All posts by Sonya Welch-Moring

Transgenerational Facilitator and Coach

A Modern African Ritual

Ritual in a Different Form

A ritual has many different forms! It brings together a community, which according to Malidoma Some embodies, unity of spirit, trust, openness, love and caring respect for the elders respect for nature and cult of the ancestors.  Ritual, Power Healing and Community, Some 1991 Pg 52.

In my work, what I see, and hear is what I honour and Ancestral Constellations is the development of a modern African ritual, fashioned for a Western audience.   What does this mean in practice, a ritual constructed in ‘sacred space?’

Every ritual, a consultation, a workshop, a witness constellations session start with the invocation, calling on the ancestors for support and their guiding presence as we take the first step into the past that connects the present. This calling on our guiding angels, the family, community and nature spirits is to seek permission to create a community working together in sacred space.

A Mini Ancestral Shrine

We always have a mini ancestral shrine with flowers, water, incense, and representatives for the ancestors and guardians, in the form of shells, stones, or figurines.  This represents those from the past that are connected to us in the present. It is not a long ceremony and the shrine is not always named, it is just there beside us as we do the work.

For me as a Caribbean women this represents the African aspect of constellations work.  Bert Hellingers when he developed the Systemic Constellations method when he returned to Europe from South Africa, acknowledged that he had taken some aspects of the Zulu African family ritual, which he combined that with systemic western thinking to create the constellations model. 

For those of us, particularly with African heritage the core of this therapeutic approach is turned inside out, so that the ritual, found in community unity, is the important starting point.  Ancestral Constellations workshops bring together people from different African, Caribbean, Asian and bi-cultural heritage.  It does not exclude others, but it focuses on Black and Brown representation because there is a need for a safe space to express and talk about the impact of these ancestral lineages on contemporary family life.

Sitting in Circle

And there are not many of us from an African or Asian background doing the work.  During a workshop, there is an expanded awareness of ‘other ways of knowing’, other than a eurocentric frame of reference.  There is a RE-Membering, often of family connection, found through a constellations community that goes beyond the individual and includes the history of all its members. 

We sit in a circle of black and brown people knowing that we share something deep, a past collective trauma and present day struggle, especially those of us who come from a history of slavery, colonialism, or other ancestral lineage traumas.  It is not about being exclusive, rather, there is power and comfort in not having to explain and not feeling shame about talking about the many real issues of divisions, discriminations, and dis-ease that impact our communities, often named, less often discussed.  We just sit in all our colour and diversity and do the work.

When I first started on my family constellations journey I was struck by how few black people, or any people of colour would be in the room.  I struggled with how much to raise my own issues about my struggles with being a black woman, would I be accepted, would it be okay and often it was fine and sometimes, it was met with challenging, misunderstanding or deflection.

Where are the Constellators of Colour

I asked a few family constellations facilitators, why there weren’t more people of colour doing the work. There was a range of opinion from a not knowing stance, to “you have to create that community for yourself.” And so I do and I have!  And before you shout me down, yes there are some people, regardless of their background or colour or culture who do not have to name their pain in colour, and there are many others who are waiting for the opportunity to do so.

So I name the issues, out loud as a form of permission giving, want to talk about shadism in your family, go ahead.  Want to talk about your anger around the racism you experienced as a child, go ahead, want to discuss the issues around your parents leaving the island for a better life and leaving you behind, go ahead.

All issue that could be discussed in any family constellations settings but aren’t, because it brings up shame, and powerlessness and fury.

Constellations are Rituals as a form of African therapy.  They seem to connect us to a homeland that has bee left behind, forgotten, or that we have no clear identification with.  Ritual is a healing act and it is a journey of identity.  All of these things you find in our approach to ancestral family constellations.  Join us if you can and find out more here.

Ashe!

The ‘Power’ in the letter

If you don’t ask you can’t find out what you need to know!

The ‘Power’ was in the Letter

When I read the letter and took it to Guyana, I had a better idea about why I was researching my family heritage. And what I was seeking to find out about my ancestral identity.

Back in 1979 my mother wrote to her favourite brother Eustace and asked for more details about their family heritage. My mothers memory is poor now so I can’t ask her why she did that, but I can only guess that she was homesick and wanted something to remind her of her heritage? Or maybe because she didn’t grow up with her siblings she was looking to reconnect?

Details of Family Unknown!

