It is often said that the veil is thin at this time of year, and while it’s true that ancestors are never far away from us, they have seemed particularly close to me as we head towards Samhain and darkening days. While honoring ancestors has been part of my life for a very long time, working with them closely in some dark areas of my life has taken on new resonance this season.
These past few months I’ve been dealing with many painful moments, some that bubbled up during stressful times, and some that have been lingering under the surface of life for even longer. Knowing myself as I do, I felt that something deeper was going on than mere upset or emotional turmoil. I turned inward. Sitting in silence, spending time at my ancestor altar and truly spending time in deep thoughts of my ancestors brought me to a startling conclusion: what was happening to me was a result of familial trauma that I needed to address.
Without going into too much detail, I spent a lot of time in tears and confusion, wondering why these particular emotions were bubbling up when I thought I had dealt with them long ago. Insert wry laughter here. Well, it turns out I actually hadn’t. While I firmly believe there is no timeline for grief, both grief and loss washed over me repeatedly as I was navigating some troubling times. My confidence was at an all-time low, and I experienced feelings of failure that I hadn’t felt for many decades.
Know this time of year, and how thin the veil is, I did what I always advise to do: I sat still and listened. Turns out my father’s side of the family had some deep-rooted feelings of failure and loss, and I had tapped into that with my experiences. In doing much self-reflection throughout my life, I can usually pinpoint where much of reactions originate, which I realize is not always the case for people. I strongly advise therapy whenever possible, but I didn’t feel that what I was experienced warranted therapy, but some deep digging into the origins of these feelings.
Dealing with ancestral feelings that feel deeply rooted in my DNA is work, and there is no other word for it. Coupled with not knowing very much about my father’s side of the family, it is also a bit of detective work. Being open to the experience, I dug deep and tried really hard not to feel discouraged.
It took time, but I connected with my ancestors through this process. Sometimes I would sit and talk with them as if they were right in front of me, and I would also honor them with food offerings I thought they would like. I am deeply proud and thankful for my family heritage, and I know what flawed and turbulent times my ancestors survived. Some may call this Shadow Work, and it certainly felt like it, wrestling with some previously untapped ancestral trauma.
Once I connected with these feelings, I felt a glimmer of their origin, and recognized how I carried it within me. I recognized the early messages I received and the actions I took, even as a child, to avoid vulnerability and further hurt. I knew I had put up armor around my heart, and the physical sensations I was experienced was akin to a shell cracking open. It often felt like that, with my sternum literally aching from pain.
To free myself from that family burden, I performed a cord cutting ceremony, a simple and clear ritual. Close to the new moon, I lit my ancestor candle, and I wound a string around my family photos, with the other end of the string held in my left hand, the hand of receiving. I thanked my ancestors for all they had given me, such as physical attributes, fondness for certain foods and the other parts of my nature that I instinctively know comes from them. Next, I stated clearly that I wanted to let that part go, so that I could move onward. When I felt ready, I cut the string and offered affirmations of release, much gratitude for being in a safe place to do this work with them, and with that cut, physically severed the ties to the ancestral baggage I was carrying.
Afterwards, I felt much lighter. Any form of action usually helps me process my mental state, and this felt no different. What I really appreciated was the chance to connect with those ancestors, and to truly feel that connection. I had usually just paid a passing glance to some of my family photos in the past, coupled with a half-hearted promise to look deeper into my genealogy for that side of the family. There may be those who argue that this was all “in my head”, and yes, it was. It was also in my heart and in my intuitive sense, enough so that I strongly felt the need to process and proceed.
This Samhain has taken on a much deeper feeling, having done this cord-cutting ritual, and working with my ancestors. No longer mere photographs of people I never knew, I feel a pull and relationship with them now as I gaze at their photos. There is a saying that often gets passed around especially this time of year: that we are the result of the love of thousands. I’m grateful for the experience this working with my ancestors brought me, and I encourage you to spend some time this Samhain season, and take a look at the kaleidoscope of your family and ancestors. May it deepen your time this season, and ground you as we head into our season of winter ahead.