The Genius of Genealogy

Genealogy is only one of many ways to satisfy a deep-seated yearning for truth and mystery. However, the Family Tree is perhaps the most primordial way to connect with our roots — not a choice but a biological given of our existence — the living mystery of life.

The Tree of Souls is a fundamental mytheme. It is arguably among the oldest shamanic practices and tropes, and therefore the foundation of magic. The conjoint heartbeats of the ancestors is the core rhythm, the drumbeat of time on the stretched canvas of flesh. That song is our prayer.

Rumi tells us, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” To be satisfied in life we must combine inner and outer, the deep inner wisdom with focused activity in the world. Tracing our own genealogy, climbing up and down our Tree of Life, gives us potential for both.

“The Middle Plane, between the Upper & Lower World , that the Celts call the “Thin Place” is where the center of gravity shifts away from the Ego and its functions into an interim position…to attending to the hints of the self.” (M.-L. von Franz, Psychotherapy)

Grasp Your Legacy
But we must seek out our family tree to learn its hidden secrets, find its dead ends, and recast the contents of our personal and collective unconscious. Jung noted in his own process that, “The mystery showed me in images what I should afterward live. I did not possess any of those boons that the mystery showed me, for I still had to earn all of them.” (Liber Novus, Page 254).

Your genealogy project can bring the past to life in ways you could not have imagined. Can a family tree give meaning to your life? Only if you infuse it with intention, value, and love. We invest in the message and are very involved and left with powerful residual impact. We may take the divine steps back for our own souls with corresponding results for our own well-being. But we may find in the process we become family stewards, bards, genwriters, or storytellers.

Well of Souls
Genealogy is a means of achieving empathy, of digging our own well of souls. Our undifferentiated ‘well of souls’ in the secret chambers of our hearts becomes more and more specific. We detect the current below, realizing the presence of something.  The content is a resonance between the stimuli and the stored and storied material in our psychobiology.

Voices of the Transcendent
`The many voices of the psyche’ is a transcendent ordering principle and aspirational or integrative position that may have a healing, unified or pluralistic agenda — different ways to understand one’s life.
Both the regressive and progressive perspective have their own type of wholeness, even if the mytheme differs.

Joseph Campbell said, “What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself. There is nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way you will find, live, become a realization of your own personal myth.”

Genealogy as a mythic image functions to connect the ego and the transcendent Other. Subjective images are powerful because they can be experienced symbolically.

Binary Ancestor Designation System
The logic of Nature is a natural discrete binary system of consistent generativity —
bifurcating arborescence. Relations identified by the terminology may form a system of relationships. … of symbols (the generating elements).
Without pedigree collapse, a person’s ancestor tree is a binary tree, formed by the person, the parents (2), the grandparents (4), great-grandparents (8), and so on. However, the number of individuals in such a tree grows exponentially and will eventually become impossibly high. For example, a single individual alive today would, over 30 generations going back to the High Middle Ages, have or roughly a billion ancestors, more than the total world population at the time.

This apparent paradox is explained by shared ancestors, referred to as pedigree collapse. Instead of consisting of all unique individuals, a tree may have multiple places occupied by a single individual. This typically happens when the parents of an ancestor are related to each other (sometimes unbeknownst to themselves). For example, the offspring of two first cousins has at most only six great-grandparents instead of the normal eight. In some cultures, cousins and other relations were permitted, encouraged or required to marry. This may have been to keep kin bonds, wealth and property within a family (endogamy) or simply because there was a limited number of potential marriage partners available. Among royalty, the frequent requirement to only marry other royals resulted in a reduced gene pool in which most individuals were the result of extensive pedigree collapse.

We enter the cave below the rock of reality to the reality of psychic manifestations. “We are standing in between two worlds, a visible tangible world, and the other invisible world, which somehow has a peculiar quality of substantiality; but very subtle, a sort of matter that is not obvious and is not visible, that penetrates bodies and apparently exists outside of time and space.

It is here and everywhere at the same time, and yet nowhere because it has no extension; it is a complete annihilation of space and time, which makes it a very different thing from our conception of an obvious world.” (Jung, Visions Seminars, Vol. 1 Page 206)

As Meister Eckhart said, “When the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own Image.” We go internal but come out with new information based on our experience. Personality widens with unconscious supplementation. Resilience builds throughout life, and close relationships are key.

We are standing in between two worlds, a visible tangible world, and the other invisible world, which somehow has a peculiar quality of substantiality; but very subtle, a sort of matter that is not obvious and is not visible, that penetrates bodies and apparently exists outside of time and space.

