Ancestors are crucially important to the family systems and the health of the family membrane. If we are in healthy relationship with them, they can even help us hold  and care for our family systems.

Firstly let’s talk about this concept of ancestors

We continue to learn after death. And we continue to change after death. The importance of ancestral work stems from the belief that, in general, it is good and wise to remember and honor those who came before us. After all, we would not be here without them.

The ancestors never really leave us and, given their different perspective in the ancestral realm, the ancestors know things we do not. They can help us if we are willing to listen. In fact, they want to help us.

Working with the ancestors does not mean you have to like or agree with their choices. It does not mean you are condoning behavior that they may have perpetuated in their lifetime that you feel was not upright and kind. But it does mean you understand that you have responsibility to them as they do to you because you are descended in some way from them.

Many people say, “We can’t choose our families.” Well, then you can’t choose your ancestors either. Many other people say, “You chose your family very deliberately.” Either way, choice or not, we are stuck with our families and our ancestors. If you are adopted, that simply means you have more ancestors, since from what I have seen in divinations you are not only adopted by your living adoptive family but your ancestors of that family as well.

Being the human who is currently embodied in 3D form and has ties to those who came before us, as well as obligation to those who will follow us, means we are in a crucial position. The choice we make to either help heal our ancestral line or not is an important one.

Where do I begin?

Some helpful information to try to find out about ancestors is: Where did they come from? Where did they spend most of their lives? Is there a quality about them that remains and wants to be remembered and passed on? Where are they buried? Is it possible to visit their graves?

Some ancestors were not great people in their human, embodied lifetimes and we may not want to have them around. We are allowed to set our own terms and boundaries around our ancestral interactions. If there were troubles and hardships, we can acknowledge them, consider how they live on inside us, and make offerings for their healing. If the issues are extreme, contact a diviner.

If you have children: Letting them know where they came from and to whom they belong is important. (Again, if one is adopted, they belong to both the adoptive family and the birth family.) It allows them to feel embedded inside a community of other humans before and after them. They have stories within which to locate themselves. It is also essential that our children understand that relationships do not end with death, and this will help them navigate these passages when they get to them.

Depending on our personal biographies, telling the stories of our ancestors to our children can be an important practice. It grounds them in their lives and opens a place for the oral tradition inside them. The stories they hear about their ancestors and where they came from help them consciously shape their own stories. It can strengthen the family membrane to have these shared stories and memories.

If your parents or responsible adults did not do this for you as a child, then do it for yourself now.

Caring for the Spiritual Well-Being of your Multilayered Family: The Family Membrane

Healing ruptures in the ancestral line strengthens the family membrane

Indigenous belief states that anything that is not working properly in the lines of your ancestors will continue to affect those who come after. This includes you and your offspring. Healing unresolved issues in you family lines, including ancestral issues, can help your current family systems. This can be accomplished through ritual, making offerings and prayer at the ancestral shrine (see below).

Befriending and working with the ancestors can help with the family membrane

Those beloved dead who have made it to the ancestral realm are very powerful and can help us enormously in our lives. The ancestors help the recently dead and also help us with difficult beings, entities, and no-longer-embodied humans who may have made seriously bad choices during their lifetime.

Who are some of the ancestors you know and trust that you can begin to work with intentionally in this way?

April Online Class: The Family Membrane: What is it and how to care for it


Creating and Tending to a Family Ancestor Shrine

One way for anyone to honor the ancestors in the broad sense of the word is to create a family ancestor shrine. In fact, everyone can benefit from carrying out this practice. If we have children, young or old, this is a great gift to them as well. It can be as simple or elaborate as we choose.

An ancestor shrine or altar is a place to honor and remember those who came before us and gave us life. It is because of them that we are here and, in part, they have made us who we are.

Honoring our ancestral legacy keeps us connected to the cycles of life and brings those who came before us into the present. In some ways, it actually keeps them alive. We may honor specific ancestors—a grandmother, a great-uncle, great-great-grandmother. Or we might choose to honor the homeland of our ancestors—Italy, Spain, Burkina Faso, Mali, Peru—and the traditions and culture associated with the ancestry. It is up to you and how you choose to do it.

Remember: Shrines make the invisible visible. They offer embodiment to those who are no longer embodied.

At the shrine, we make offerings of spirits (wine, beer, vodka in a glass), small plates of favorite or shared food, flowers, rocks, crystals, mementos, seeds, and more. The offerings are gifts but also food (fuel) for their journey and the work the ancestors are doing on the other side. We clean these offerings away periodically when the energetic essence has left them, and replace them with fresh ones.

My paternal grandmother’s home was full of shrines. There were pictures of loved ones who had passed, statues of saints, and lit candles in many corners of the rooms of her home. For me, as a child, it indicated the presence of others I could not necessarily see with my eyes. Often, after hearing stories of the ancestors told around the Sunday dinner table, I went looking for them in one of those shrines. If I located their picture, I would speak to them there, at the shrine.

My grandmother kept her ancestors alive so that I felt I could freely interact with them, though they were long “dead.” This gave my life depth and the understanding that life continues, relation- ships continue beyond death, and that they who came before us or left us early are still important members of the family.

For this shrine you will need:

  • A designated space indoors or outdoors where you go and interact with the ancestors.
  • Optional: pictures of ancestors, mementos from ancestors, jewelry from ancestors, rocks, crystals, or candles

How to Create the Shrine

Ancestral shrines can have many forms. Use one that fits perfectly into your space and lifestyle and is not burdensome, but rather a joyful experience.

  • The shrine can be a shelf, table, or any surface where, on top of a nice cloth, you place pictures, mementos, statues, or candles, leaving space for offerings to be added. A shrine is an interactive space.
  •  You can also keep it simple and have one picture and one candleholder in which you continually replace tea light candles.
  • Or you can build your shrine outside under a tree, with rocks in a circle on the ground, or up against a fence. You can incorporate plants and bushes, outdoor statues, and prayer flags. It is however you wish to create it. With children, it is fun to create and maintain it together. Visit it on holidays or important family times, inviting the ancestors to the celebration and feeding them. You can leave notes to the ancestors, tell stories, or read poetry together there.
  • Trees are great shrines because you can hang things in their branches. One can sit under a tree and listen or meditate. Trees, with their deep, unseen roots supporting them (ancestors), strong trunks grounding and centering them (parents and adults), and their branches with young shoots growing toward the sun (children), represent a family system just by being who they are.
  • However you choose to create it, let the shrine be a place that you go to periodically with the intention of interacting with your ancestors. Eventually, they will come to inhabit it. The relationship will come alive and you will feel supported and cared for, as will they.

©Theresa C. Dintino 2024

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