Category Archives: Ancestral Footsteps

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!

Black Salt at Tate Liverpool

Black Salt at Tate Liverpool

Liverpool International Slavery Museum Exhibition November 2018

Lives of Britains Black Sailors

I was so lucky to see this exhibition a few months ago, it stories a part of British and African and Caribbean history that is little told.  The exhibition was held in Liverpool at the Tate Liverpool.   It proved to be a fitting place to hold it with its history and location as a slave port and there was relevance for my journey, both personal and professional. And to be honest I was surprised and delighted by the exhibition, a small glimpse into past and present history.

The following text is taken from the Tata Liverpool’s website

Black Salt: Britain’s Black sailors revealed the contribution Black seafarers have made to some of the most significant maritime events of the past 500 years.

The exhibition was based on the book ‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ by historian Ray Costello. It combined personal stories, historical data, objects and memorabilia to chart a course through the often troubled waters of Britain’s maritime past and explore the work of Black sailors. Historically overlooked, Black Salt showed how Black seafarers contended with the dangers and hazards of life at sea, and challenged inequality on board and ashore.

The painting ‘The Death of Nelson’ by Daniel Maclise, which normally hangs at the Walker Art Gallery, showed that there were sailors of African descent who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. Displays examine the turmoil between communities and social change during the 20th century, with examples from the 1919 race riots archives and the work of leading Black Activist Chris Braithwaite, who campaigned for seafaring workers’ rights.

Liverpool sailors featured in the exhibition included Joseph Gibson, who served in the merchant navy and fought in the First World War, and generations of both the Quarless and Savage families. Their experiences were told through personal items including service books and medals.

Elder Dempster was the largest shipping company trading between Europe and West Africa from the late 19th century to the 1980s. The exhibition featured collections relating to the company which, from the 1950s and 1960s at the height of the trade, employed more than 4000 people including 1400 Nigerians and 400 workers from Sierra Leone.

The Black seafaring experience was brought up to date with a display about current sailors including a profile on Belinda Bennett, who in 2016 became the first Black female captain working in the cruise industry.

‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ by Ray Costello is published by Liverpool University Press and is available from the Merseyside Maritime Museum shop.

Loss, Change and Citizenship

It’s Been a Summer of Loss and Change!

It’s been some time since I’ve written, as my father passed away in May and I’ve taken time out to think and reflect. Loss on that scale really makes you sit up and think about life.  I hadn’t realised that the grief would be so deep and impactful and I still miss and think about him every day.

Up until the last few months of my father’s life, I had always had a difficult relationship with him, maybe it was partly that which brought me to family constellations work.  But I am happy that on the last 18 months I was able to reconnect with my father, in love and not anger.  To say the things that needed to be said, about love and respect and honouring his sacrifices, and to heal old wounds.

The Ancestral Journey Continues

I realise as the weeks have gone by without him that my seven-year journey ancestral journey has also been a way to reconnect to him and my heritage.   I spent hours with him talking about the past and different family members.  I found out more about my father’s mother and all the dates of birth and death of my uncles, aunts and grandparents.

We talked about Guyana and I started revisiting and reconnecting with cousins.  And I learnt more about what had brought him the UK, even though I knew a lot before I learnt more.  And now that he is gone, I know that not all my questions have been answered, but enough to feel connected to my identity and parental ancestral lands.

A Guyanese Citizen is Born

In July I returned to Guyana and finally received my citizenship. I reconnected with my Uncle Alfred who I hadn’t seen since 1979 (he looks and sounds just like dad).  Together we journeyed down the great Essequibo River and travelled along the coast to see a bit more of the Guyanese country. I wish my dad had been alive to tell him in person about my travels.

Increasingly I am hearing people of my generations raise modern dilemmas, whether to reconnect with a homeland that has been left behind, whether to claim citizenship of the ancestral home of parents and grandparents.  To do so, is also to face the disconnect from the past and the splits that have been created that continue into the present.

Now Dad has Gone is there More to Find

Talk with elders now before they pass on is so important, (if you have not already been doing that I suggest that you start now) because when they are gone, the knowledge, the traditions, the culture are lessened or gone.  You may find long-lost family relatives, but also like me find some unexpected surprises, both good and bad.

