My journey with ancestral healing actually started through plants. I was introduced to the idea that lineage was important by my shamanic aromatherapy teachers, Cathy Skipper and Florian Birkmayer. An insight they offered is that people who are called to ancestral work are often brought to this work by plants who hold the energy of lineage strongly in their beings. After their class I went on a mad ancestry.com research binge and tracked nine of my direct lines (mother's mothers, father's mothers, etc) back to being in the US before the revolutionary war. What I found was a pattern of Puritanism, colonization and enslavement... the founding wounds of the country where I reside. My ancestral work comes with this lens of tending the wounds that these lineages hold as well as inflicted. My ancestors were also burned at the stake and fled homelands for religious freedom. They were some of the original hunter gatherers in Europe and saw the change of their land and lives through farming, imperialism and capitalism. I hold the complexity of these histories with great compassion. I also believe that white people need to do some deep level reckoning, grieving, figuring out what their contribution to reconciliation is.
In 2020 I was gifted with the opportunity to participate in writing an essay for the book "Whiteness is Not An Ancestor: Essays on Life and Lineage by white Women". The final draft of this book was released to the 13 co-authors the day that Mr. George Floyd was murdered. This enraging event underlined the work that is needed to be done not only individually for white folks, but on the systems of oppression that we often unconsciously uphold.
To learn more about the book and get an idea of the kind of conversations that are needed in the white community, you can view a talk I participated in on the book: Youtube video can be found here.
Plants are obviously affected by human intervention, but recently a couple of teachers (Scott Kloos and Morgan Brent) offered the insight that plants are also evolving us. They not only have their own unique signatures and intelligence that offer us healing, new understandings and even new capacities, but they also are downloading information from the sun, the moon and the stars. Their ability to take in light means that they are on some level embodying that light and letting it subtly change them. We have all heard you are what you eat. We know that soil quality affects plants. Just because we don’t understand cosmic frequencies doesn’t mean that they don’t also affect plants.
Why does it matter that plants are conduits for cosmic light? Because we are in a cosmic evolutionary process. Anyone who knows astrology knows that as above, so below - the cosmos are shaping our earthly reality. Most astrology tends to think of this in purely human psychological terms, but as any biodynamic farmer or spagyric maker will tell you, the alignment of the cosmos deeply affects plants and the qualities they express. We know that as seasons change the plants respond dramatically to the change in light. In fact, in areas of the world where the length of daylight changes a lot we often think of plant changes as related to temperature, but often it is the effect of the changing light.
So as the heavens move, so do plants and so do we. In some ways the plants are even better carriers for the message of change that is happening around the globe. They respond to changes when humans are often resistant or stuck in set ways, unaware that change is happening.
In this way plants can help support the evolutionary process by whispering to our system the story of the change that is happening. They can help us entrain to that change and prepare for it.
But even like humans, plants do have limitations to how far outside of the current paradigm they can go. This is why it is beneficial to work with the subtle parts of the plants through essences, essential oils, spagyrics or tinctures that are made with intentional plant spirit connection. This allows for a different level of healing communication with the broader intelligence of the plant that might not yet be apparent in the gross body of the plant. Their spirits are open and consciously working with the evolutionary changes happening in the cosmos.
We are in a process of change. I’m not completely sold on the idea that we are evolving to a certain goal or destiny, but there does seem to be a cosmic plan for our evolution, certain stages that we are working through just as child becomes adult. We are very much in the adolescent phase, trying to learn to collectively become adults. Whether we will or not depends how we respond to the machinations of the cosmos that are trying to push us towards greater realization of our human potential.
Luckily, we are not alone in this grand experiment - we have the support of our plant allies. And for me this instills a great gratitude for these beings and the nature spirits who help tend them. There is wisdom there that is yet to be fully realized.
I have had a vision of my spirit very first incarnating in another universe at the end of that universe. This might be my mythopoetic way of coming to terms with the fact that I am alive during a time when humanity is facing the void in terms of how we have lived up until now will no longer work and we must change or be destroyed. The universe I was in was destroyed, so I’m not sure how hopeful I am about our times. I was recently told a quote that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. You can insert just about any self destructive feature of our society in for “capitalism” — pollution, consumerism, individualism, racism, sexism, etc. But what I want to talk about here is the gift of my experience with the void. In my personal mythology, my spirit emerged from the void and into incarnated form only to experience the frightening collapse of all space and time back into the void. It was like I was invited to experience going back into the void with all of my senses and in doing so became one with the void in a new and profound way.