For whatever reason he wrote back and gave her details about their maternal and paternal ancestry, back to their grandparents and great-grandparents.   I am eternally grateful to her, because that letter has been pivotal in many ways, in my own search for my ancestral family heritage.

I brought a copy of the letter for my cousin Emily who I met last year in Guyana for the first time . I didn’t think it would be useful as anything other than supplementary evidence.  But what I found when I went back, was that this outlining of our family heritage by her father, had also helped her to make sense of connections with other family members.

That letter was the Impetus for my Search

Letter from my uncle to my mother

I have reconnected to unknown cousins and there has been an opportunity for my relatives to find out more about their family history.  As a result, several cousins have asked for more information based on this letter.  I have found a sense of belonging to a community, even if that community was in another land.  And I have forged a stronger connection to my cousin Emily, who has introduced me to other members of the family (Emilys  father and my mother are brother and sister).

Connecting Parts of the Family Tree

When I took that letter to my cousin, she started to put the connections together to other parts of the family tree.  And as I was introduced to new cousins that I hadn’t met before, she was recounting to them how they were related.  “This was so and so’s father, you are his cousin through his marriage to…”

So there have been lessons for me, any piece of information that you can find can be a useful piece in your research. From this experience I am now going to start recording the names in a family tree, something that I had started before but couldn’t continue.  They were just names, without connection and meaning. Now that connection is alive, I can start to put the tree into place.

What you think is a small or insignificant fact or information, a letter, a journal, a picture. Look again and start to reconnect with your family, ask questions, seek advice on who that person is.  You may find out that it becomes a central part of your connection to family heritage.

Until next time!

A Healing Ritual for Grief

Life in Birth and Death

Last Thursday it was both my 59th Birthday and the one year passing of my father.  It was a poignant day, full of bittersweet memories of what I have been gifted from my father and the recognition that I won’t see him again, at least in this lifetime.

But he is on my ancestral altar and I talk to him constantly.  Those of us born and living in the African Diaspora who are RE-Membering, know that our ancestors walk by our side.  They are with us daily, we honour and respect them, we feed and water them.

On the Ancestral Path

For the past seven years I have been on an ancestral journey, it started long ago, but the day that I stepped into my first Family Constellations workshop I knew that I was witnessing an African Healing Ritual.  Since that day I have been learning and deepening my understanding of the ‘Ancestral in the constellation.’

It has been a long journey that has included reconnecting to my parental ancestral homeland and gaining my Guyanese Citizenship.  I travelled to Burkina Faso in 2016 on my first African Healing journey and worked extensively with the renowned Elder – Malidoma Some.  During 2016 I attended a 5 Day Ritual Healing Village with him in upstate New York and a 5 day Grief Ritual in Canada.

A Modern Grief Ritual

By 2018 I had done extensive family research and taken a DNA test.  I found my way to Benin and a Fa priest and community, undertaking a number of family rituals for the generations of my family who had been forgotten in the diaspora.  It was an intense and humbling experience.  When I returned home and told my father he said that he was glad “Darling, I knew that you were searching.” he said.

And so last week on this day of birth and death I pondered, ‘what would be a fitting tribute for my father.  How could I create a Modern Grief Ritual that would honour and respect him?  By evening I had decided and at 11.05pm, the moment that he transitioned a year ago, I posted to Facebook.

My Father – Reginald Edwin Riance Welch

In my tribute to him, I wrote……..

This is a picture of my father, he passed away a year ago today, on my Birthday today! I spent all day thinking about whether I should post in his memory, to FaceBook?? I wasn’t sure if it was OK and right.

And then I went online and found a dozen messages from friends wishing me a Happy Birthday and I realised that maybe this is just a Healing Ritual of the 21st Century!

My father was larger than life, he loved life! I think he would have liked to be remembered and celebrated. He broke conventions! He went to Fortnum and Mason’s in London in the ’50s and ’60s for his Christmas ham. He went to the Theatre and Opera. He loved Shakespeare and Classic Literature. He loved Nina Simone and James Baldwin.

He was proud of being Black and Guyanese and he didn’t let anyone tell him that he wasn’t good enough!! In the world that we live in today when it seems like we are going backwards in understanding our past and our history. I ask myself, what did it take to hold both of these ‘Ways of Knowing?’

Strength, Endurance, Pride!