I recently found the dates of my mother and fathers arrival in London in the 1950s.  My Uncle Alfred told me that they had sailed on a Dutch ship from Georgetown and there on Ancestry.com was all the information from the National Archives.

It is fitting that I have found out after dad passed how he came to the UK and that it is recorded in the National Archives.  It is something that he would have wanted.  I know he arrived on a cold grey day in October in Plymouth.  The rest is his-story and for another time.

R.I.P – Reginald Edwin Riance Welch 14.10.29-9.5.2018

Journey to Dano

You’re Almost Out!

“You’re almost out”, said Malidoma at a Cowery Shell reading that I had with him in 2015.  It was the second time that I had been to see him, the first the previous year. I returned this time because I felt that I had unfinished business.  I knew that I had spiritual work to do.  I knew that I was on an ancestral path and I knew that I had forgotten something.

“You’re almost out”, he said, “but there isn’t anything else I can do for you here, you need to come to Burkina Faso and see African spiritual technology at work.” “What is he talking about I thought?”  Dashing the idea away into the back of my mind, I thought “hmm, maybe next year!” But come January 2016 I was on the bus taking us from Ouagadougou to Dano, his home village

Travelling with Malidoma

I was travelling with Malidoma Some the gifted African healer and diviner on a healing study trip with a party of other invited ‘ancestral searchers’.  It was a kind of initiation into deepening the work with my ancestors.  And later that year, I attended more healing rituals and ceremonies with Malidoma, learning about Dagara Cosmology and cower shell divination.

Now as I reflect on that journey, especially the Burkina Faso part, I realise that it was in part ‘an initiation’ even though at the time I had not thought about it like that.  This was an adapted form, an approach that Western minds could make sense of.  We visited a traditional healer where we asked a question and received answers about our life purpose.  We were involved in animal sacrifices in the traditional African way that I won’t go into here.

Listening to the Call!

We had an audience with a ‘stick diviner’ and I have to say, every step of that journey made sense to me and helped to awaken my ‘remembering’.  Remembering that had been white-washed and wiped-out over hundreds of years.  Lost through the journey of the ‘middle passage’ to the Caribbean and the ‘modern passage’ to the UK.

It has taken over a year to start to make sense of that trip.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know and as African traditions are oral, not written ones, you can’t ‘remember’ by reading, you can only ‘remember’ through living.  So after the healing rituals of last year, I started a Cowery Shell divination course, a healing path with an African edge that I thought I was looking for.

And Then, a Cancer Diagnosis!

As things started to get on track with my work, I found out that I had cancer.  In the whirlwind that follows a cancer diagnosis, I just stepped out and away from everything.  I had to make sense of how had this happened to me, what did it mean and what was I to do and learn from this experience?

According to many shamanistic traditions, a major illness, mental or physical can be a calling to deepen your relationship with your ancestors or become a Sangoma or Diviner.  For me, this illness represented a call of ‘Spirit’ to fulfil my life purpose in a way that I hadn’t acknowledged before.  It felt like I was moving through a ‘transformative initiation process’.

Right now I am continuing on my journey learning about ‘Spirit’ and the ancestors.  This journey is reconnecting me to my ancestral family line.  It is challenging me to ‘come out’ and show my face, as a diviner and healer in a  culture that has forgotten a lot of African heritage.  And I am stepping-up and into whatever it is that I am called to do and be.

More next time!

Wake-up and Remember the Ancestors!

Ancestral Journeying

I have recently come back from a dynamic and powerful ancestral journey to Africa to find out more about who I am and where I came from.  If you do not know who you are, how can you know where you are going?

When I came back from Africa, I talked to me father about my journey and he was interested and happy for me.  Born in Guyana during colonial times, people who wanted to advance didn’t talk about anything African, so he was pleased for me; ‘I know that you have been searching,” he said, I’m glad you’ve found some of what you were looking for.

