Although the ancestors have very much been a part of my life since I was child, alongside my many rich connections to the unseen realms, making these relationships more conscious and explicit in how I offer my work in the world has been an endeavor that I have wholeheartedly embraced and pursued for the past 5 years with gusto. It has, and continues to completely re-arrange my life, presence and service in the world in healing and potent ways.
The landscape of change has been rich, from becoming an ancestral healing practitioner and teacher, to deepening my ritual capacities, to letting go of work and income that is no longer aligned with my full potential, to ongoing healing of inter-generational patterns that have limited my ability to relate to others with a sense of safety and security, and the ever softening of my overly self-reliant ways because of this, to accessing more forgiveness for early life experiences, and coming to know my worth more deeply through the embodiment of the gifts and strengths that are my ancestral birthright. These shifts aren’t all easy, but they are bone-resonant right, and therefore easier for me to place faith in the integrity of the transformations being asked of me.
The growth and change are ancestrally-supported and have brought me closer to the sweet spot of my soul’s calling in this incarnate life. And the work is ever deepening and continuing. It was from this place of ancestral vibrancy that I embarked on my ancestral pilgrimage and unbeknownst to me at the time of planning, was led into healing rituals for deeper currents of cultural healing needed within and between my lineages, with the land, and with historical events that impacted my people.
What follows are a few moments I highlighted along my pilgrimage, capturing the essence of continued personal and cultural healing with the support of my ancestors as a source of wisdom, insight and guidance.
These are storylines that traverse time, space and lands, invoked by synchro-mystical experiences, emergent rituals, and widening into movements of reconciliation.
My great great grandfather, Benjamin Janz, was born in Holland in 1813. Exactly where, I don’t know. And for how long in Holland before him, I am not sure either. I do know he was of Dutch/Swiss Mennonite faith and ethnicity, and his family’s move when he was 11 years old to southern Ukraine in the Molotschna region was a pattern similar to many in this faith community fleeing religious persecution.
My body/bones didn’t have a readily felt sense of knowing this land, which surprised me... until I greeted the waters. The history and symbiotic relationship of human, land and water here is really energetically (let alone architecturally) quite profound. Whether in the heart of Amsterdam city, or throughout rural Holland, the confluence of these waters - the Amstel River, the North Sea, the Markermeer Inlet, and others, have been feeding, sustaining and flowing through life here for millennia.
These waters were part of Benjamin’s life too. And, as I made offerings of greetings and gratitude to the Spirit that is these waters, I had the visceral affirmation of this. It rocked me. These waters fed his body and life, and are feeding mine in this moment. These waters were within him, and are within me. He is a part of my bones and blood, and as I see myself reflected back in these waters, I am transported through time and space through the spirit of water.
And, this phrase keeps churning in my mind: build the structures through which love can flow. These canals, this water. This life, back and forward through time.
As with much of my life, I am intuitively (and ancestrally) guided to experiences, and the cognitive understanding of these experiences may not come until much later. This ancestral pilgrimage is no different.
This past Sunday I attended my first ever Mennonite service, in a church built in 1638 in Amsterdam, one of the initial places that this Anabaptist movement took hold, in the 1500’s as a radical protest to institutionalized Catholicism. All of my people on my patrilineal side were Mennonite - ethnically and religiously. I did not know this until two years ago because of various recent family/historical disruptions and amnesia from the trauma of persecution.
I am being led further into learning this history, and reclaiming for myself some of the cultural life-affirming practices of my people in ways that expand my heart. There is beauty in the songs, the steadfast commitment to pacifism, and being of service. There is strength in maintaining a cultural and community identity amidst hardship. To separating church and state, minimizing hierarchy, and to valuing choice in belief.
And, there is complexity too of course; ways of being that are in need of healing because they were/are a collective response to trauma that then became ways of doing. I extend respect and healing blessings to those that have lived a Mennonite faith that has been dogmatic and fundamentalist - a traumatic wounding born out of a desire for meaning, belonging, and connection. And, safety. Often the burdens and wounding of our lineages and heritage are closely tied to the blessings, which became distorted due to trauma. These play out in individual bodies and in social ways of organizing and enacting relationships of power.
There are certain places that were pivotal in the birth of the Mennonite faith. And, also where folks were murdered because of this faith. Turns out the places I will be visiting in France and Switzerland, unbeknownst to me until four days ago, are some of these very places.
