Please understand that the topics I’m about to discuss raise great skepticism in me. If the subjects of reincarnation, ancestral healing, and bloodline-transmission of trauma responses sound like mumbo jumbo or in any way bother or trigger you, please proceed with caution or not at all. I’m constantly questioning my own interest in these things, minimizing or criticizing the urge to know more, yet somehow returning to issues for which there are precious little “peer reviewed, placebo-controlled” studies.
This is not the place to make a case for reincarnation as fact. Way back when, I looked at the evidence after I felt forced to, and still find it solid. But I had a personal reason to go there.
In my teens and early twenties, I had a phobia of death so pervasive I couldn’t look at a coffin, funeral home or the embalmed body of a deceased relative or any of these depicted on tv or movies without experiencing a panic attack—intense fear, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat and other physical reactions which had me convinced I was going to die if I didn’t get away from, or somehow blot out, these images. Eventually, enough was enough. I knew I had to get the hell over it.
I was too freaked out to go headfirst into science: what happens to the body and brain when we die? A Sixties counterculture teen who found incredible insights and expanded awareness through use of psychedelics, mainly LSD, I already had an interest in the study of consciousness. Likely I just fell into the topic of reincarnation because it came along, the same way I later approached becoming parent to an autistic toddler when a seminar on diet and viral load just “came along” at diagnosis, when my husband and I felt blindsided and stranded. Synchronicity—meaningful coincidence—isn’t that hard to swallow, though not always happily. My skeptic could note “meaningful coincidence” without having to sign up for a whole-hog spiritual conversion. So, whether the ancestors or other spirits led me to reincarnation study . . . hmmm, let’s not speculate yet.
I read all I could find, and what convinced me the most were the stories of young children who could never have created such advanced or explicit details of a previous life they reported to current parents . . . and especially how those stories checked out factually about the person they used to be. Recently I met a mom whose child when young kept telling her “You’re not my mom,” as the little one elaborated their former life. I witnessed this mom’s emotional devastation, which shook me out of my “isn’t that cool?” point of view. She hasn’t yet decided to research the veracity of her child’s statements, and stepping into her shoes I can see why. This child wouldn’t even allow the mom’s touch for years, holding strong to a vision of their previous parents. So, no, it’s not always so cool. Some will want to assign the label of a psychiatric disorder to the kiddo to explain it away, but years passed and this child developed normally, letting go of the remembrance as most children eventually do.
I’m a believer, sort of
Fast forward pretty far, about four decades. My husband died. Over the week he was leaving this world, I saw and felt some things that put the clincher on a “belief” in an afterlife. I don’t want to go into that here. Four years later, my mother died, and during her time in hospice there were just some synchronicities that felt extra-loaded with meaning. Yes, the loss of a loved one is a gripping moment, where we are certainly open to all sorts of phenomena that may be imagined. Or not. Or maybe they are grasped with other faculties than the rational mind. But I want to move closer to the heart of this piece.
After my husband died, it was much like the early-20’s death phobia decision: I felt pushed to jump fully into grief-work or go off the deep end with emotional pain. I plunged in with readings and a supportive group, even studied becoming a grief counselor myself. A couple of years passed, and I came across what seemed like a new interest at the edge of psychology and consciousness research known as Ancestral Healing. I am not well read in this, partly because of the problems I have with it. So, let’s talk about that.
My main source is Daniel Foor’s Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing.
The author is a psychotherapist and cis-gendered white guy with experiences that include personal work and initiations far outside his culture, including:
Buryat Mongol shamanism as shared by Sarangerel Odigan, Native North American ways (Lakota altar and the Native American Church), and West African Ifá/Òrìṣà tradition. Daniel has made four pilgrimages to Southwest Nigeria as a student of Yorùbá culture and an initiate of Ifá, Ọbàtálá, Ọ̀ṣun, Egúngún, and Òṣùgbó in the lineage of Olúwo Fálolú Adésànyà Awoyadé of Òdè Rẹ́mọ. Daniel does not presume to represent these lineages beyond permissions extended by his teachers, and his public offerings are based on cross-cultural Earth and ancestor reverence. (From his website)
To fess up, I have tried to finish Foor’s book twice. Each time there were two points I couldn’t get past and put the thing back on the shelf.
One: the idea of the unquiet dead. I have a real problem with the stuff of horror flicks like nasty ghosts and hauntings. Even though I once lived in a house where there were paranormal incidents, mild compared to movie fare. Fans and lights turning on by themselves, an unexplained smell of blood in the kids’ closet, and my husband, who was apparently gifted in such things, saw the old “hobo” who previous owners told us had died upstairs. He also saw their deceased grandmother sitting on the couch one day. The hobo he found easy to live with, he and our daughter referring to him fondly as “the dead guy.” When he identified the old woman from a picture provided by the family it did seem to shake him up a bit.