Give him alike! Give him a Love, I miss him. R.I.P Reginald Edwin RianceWelch 1929-2018

Community Spirit

It wasn’t the 78 Likes that moved me, it was the 43 comments from friends who knew him and some from those who only know me through Facebook.  I was amazed by the many beautiful comments.  From my friends reminiscing on their reflections of meeting and talking with him, to comments about his photo and the ‘twinkle in his eye’.

Writing this I feel deep emotion because my mother and father left Guyana in 1953 and I wasn’t able to gather a community a year after his death to celebrate him.  And so this Modern Grief Ritual on a social media site that I have never much cared about, has shown me that I have work to do to expand my thinking about what constitutes community ritual in 2019.

Ashe!

Working with Spirit

Honouring the Living and the Dead

Ancestral Spirits

In constellations work, from an African perspective, we are summoning ancestral spirits!

Sometimes we need to honour those who have departed from the physical life but may not yet be at peace in the after-life.  The work of Ancestral Constellations draws on traditional African spirituality, that which honours those who have gone before and seeks a healing path for those who are to come.

In many parts of Africa and more widely in cultures from India, to China and Japan, Ancestors are an important part of community life.  In Africa, ancestors are considered to be part of the family and community.  They are to be revered, not worshipped as is often thought.  Reverence means to acknowledge and honour, those who have come before and to hold them in your thoughts after they have departed from this earth.

Looking to the Past for Healing

Many cultures believe that in remembering ancestors we support and help to heal our family line.  There is a flow of life that continues after a loved one has departed.  When past family or community rituals have been forgotten, or actions unresolved, members in the current family system are charged with repeating the pattern or resolving it.

My work involves helping those who wish to heal these unresolved problems or difficulties.  By looking back through the transgenerational line to explore and surface past family patterns, there is a chance for greater peace for future generations.  Put like this, it seems simple and straightforward, right?

The Power of Difference

A question to ask when we look at the present and past family problem is “what has created the situation?”  Often it is differences, differences that result in conflict, or violence or trauma.  If we look to history, there can be a personal or familial aspect of this but also alongside it a wider community or national issue.  War, slavery, colonialism, genocide are all large scale events that have historically impacted generations.

So when we are doing ancestral work of any kind, we are working with peaceful ancestors who are fortuitous and happy to help.  And there are those who in their lifetime who may have been angry, or frustrated and did not find peace in their lifetime because of their deeds.

Remembering can be Very Unsettling

As facilitators of this work, especially those from African heritage, we walk a difficult line.  Is it because this wonderful and powerful work is both healing, therapeutic and a divinatory path?

It can be a difficult process for those who are steeped in a religious tradition that denies the reverence of our ancestors.  Throughout history there has been a following of the ‘old ways’, but often it has been hidden or secret, not for public view.

The Old Ways

For those of us who are called to this work, we are remembering ‘these old ways’, the traditions that were lost during slavery and colonialism.  And often we are also on our own healing path.  For those who have been brought up in a Western and modern tradition, remembering can be very unsettling.

We are in search of lost roots and looking for awakening, peace and healing in our lives.  In forgetting our past, we may have been sleeping. In this deep sleep, we can be ashamed and confused about where we came from and whom we have become. If we are of African heritage, there can be a tendency to deny our relationship to the past and guilty feelings about stepping onto an ancestral path that leads us into the future.

Raised in European Traditions

Raised in the European traditions of the church slavery denied us our tribal traditions.  We were told that we were inhuman, that our culture was base, tribal and evil and we believed this becoming afraid to reclaim our roots. I know because I too have experienced this, even though for over 25 years I have followed a ‘proud to be Black’ philosophy, still the past continues to haunt me.

When we start to practice and revere our ancestors, we begin to read deeply into and understand our past. When we start to retrace our roots to ‘Mother Africa’, we may do it in a hidden way, keeping our ideas and thoughts to ourselves so that others do not consider us weird, mad and well, just bad.  Until we get to a point where we can no longer stay hidden and step out to take the first steps on the path to healing, we will remain lost to these old liberating traditions.

Ashe!

Ancestral in the Constellation

Making Sense of the Ancestral in the Constellation

Little has been researched or written about the ‘Ancestral’ aspect of constellations theory and practice.   After more than seven years of learning this approach and travelling my own healing path, I have understood as a woman of African heritage that I have to step out and step up.  That means naming what this work is from an African perspective, the ‘Call’ to the Ancestral path.

