Category Archives: Indigenous Wisdom

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!

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!

Constellations as Healing Ritual

A Ritual for Modern Times

I love ‘classic’ family constellations because it is a modern ritual, a ritual fashioned for a Western audience and viewed through an African lens in my work.  I view it as a modern ritual based on an old tradition because that is what I see, that is what I hear and that is what I honour in the process and in the sacred journey to heal family and community!

A constellation is a ritual in community, suggests Malidoma Some Dagara Elder. In 2010 Malidoma was interviewed for an article in East Coast Villages newsletter, Ask Malidoma! Malidoma E-Village 2010…In it, he described his interest and participation in a number of systemic constellations events and he has this to say……….

What is a Community?

A community according to Malidoma Some embodies the unity of spirit, trust, openness, love and caring respect for the elder’s respect for nature and cult of the ancestors. Pg 52 Ritual, Power, Healing and Community.

When I began learning about the systemic constellation method, I immediately looked to that part of the method that most spoke to my own cultural background and would help in the expression of these angry feelings that I seemed to have carried around since childhood.  I couldn’t understand where they had come from because as a 50-year-old looking back at me as a child, I couldn’t quite attribute where all this pent up anger has come from.

Transgenerational Anger

Gradually over time as I started doing some family research, I began to understand that some of the anger may literally ‘have been passed down’ from earlier generations.  And when after 60 years of marriage my mother informed me that she had never had an argument with my father, I knew that there were some dynamics and ‘entanglements in the current system.

Even now I am seen as the ‘difficult one’ in the family.  The one who ‘loses her rag!’ over seemingly over simple things, ‘Never Knowing Reasonable’ my sister states.  Well, I find that all very interesting and to my mind it’s too easy an explanation so I have made it my job to explore and dig a bit deeper into what may lie behind this down the generations.

Exploring South African Roots

It is no secret that Bert Hellinger drew on his time in South Africa as a catholic priest.  He opened a school and ministered to many in the Zulu community, so how could he not gain some kind of understanding about their life in the community.   Embedded in the constellations method are some African family principles that I was immediately intrigued by and curious about.

After I started working with the constellations method with clients I became much clearer about the relevance of the  Indigenous Wisdom in the method when working with black families and those of African heritage.   In many Western societies, the nuclear family has become the norm over several generations.  But in many communities in the Caribbean, in the UK and the Americas, the nuclear family is not the norm and there are many different configurations of family.

Constellations in the African Diaspora

In the UK large numbers of children were left back home as their parents came first to settle here.  Later when they came there were often problems with finding a clear sense of identity.  Indeed although I was brought up in a stable ‘nuclear family’ I keenly felt the loss of a Caribbean community around me growing up,  And I spent many years angry and looking for a sense of identity that I couldn’t find in either a”British” or ‘Caribbean’ identity.  And of course this sense of lack of identity and belonging is not unique to me or my community, it cut across race and culture and ethnicity.

Losing Touch Time after time I would start to map out a constellation and then realise that personal issues that the client came with, was related to the wider cultural environment and historical traumas of the specific African diaspora experience.  So a challenge for me in working with the constellations method was to more clearly reflect the issues that affect families and communities that I work with.   And this meant finding a way to integrate the Western systemic theory and Indigenous African Wisdom and make it relevant for an African diaspora community of which I am a part.

Losing Touch with an Indigenous Past

African heritage people living in a westernised society have lost touch with an indigenous past.  family constellations can build on these lost traditions and by so doing help with answering questions about identity and belonging.  How?  Family constellations can bring in the wider ancestral legacy and extended family and community and the process can start to show people, what has been lost and how to start to regain it.

For those reasons, my approach is increasingly to frame the work as an indigenous healing therapy that is appropriate to meet the many facets of a minority black experience in a majority white culture.  As a family constellations practitioner, I believe that this approach can be a starting place for healing family and community issues that arise from the trauma of an enslaved past.  I will be writing about this more in blog posts, as I deepen my knowledge and skills in this profound work.

Until next time!

The Path of Remembering

Which Path to Follow?

The path of RE-Membering, can be long and difficult. There are many different paths, but how do you know which is the best one for you? If you are looking for an alternative spiritual path to the norm, what do you choose and how do you know whether your choice is correct?

What do you do when you reach a dead-end or a crossroads?  When your prayers aren’t being answered or your questions have no reply.  Do you start with a DNA test so that you can find out more about your ethnic make-up, or do you go straight to the source and explore your direct ancestral roots by ‘returning home?’

My ancestral journey started by looking for ‘the’ path because I too was struggling to remember and find my way home. Home to an ancestral land that I didn’t really belong to, but which none-the-less I was a part of.

A Walk Through the Gate of No Return

Many people in search of their ‘roots’, return to their ancestral homeland and are disappointed at what they find. They may be considered a foreigner, an ‘obruni’ in Ghana, or a ‘little Englander’ in Barbados. It can feel disheartening or discomforting, but the truth is ‘home is where the heart is’ and the heart is a place to find peace and harmony in your identity and sense of self. No-one can teach you how to belong to a community or nation, or how to create a self-identity that supports your life.

You can find a stepping stone, a path to explore and find a way to reconnect to what has been lost if you are willing to search for it.  The reward is gaining more clarity about your ancestral heritage and a greater sense of ‘knowing’ about self and community.

Returning to an Ancestral Homeland

 If you find yourself on this page it is likely that at some point in the past, you have become disconnected from yourself and know that you need healing. A part of you is lost in the trauma of old family or community wounds and your soul may be wanting to find a more peaceful place.

If you stop and listen, your heart may open to the ‘wisdom’ that the ancestors can give you. If you follow the path as I have you may find more reassurance and a sense of inner peace. I have long debated why I am writing these posts, what they offer me and the reader.  Often it feels like an indulgence or just a page of words.

And then I facilitate a group workshop on family constellations.  I talk about ancestors and the role that they play in African family life. And I realise that there is a growing hunger to learn more.  Know more and be reconnected to our ancestral roots.

And so maybe that is enough?

Until next time Ashe!

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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