While sitting in the service, my ancestors, all well in spirit, arrived. And, it became clear what my role was/is during this time, for they started actively tending to the healing of the collective field of this space and beyond. To reconcile not just our past and what lives in my heart and bones, and that of my father, and that of my ancestors of blood, but to be of service to the broader community of the dead who traversed these ways of faith, devotion and community. To honor them.
The holy lives in our hearts, and where two or more gather, there shall be divine love and healing.
Germany - Ancestral Healing Intensive
Oh my heart. My body, mind and spirit will be integrating and steeping for much time to come in the depth of healing, beauty and courage that arose these past three days.
Over 30 folks of diverse ancestries from Deutschland, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Israel, Holland, West Africa, Dominican Republic, Russia, and many places from the Pale of Settlement and Jewish diaspora, plus more, gathered on these specific lands of Germany to ritually tend to their ancestors alongside each other.
Ritual songs and prayers wove together in Hebrew, Russian, German, Latin, Yiddish, and Old Norse. Within this beauty was the compassion of many hearts, sharing experiences and stories of heartbreak, sorrow, pain, forgiveness, love, and resilience for the layers of cultural healing and recent tremendous traumas of this specific place. Space was held for all with such tenderness. Words were spoken that have been in yearning for this opportunity for generations.
It is an honor and blessing for me and my people to bear witness, be of service and contribute to such necessary restorative healing. These words here are mere shades for what is reverberating through me and my ancestors. To open my heart to the currents of collective grief and the roots of collective resilience while surrounded by diverse folks and within the witnessing of our ancestors is an experience that is both affirming and deeply healing for my lineages, heart and mind.
Deep gratitude to all seen and unseen beings who supported this depth of ritual holding and heart aware tending to the complexities of human history in such a healing way, and to my fellow colleagues and friends for the tremendous gifts and medicines of ritual magic each brought. Humbled, and in love with all that transpired in our connections, and in the days of ritual beforehand.
The old ones of land, water, stone, and tree - I am forever in reverence of you. May these days be nourishment for you beyond human comprehension, and may we continue to deeply know you, and the depth of holding that you provide for transformative change. May we all have the courage to offer our heartbreak to one another and to you as medicine.
The words of Joanna Macy are ringing truer, “the heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe”.
Rüdesheim, Rhine Valley, Germany
The “plan” was to stay in Berlin for a week. Rather, I was led to the Rhine River Valley, and home of St. Hildegard’s Convent. I have many ancestors who lived a life steeped in Catholic ways of being. And, I have felt significant resistance all my life to face this as part of my heritage.
But the time is now, and with the strong backing of deeply well ancestors, here I am. What better way to honour them while in the mystical essence that was/is Hildegard. Mystic, prophet, oracular visionary who contributed greatly to music, medicine, spirituality, and although a product of her time, was also a courageous feminist speaking up about injustice and political immorality especially within her own religious organization. An exemplary of living true to a religious vision outside of rigid doctrine.
Despite being a renowned place of pilgrimage, I had the church to myself and through prayer, tears and singing called in what is healing and divine to extend into the hearts of all my people, especially those ancestors who experienced the confines of Catholicism as an institution of power-over, and those who were also persecuted for their Mennonite faith by this power.
Humanity is complex and we all live with both victim and victimizer histories within and between our lineages that coalesce in our very bones and current lives. To see the larger currents of story that sweep through these histories can be healing and provide a steadiness from which transformation can take place.
For me, this is a story of people trying to stake claim and providence over that which cannot be claimed, but to which we all belong. Let us remember this and celebrate the many ways to kiss the sacred.
And, still here through it all as witness, is the waters of the Rhine. These waters held, carried, sustained and witnessed so much complexity through millennia in both ecstatic joy and tremendous suffering. And yet, these waters are still holy, still here to cleanse, purify, heal, and provide life sustenance.
Our bodies and hearts can do the same, for we are mostly made of water.
Whispers of the Witches
The depths of cultural healing continued in Rüdesheim of the Rhine Valley. Falling asleep after my day basking in the essence of St. Hildegard, whispers of the witches came through. Following this, I learned that the four largest witch executions in Germany took place at Fulda, Würzburg, Trier and Bamberg, between 1580-1630. And here I am geographically situated in the center point between all these towns.
