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  • Writer's pictureMadison Kolla

Digging up the Bones - Working with Ancestors

As we approach All Hallow's Eve, they say the veils between worlds become thin. We might remember or think of our dearly departed more often these days, or even feel their presence close at hand.

The past several years for me have involved a deep dive into ancestral veneration - a practice that spans most cultures across human history. People have always had practices and rituals for connecting with and asking for support from those who have come (and gone) before. And although most of us no longer regularly leave food and offerings at the ancestral burial mound, (that practice having been actively persecuted for hundreds of years, before being nearly wiped out in Europe entirely) and despite the winds that blew us settler folk across seas and far from the homelands and the bones they still hold, we can access this connection and support right here, right wherever we are.

As a mother, it makes perfect sense to me that if after death some part of me were to persist, nothing could stop me from checking in on and loving up my babies and their babies and their babies' babies. We all have complicated and potentially unhealthy members of our families, so it's important we're clear on inviting and developing relationships with ancestors who are well, well-intentioned, vibrant, and available to support us (no need to call restless/unhelpful ghosts into our homes). I've been working in this world personally, and more and more it wants to grow into my practice as well. And why wouldn't we? For those who are open and interested, why wouldn't we, when laying on the table, being supported by hands and pins, invite in the healthy generations that came before?

What if we could see/sense/feel a whole crowd around us - your great to the nth degree grandparents, who undoubtedly love you and want only the best for you - supporting and assisting your healing, wishing us well and beaming love your way? What if, even when we felt alone, unsupported and lacking in resources, we could lean back on this multitude of previous lives, with their accumulated wisdom, experience and care? I guarantee you, no matter what you may be living through, you have an ancestor somewhere who has navigated similar pitfalls and might even want to be here to cheer you on.

I was raised Catholic, so this idea of Grandparents in Heaven watching over us was embedded into me early on - but my relationship has shifted. My ancestors don't sit far away on lofty white clouds - they're here, in my bones and blood and DNA. They're in the smile of my baby and the laughter of my sister and the strength of my hands when I knead bread. They're here in the tactile sense of a crowd behind my shoulders, just out of my line of sight, a felt sense of support, of we're here with you. And while it's possible that a psychiatric diagnosis and history of psychosis frees me up to perceive a little wider than most of us allow ourselves (being a crazy person is surprisingly liberating when they're not locking you up) - anyone can grow this relationship and find more support here. Even if you don't know your family, or hate your family - your ancestors number into the unimaginable - there's bound to be some you can be proud to have come from and happy to have by your side.

If I were to have one guiding my hand she might offer this: We are here. And we love you. This practice is not just about accessing support and wisdom for your own wellness. Honoring your ancestors, your dearly departed, is a way of being in right relationship with life, of being a deeply responsible human. It's about expressing thanks and gratitude for the hardships endured by your people to land you in a place of enormous privilege and relative ease. It's about respect for your elders, and knowing that those who've lived long lives (and after-lives) might very well have a thing or two to teach you. And yes, when you've shown up in a consistent and humble way, there's a plugging into this network of the unseen that comes with an extraordinary amount of vitality and juiciness. It is nourishment at a bone deep and soul level. It is a homecoming. It is yours.

So this Halloween, this Dia de los Muertos, this all Soul's Day - may you feel inspired to dig into your family history, learn a few words in an ancestral tongue, visit a gravesite, or set an extra place at dinner for your beloved dead. You might be surprised at who comes to visit.

Happy season of spooks - from my ghosts to yours.


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