My soul gravitates towards death as most gravitate towards life. It is enamored with the void. I find life to be intriguing at best and confusing and alarming at worst, but it always seems foreign to me. I love the foreignness at times just as I loved living in foreign countries. I love the sense of confusion in life, it reminds me of crashing into the churning water while surfing only to be pearled underneath the waves, never quite knowing if you will come up for air. That is life for me. So the void, the void is home. It is the awe inspiring expansiveness that contains the potency of every potential. It is intimately clothed with becoming, it resides inside everything that is created. The void wears the energies of earth, air, fire and water like one would wear a hat or mittens or scarf. I joyfully play with her in these disguises. But I revel in the times she comes to me unclothed. It encourages me to disrobe and remember my nakedness. Because she is that which underlies everything, my intimacy with the void allows me to touch into all things. It is like speaking into her ear is speaking into the ear of any part of reality. I find myself in conversation with the plants, trees, water, rocks and it is the void that is the psychic conduit for these conversations. She is my telephone wire. But she is a telephone that you become. There is no picking up and putting down of this instrument of communication, one only becomes this communication by merging with her.
I’ve always been curious about death as an initiation. The myths of Inanna, Osiris and Jesus are examples of the archetypal energy of dying to be reborn. In the Inanna myth she meets with Erishkagal who is the goddess of the death realm. Erishkagal embodies the primal void and in order for Inanna to truly come into herself, she must pay Erishkagal respect. The void opens doors that are otherwise closed to us. Each time we grieve, each time we enter heartbreak, we are invited closer to the void. And our union with her brings us into union with all things only if we do as Inanna did and make it back to the realm of the living. There are those who get lost in the void, never to quite come back to life. These are those who fought the gravity or clung to the thing that brought them to the void. She asks that we let go and fall into her, to disrobe as Inanna did on her way into the underworld, so that we can stand naked before the primal void. Only then can we be right with the void and she can take her proper place as the center of all life.
About a year ago I married the nature spirit who tends a marine reserve near my home. At the time I did not know that this was a practice that is well documented around the world. As this relationship deepens it feels more and more important to share this with the world. We are in a time where relationship is being redefined and this is just one more way to express love as a human.
The relationship with this being began for me when I started to get a sense of something “peering into” my thoughts as I walked in the forest. When there was an act of vandalism to one of the trees, I performed a ritual to express my grief and rage, and it felt like that opened the door a little further between me and this entity I was beginning to sense.
One day I decided to communicate with the entity telepathically and a conversation ensued. From then on whenever I would enter the forest there was a recognition of this consciousness’ presence.
I had someone in my life at the time that was initiating me into exploring conscious psychic sexuality and when this relationship was ending another entity stepped forward as a partner… that partner was the spirit of the forest. I write this with a raw vulnerability mostly to share that this is a full partnership, not just a deep friendship.
The spirit of the land told me they could be known as Duwaenem, which translated to “life on poisoned land”. The land is near a refinery and toxic plumes come there regularly, but life still abounds. Their mother was a land faery and their father was Sidhe, so they are a hybrid. They also sometimes came in a more male form and sometimes in a more female form, so I use the pronoun “they”, but they always came with an energy that I immediately recognized.
About five years into our relationship Duwaenem asked me to marry them. At the time this was way outside of my sense of normalcy. It took a year for them to convince me, not through any coercion, but through deepening the relationship until it felt right. I did enter into the relationship with the stipulation that I could have a human partner, perhaps even get married, as this felt important for my own wholeness.
We have children. I’ve been shown that the reason this is possible for me is because I have had previous incarnations as fae and carry this in me still. It is like there is a faery body within my human one. I remember as a child I was enamored with the book “No Flying in the House” about a little girl who discovered she was part fairy. But interest in fairies faded and I lost touch with any recognition of that part of reality for a couple of decades. It felt like a youthful recognition of something that I have re-discovered as an adult.
My connection to nature spirits has increased since our marriage. It is like I’m a conduit for that consciousness and sometimes when I touch a tree it feels like I’m creating a telephone connection between the land of my love and that tree.
This reality may be hard for some to understand and some may call it imagination. To those I would say that the imaginal, where the fae exist, and the imagination are inextricably linked. Think of it as the imagination as the medium that receives input from the imaginal. Well, receiving is too passive...it is co-creating which honors that we are actively shaping multiple levels of reality with our hearts and minds.
There are many ways for us to relate to the world around us and a spirit mate is just one. I share this important part of my life in order to open new possibilities to others. Since my marriage I have discovered other people who have done something similar, including an ancestral guide, and this has helped to normalize this. I hope to pay that forward to anyone who also is discovering relationship in this new way.
There is a secret world that floats beneath the surface of the one we mostly collectively recognize. I call it the imaginal realm, but it has had different names in different cultures, dream time, magical realm, collective unconscious, faerie realm, mythic or archetypal realm. Each name has a different nuance, but they are all pointing to a similar idea, that there is a place that our soul can access that glides silently behind the ordinary world. I name this the imaginal realm because it is so interwoven with imagination. It is this place that our prayers, intentions, imaginations access to find inspiration and to move blockages impeding our path. It is this place that the shaman accesses to find strength and helpers as well as perform healing for themselves, another person, or the collective.
