On the Trail of the Grail
Finding Deeper Meaning in Genealogy
Ancestors, Legends, & Myths
Iona Miller, 2014
The ancestors are, of course, the archetypes — they are the psychological ancestors. In a really dangerous situation they may be quite real. –Jung
Today we have great difficulty with ancestors. We do not know what they are or how to enable them. Yet establishing a harmonious relation with these ancestors is crucial to our symbolic life. These figures came long before us and will outlive us. Giving the ancestors that people our psyche the recognition they need is the only way their blessings can flow.
We can participate with the same living unconscious that was revered by our ancestors. Genealogy offers a way to connect with the deep, imaginal spirituality of our ancestors without appropriating from other cultures or crafting a new spirituality. We can reconnect to ancestors that trace their roots through our bloodlines.
The co-creative process of soul-making takes us out of our “only personal” ancestry and empowers the Ancestors. We break through the boundaries that separate our inner and outer lives. They create synchronistic fields around us that continually generate and store symbolic awareness. The seed of life conceals the geometry of creation. Imagination has its own way of knowing.
Experience of Ancestors as opposed to ancestry is central to the symbolic life and the transformation of cultural images, ideals and institutions. Genealogy helps us free ourselves from our primitive ancestors’ psychological enmeshment by giving form to their countless typical experiences. Our world is ‘haunted’ by the absence-presence of the ancestors. Rituals of our ancestors paid homage to the afterlife. Our ancestors also rest in the sacred landscapes of the psyche, not only in specific geographies. Psyche is not of today, but extends back many millions of years.
In psychology, an archetype is the innate knowledge, images, or ways of thinking that are inherited from ancestors. During significant events (birth, death, disaster) human behavior takes on a typical form. In the archetype concept we mirror the emotions of our remote ancestors in how we act and react in these significant situations. These architects of dreams and symptom speak through divination, myth and ritual enactment, offering a hidden language suffused with a sort of pre-rational verbal therapy that produces real and effective changes within us.
Descent From Antiquity
Our ancient Pagan ancestors had their pantheons of Gods & Goddesses. The gods are transpersonal or spiritual ancestors, as our traditional lines of descent show. Many claimed ancestries are considered by modern scholars to be fabrications, especially the claims of kings and emperors who trace their ancestry to gods or the founders of their civilization. Some genealogists now cut off what are labeled as fictious or legendary roots. Genealogy, legend and political prophecies played a crucial role in constructing the past in the service of royal power. Many royals
traced their lineage not only to the pagan gods but also to the priest-kings of the Old Testament.
Genealogy has an evolutionary history of its own. What scholars term a “defect” in such lines may not be so psychologically. There is no harm and maybe psychological benefit to maintaining such ties, so long as they are not taken literally. They are part of our personal origin myth. Royal descents from mythical heroes include, Odin, Titans, Aphrodite, Zeus, Hercules, Isis, Adam and Eve, Mary Magdalene and Jesus, Muhammad, Tamar Tephi, Scota, Beli Mawr. King Arthur, and more.
Archetypes, ancestors and allies form our mythic self. The knowledge, but also the sins and wounds of our ancestors live within us. There is a deep longing inside each of us for something our ancestors received, but that is missing now — the information that connects us to the whole — a creative relation to the figures of the deep psyche that people our imagination. Genealogy helps us enter that symbolic life.
We forget that the soul has its own ancestors. Archetypes are directly knowable as a product of the shared experiences of our ancestors. We relive the soul of the ancestors as primordial psyche, inherited from common ancestors in the distant human past. We can receive guidance in the dreamtime from archetypal ancestors. We do not only carry the genes of our ancestors; we also carry their memories. Jung said, underneath the modern surface of the mind lurks the original primitive mentality of our ancestors, complete with vivid stories and symbols that have a natural appeal to us and seem to appear unbidden in our dreams and fantasies.
To conduct our own personal research and to find out for ourselves, maybe all we need to do is listen to our inner DNA. The unconscious comprises in itself the psychic life of our ancestors right back to the earliest beginnings. We can listen to the voices, feelings, sights and experiences of our ancestors. The land of the dead is the country of our ancestors and the images who walk in on us are our ancestors. They can be associated with the elements of nature. They exert their claim on us, and power over us — a sense of our internal fate — as psychic representations of our geographical, historical and cultural contexts.
We are under the influence of ancestors, archetypes, family and collective consequences. The achievement of consciousness by our distant ancestors is reflected in the hero or heroine’s journey. Active imagination isn’t new; our ancestors staring into the fire were exercising just this. The hero’s journey represents the primitive struggle of our ancestors in entering an unknown world of danger, but overcoming the danger and bringing back to the tribe or group some discovery or treasure that will benefit everyone.
Legacy of the Ancestors
Ancestors brings together genealogy, common mythological roots and psychology.
Our ancestors often use metaphors in order to make the issue clear. The “living serpents” of our descent lines can be used to invoke the ancestors. Genealogy is a form of veneration. The study of our ancestors is the study of the Tree of Life. An altar, for example, can honor your biological ancestors, the universal archetypal ancestors, or both.
The purpose of the totem meal, grail, or eucharist is to reunite the participants with the life of their ancestors. Their lives, joys and fears are within us. In this way, they are with us always. Our ancestors revered nature, but were also irrational and superstitious about it. We can still turn to nature for insight as our ancestors did for millennia. Most of us have lost touch with religious traditions of our ancestors; we no longer connect with their sacred myths and metaphors. Genealogy is more direct, more personal.
