Ancestors & Archetypes, 2015 new
Facing Your Ancestors
Descent From Antiquity
Families are bound together eternally. The power of genealogy is the power of story. This is the story of the family and the diverse characters that populate the many branches of our family tree. These are stories that matter, that preceded your corporeal existence. This story reveals how things came to be as they are — as you are.
Genealogy is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. The stories of our ancestors open us to deeper experience. Our personal story is embedded in our larger inherited story and culture. Genealogy helps us connect more deeply with our unique story and meaning in life beyond a personal story. It is a mythic archaeology that connects us with that which has given us shape, opening a path to transformation.
Genealogy is the narrative of a pre-modern world. It has its roots in the ancient theogeny of gods and goddesses, divine-king lists and The Bible. Ancestral gods and ancestral religions developed over eons and are as old as particular branches of mankind — gods of the blood. Astrologically determined gods and goddesses can often be found at the roots of dynastic houses. Royal houses claimed power through descent from ancestral gods.
Gods are difficult to destroy or conceal. Fictitious lines of descent blend indistinguishably with medieval forgeries. Some divinities may originally have been historical persons or war-chiefs, now lost to the mists of pre-history. Seedlines codify ancient ethnic identity and empires. Later, royals added them to their lines to bolster their claims to divine rule and the founding of thrones. Genealogy was a geographical and spiritual compass.
When Rome Christianized in the fourth century, it cut off the mythic corpus, and demoted gods to human status and allegories. The medieval period filled the gap with tales of the Holy Grail. The pagan content of mythology was codified in the mid-fourteenth century in Boccassio’s Genealogy. Later, the Carolingians used such works to justify their right to rule, also citing the spurious Donation of Constantine, which the Church used to justify the appointment of rulers.
Traditional genealogy considered these mythological inclusions best-practice, yet it may be more of a psychic than historical “fact” — the product of a collision between pagan and Christian societies and their reconciliation. Historical time required a linear descent, even if it masked pagan roots at the theological fringe. Even if medieval genealogies connecting ancient kings to Adam are pure invention, they retain certain psychic values that are part of the archaeology of the collective unconscious.
The Tree of Life
Our personal genealogy is a process of self-discovery and self-knowledge with its own procedures and measures of ‘truth.’ It seems ironic that technology is allowing us to retrieve such essential aspects of our own humanity. Curiously, genealogy is the second most popular online subject, second only to sex, much like sex precedes procreation.
Your family tree is an encyclopedia of human nature. Genealogy doesn’t give our lives context; it is the context and material ground of our existence. The Tree of Life carries the evolution of the world, gives life to the universe, and understanding or consciousness. Life originates from and disappears back into the Tree. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life is a symbol of the process of creation and inner wholeness.
Jung said (CW5, para321) that, “The tree of life may have been, in the first instance, a fruit-bearing genealogical tree, and hence a kind of tribal other.” It was a central symbol of spiritual unity, wisdom, beauty, love, strength, and the power of the Universe rooted in the divine. Nietzsche pointed out that as with both people and trees, “The more one seeks to rise into height and light, the more vigorously do one’s roots struggle earthward, downward into the dark, the the deep — into evil.”
The tree is an early symbol of spiritual development and our own immortal character, the living structure of our inner self — transcendence to lofty heights. Below the surface, the subtext remains, “Who is this person having these experiences?” We are literally and symbolically the “fruit” of the Tree of Life. We need a powerful new story for our relationship with the Earth: we are, indeed, part of nature and not separate from it in any way. Genealogy helps ground us in this paradigm and helps develop our sense of deep time and rootedness in contemporary life with a global perspective.
The World Tree
Within 5-7 generations our family tree meets up and merges with the World Tree. This is especially true for American Colonial descent, where the progenitors and their droplines are well-known. Once you research back to your Gateway Ancestors who immigrated, you can easily find the lines that connect back as far as professional genealogists have determined and merge even further with fictional, legendary and mythological characters.
Outside of genealogy, the World Tree is often related to shamanism. As a link to ancestral spirits, it is an integral part of the shamanic cosmology. The World Tree is a bridge that connects heaven, earth and underworld. When a shaman “climbs the tree,” he or she ascends into the Upper World and the creative sources of power — to the gods, to the zenith of heaven. The philosophical tree represents a sublimation of our spirit. The shaman receives intercessory messages.