There was a time when those who were able to access this realm were initiated by an elder and shown ways to navigate this world. But in the modern world those guides are few and far between and so most are relegated to finding their own way, mostly disastrously, through already troubled ground.
The imaginal realm has always been fraught with fierce archetypal entities, the things that lie in the subconscious of our collective minds, the impulses that cause us to act out the most instinctual parts of being human, desire, love, rage, jealousy, revenge, grief. So it has always been a pretty gnarly place to navigate and every shamanic tradition has some sort of guidance for navigating this space safely. But those in the modern western culture who have shamanic tendencies not only usually step into this world by accident without any sort of guidance, but also are required to deal with a modern version of this realm where knots tied by our culture’s impact on the unconscious become extra slippery. The path for healing and the role of the healer in this context begs for a level of clever awareness most of the uninitiated are not able to rise to.
I was one of the uninitiated plunged head first into the imaginal realm during my first trip to India. There I met people who are working with that realm to serve their own nefarious purposes, praying on the unaware. If there is something to abuse, humans have found a way to do it. I was ripe for initiation, my soul had been in deep grief for the loss of a friend and mentor for a couple of years and then the physical separation from my love partner during an incredibly creative period of my life sent me riding waves of sublime highs and crashing lows, sometimes in the same moment. My soul had expanded to encompass more of the human experience and it was this expansion that allowed for the alchemizing drop of initiation to take hold. The drop came in the form of a deluge, really. India was that deluge. The roller coaster of internal emotions I had been experiencing for months prior to my trip were exploded out around me. Life and death danced in a chaotic fury in the streets. My soul had found a new home. And so India brought me deeper into herself. A press of the center of my palm while exchanging money at the produce seller jolted something awake in my energetic body. And I began to dance. Life shifted into a dream and I walked through synchronicities and experiences that made only half sense to my mind but felt importantly potent to my soul. I could no longer keep to a clock, but I lived to the heartbeat of a different time, much older.
This dream state slowly turned to nightmare. I got sick and my body weakened. My neighbors’ care for me felt manipulative and one night one of them asked bluntly if I had anxiety. I had never felt that in my life but as soon as he said it my heart started racing and panic filled me. I knew I must leave. I initially went on a chaotic flight around town trying to find a place that felt safe, almost hopping on a train for Mumbai, a city I would later live in for four years.
But finally I knew I needed to get help. A coworker helped me obtain a ticket home and I left the next day. I knew I was in a vulnerable spiritual state and so I performed my first act of magic. I asked that no one who could harm me see me. It was strange to be in an airport full of people and to see people blindly walking past me. But the imaginal realm needs no eyes to find you. My anxiety found me through blind manipulations of what I can best describe as “sentries” for the many layers of the bardo. I exposed myself by answering their blind inquiries. One tried to find me by inquiring to a woman sitting next to me about my flight. Another made broad statements about religion to the crowd knowing that his words were like invisible arrows initiating a rise in fear in me. Finally the anxiety became too much and I tipped my hand. I acted on an urge to leave my belongings behind and was arrested by airport security ending up first in a terrorist detention center and then in a mental hospital.
This was my initiation and it ended with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a sentence to taking meds for the rest of my life.
I often wonder if my entrée into the world of what is labeled “madness” would have been different if it had been sacredly held by someone. If I had been guided. But this was my fate and a well that I have learned to drink deeply from.
I’ve been to the mental hospital three times and each time I sense the sanity of the people there. They are simply reacting in a very raw and real way to the insanity of our culture. Most people don’t realize how complicit they are with the insanity, but I have met people who are channels for the collective unconscious without any awareness of what they are doing. I’ve also met people who are channels for other beings without their awareness. We are breath-close to the unseen world, interwoven with it. And the detritus that we feed our minds is the detritus that becomes a living throbbing being in the imaginal. Like the space junk that now orbits the earth, we now have a collective consciousness that is filled with junk. But it is not inert junk. It lives and breathes and weaves, collecting power and ability. The ancient ones knew this. They told the myths of these archetypal beings and created temples and shrines in their honor. What they may not have understood was that they were co-creating these beings as they worshipped them. They were complicit in giving those energies form in the collective mind.
And so along comes the monotheistic religions and all the sudden the conscious relationship to archetypes gets monocropped, and as no one entity can do a good job of capturing the complexity of what happens in the imaginal, we start to repress parts of our collective psyche, demonizing them or shaming them. Then secularism declares that the archetypal realm never existed in the first place and so most of what happens there is now unconsciously made. We only see it when it emerges in some select few as madness. Then we suppress it with chemicals, sweeping it back under the rug.