And lest I forget, when I was trying to get pregnant: the time he woke in the middle of the night to see a large bulb of light leading three smaller ones around the foot of the bed and off into the dark. A dream? He swears not. The guy was about as rational and skeptic as you’d expect any lawyer to be, and heartily rejected his German Lutheran upbringing long before he met me (a faith which wouldn’t have put any stock in these stories anyway!).
Did I lean toward phobia about all these events? It didn’t disrupt our lives. But it was unsettling. Our youngest, at preschool age, once asked her daddy: “who are those people on the ceiling?” He told her, “Oh, don’t worry about them.” Later I kicked his can for not trying to get more information, akin to youngsters’ reincarnation reports: too young for the guile to tell anything but the truth, getting details from her could have informed us about the spirits in the house. Or possibly, nascent psychic abilities in her.
So why do I resist the simple fact that there are restless or unhappy spirits about? Rational mind: I can’t see ‘em. Fear mind: don’t let them near me! Consciousness-explorer mind: it’s got to be more complex than Good Versus Evil on the other planes. Scolding mind: for Pete’s sake, who are you to doubt time-honored indigenous visions and practices that deal with these things all the time? White people lack any depth for encountering the dead other than ouija boards and the funeral industry.
Back to the hows and whys of ancestral healing—here’s my second glitch-point. The rituals and prayers we offer to the ancestors, according to Daniel Foor, are to heal the bloodline. They need us, and we can do it. But I have to ask: aren’t we the ones, on this material plane, with the limited view of the immaterial, the spiritual? Aren’t those in the Otherworld privy to wonders and understandings beyond anything our puny insights can conjure? Not because “heaven” is “perfect,” but surely this plane of existence, energy vibrating at the lowest speed (that we know of) versus consciousness without a body must give them an edge. I have a hard time believing—not that this work can heal trauma in our hearts in the here and now—but that our truncated abilities could be up to such a mighty task on their behalf.
Here come the Jews
I was raised by an Irish Catholic mother and an agnostic, liberal deist who was brazenly anti-Semitic. Our last name, he always told us, is not Jewish because of the s on the end. You take off the s, now that’s a Jewish name–we’re not Jewish! he reminded us time and again. (Westwind is my pen name.)
A story I heard early on was how he and his older brother corralled their younger sibling one day, to ostensibly reveal a surprise of great import. “Dean, sit down,” they told my unsuspecting uncle, “we need to tell you the truth. Our family is Jewish!” My dad gleefully relayed how Uncle Dean proceeded to break down sobbing in horror. After enjoying enough of his anguish, they relented. “Just kidding! Ha ha!”
It took me till age forty to finally ask my dad about what is the deal with this family and Jews. We were in a fancy restaurant but I don’t think that was why it went down like this. He said my grandfather had some treacherous business dealings with one, that’s all. It seemed disingenuous then, and he quickly changed the subject. Yet that grandfather, an architectural engineer, died on his way to the new nation of Israel, planning to help build the country, perchance to stay. Huh?
When I went looking for a spiritual heritage in my thirties, it was my mother’s thoroughly Irish background that enchanted me, led me to the Celts, the sacred stones of the green isle, and a longing I have not yet slaked to visit that land of my ancestors. But…
You saw this coming. Back in 2008 a cousin ran the 23 and Me test and it’s true! We are Jewish. Ashkenazi, the Eastern Europe folk. And how I laughed and laughed—instead of cried like my uncle did—because somehow, I knew it! Oh, the irony! If only my dad were alive to have his nose rubbed in it, the deceiver! And who is my anti-Semite grandfather hobnobbing with, in the spirit world now? I hope he’s sorry for perpetuating the lie.
And then I forgot about it and went back to my obsession with Ireland.
I took the Ancestry DNA test shortly after my husband died to find out more about the Irish. You see, I was looking for someone. An ancestor. Someone to guide me, a healer. I knew she or he had to be there. A seer. Or at least a sayer: someone who spoke truth for the community. A healed ancestor that I could talk to, who might even help me. This was when I was still trying to read Daniel Foor’s book, dabbling in the rituals. Working the family trees on the Ancestry DNA site gave me some names that went back to the 1700’s but I lost interest: for they were only names, from marriage and immigration records. How could I know these people’s souls?
I felt like a fool.
Fast forward once more, to this summer. Two things happened together, like synchronicity.
Ancestry DNA sends frequent updates that go more in-depth on your bloodline; I’m not sure how but doubt at this stage of their business they’d be allowed fake ploys. I got another email, and it broke me down in percentages. So . . . not just Irish with a strain of Jew. We are as much Jewish as we are Irish.