It is here and everywhere at the same time, and yet nowhere because it has no extension; it is a complete annihilation of space and time, which makes it a very different thing from our conception of an obvious world.” (Jung, Visions Seminars, Vol. 1, Page 206)

We can reclaim this most ancient genealogical practice and non-visible environment that allows us to gaze at a thing without seeing it. With each generation we enter a new level of interaction. Some branches of our tree clearly announce themselves as living forces of myth, which shows the nature of our life journey. Figures of the gods carry the idea of immortality, the image of ommortality.

Enhancing our self-awareness, genealogy makes alienation obsolete by retrieving lost unconscious energy. What has haunted us now informs us, activated both by initiating and responding to joint attention The mythic impulse is contained in allegory and symbolism that are clearly not literal.

The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place diminishes. Instead of a single answer there are many tacit replies. As a structured metaphor and technology, genealogy  amplifies or intensifies our faculties increasing the value and quality of our inner life. Are you willing to enter the Tree?

Passing Through
Genealogy opens an inner space, and can be an immersive experience, a virtual reality where we suspend certain disbeliefs and entertain other hypotheses. Jung implies that what is not material now is ‘spiritual,’ and we find those explicit spiritual roots in our family tree. “Experience of the inner world has for its object the phenomena of the psychic background, which in itself is so indefinite or so multifaceted that it can be expressed in an infinite variety of forms.”

At the dawn of mankind the Dragon constellation Draco was at the northern center of the heavens, overhanging the stellar system of the zodiac and its vast Precession drama. Jung tells us how family images spontaneously come back to us: “[The] dragon comes into the category of the great animals in the background who seem to regulate the world. Hence the mainly theriomorphic symbols for the signs of the zodiac as dominants of the psychic process.

“Naturally the phenomena observed in the background are not always archetypes; they can also be personal complexes which have acquired excessive importance. Father and mother are not only personal entities but also have a suprapersonal meaning and are frequently used as symbols for the deity.

In this way the religious view of the world, thrown out at the front door, creeps in again by the back, albeit in strangely altered form-so altered that nobody has yet noticed it.” (Letters Vol. II, Pages 604-605)

As we enliven our tree it enlivens our depths. Here the lands of the dead and the living intersect. Here, in a dimension of existential and psychological truths that underlie mythic process, we come to grips with perennial questions and mystery. Perhaps the most important way of connecting with the ancestors is the act of tracing the genesis oneself so that each part of the discovery process has a chance to work in us and on us imaginally over time.

Time means a past and a future, and so the individual is only complete when we add his actual structure as the result of past events, and at the same time the actual structure taken as the starting point of new tendencies. (Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 137)

Jung links “the discontent of civilization” with distancing ourselves from our historical roots, and loss of connection with our past. He felt that crucial connection fostered individuality which counteracts mass-mindedness. Knowing the historical family via the collective unconscious [and genealogy] is crucial to psychological health and self-knowledge, in Jung’s theory.

“The less we understand of what our fathers and forefathers sought,” he comments, “the less we understand ourselves, and thus we help with all our might to rob the individual of his roots and his guiding instincts, so that he becomes a particle in the mass […]” (
Jung, MDR).

It is in humanity’s best interest, then, to reconnect to this past, as the “ancestral psyches” within each of us can shed light on contemporary circumstances and situations (Jung, MDR, p.237). It is equally important, however, not to become lost in these past images, not to be “imprisoned in these memories” (MDR, p.320).

Representational Demands
The family tree is a nexus of historical and underlying mythological narratives which give birth to additional interconnecting narratives. Science offers some alternatives to supernatural appearances in dialogic inner speech. The brain’s conversations with itself can now be mapped, but may be more than that.

Just because some people experience pathological auditory hallucinations doesn’t mean all audialization is pathological.
We naturally can form a mental concept of a sound impression without ‘external’ agency. Some people can imagine whole symphonies. Information is made more comprehensible by perspective switching and rendering it as sound.

Findings show that  forms of inner speech exist which can be both phenomenologically and neurologically distinguished from the silent commentary of a single inner voice. Contributions of inner speech and forms of mental imagery create vivid inner dialogues. Even Genesis describes a creation of spoken words rather than acts.