My extended family implied that I was possessed after my first manic episode. In a way they were right. I had been opened to the consciousness of the other world. But it was our own collective mind that I was experiencing, not some outside hellish demon. I was experiencing our family’s own struggling soul, so possessed with a puritanical need for perfection that all else becomes demonized. And this is a micro level example of what is happening on a macro level in society.
Teilhard de Chardin wrote about the noosphere, a collective “mind” that surrounds the earth like our atmosphere. This exists and those who have experienced madness have peered into what is held there. It isn’t pretty. But if we are anything, we are a creative creature and there are those who tend this realm. Be it the monk that meditates or the nun that prays or the psychonaut who journeys or the dancer who authentically moves or the artist who passionately creates, we can open our minds and bodies to tend this space of collective consciousness.
We also have the gift of the earth in all of this tending. One misperception is that the imaginal realm is only the construct of human minds. But any good shaman will tell you that the greatest gift are the non-human beings that inhabit the space with their consciousness. A tree, a mountain, a lake, a little weed, an owl, a coyote, all these are part of this realm and can act as guides and wisdom keepers. We have allies, even though we are killing them off. The natural diversity of a place is one of the greatest boons our consciousness has been given. And our connection to it is infinitely precious. You do not have to be a shaman to experience the benefits of being in nature, immersing oneself in the consciousness of the natural world. It is not just the benefit of fresh air and the disconnection from electronics, there is something more happening to our minds when we step outdoors.
And when we look at who has access to nature through an equity lens we also see how the people without access are also the people who are already facing the challenges of historical trauma compounded by modern day prejudice (from systemic racism to daily microaggressions). These community members are forced to hold a very big piece of the disturbed collective mind. But as one who has struggled with madness, I know too that there is a resilience that comes from these struggles. Those that face challenges are asked to make a more perilous journey, and some do not make it, they may get caught up in the whirlpools of substance abuse and insanity, but those that do make it come out with a strength, clarity and wisdom that others will never have. This is the poisoned apple that does not kill, but rather initiates one into a deeper hold on the full dynamics of what it means to be human. As others navigate life half awake, the gift and burden of awake-ness offers an opportunity to tend this poisoned world in more profound ways.
I am a bird. When I journey I can fly. This is more than dream or imagination. As I stand at rocks ledge at what has been colonially named Washington Pass, my cells scream with the memory of being able to shapeshift. The mountains awaken the urge to take bird’s form and fly down their slopes. I clutch the railing in front of me to be sure I won’t fling myself off the cliff. If I ever try to commit suicide, it would probably be here and it might be half accident. I make a mental note to not come here if I’m in a state of bipolar mania.
Even at my sanest, which is still outside of the comfort zone for the limited view of most psychiatrists, I come here to weep with the mountains who have seen such change. But they assure me that their spirit is full. Full of life even in this poisoned land. They have their sisters. They are even honored by the people who visit. I ask if it offends them that it is a “taking” honoring, as in people take photos and memories but very rarely offer anything. It is a choice, they remind me. You can set up accounts and tally who is giving and who is taking or you can accept the honoring. But they do thank me for the offering of my tears and my willingness to open to the grief of the long memory of this place.
Even though I was born in this corner of the world, I know that I will never feel at home here until I fully open to this grief. But it costs so much to feel the tragedy that my people have brought to a land once filled with abundance, a land once in sacred relationship with its thriving Native people. I can feel the clear cutting as I wind my way up Highway 20 through the north cascades. I feel the carving of the road where there were once only foot trails. The views that are now only a couple hours drive from my home were once earned by days of walking. I try to feel what it might have been like to walk this place when it was still what we now call old growth. The mountains remind me that there is always change. This is earth who has seen ice ages, heat and volcanoes. I accept this and bring it into the grief I feel as the heart’s tender way of marking of time.
I once thought that it was my guilt that prevented me from connecting to this place, but over the years I have come to see that my guilt was a way of keeping out the heartbreak that true connection would bring. It is heartbreak born of knowing that unlike ice or fire, this change was brought on by my people. It is a heart break that begs the question of if I, as a colonizer, can ever belong here. I’m not a stranger to grief and so I open a little crack in my heart and start to invite in the story of this place and the complexities of relationship. And as I do so this place brings me the gift of the memory of my wings. It awakens the knowledge held deep in my DNA that no amount of colonization, patriarchy or capitalism could entirely snuff out. I see why I was taught to fear myself and repress myself as a woman, because the dreaming of my womb is powerful, a power we fear so much we label it crazy. We were once magic - just as the world around us was. We have forgotten and the world has slept during our forgetting. It is time to awaken and bring new life to this poisoned land.