When you follow the path of African spirituality and ancestral work you come to realise that our ancestors are with us in the living world.  We remember them and in African cosmology, we honour them.  Just as many people in the West do when they visit their family members graves and talk to them, what is the difference?

AWAKEN to Your Heritage!

If you look at a ‘Call’ to ancestral practice as an awakening to your ancestral heritage, it becomes a journey of family work and self-understanding. The Ancestral Constellations approach honours our ancestors and frames constellations practice as a Healing-Ritual.  And African traditional spirituality is a very inclusive philosophy, so regardless of your background, culture, colour or religion, there is a place for you in the work.

At the beginning of a workshop or group session, we seek the permission of our family ancestors to do this healing work.  We can ask collectively because this work is a community ritual and we can ask individually prior to doing a piece of personal work. In acknowledging an ancestral presence we honour their role in the healing process that is unfolding and we strengthen the process as a community ritual.

The Family and Community Soul

This important because we are working at the family and community soul level.  Many of the personal issues that are carried from generation to generation are family or personal traumas, they are not healed in one lifetime and often reappear in another.  The combination of an ancestral past linked to African ways of knowing and a Western psychological systemic approach in the present creates a powerful and profound method of liberating healing potential for the future.

As we enter 2019, it is a good time to revisit and rethink the work.  I am taking opportunities to reflect on how to approach Ancestral Constellations work.  There is renewed interest in the ‘ancestral’ from clients and a deeper understanding of the role that I bring to this practice as a woman of African heritage.  This will be reflected over the coming weeks and months in posts on this blog!

Until next time!

Family Research a Systemic Lens

Start before it’s too Late!

We often only start family research later in our lives.  Maybe we take for granted the cultural traditions that we grew up around.  We may have embraced them or thought that they were old-fashioned and not worth paying attention to.

Later in life, as ageing parents come closer to the ‘transition’ we are forced to look at what is being left behind and how connected we are to our ancestral past.  Reconnecting to your family heritage, its ancestral heartland and cultural traditions can be a wonderful way to honour, those who have gone before us and those that we are still in a relationship with.

A Growing Desire for Knowledge

This aim to reconnect with family members across generations and within the wider community of which they are a part is a common and growing phenomenon.  It points to the part of our life or history that we know little about and makes us want to fill the gaps in our knowledge.

When there are family difficulties in the present, we increasingly look for what hasn’t been resolved in the past in order to create a better future.  What we often find when we look, are untold stories of family exclusion and secrets that have been kept down the generations, thereby creating the gaps in knowledge that we seek to fill.

Another way of seeing this is as recurring patterns within the family system, that are usually not clearly understood but often taken by a family member as their own. When we seeking a resolution to a family problem, it usually involves a relationship to another person, a friend, a substance, sometimes something that isn’t known but can be viewed as dynamic negative energy that hangs over the family.

Restoring and Reconciling Patterns

 

The goal is to find and work with all the relationships and energy sources so that difficult issues can be resolved and the flow of love starts to move naturally through the family system. One way of looking at this past-present dynamic is as an ‘entanglement‘ in the family.

This can be challenging because revealing or speaking about issues in your family or community system that have been forgotten, hidden or excluded is difficult and sometimes very painful.  However, it is also a powerful way of bringing about change and healing in family patterns.

  • For example, two family members may not have spoken to each other for years, but nobody knows why.
  • A sibling may feel that they are the peacekeeper or mediator for a whole family in conflict and yet have nobody to talk to when they have a problem.
  • An excluded relative that nobody talks about because they have a mental health problem an addiction or a history of violence somehow seems to intrude when there is a family gathering.
  • Or it may be a painful transgenerational community history that is taboo to speak about because its effects have been so traumatic on family members and the wider community.

The Family Constellations Lens

One way of uncovering our ancestral family heritage in more depth is through the lens of family constellations.  This unique method is a way of exploring present difficulties in a family or community, by looking to the past, so that we can understand how to make changes for the future.

The aim of constellations is to restore the ‘flow of love within the family’ and help us separate from entanglements within the system. We can strengthen the ties to our ancestry, by making a conscious choice to delve deep and free ourselves of patterns that create pain and suffering.

This may mean both revealing and speaking about difficult issues and relationships or people that have been forgotten and are hidden in the past.  When we find a place in our hearts for everyone in the family, even those who have been excluded, we can heal the trauma that is passed down the family line.

To find out more go to my Ancestral constellations website here