In some ways the World Tree is identical with the shaman. Creatures can appear in the Tree, including snakes, birds, goats, and other totems and signs. The World Tree is a tree of initiation, ordeals, astral or mystic flight, vision quest, and fate or destiny. The shaman mediates between humanity and the spirit world, and in a simpler way, the genealogist performs a similar symbolic service, especially when interpreting a pedigree. To be cut off from the sacred tree is to be cut off from the spirit world, a condition which is likened to ‘illness’ and requires healing for loss of soul.
The serpents in our Tree are the individual lines of descent from various common ancestors. They lead us to question who and what we are, what we know, and what we thought we knew about our roots. They offer us Knowledge. They are part of the larger truth — that we are born and we die — and we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Yet, Jung said we fear our serpent as we fear the numinosum. He concludes, “All we have to give the world and God is ourselves as we are.”
Good and evil unite in the growth of the Tree. It combines masculine phallic representations with feminine nurture and growth. We are the serpent of wisdom, the union of good and evil, in our own Tree. Genealogy is a ritual in which we climb up and down through the branches of our tree in deep remembrance, an exercise in ‘time travel’ that expands our consciousness.
Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell wrote exhaustively on this Tree as the center of the world, a vertical World Axis or dimension that symbolizes the capacity for non-ordinary experience, including shamanic trance that reinforces community links with cosmic consciousness. The Sacred Tree as such a center is potentially everywhere. The drum, like the heartbeat of the community is a means of climbing the tree and contacting the spirits. Campbell called the cosmic tree a wish-fulfilling, fruitful symbol of fertility, regeneration, and immortality.
We need to know that we have a history of continuity that is profound. Our bloodline is our connection to Creation. We follow the steps created by the bodies and minds of the past. Our artform goes back to antiquity and is the measure of man. In this way we penetrate our own unknown origins and the culture of our ancestors. We think, feel, remember, and imagine. Memory is a form of imagination.
As existentially powerful as science or religion, genealogy can expand our worldview and help us weave our own coherent narrative. It helps us unravel our emotional inheritance. Sometimes what the forebearers did somehow becomes our story. We can re-imagine the whole planet as our ancestral lands. It helps us grasp how we are holistically embedded in a vast seamless web of life, a world alive with cosmic spirit, as counterpoint to death, tragedy, destruction, and despair.
Reading our genealogical lines is ultimately a heuristic process — one requiring deep research and circumspect interpretation. But, connecting with the vitality of our lineage — the living sap of the Tree — elevates the mind and sublimes the thought. It is less about a “me generation” story than a grand “story of us” that ranges beyond illusions of time, space, and ego. We can cultivate the Elysian Fields of our ancestors to good effect. Thus, genealogy can be a transformative art. The Grail is a Mystery and the search for it a Quest for self-actualization, a way of initiation.
If we are too literal about it, we see only a string of corpses. But if we truly assimilate our heritage, we alter it creatively and give life to it through our individual understanding. We can bring our genealogy into meaningful dialogue with artistic and cultural disciplines. Genealogy is arguably one of the most “grounding” activities in which we can participate. From this fertile ground springs the acorn of the soul. It’s an old Platonic and Jungian idea that the soul picks the father and mother of the child…and thereby the direct ancestors.
The ancestors are the symbolic and material ground of our being. Psyche is not in us; we are in it which is everywhere. Jung pointed out in Letters Vol. II that without psyche we can neither know nor believe. We learn to center, reflect, and listen to voices within. The Great Work of genealogy is a small price to pay for turning the unconscious lead of uprootedness into the psychological gold of knowing one’s true origins.
We live in relative autonomy but remain enmeshed in the epigenetic memories of our particular family. Our rich descent is about NOW, as much or more than it is about what has gone before. Our personal mythology is shaped in our formative years. The ancient myths live on in the stories we tell about our own lives. The old gods are there in spirit in our triumphs and struggles. Myths pertain to the primordial gods and goddesses, while legend is about historical human heroes.
Our life stories are personal myths that emulate the characters and themes found in old myths. We act on mythic archetypes without knowing we are doing it. We choose our identity as well as the shape and direction of our lives through such such scripts. When we resonate with our ancestors, it helps us make sense of our own lives.
We are cast in the natural form and and semblance of those who came before us. We must each answer the call of the Ancestors to the adventure of self-discovery in our own way. Group approaches generally devolve into the lowest common denominator, as Jung describes. We can approach our lineage in the spirit of individuation. In the genealogical matrix of personalities, each ancestor has a potential effect on our consciousness. Naturally, that potential will not be realized in full because many of our ancestral lines will stub out sooner or later in the dead ends of unknown individuals and lost family lines.