The Rhine River and Valley was the hub in which the Malleus Maleficarum was shepherded through the Gutenberg Press. Hubris details of witches as yoked to the devil; a best seller, second only to the Bible. The rise of witch persecutions was especially ripe in Germany, France and Switzerland during the Reformation years when the Catholic Church suddenly had a contender with the Protestant Church. At the risk of being overly simplistic, both were vying for followers and whoever was the best witch hunter had a compelling advantage. (Some political tactics don’t change through the ages).
Had I lived in these times, I too would have been considered a heathen, a witch. And so in blissed and ancestrally supported defiance, I sat between two Oak trees in the Central Park of Rüdesheim, on the Rhine, with tourists walking by mere meters away, and went under the veil as Völva calling in the ancient ones of older ancestral Germanic and Norse cosmologies (of which Christianity has syncretic ties), and allowing the ritual to unfold in ways that extended visions of reconciliatory wholeness across lands, within and between lineages, and through time. Honoring, acknowledging and praying for mercy, grace and healing.
Old Norse Ymir (original sound wave of creation) and Galdr (trance singing practice) interweaves with Hildegard’s chants (as direct connection to God, which induced trance states within the nuns singing) interweaves with Mennonite acapello four part harmonies interweaves with the music that resides in my soul. Here and now, there and then. The reverberations of sound through time connect us all to the source of Divine creation and love; to that which sings us all into being.
As the ritual closed a great rolling thunder boomed over me along with a sudden unexpected torrential downpour. Pure affirming delight.
It’s been a week since my time in Strasbourg, a city of merging historical significance. I was intuitively guided to include this location in my pilgrimage as a last minute addition a few days before embarking on my trip, not knowing why. Did I have blood ancestors here? Perhaps, I don’t know. But what became apparent, is the ancestors of tradition, which informed my people, is rich here.
The Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame (6th tallest church in the world), housed mainly Catholic faith but also Protestant through the Reformation years. The current Lutheran Church was where early leaders of the emerging Mennonite faith convened in the early 1500s to discuss the rise of this tradition and liturgy. Many followers later found respite here when persecution became more intense. A city under the hospices of both Germany and France through the ages - these influences still very much co-existing to make the unique and vibrant Alsace region.
And so it was walking on the old cobblestones within this city, offerings at the river, prayers in the Cathedral and Protestant Church, and enjoying really wonderful cuisine and libations, that my ancestors who lived diverse faiths were invited to see the beauty through each other’s incarnate experiences, the many ways of communing with the sacred. To see how our own people are represented here, blending as many tributaries over time.
And, it strikes me as exquisite to see the historical currents of ego and soul play out in the grand architecture of the Cathedral – a show of mortal power within a devotion and yearning to capture the mystical wonder of communion with the Divine. Like trying to capture the power and awe of a lightning bolt within an elegantly crafted stain-glass light bulb. Existentially absurd and also worthy of praise and endearment at the same time; a larger story-line that offers some healing solace to the traumas that were beget by religious institutionalized power and played out within my heritage.
My presence and coming to understand the historical significance of this place, while dropping into visioning space and extending further cultural healing to my people was well received. Energetically, a layer of cultural healing was “completed” here within my lineages.
It is said that necessity drives ritual. As has become apparent, necessity has driven the direction of this pilgrimage and emergent rituals in ways I could not have anticipated. And, I can feel a softening in my body, and a subtle coalescing of the ineffable.
Canton of Bern, Switzerland
For the past 8 days I have been blissfully traversing Switzerland. The land and waters here are deeply soul resonant and vitalizing. It is a breath of fresh air, and everything has moved with ease - from commutes and accommodations, to hikes, food, dancing, storm watching, and surprise encounters with mountain kin - it all just rolled out with ready contentment. I feel at home here and the synchromystical experiences have been abundant, gentle and potent.
When I was first planning this ancestral sojourn, there was a point where I became constricted because I didn’t feel “I knew enough” about the actual places my ancestors lived and came from. I questioned whether this could really be a pilgrimage for them. When I dropped into visioning space with them for guidance, I received the message “go where your heart expands”. And, as my fingers traced over the map and came across Switzerland, I began crying. So I booked it in.
When we allow ourselves pleasure, joy, and letting the ‘soft animal of our body love what it loves’, we are honoring the desires of flesh, blood and bone that is the ecstatic result of all those who came before us. To live out our birthright for pleasure and joy is to honor ourselves and them. We are them; they are us.
