make that intention clear before. Anything you currently work with to keep your energetic being vibrant can also be used when working with the ancestors.
For some this may include visualizing energetic boundaries, calling in known guides that are helpful and supportive, clearing your space with an herbal smudge, or working with stones, crystals, or talismans that have protective qualities.
Ancestral Connection Is A Cyclical Journey
As with all meaningful practices, ancestral connection is an exploratory journey. You will likely feel awkward and doubt what your are sensing in the beginning, but don’t give up! Stay open and curious to what is unfolding. Allow yourself to feel strange and uncomfortable as you begin. You will begin to notice that the more you practice, and the more you send out loving intention, the more you will receive. This journey is never about perfection, and there are many paths that will lead you there. And if this process becomes overwhelming, seek out a mentor or professional to help guide you through the ancestral terrain.
"We do not become storytellers.
We came as carriers of the stories
we and our ancestors actually lived.
Some of us are still catching up to what we are"
~Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Hi! I’m Adrienne. I help healers, mystics, and the sensitive ones embody belonging through ancestral healing, reverence and ritual.