The Royal We
Because they were recorded better for historical and other reasons, noble and royal lines are more available. Anyone tracing to royal roots will meet and share the same medieval pool of progenitors — the “usual suspects.” It is only natural to identify with some more than others, depending on how we resonate with their stories, for good or evil. In Letters Vol. II, Jung said, “We think it is enough to discover new things, but we don’t realize that knowing more demands a corresponding development of morality.”
We may find ourselves in a participation mystique, or project our feelings onto them, or even become ‘possessed’ or fascinated by certain individuals and their qualities or deeds. For example, The Da Vinci Code fad has produced a group of fantasists riveted to alternative stories of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, while ignoring even their most recent ancestors, who are probably as, or more influential psychologically-speaking. In the worst cases such unconscious identification can lead to dissociation, ‘possession,’ and dysfunctionality. In an ideal world, genealogy supports maintaining our basic integrity, giving new meaning to “knowing who we are,” and how deeply we are tied to self, world, and others.
Some people even develop compensatory personas based solely on such spurious connections. Our interpretations of our genealogy may lead to a lowering (abaissment) of consciousness, while others expand awareness. But we cannot retrieve the worldviews of pre-literate, agrarian or feudal societies to solve today’s problems of the information age and global society. The problem compounds when we try to grasp the functional realities of ancient civilizations and cultures. What we do experience is our fantasy images of what those individuals and times might have been like. Images are the basic experience of psyche. These images are our prima materia.
In The Interior Dialogue (2009), Stanley Krippner describes personal mythology as “… an approach to personal transformation using the development of participants’ personal stories about existential human issues for self healing and personal growth. There are also cultural, institutional, ethnic, and familial myths which influence our personal myths.
We use our stories as personal myths. Often they can be found through our dreams, where we are often informed long before we know intellectually. There are four factors that influence personal myths: biology, culture, interpersonal experiences, and transpersonal experiences and how to work with them. By identifying, evaluating, and transforming dysfunctional myths, beliefs, and worldviews, and working with them you can transform them.”
We live in a time of many competing mythologies. Genealogy can help us clarify personal, characterological, and familial issues. Our genealogy becomes a psychologically constructed reality. We have no real experience of ancestral habits of thought and expression nor by-gone eras of strife, order and disorder. Sentimentality, nostalgia, and confabulation are poor substitutes. Others spout idiosyncratic doctrines or cliche prophecies based on their so-called supernatural connections. Such raw mythologizing is a far cry from the aesthetic pursuit of personal mythology, as described by Krippner, and others.
Your Genealogical exploration is an archetypal Journey during which you travel back into the worlds inhabited by your ancestors. Some people are rationally motivated to find and preserve their lineage for the family. Others are emotionally driven by conscious and unconscious needs. Those who take a religious approach will emphasize legendary ‘holy blood’ aspects. Those who are fascinated with myths and tales may embrace them as ‘real.’
We can often not put a face to our ancestors, but we can give them back their names, and thus FACE our ancestors in the most direct way possible, with honor and respect.
We create our own ultimate narrative of our genealogical story based on our self-image, beliefs and worldview. Because the ‘spiritual’ romantics embrace connections others consider ‘false’ or non-historical, the rationalist genealogists have moved toward removing or cutting off lines they consider ‘fictional’. But they cannot cut off the deep root of the collective unconscious for which these ancient ideas are ‘real.’ For example, immortality may not be ‘real’, but our unconscious behaves as if it is so. The unconscious believes in immortality, even if we don’t.
There is a simple solution to this polarization. Taking a psychological approach to the family and world tree de-literalizes the legendary and mythic lines. We can simply retain their fructifying and life-giving potential without making them into unsupportable ‘facts.’ Jung said, “mythological motifs are ‘facts;’ they never change; only theories change,” (Letters II, p. 191). We can’t deny their existence by pruning them from the World Tree.
Archetypal psychology has worked with such material to provide a viable model for approaching the integration of these ancient figures into our conscious lives. If we apply the methods, we cannot fail to discover archetypal motifs. It isn’t a system as much as a way of “seeing through.”
If we apply depth psychology methods conscientiously, we can avoid most of the literalization, projection, and ego inflation that affects many amateur genealogists who fail to comprehend the material in a way that reflects best-practice. Instead our approach to the “as if” real portions of the pedigree is poetic and deliteralized, and doesn’t seek to retrieve the past as much as live more fully with it. We can “evoke” and “constellate” such material within the hermetically sealed process of Jungian Genealogy.
In one sense, all these lives are yours, but not in the individual new age sense of past lives. You will meet characters of all psychological types, and perhaps re-member your passed lives: villains and heroes, the famous and infamous, saints and sinners, priests and warriors, fair maidens, bastards and bold knights, kings and queens, genius and psychopaths, and a host of supporting ancestors. And they will all be your gr-grandparents.
