Ancestral Pilgrimage: Journeying to Places of Family Significance

Jung introduced us to the concept of the collective unconscious, that vast pool of ancestral memory within each of us. It is a kind of deposit of ancestral experience. He believed it comprises the psychic life of our ancestors right back to the earliest beginnings. Nothing is lost; all of the stories, struggles, and wisdom are available to us. Each of us is an unconscious carrier of this ancestral experience and part of our journeyis to bring this to consciousness in our lives. "I became aware of the fateful links between me and my ancestors. I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete or unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors," he wrote. 

Consider making a pilgrimage to walk in the footsteps of your own ancestors, those everyday saints who struggled with life's heartaches and suffering. Spend time in the places that shaped their imaginations and their dreams; speak the language with which they whispered their most private secrets to one another, the words they used to express their aching sorrow and profound joy. It doesn't matter if you know nothing of the details. Walking, being, listening, and noticing the impact of trees, rivers, mountains, and sky on your own spirit is enough.

A pilgrimage doesn't have to be a long journey overseas. It might be to a nearby cemetery or a phone call with a living relative to ask about stories you have never heard before.

Practices Along the Way

Rather than moving from city to city, or place to place, linger in one place for several days. We are not traveling for the sake of checking destinations off of a list, but to have a genuine encounter with a landscape and culture that might change us.

Keep a journal of what you encounter and experience along the way.

Notice synchronicities and write down your dreams. Often when we are seeking connection with our ancestors, the veil between worlds becomes thinner.

If you have a photo of your ancestor from this place, bring it with you.

Read about the cultural history of the place—what were the events that shape its memory and beliefs?

Learn a few words of the language. Sit in a café off the main tourist route and listen to people engaged in conversation around you. Imagine they are your ancestors. What do you hear?

12/2/2022 9:10:30 PM
  • Progressive Christian
  • Spirituality
  • Seasons of the Soul
  • Family
  • History
  • Memory
  • Pilgrimage
  • Progressive Christianity
  • Travel
  • Christianity
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Christine Valters Paintner
    About Christine Valters Paintner
    Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess ofAbbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.