Secondly, I was doing some soul searching about the tendency among my siblings and I—our father was this way as well—to be more than normally wary of other people and not have a ton of friends. I seemed to have partnered up in marriage and relationships with men who are also loners. I thought of my deceased, older brother’s paranoid schizophrenia that claimed his life from the brilliant boy-scientist that he was to a career mental-patient. I thought of the story about how when they were married with children, my anti-Semite grandfather never allowed my grandmother to make friends—they moved around a lot, him being in construction, and she’d get attached to people it was hard to leave. Seemed harsh, though.
After all this time, I wonder: what if our last name really is Jewish? What if our grandfather—whose middle name was Hill, often a Jewish surname—was trying to hide our Jewishness due to persecution? Then I really freaked myself out: what if someone in our family died in the Holocaust, or at least had to run from it? It’s been an emotional time, but something about this explanation for why we are as we are rings as a distinct possibility. I can’t believe I’m the only one going through such a thing after sending off my saliva to find my roots; if anyone reading this has navigated a similar revelation, especially about Judaism, I’d be most interested in your thoughts.
If I longed for a seer, a healer, now I really, really need a say-er. It’s time to break open the silence, but I still have trepidation. Why does a part of me not want to be Jewish? Because the magnitude of their victimization over centuries is daunting. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” In the case of Jews, “they” were. (Not that the Irish weren’t treated like shit when they immigrated to North America, but we’ve glossed that over with shamrocks and green beer.)
When I was in graduate school, I took every Old Testament and medieval Judaism class available, steeping in the Torah and Talmud while searching out the Kabbalah on my own. Why? Did I somehow “know” that I’d find out not only was I Jewish, but that my family hid it, reviled it, for reasons that may have been for survival? I remember telling my professor, a wonderful rabbi who spun great stories in class, that I figured out why the Jews were persecuted: because others were envious of them and their quite extraordinary accomplishments. I couldn’t be sure about the look on his face, but it was something like, “Duh!”
On the other hand, maybe my imagination has run so far away with me I can’t return to the starting line. While living on Earth, I may never know. But I can’t stop asking the ancestors for help, I do it all the time, particularly for my daughter with autism. It’s time to jump on over from the Celtic lands to East Europe, a region I have never longed for, but if I can find the courage, I will become Jewish enough to investigate. I’ll start with the Hebrew Goddess of mythology I have so admired—you know, Yahweh’s wife, later hidden inside the mystical texts as the Shekinah.
“One of the earliest works of Jewish mysticism, Sefer Habahir, states that when the righteous behave appropriately, “shekhinah rests among them, and through their deeds she rests in the bosom of the Holy One, and makes them fruitful and increases them.” The Zohar compares the shekhinah to a mother, sister, daughter and bride. Kabbalists also associated shekhinah with the clouds of glory, which guided the Israelites during their wandering in the desert, and the pillar of fire that warmed them at night. In this telling, the shekhinah is a protective maternal presence on the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom.” [source]
Perhaps she will listen to me as I bask my heart in Her passionate fire.
PRAYER TO THE SHEKINAH Mirabai Starr
yours is the feminine face of the Holy,
the luminous moon who lights up the night
as we travel from captivity to liberation,
the pillar of fire who guides our way home,
the cloud hovering over the mountain peaks,
living sign that the drought is over.
You are the indwelling presence of the Divine.
Whenever we gather to praise the One
you are here in our midst.
When we cry out for justice
you make our hearts tender.
When we stand with those on the margins
you make our legs strong.
When we create works of art
and parent our children
and harvest our gardens
you guide and sustain us.
You are the Sabbath Bride, the Beloved,
returned from exile.
You restore balance in our relationships
and wholeness to our fragmented souls.
You infuse our lovemaking with honey.
You fill the cup of our hearts,
which tremble with longing,
with the wine of your answering love.
You are the song of our homecoming.
You are the Sabbath Queen, the Great Mother,
who sits at the heart of the table
tearing off hunks of the secret bread
that contains the exact flavor each of us loves best.
You feed us all,
the proud and the repentant,
the believer and the skeptic,
from your own hands.
Your unconditional forgiveness dissolves otherness.
we are the vessel for your inflowing.
Your radiance requires the clay of our embodiment.
Your flame burns at the core of the earth.
Your warmth penetrates the seedbed and animates the seedlings.
You bless the head of every animal
and kiss the tear-streaked face of humanity.
You are the vision that builds community,
and you are our refuge
when the fabric of community unravels.
Be with us now
as we navigate the landscape of mystery
where your most cherished attributes —
wild mercy and boundless compassion,
righteousness and wisdom —
seem to be cast aside and trampled
by imperious world powers
and we are paralyzed by helplessness.
May we remember you and lift you up.
May we recognize your face and celebrate your beauty
in everything and everyone,