Connecting To Our Ancestors

After several devastating romances with men who hated their mothers, I wanted to meet an initiated man. At a brunch I met someone in a men’s group who knew of an African shaman. Several phone calls later I was speaking with Malidoma Somé, a member of the Dagara tribe in central North Africa. He was sent to the west by his elders to find out who had taken over the world, and to tell Americans about his tribe to give them some idea of what they were destroying.

As with many who have met Malidoma, his wisdom and his story changed my life. Many in the West are hungry for his views of the world. We are hungry for wise elders, connection, purpose. Our knowledge about things is not balanced with wisdom, which would come from the elders who are neglected in this country in favor of youth. Though children are the most important members of any family, they must be guided; or, like the elephants whose parents have been killed, they run wild, destroying everything, including their resources.

In the West we pride ourselves on our individuality. Malidoma’s tribe values connection, especially between grandchildren, grandparents and elders. In Malidoma’s book, Of Water and the Spirit, he describes the sickness that has entered western people is in part due to the dysfunctional relationship with their ancestors. The Dagara believe that grandparents and grandchildren have special messages for each other. The grandchild lets the grandparent know how gentle and sweet the spirit world is – the world to which the grandparent will soon be going. And the grandparent must teach the child the traits and the history of the family. This is so important to the Dagara people it is thought that if a child doesn’t know at least one of her grandparents, the results are incurable. The elders create initiations that connect children to the world of spirit.

Because most Westerners don’t have wise elders to guide them, we must find our own way to solve these problems. Writing memoirs for future generations and having compassion for our ancestors who didn’t have the therapy that we have the opportunity to enjoy are steps towards forgiving and understanding our dead.

For example, my mother’s mother, Della, died when my mom was four. My mother grieved for her mother her entire life. She remained a naïve, emotionally stunted child in many ways. The consequence of this in my life was that I, too, didn’t get “mothered.” My mother was still a child.

I took care of my mother the last year of her life. Taking care of my mother as though I were the mother finally healed my mother’s heart. The last five days of her life, my mother became the mother I had always longed for. It wasn’t until I forgave Mom that I was able to be a strong, nurturing mother to my son. Because harmony had been restored with my mother, healing occurred between me and my son. My grandson has benefited from this healing in countless ways. He is secure, authentic, and kind.

Though my memoir classes are not “therapy,” we deal with issues like these in order to create deep, meaningful writing that engages their ancestry with the writer’s current life and relationships. Through these stories, readers bear witness to inter-generational healing. Writing your stories is a gift to your community and to yourself and for future generations.

PS: Should you have unanswered questions about your lineage, contact the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society for help.

Writing Prompt:

What are the unresolved problems in your family? Did you have a relative who was alcoholic, lazy, critical, accident prone, suicidal, colorblind, shallow? Anything is a possibility. Which relative carried these troubles and how have you had to deal with them? What creative ways have you tried to heal them?

Comments

  1. A bit scary that, if a child never knew any grandparent, the results are incurable. A bit harsh. I never knew any of my grandparents. 2 were murdered at Triblinka, the other two died before my parents even met. I recognize this as something that has added difficulty to my life, but my life now is proof that it is not “incurable”. Just my 2 cents worth! 🙂

  2. Here is a short story that will go in my memoir about my ancestors….

    My inner shield maiden and my Celtic priestess

    For as long as I remember, when I was growing up, I was mesmerized by female warriors like Wonder Woman. She was an Amazon, a Valkyrie, a folk Viking warrior. I’d spend hours pretending that I was a warrior princess, kicking all kinds of butt along the way, especially when it came to my brothers.

    My childhood companion was a leprechaun named George. No one could see him but me, although, his antics were known by all of the children in my neighborhood. From early on, I was deeply connected to magic.

    As adulthood found me, I found I had curious connections to two common themes; Ireland and Vikings.

    Twenty years ago, I began my journey into discovering my family origin. I’ve traced the footsteps of both families and I descend from Celtic and Viking ancestors. Little did that surprise me!

    My dad is Norwegian, mom is Irish. Both families have a rich history woven around some great characters. My great grandmother on my dad’s side was a cook for the king of Norway. She was her own woman and lived many adventures before settling down in San Diego. She had originally booked the Titanic to the states. Three days before she was to board, she got sick and literally missed the boat. I know had she been on board when the Titanic sank; she would have been one of the survivors.

    My grandmother’s first cousin was Trygve Lie, founder of the United Nations. He was a great and charismatic man.

    The blue bloods on my mom’s side had a hand in settling New York City. My great, great, great, uncle was Samuel Houston, a war hero and governor of two states! Another relative was a man who worked for William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He traveled with Cody’s traveling show in the late 1800’s as a ventriloquist.

    I chuckle sometimes at my mom’s revelation that she has no idea how I came into myself. Mom forgets the family history, I fit in perfectly!

    Dad is the eldest of three boys. He has buried both parents and both brothers. Mom is also the eldest of three siblings; she has one sister and one brother. Both of her parents have passed. Her siblings, my aunt and uncle, are hale and hearty.

    Mom and dad divorced when I was 11. Both remarried when I was 13, which left me with four parents. Gratefully, we have all experienced growing pains and have come out on the other side of hell changed for the better.

    Mom and dad produced four children. Like both of my parents, I’m the eldest. I have three brothers. Dad’s marriage to my step mom introduced an additional three boys. My mom’s marriage introduced three children. Two of them were only around for a brief period and left. My step father’s youngest child, his son, became part of the blended family.
    That put me amid seven useless boys. It was beyond rotten. Thankfully, all of us came out unscathed…for the most part.

    Today, I am the proud child of four healthy parents. After a lifetime of counseling, compassion and forgiveness, we are all in a loving place. For that, I will be forever grateful.

    In regards to my inner Viking Shield maiden, I was gifted with physical strength and the presence of a warrior, always standing behind me, ready to take charge when needed. It’s the Viking in me that loves to roam, conquer and hunt. My Irish side has given me my love of the land, a deep sense of belonging and my magic.

    Funny how the heart knows things long before the head makes the discoveries.

    I am Georganna Denise Rice, Shield maiden and Celtic priestess, daughter, sister and friend.

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