Healing shifts occur through the conscious Feminine, Sophia, Wisdom, the divine feminine embodied in the world. The exploits and mode of being of the great ancestors resonate, to a lesser degree, with our experience of dreaming. The concealed and mysterious are as important as the revealed and understood. The ancestors are jealous; they want to be remembered. Remembering them is not just an empty custom, but imbued with meaning. The deeper meaning of much traditional healing centers on ancestor reverence.
Working your lines can be meditative, in and of itself. Concentration is an art. When performing an ancestor meditation, people experience different things. You may find yourself meeting a specific person that you are aware of in your family history. Some people, however, meet their ancestors as archetypes. In other words, it may not be a specific individual you meet, but rather a symbol. Either way, understand that meeting these individuals is a gift. Pay attention to what they say and do — it may be that they’re trying to give you a message.
When properly respected, they are benevolent guardians. Our search is answered by initiation: the blessing of the elders. We need our specific stories heard, in the context of the universal, by someone who speaks both linear and symbolic languages. Great assistance comes from the lineage of elders who have passed it on, and from the “hard wiring” of archetypal patterns inside us all. The ancestors are eagerly waiting to help us, if we ask.
Many old stories talk about how the teachings are lost, again and again, and must be rediscovered by each generation, and reshaped into the words that can be heard in the world that generation inhabits. In honoring them, we honor the principles and values they represent. Thus we find the heavenly city inhabited by the mythic forefathers, the ancestors who constitute a genealogy of current names. These “genealogies” are not strictly historical, but mythic and symbolic. There is no reason, however, why they should be seen as standing in opposition to history. These “genealogical” names are steeped in a numerical, linguistic, astronomical, rhythmical, cyclic, and magical meaning.
The tomb is a symbol of the unconscious as well as an alchemical vessel in which transformation occurs. Jung related it to the womb, suggesting the tomb is a place of the past that connects us with our deceased ancestors, a place from which the psyche is born, a connector to our psychic background. The tomb also represents the completion of circle as a place where we will ultimately rejoin the ancestors once more.
An exploration of the ways in which the ancestors, from the archetypal to the personal, influence us in the present and implicate us in lives of subsequent generations.
Mending the Ancestral Web
The known and unknown stories of our ancestors are present in our personal symptoms, disposition, split loyalties, aspirations, and the questions which inform our lives. Our ancestral and cultural legacies continue living in our bodies, through our relationships, in both matter and the timelessness of psyche. These legacies root us in the past and implicate us in the lives of the generations that will follow.
The ancestors, from the archetypal to the personal, influence us tody. If our ancestors managed to overcome a multitude of problems, such as severe illnesses, wars, loss of loved ones or severe economic declines, we who are genetically similar can successfully are reminded we can overcome a multitude of problems.
Many spiritual practices and religions – particularly in native cultures and Asia – revolve around both the acceptance and, in many cases, the worship of ancestors. Even in western cultures there is an increased tendency to include ancestor and archetypal relationship methods into various therapies and self-help programs.
The exploration and eventual acceptance of your family and ancestors is important for emotional and spiritual grounding. Depending on your memories and/or your family history, your ancestors can be a gateway to bliss . . . or a reminder of failure and limitation. Either way, and whether you like it or not, however, these folks are still your family.
On a biological level we are our ancestors. We have their DNA, their predispositions for certain illnesses, and so on. The ancestors companion us and bequeath to us their unfinished business. Likewise on a spiritual level, we have their “stuff” – their stories, memories, emotions, energy, and even behavioral tendencies. We are their continuation . . . and also their current expression in the physical world.
You and your ancestors are one and the same. We are psychologically pre-conditioned by our ancestors in history, who shaped our complexes, fears and obsessions. You possess the wisdom and intelligence to become a full human being because you inherited an eternity of wisdom, not only from your blood ancestors but also from the wholeness of life itself.
Even if you do not believe in the spiritual aspect of ancestry, you have probably witnessed the handing down of traditions, upbringing, and temperament from parent to child within your family tree. Some of these things are wonderfully empowering, wise, and nourishing. Some of these things are also painful, ignorant, and destructive.
Simply by accepting the power of family and ancestors, you can break the harmful cycles that have been handed down. You can begin to heal old wounds and free yourself from behaviors and emotions that no longer serve you. You can even discover the most liberating emotion of all – forgiveness. Developing a strong relationship with your ancestors is profoundly important, second only to your relationship with yourself.
Jung felt very strongly that he was “under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by [his] parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors.” His differentiation of the collective unconscious into its various levels and his description of the nature of psyche provide a working model which allows us to see how our biography is part of a continuing story, part of a dynamic web of relations, which has its roots and telos in the stories of our ancestors and descendants.
“Everything psychic is pregnant with the future.” ~Carl Jung
For, in the last resort, we are conditioned not only by the past, but by the future, which is sketched out in us long beforehand and gradually evolves out of us. ~Jung, Analytical Psychology and Education, Page 110.
My soul — are you there? I have returned, I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you. After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again. Should I tell you everything I have seen, experienced, and drunk in? Or do you not want to hear about all the noise of life and the world? But one thing you must know: the one thing I have learned is that one must live this life. This life is the way, the long sought-after way to the unfathomable, which we call divine.
~Carl Jung; Red Book