As I continue to glean all that has taken shape in the seen and unseen realms this past month, what stands out in this moment is: listening.
Listen with our heart and intuition. Listen by opening to signs and synchronicities. Listen by allowing ourself to be a worthy channel of mystical unions. Listen by being still. Listen by moving, dancing, laughing and leaning into connections with others. Listen through learning from others. Listen to the silence. Listen to the tender aches of others. Listen to our own aches and longings. Listen to desire. Listen to what the wind, mountains and waters are yearning to have heard. Listen as an act of healing and faith.
Listen, so that life may continue to have reason to speak to us.
Nov 23rd of this year was an anniversary for me – it was the one year mark since my car accident. And, the one year mark since deeper embodiment of my incarnate life and personal/ancestral destiny. What do I mean by this?
One of the gateways of grief that has followed me through my life is the spiritual grief for having become incarnate; for having to leave source and come into embodiment; for the pain of separation and suffering that is an inevitable product of becoming incarnate. It took me many years to be able to name this deep current of sorrow. It flowed through the bedrock of my experiences, bubbling to the surface as longings for belonging, for a sense of home, for wanting to shake the confines of my corporeal limits.
Although this grief was an opening to a rich and relational spiritual life since a young child, it came at a cost - it meant that I spent many years not fully committed to being here, and not fully in my body. It was a silent struggle, one that meandered through being suicidal and depressed in my late teens/early twenties, one that led me to overwork myself with perfectionism as a way to cope, and one that sank me into abandonment stories.
The other gateways of significant grief in my life, namely developmental trauma, ecological grief and inherited ancestral grief exacerbated my spiritual grief expressions. These gateways are not separate. The necessary work of healing in all these sacred grief areas has allowed me to live closer to a life of embodiment, presence, open-heartedness, fierce compassion and service. And, joy.
Yet, just after 4:00pm on November 23rd, 2017, unbeknownst to me at the time, I became more aligned and committed to my embodied life than I ever could have imagined, despite all the healing work I had already done.
When my car started hydroplaning at 115km/hr and I slid across both lanes of the road several times before sailing off the road, and down the steep embankment into the trees below, I thought I was going to die. What I haven’t shared widely about this experience, is that all of my ancestors had joined me in my car for the 5 minutes leading up to that accident.
This confused me - why were they all so present suddenly? I could feel a sense of significance of something about to happen that I could not change. And, although I knew I was going too fast, I also didn’t slow down. It was a very odd somatic experience that I still have a hard time articulating. And, when I lost all control of my car and I was headed off the road, I was surprisingly calm – important people in my life flashed before my eyes, and I “let go” into dying. I lifted out of my body, easily, effortlessly.
The moment of emotional and spiritual opening however, was not the letting go into Spirit. It was when my car came to a stop lodged into a tree trunk and I landed back in my body, miraculously unharmed.
At the time of course, my nervous system kicked in, I went into shock and survival mode, and events unfolded to get me back into safety. However, as this experience has continued to work through me over this past year, alongside the support of my ancestors and a beautiful community of healers who tended to me afterwards, it is always this point of re-entering my embodiment that eclipses all of the other memories from this event.
The profound felt sense of the exquisiteness of life, of my life, still brings me to sobbing tears as I write this. It cracks me open anytime I re-tell this experience to others. The complete embodiment of my life is the outcome of this somatic near-death experience.
My ancestors are thrilled to say the least, for it is with an earned maturity from years of healing work that I now can embrace my incarnate life on their behalf, on Spirit’s behalf, to live out my/our gifts and destiny to be of service, to contribute to the healing so needed in these times, and to step into my birthright as a lover of life. And, this past year hasn’t been a walk in the park – it has been a full tilt sprint! My life is changing at a quickened pace as re-alignment takes place on many levels ushered in by this pivot point of complete embodiment and from the continued blessings of ancestral support.
In fact, I know that had I not embarked on ancestral healing work and relational tending with my people in this way, that the outcome of this accident would have been different in a not-so-positive way. Their support has been vital, and continues to be. Both their presence at the time of the accident, and also their guidance as I continuously am worked over by the experience and glean what is meant for me from it.