We may judge, deny, or reject some ancestors while having an instinctive rapport with others. They help us reveal our shadow traits as well as self-actualizing capacities. In most cases they lived in a far more challenging world in which to survive, much less thrive. Their lives can inform and inspire us. The trail back through history can be followed in our lines of descent. History becomes personal. Your sense of time, depth, and intimacy expands. Our whole being, our whole body is an intergenerational as well as personal memory down to the cellular, genetic, and epigenetic level.
If to ‘worship’ is to show honor or give devotional attention or adoring regard, then in genealogy we can ‘worship’ our ancestors, without taking that too literally. We can respect, honor, and attend without being consumed in the labyrinthine matrix of the dead or in their many conflicts, infidelities, and vile deeds. We can view the sketchier, legendary parts of our pedigree with an imaginal eye.
Deities and Demigods
This is not concretized personal genealogy, over burdened by the literalized personal conflicts and traumas of the family system. Neither a lie nor a fantasy, it is our underlying archetypal genealogy, without the suffocating pressures of personal genealogy. This allows psychic movement within the archetypal possibilities and situations behind their images. Are Uranus, Aphrodite, Hercules, Isis, and Odin really our “ancestors”? Such deities and demigods represent our transpersonal potential. Are they really in our blood, or the roots of the psyche?
This is the traditional way of showing forth the ancient shared connection with our common roots — with the collective unconscious, including the gods and goddesses that appear at the foundation of our genealogies. We learn the family trees of godforms in school, but not their specific relationships to our drop lines. Many of the deities are related in more than one way. Stories of gods and creation are not just about the past. They are about us now.
Our ancestral lines braid together through marriages and migration. Our histories are woven together in cross-cousin and foreign marriage bridges. Long royal genealogies include nearly every war and clash of cultures throughout history. You will have progenitors on both sides of many battles. There will be persecutors and victims, even genocides. While bordering on factual our historical gleanings may or may not be accurate.
We may find it hard to absorb that whole timeline of human turmoil at such a personal level. It takes time to digest and integrate as the actual stories of your ancestors, especially when they fade into myth and legend. They may not be historical facts, but psyche has its own facts and effects on our beliefs and behaviors. Genealogy reflects the psychic facts of our protracted existence. Psychic realities are expressions of soul cultivated by imagination.
Tracing one’s lines becomes a meditational activity. Finding the homes and stories of ancestors helps us flesh them out and imaginally travel back to their times and places. Many of these simple tasks have the ritualistic effect of helping us grow closer to the ancestors — to those whose names we can now readily recite and place.
One’s entire pedigree symbolizes the totality of the Self and its transcendent nature. But no one can integrate the wholeness of the entire self because that would limit it. Jung said, “in reality its experience is unlimited and endless.” Biologically, we do not contain or express the genes of all of our ancestors, and our specific combination that does manifest is what makes us unique individuals.
Ritual, Dreams, and Imagination
We can expand our awareness further with ‘dream genealogy.’ Jung said, “In the deepest sense, we all dream not of ourselves, but out of what lies between us and the other.” We can gather information about our ancestors in our reveries, dreams and shamanic journeys. ‘Big dreams’ can reveal elusive family history. By entering the world of the ancestors, we tap our deep unconscious, collective memories, intuition, vision, and wisdom. Lucid Dreaming and Dream Walking have been used by some to open ancestral connections.
Rituals, such as a simple ancestral altar, to more elaborate enactments or recitals are an option. More than faith, habit or even magic, Jung saw rites as psychologically effective symbolic acts, “giving expression to the archetypal expectation of the unconscious.” “Rites give satisfaction to the collective and numinous aspects of the moment, beyond their purely personal significance.” (Letters II, p.208-210) Acts of imagination can also be seen as rituals that enrich our perceptions.
We can edit or amend our family story as we gain a more accurate understanding our lines and the past. We are a ripple on the ocean of this past experience. We can move systematically back in time or take quantum leaps into other realities. Other optional methods include hypnosis or even word association. Those with “Second Sight” will draw from those experiences while others try to foster that ability. Perhaps one of the most productive techniques we can use is the dialogical method, such as that outlined by Ira Progoff in his works on journaling.
Some seek answers to questions, while others seek only the Mystery in the darkness. We connect with something greater than ourselves, finding more than we know. Art integrates the material and spiritual. Artistic expression in all forms is another way to let the ancestors in, to give them a voice or presence — to receive a blessing or healing. Genealogy is an evolving construction of our inner reality.