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.
In February of this year I experienced a transformative time while immersed in an ancestral healing retreat. It was 5 days of soul immersion, ritual, circle, community, and nature to heal ancestral trauma and access the gifts of blood lineage.
I acknowledge the sacredness of what is revealed during ceremonial space. I have received the blessings of my ancestors to share these following few aspects of my time with them.
Over the 5 days I was mainly focused on tending to my father’s lineage, as I had never known either of my now deceased grandparent’s or the extended family history well and there was a lot to “catch up on” with them.
It is said that when we first open the door to our ancestors it is usually the ancestral wound that is the first guest. My table was metaphorically set and I felt ready, with an odd sense of pragmatism, alongside an inner calm knowing and the support from unseen realms.
I was clearly guided to be a channel for the entire energetic field of both my father’s mother and father’s father line – from German/Swiss Mennonite background. It is a history fraught with religious and ethnic persecution, fleeing and forced migration since the 1500’s. It was also a history marked by strong values of community, song/music, pacifism and faith.
Also energetically coalesced within the last two generations of my father's father side, was the persecution my grandfather faced as a teenager at the hands of the Bolshevik Communist Revolution when him, his sister and parents (my great-grandparents) barely made it out of Grossweide, Ukraine with their lives, forced to leave everything abruptly to emigrate to Canada in 1924.
As I entered into ritual space, I was shown the profound grief of my family within the past 500 years. It was as if my body were a map, with historical geographical migration and familial illness/despair being projected into my body, muscles and bones to tell the story of the lineages - to be witnessed, expressed, and healed.
My experience then transformed into the embodied gifts of the lineage, rooted in music, faith and service – cornerstones of a Mennonite tradition and way of being. I stood strong and proud in these. And it has since left a tangible impression on my own experience of identity.
I am deeply grateful for the highly intuitive gift of music in my life and now understand the long line of musical heritage that I come from. It is in my very bones. Music is one way I honor my ancestral roots.
Later, on one of my nature walks, my grandmother came to me and led me to a sapling tree which was green at its base and yet brown on the upper half of its branches. It took my breath away. There was my patrilineal family tree – ancestral heritage once forgotten, turning brown and brittle.
Grandma made it clear that I was painting my family tree green again by devoting attention, honour and care to them. I heeded her guidance by tending to and breathing life back into those dry brittle branches – the forgotten ancestors, stories, wisdom and gifts of my ethnic heritage. This is an ongoing process and relationship of discovery.
That evening I made Mennonite borscht soup for the first time, and headed back to my family tree sapling to offer it a meal and gratitude.
The spirits of the land played a vital role in my time connecting with my ancestors during those 5 days, and they continue to do so. In the past when I have invoked healing on behalf of my lineage, usually through dance, the vision of Raven has appeared to carry the message back through my ancestral lines reassuring them that their experiences have been acknowledged and released.
The Raven showed up many times during those 5 days. On the last day, I headed on to the land for a final ceremony to declare my invitation for ongoing ancestral support and to confirm what I gained from our time together – that the connection, healing and transmission of gifts were received.
I was led to a small dead looking shrub up on a rock ridge at the forest edge. My first response was “really? In front of this dead shrub”? So I sat down, and as soon as I did, a lone Raven flew in and perched on a tree directly in front of me, about 50 meters away. “Ok – I hear you, let’s get started then”.
I used a cedar branch as a paint brush, and started ‘painting’ the dead-looking shrub green again, noticing fresh green shoots at its base. I proceeded with my ceremony, under the gaze of the Raven. Once I completed my invocation and invitation, the Raven flew off, taking the message back through my lineage. I cried tears of gratitude and awe.
Life is just waiting to live through each of us in its fullest vibrant capacity. Being in active relationship with my ancestors has affirmed and transformed how life is flowing through me now.
My ongoing relationship with them has in fact, shifted my life course, giving me both the courage and clarity to move fully towards my soul gifts in this life. And, it continues to transform how it is flowing through them as well, as I continue the healing work and honouring of their legacies.
We all have ancestors who are just waiting to offer their gifts and support. And, they are also waiting to receive the healing they may need in order for them to be uplifted to a place where they can best offer those gifts. It can be a beautiful mutually healing relationship.
I have learned that one of the most powerful gifts that I can give to my heritage is my dedication to live my life most fully, healing inherited trauma, naming and embracing the gifts of my lineage, and allowing my ancestors to be an active part within my soul’s calling and vitality.
For this, I am deeply grateful.
Shauna Janz, MA is a teacher, mentor, and facilitator at the crossroads of grief, trauma, ritual and ancestral healing. She is the founder of Sacred Grief offering immersive online programs for folks interested in deepening their skills in these areas.
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