And, I have been shown something important about my particular path at this time. The way I was relating to my spiritual grief, although very much real and painful, was immature. Not in a judgmental way, but in a developmental way that my ancestors are lovingly showing me. It was, and is, a necessary experience for me to grieve the sacred longing for home, however not in a way that allows it to impede my ability to be here, fully incarnate. This grief needs to be continually composted to feed the ground from which new seeds of growth and spiritual maturation arise.
What I have accepted is that I don't need to feel 100% at home here in order to be fully committed to being incarnate for this life experience. And, I can allow the longing for home to fuel my time here in beneficial ways that encourage my presence and rootedness, because home for me is in many places, of which this earthly incarnate plane is just one small aspect.
In the context of my ancestors, and within the dire times we live in, my incarnate life is needed. It was granted for a purpose; like us all. We are all needed. Embodying my soul’s destiny and ancestral gifts contributes to the wider field of life around me and embraces the incarnate expression of Spirit moving through me in service of life.
Thank you for being witness to this unfurling.
I am an animist, which means I recognize and tend to reciprocal relationships with not only human people, but with the more-than-human world – the ancestors, spirits of land, animal people, mountain people, tree and stone people, plant people, weather people, and other beings of and within the world that we humans are just one aspect of.
Animism is a set of core relational values, and it is something that is learned and practiced, not innate.
We all have ancestors who were actively engaged in earth-honoring animist ways of being and relating in the world - even if we have to look many generations back into our lineage. Animist ways of living may look different depending on our ancestral roots, because ways of being relational and respectful are different among diverse cultures, geographical communities and landscapes. However, animist values do reside in our bones and being. They can be re-learned.
I am continuously learning how to be in healthier, deeper, reciprocal relationship with the vast community of beings around me, including humans. This involves healing work from both personal and ancestral trauma and wounds, and also layers of de-conditioning from growing up in a dominant western culture that treats the world and nature as resources for extraction and personal pleasure/gain.
I am committed to this path of coming into right relationship. And I am thankful for the language of animism to be able to express these relational values.
This means that the grief support and healing work I do in the world is also animist-informed.
When it comes to grief, I have learned from others and through direct experience that grief is relational. We need relational tending to heal. Grief needs release so it can be transformed, but it also needs containment through witnessing so that the depth of emotions can be held in a transformative way. Without containment, our grief has nowhere to release to transform into life-affirming energy. I write more about this here.
I am passionate about bringing community back to grief healing - and not just living human community! This is why I lead community grief rituals, bringing both human people together to share, witness and grieve collectively while calling in the support of our deeply well ancestors, guides and benevolent powers to assist with the healing container.
There is a vast community of other-than-humans that can provide healing relationships, support, witnessing and containment through the depths of our grief.
For me, when I am held within a community of tree people, my nervous system and soul know that I am being held deeply, and that this offers a transformative container for healing.
This is different than “seeing nature as a therapeutic modality”, which would still subtly make nature an object for my needs and convenience. Rather, I am actively communicating with the tree people through ritual, respectful introductions, offerings, and requests. I am listening for their responses. I am also open to hearing “no” and not taking it personally. I am asking if they are willing to hold me for some time in my needs and grief expressions, and I am following up with gratitude – usually through song.
This is just one example. Many of us will already have affinities to different other-than-human folks – such as mountain, ocean, stone, rose, elk, wolf, etc. This is a beautiful starting ground for nurturing new avenues of relational being and healing.
I believe it is a gift of reciprocity and intimacy for us human folks to include an invitation to the other-than-human beings to be a part of our healing and transformation. This deepens our intimacy. And when we become intimate, our bonds deepen and we show up more fully for one another.
Reciprocal tending - this is relational healing. This is what grief needs. This is what our world needs.
When it comes to offering grief support to other human people, I am committed to including the voices and possibilities of healing support from the more-than-human world. I offer guidance, ritual, empathic attunement, and therapeutic skills to nurture meaningful, transformative and healing containers available from a diverse community of people, human and otherwise.
Some resources of interest:
Animism- Respecting the Living World. Graham Harvey
The Wild Edge of Sorrow - Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. Francis Weller
Ancestral Medicine – Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. Daniel Foor.
Shauna Janz, MA is a passionate speaker, writer, educator, and musician. She engages audiences with her ability to create connective experiences that inspire empathy, insight and both personal and trans-personal awareness - never without a sprinkle of humor and laughter.