“Inner speech has been implicated in important aspects of normal and atypical cognition, including the development of auditory hallucinations. neural activation for inner speech involves conversations (‘dialogic inner speech’) with single-speaker scenarios (‘monologic inner speech’). Generation of dialogic (compared with monologic) scenarios was associated with a widespread bilateral network including left and right superior temporal gyri, precuneus, posterior cingulate and left inferior and medial frontal gyri. Activation associated with cognitive and dialogic scenarios overlapped in areas of right posterior temporal cortex previously linked to mental state representation.”

Inner speech is a complex and varied phenomenon. In behavioral studies, everyday inner speech is often reported to be involved in self-awareness, past and future thinking and emotional reflection, while in cognitive research, inner speech appears to fulfill a variety of mnemonic and regulatory functions. Inner speech may reflect the endpoint of a developmental process in which social dialogues, mediated by language, are internalized as verbal thought. Following from this view, the subjective experience of inner speech will mirror the external experience of communication and often have a dialogic structure, involving the co-articulation of differing perspectives on reality and, in some cases, representation of others’ voices.

Time alters us and our perceptions. Many experience the bittersweet feeling of arriving in the future without being able to tell our past self how things turned out among the hypothetical conversations that play out in our heads. Perhaps all our ancestors are ‘talking’ but nobody is listening. And even if we do, we may be frustrated others are unable to relate to the experience.

On the other hand, the plot of our life, flaws, and anxieties may begin to make more sense. Awareness of our perspective enlarges, personally and historically. We realize each ancestor has a life as vivid and complex as our own, and that it takes a long time to forge a deep relationship.

Family Battlecry
Genealogy is a feeling and a challenge, a lost art of ancestors returning with a vengeance. The mottoes on heraldic arms are actually battlecries. Just as the Scots shouted their clan genealogies before battle, our family tree is a declaration of our intention to ‘continue to be’ and to continue in our traditional ways venerating our forebears. They recited their clan genealogies in Gaelic, shouted their war cries, then attacked.

Clans are family groups and their sept branches are all blood relatives. Highland families had a traditional seannachaidh, who could recite the descent of that particular family and state its relationship to other families in the larger clan.

For 2000 years in Alba, the Senchai, Seannachaidh, or Sennachie 
[sen-uh-kee] have woven the clan’s present members with the history, honor, deeds and lineage of those who have gone before them. These loyal and respected clansmen are appointed by the clan chief as professional storytellers of family genealogy, history, and legend.

Both a Pict and Gael tradition, this ancient position is a Genealogist, Historian, Bard, Orator, and tribal Herald.
The office of Ri-seannachie had supreme jurisdiction in matters of genealogy, and the duty of preserving the Royal pedigree. Each clan had its own Druid priests and judges under the chief Druid of the Pictish High King.

Disembodied Information
In the ‘Cult of the Severed Head’ in Provance, a head carved in stone was the repository of the soul and could live on and continue to speak to the living and make prophecies. Such heads
represented a medium for communication with the Other World, hinting at an older Celtic mythos and tradition — cult of relics, cult of the head.

Bran’s severed head continued to speak to his followers who returned it to Britain. King Arthur dug up the head, declaring the country would be protected only by his great strength. Brân the Blessed was like the Arthurian  Fisher King, the keeper of the Holy Grail. He has a mortal wound in the leg (Brân’s wound was in his foot) but stays alive in his mystical castle due to the effects of the Grail, waiting to be healed by Percival. In the Welsh version of Perceval, Peredur son of Efrawg visits a mysterious castle, but finds only a severed human head, not the Grail. Some said the Grail had the power to restore the fallen, like Brân’s cauldron.

In Norse myth, Mímir (Old Norse, “The rememberer, the wise one”) is renowned for his knowledge and wisdom but is beheaded during the Æsir-Vanir War.
Odin embalms the head of Mímir with herbs so that it would not rot, and spoke charms over it, which gave it the power to speak to him and reveal secrets to him. He keeps Mímir’s head with him because it divulges information from other worlds. It recites secret knowledge and counsel to him.

But cults of Southern France may not correlate with those of Britain or the Neolithic era and elsewhere as a coherent practice. Skull relics are still worshiped there with candles. T
he medieval town Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume has a basilica and crypt dedicated to Mary Magdalene said to contain the blackened relic of her skull.

Neolithic Jericho practiced burial of loved ones under their houses. Sometimes the severed head was removed and the skull buried after defleshing. Faces were reconstructed with plaster to retain the identity of the family member. Individual facial features were made with red and black paint. Some eye orbits were inlaid with shells and the skulls were decorated with hair and mustaches.

