The Ancestral Continuum
The choices that we make in life are not unique to us. They are a distillation of all that has come before us. The more we become aware of our ancestral lineage, the more freedom we will have to honor what is best and let go of the rest.
We are all part of an ancestral continuum that began on the First Day. We are linked to history and prehistory by an unbroken chain of living, breathing people who fought for their survival and struggled against oppression, who won wars and lost faith, found power or wealth only to see it disappear, who died loved and unloved, who created industries and who sought ways to make a better world. We are a product of all that—the good and the bad.
Our ancestors remain alive in our genes and their memories reverberate in our imagination. If we really wish to discover who we
are and why we are here, we need to remember them. If we remember them, what secrets might they reveal to us? By learning about their troubles we can begin to find ways to alleviate our own. And, if we let them, they can help us to step into our true power and fulfill our highest potential.
Long before there were computers to research family histories, our ancestors were kept alive in the stories and myths of the small villages and towns where they had lived for generations. Those who had departed were kept close: their graves were visited regularly, their achievements celebrated and their names invoked at family gatherings. Today, our lives are more fragmented and family members often move away from their place of birth and from each other. But while we may have forgotten our ancestors, they remain with us, whether we are conscious of it or not.
Through dozens of interviews and personal investigations, we have discovered how the experiences of our ancestors play a major role in the way we live our lives today: they affect the choices we make in our careers, our partners, our finances and in bringing up our families. When we reach back through history and see our ancestors’ journeys through time, we can start to discover our own physical, psychological and emotional heritage. And through examining what is known of our family history we can also connect with our ancestors in a way that makes them a real and vital presence in our daily lives.
For some people, it is the birth of a child or death of a parent that precipitates a desire to discover more about their origins. For others, the onset of a congenital illness or a history of depression, addiction or other emotional issues may be the starting point. Perhaps we are blocked in our careers or find ourselves unable to have children. People who no longer live in the country of their family’s origin often feel compelled to seek out their roots—Americans of Irish, Scottish and other immigrant bloodlines tend to be particularly
well informed about where they came from; many have well-documented family trees and have traveled to the birthplaces of their forebears.
When we find out who our ancestors were—exploring their names, the places where they were born and lived, their occupations, marriages, illnesses and deaths—they start to come alive again. By resurrecting their memory, we bring them toward us into the present time. And as we do this work of excavating our family’s past, we will also find ways to heal ourselves, our relatives and our family tree, thereby offering a legacy for the many generations that follow us.
It may be that everyone in your family has lived happy, peaceful lives. However, the past two centuries have seen more upheaval on a global scale than any other time in history, and during your journey of research you may find that some of your ancestors experienced pain and personal tragedy. Healing the physical, emotional and psychic wounds in the family’s lineage might be the most important thing we ever do. We first need to discover what those wounds are and, with that awareness, begin to explore how using the ideas, exercises and true-life stories presented in this book can help. It is a revealing journey of self-discovery that will ultimately liberate us from the burden of our ancestral history and reconnect us with the more positive aspects of our own heritage.
I believe we all have a gallery of ancestral heroes and villains and in knowing them we come to know ourselves better. My grandfather is my ancestral hero. My dream was only an introduction to his life and legacy, but the more I have learned about him, the more I have benefited from his courage and determination to stand on the side of truth and justice. I have felt his presence with me at times when my own resolve was weak. His belief in education, law and service is reflected in all my cousins. Learning about him—first through my dream, then through the recollections of my relatives and my own
research, then through meditations, rituals and other practices that we will discuss later—has made his strength and wisdom a part of my everyday life. I see him as a benevolent ancestor watching over my family and guiding us in spirit. I see that as clearly now as if he were sitting beside me while I write these words. Coming to that clarity was a journey. And that is the path we hope to share with the readers of this book.
My own life has taken a dramatically different course from that of my grandfather. In my teens I discovered I had the gift of highly developed intuition. I believe I have inherited this from my family. My grandmother and her friends held séances in my Spanish grandmother’s house; she also used to do card readings to foretell opportunities for romance, money, pregnancy and marriage. She learned these skills from her mother, who also used to read tarot cards.
These influences had a more formative effect on me than the world of law to which my grandfather devoted his life. As I grew up, my fascination with the spirit world developed with my psychic skills. Over the years, and through many hundreds of readings with clients, I have been privileged to “hear” the voices of their ancestors. As I hear their voices I feel their deep desire to help their descendants. Sometimes I hear a guardian ancestor who shines a light of wisdom and compassion. They are often more present in moments of crisis and celebration, from the birth of a child to the death of a parent. They all come full of their best intentions and advice. For many people, this connection with their past brings peace and purpose. Sensing that they are being looked after by an invisible presence, they find they are a part of the ancestral continuum that links them with the past and the future.
Nicola, my coauthor, was awakened to her connection with her ancestors through the death of her father when she was only twelve years old. It was an early initiation into the impermanence of life
and it turned her into a spiritual seeker with a strong belief in life after death and the spirit world.
Born in Africa, she inherited her father’s love of the wildness of the African bush, high veldt thunderstorms and the natural world. Her mother’s family was also connected to the land, as her English grandfather, a self-made man, had acquired vast parcels of fields and woodland in the British countryside. This is where Nicola grew up, when her family moved back to Britain shortly before her brother was born. She was on a self-destructive path when we met in our late twenties, confused in relationships and trying to manage the polarities of the two legacies she had inherited: braais (grilling) in the bush and dressy dinners at the Savoy. The connecting thread of these disparate worlds had always been her relationship with the land’s most ancient inhabitants: the trees. As a girl, she found a hollow oak in a nearby park where she would go to hide when family squabbles erupted. That tree was her sanctuary.
Shortly before we met, she had ended another relationship and was in deep despair. Driving home one night, she was overcome with a feeling of wanting to die. She pulled her car to the side of the road beside a great old tree where a memorial had been created with teddy bears, candles and cards. There were messages in childish writing saying “Too bad the party had to end” and “The light has gone out of the world. I miss you.” She stared at it all for a long time before seeing the name of the young woman whose life had ended in that spot: it was Nicola. In that shock of awakening, she felt the spirit of her father urging her to embrace the life force that her ancestors—on both sides—had bestowed. They would be her protectors until it was her time to join them.
As Nicola discovered her relationship with her ancestors, she began her lifelong fascination with indigenous cultures and their relationship with the ancestors. She learned about their understanding of the rites of passage from birth to death, reaching back
to our most ancient times, and she learned that their codes and practices have been passed down for generations and generations.
Every culture has a folklore tradition and belief in ways of connecting with the spiritual aspect of its ancestry. In Celtic traditions the Druids understood that there was a progressive connection between the three known worlds of nature—the underworld, the earth and the upper world, or paradise. In Africa many peoples believed the ancestors resided in the earth, before the missionaries told them to look to heaven for inspiration. They would say that the personal power we seek lies beneath our feet. The Aboriginals connect to the Dreamtime, the ancient times when their forebears sang the earth into existence. This is comparable to Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious.” It is where our most potent ancestral memories reside, the place whence our inspiration comes and the source of our dreams and visions.
This book is a journey through the labyrinth of our personal ancestral heritage, guiding us toward the truth of who we really are, and it is for everyone. You don’t need spiritual beliefs to draw on the power of your ancestors. Whether you put your trust in God and an afterlife or in science and genetics, the power of those who went before you can be a guiding force in the life ahead of you. What follows is a framework for connecting with that power.