The Tree of Forgetting

This picture was taken at the Tree of Forgetting in Ouidah Benin in January.  It get’s its name from the practice of making slaves that were leaving Africa walk around the tree to reinforce forgetfulness of their homes, men 9 times and women 7 times.  I am smiling because returning was a form of healing ritual and part of the process of ‘remembering’.

One of the things that those of us from an African diaspora background have lost, is our connection to ancient African wisdom.  We have ‘forgotten’ who we are and where we come from.  Part of the work of Ancestral Constellations, is to help us to ‘remember’ and wake up to the fact that we have lost something from our heritage, deep connection to our ancestors, to spirit and to nature.

Constellations Connect to an Indigenous Past

Many people who come to constellations work, regardless of background or ethnicity come from an ancestral line who have suffered greatly.  In the shadow of this traumatic past, whether it be the middle passage of the slave trade, the impact of colonialism and Empire, of the ravages of war and suffering, it has affected who we are and often our family identity.

Over the past couple of years and especially the last few months, I have deepened my understanding of African indigenous wisdom and I am fore-grounding that in my workshops and one-to-one work.  Constellations work can help to show those of us who are searching for identity and belonging, what has been lost and how to start to heal.

The Ancestral Constellations approach to systemic constellations as a healping ritual is constantly evolving.  In the African tradition ancestors are part of family and community life, past and present.  If you are reading this blog post you may be interested in exploring this approach further. When you come to a constellations circle or workshop, you are invited to reflect on your own ancestors and in what ways they may be trying to speak to you.  Our Constellations Circles run on a monthly basis, find out more here!

Ashe!

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A Caribbean Community in 2066?

What about the Next, Next, Next Generation?

An article in the Economist magazine from earlier in this year entitled, ‘The Next Generation‘ explores the changing fortunes of the Caribbean community in the UK.  

And it’s an interesting read!  Not least because at my recent constellations workshop, there were some wonderful people who stepped up and challenged themselves to look at an extremely difficult subject, Caribbean people in the Diaspora and their relationship to one another.

We did it is in a slightly different way from usual, looking at the Caribbean community in the wider Diaspora now and where it may be in 50 years time.  Do you know what the outcome was, a BIG question, ‘Will there be a Caribbean Community in the UK in 2066?’

That’s powerful isn’t it, because it begs the question, what is left of the Caribbean Community in the UK?  Where is it now and in what pockets of London can we find it residing?  I left the workshop thinking about “what we mean by a Caribbean Community?”

A Definition of the Caribbean

Let me define what I mean by the Caribbean.  Peoples from different islands and countries, from Guyana and Surinam in South America to Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados and the other islands in the region,  who all share a lived experience.  That may be in the Caribbean area or the wider Diasporas of the UK, Europe, Canada and the Americas.

In London, the traditional areas that Caribbean people lived in have become increasing gentrified and more expensive.  That means people have sold up and shipped out.  They have moved further away from the inner city, Hackney, Brixton, Shepherds Bush and yes, we are still there, but not in such great numbers.  This splitting is separating communities that have acted as a support and a guide for generations in the past.

Facilitating the Constellation

This was an interesting constellation to facilitate because I have been pondering on community, loyalty and family.  If a community is eroding and declining, what is our relationship to that and how will it impact the family structure into the future?

I see around me very strong communities, Jewish communities, Indian communities, Chinese communities, African communities, all for the most part, intact and strong.  Which does not mean to say that there are not issues and difficulties within these communities?  It’s just that I can’t see the Caribbean community so clearly, it looks further away, maybe I just don’t feel so connected?  It may be my personal experience, except for the fact that I am meeting more and more people with a similar perspective.

Community Change Over Decades

Yes, this has been happening for the last three to four decades, it just seems to have intensified, change is all around us.  Arguably the very concept of Caribbean community may no longer exist, as many of our parents move back home and their children (us) emigrate to other places.

So at the end of the constellation, I was left with a very powerful question, Will there be a Caribbean community in the UK in 2066?  And if there isn’t where will it have gone?  We can’t all have returned to the Caribbean, rather it looks like we may well have become completely assimilated. It’s an interesting idea with some ramifications for future generations. I will return to this question in later posts, for now, it leaves much to think about.

Until next time!