Healing Ancestral Wounds

I write this as my family of 3 is visiting my partner’s uncle, who is very likely dying of cancer, and we take time together to enjoy each other before the illness gets worse. In the last few years my partner’s family has seen a lot of death, particularly death related to cancer, which makes it particularly hard when another family member becomes ill to believe that it can be healed.

I write this before I begin because there is a fair amount of talk in the occult community about how things like cancer are the body’s way of manifesting trauma, dis-ease and emotional blocks which can be problematic (even if they may also be true) because they imply blame and the idea that if we manifest or heal enough we can beat said illness. And I want to start this conversation with the caveat in mind that not all things are as simple and reductive as that, so we need to be careful about the language we use when talking about trauma manifesting in the body and mind.

By the same token, I think we also need to be careful about privilege when we talk about trauma. I recently heard a conversation about childhood trauma and the impact of said event that made me cringe because it lacked an acknowledgement that some traumas are more significant than others and that lack of awareness smacked of white privilege and spiritual white washing. This isn’t a conversation about your trauma being better than mine. This is a conversation about acknowledging that we can still have privilege when it comes to trauma and ancestral wounds that we need to acknowledge before proceeding with the conversation.

It’s about acknowledging privilege and working to be inclusive while still travelling on our spiritual journeys of healing.

The ancestral wounds of my immigrant in-laws or my own family is significant but their access to services and support within our system is greater than say, that of someone from a BIPOC community dealing with wounds further acerbated with issues of marginalization, etc.

Caveat made, the conversation centering around ancestral wounds is a common one these days in the new age/occult community (one that I do believe has also appropriated from BIPOC communities) and is one that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as I sort through who I want to be and what I want to let go of in my 40s. We could argue that we all have ancestral trauma; science has proven that we carry it in our DNA, but what does that mean for an occult practitioner and how do we harness that knowledge in our practice?

For me that has meant looking for patterns that repeat themselves across generations. I have, with time, figured out how to identify the biggest pattern in my matrilineal line (on the matrilineal side of that line). I am able to uncover this pattern in part because I know my maternal, matrilineal family stories. However, because I know less about other family stories in different lines, I am still working to uncover what that looks like or if there are other narratives impacting my behaviour patterns and traumas today.

What use is this to me in my practice? Is it even necessary knowledge? I don’t think it’s necessary knowledge but I do think it’s helpful in that if you can recognize some of the patterns and wounds, you might be better equipped to heal them. That said, people seem to do that work even without that knowledge sometimes so while it can be a leg up, it’s not the only way to do the work. And why do we even want to do this work as a practitioner? It might make sense on an individual level for healing but how is it important for spiritual work?

To some extent I think this is actually part of the Great Work of Remembrance. How can we ever begin to see ourselves as the Divine if we are too wrapped up in our dramas and reactions and ingrained patterns of behaviour? And isn’t the work of healing ourselves also an act of service to future generations: the work of Inanna or Persephone coming back to bring knowledge to others to help them remember their own Divinity?

As an aside that circles back: I meditate to understand the nature of my mind so that I have discipline of mind in my practice. I meditate to have focus and understand the games my mind/ego plays in order to be better equipped to know when I’m reacted or when my intuition is telling me something. Mental discipline and awareness are the cornerstones of practice: knowing the nature of mind is key to being able to harness your own will, visualization, connection, etc. Thus it stands that healing ancestral wounds (or even identifying them) can help us better understand our reactions. But as in all things, this knowledge is a tool, not the end goal. Getting caught in the work of ancestral healing might be the work of this lifetime(s) but the obsessive fixation on it within the community also often feels like white privilege spiritual by-passing.

I have maternal abandonment issues that can be traced back at least 4 generations. But I am also a white woman with incredible privilege, access to opportunities, the ability to pay for counselling if I need it, and choices that I can make to change the narrative. Those very choices and my ability to make them speaks to the fact that I need to be careful about how I talk about my ancestral wounds and traumas. I have the tools, which is more than many, and as an occultist, I believe my work isn’t in getting trapped in that journey but rather to help others access to those tools too (whatever they may look like to them in the moment, without imposing my own perceptions).

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