The notion of a ‘cult of the head’ remains controversial, but it is a fact we imagine it was so.
This powerful trope brings to mind cults of martyred saints who carry their immortalized heads. The Templars allegedly worshiped of the severed head of John the Baptist they called Baphomet, who talked to them and possessed “divine wisdom
.” Personifications of disembodied metaphysical entities are an ancient equivalent of media ‘talking heads’ as culture leaders.

What we can take from this practice is the primacy of the psyche for personification of the unconscious — the multiple personifications or perspectives of psyche. We spontaneously personify psyche all the time, without effort since it is a psychological necessity. Personifying allows the image to work on us — a potential way of knowing what is hidden in the heart. A grounded ego uses personification for growth.

To personify something from the unconscious is to treat it like a person with a sort of inherent autonomy motivated by purposes and intentions. We even lend it a voice and bond with it. Personifying in archetypal psychology is “the spontaneous experiencing, envisioning and speaking of the configurations of existence as psychic presences.” (Re-Visioning, 12)

Personifying is a way of making subjective experience, passionate identification, and indwelling images more tangible through conversation and relationship in symbolic form. Hillman (1975) called it “an epistemology of the heart, a thought-mode of feeling.” It imagines what’s inside, outside,
and makes this content alive, personal, and even divine.

We personify that which we love. This is the natural expression of mythic consciousness to mythic consciousness. Illustrious ancestors aren’t just statues of greatness. Through this spontaneous activity of psyche we enter myth “as if” it were real.

Such non-directive thinking or “soul-talk” is the key to understanding archetypes as both guides and different parts of ourselves. “Loving is a way of knowing, and for loving to know, it must personify. Personifying is thus a way of knowing, especially knowing what is invisible, hidden in the heart,” Hillman says in Re-Visioning.

“Personifying is a way of being in the world and experiencing the world as a psychological field, where persons are given with events, so that events are experiences that touch us, move us, appeal to us.”  “…all the figures and feelings of the psyche are wholly ‘mine,’ while at the same time recognizing that these figures and feelings are free of my control and identity, not ‘mine’ at all.” (Hillman)

“By means of personifications my sense of person becomes more vivid for I carry with me at all times the protection of my daimones: the images of dead people who mattered to me, of ancestral figures of my stock, cultural and historical persons of renown and people of fable who provide exemplary images–a wealth of guardians. They guard my fate, guide it, probably are it. “Perhaps–who knows,” writes Jung, “these eternal images are what men mean by fate.” We need this help, for who can carry his fate alone?”

Hillman notes that personifying is a creative function. Whether it is done pathologically or intentionally, it functions to “save the diversity and autonomy of the psyche from domination by any single power, whether this domination be by a figure of archetypal awe in one’s surroundings or by one’s own egomania. ‘ (Re-Visioning, 32)

In the family tree we don’t require the physical relic to honor the deceased, including the heads of the household. “To keep the light alive in the darkness, that’s the point, and only there your candle makes sense.” (Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pp. 133-138)

Jung stated, “It was as if my tools were activated by my libido. But there must be tools there to be activated, that is, animated images, images with libido in them; then the additional libido that one supplies brings them up to the surface.

If I had not given this additional libido with which to bring them to the surface, the activity would have gone on just the same, but would have sucked my energy down into the unconscious. By putting libido into it, one can increase the speaking power of the unconscious.(Jung, 1925 Seminar, Lecture 5, Pages 37-45).

The Big Tree
Doing one’s own genealogy, even if it has been done before, is the best way to integrate and digest it.
The ancestors do not really live today but are not fully dead either as living images. We can ensoul our growing branches best in the context in which they arise.

Relying on the work of others removes us a step from the core of the process; it might stimulate imagery, but it’s more like reading about a journey than making it oneself. Much of the nuance and functional relations are lost — the chaos, the struggle, the blind alleys. The healing work requires direct engagement for familiarity with the holistic image as well as the details of each family encountered.

Arguably, the family tree is the necessary foundation to psychological integration. We begin a long, slow circulation among the many branches of our tree. Jung says, “The circulation is not merely movement in a circle, but means on the one hand the marking off of the sacred precinct, and on the other, the fixation and concentration.” (CW 13, Alchemical Studies, Pg 25).

The circulation of blood in the arteries mirrors the circulation of sap in the tree, and the circularity of cosmological or metaphysical thought — analogical thinking that links the macrocosm and microcosm, above and below. The ancestral field has an immediate effect, both healing and challenging, on our whole lives.


~ by ionamiller on January 12, 2016.

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