Nothing about my early life explains my affinity for ancestors. Born in suburban Ohio to a loving middle-class family, I was not raised with a strong awareness of my ancestors or any framework for relating with the dead. Unlike some naturally gifted psychics or ancestor mediums, I did not talk with dead people or see spirits as a young person, nor did I experience profound trauma that cracked me open to other realities. I have also never been struck by lightning, never had a near-death experience, and never endured a truly life-threatening illness.
I do know that long hours playing in the nearby woods and creeks as a boy helped me to feel at home in the natural world and that reading fantasy novels as a young person established a foundation from which to explore ritual, shamanism, and other ways of seeing the world.
Early Experiences with Ritual and Spirit Work
My first conscious contact with the unseen happened when, as a teenager, I put into practice basic ritual instructions from an introductory book on shamanism. Through my early experiments I made contact with nonphysical beings or spirits that I experienced as quite real.
My immersion in popular pagan culture and academic study of world religions, combined with the guidance of my first spiritual teachers, provided a critical context and grounding for my early experiences with ritual and spirit work.
One pivotal day of training in 1999 introduced me to relating directly with family ancestors. By this point I had been practicing shamanic journeywork, ritual magic, and other types of trance work for about four years. During the training I made contact with a spiritually vibrant and historically distant European ancestor from my paternal grandfather’s lineage. I was invited to ask this supportive ancestor if there were any among the recently deceased that could use healing. Immediately I knew I would visit with my grandfather.
When I was seven years old, my father’s father died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death rippled through the family, particularly affecting my grandmother and his sons. As a child I was shielded from much of this impact, and before this moment I had never sought contact with my grandfather as an ancestor nor considered in any real way the possible effects of his death on the family.
Fifteen years after his passing, the ancestral guides and I contacted my Grandpa Foor in spirit and determined that he was still in a state of relative confusion. He appeared to me as fragmented. The guides repaired this damage and helped him to understand who we were and what had happened. He then shared a kind message for my grandmother, which I later conveyed to her while standing together at his grave.
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The ritual repair ended as the guides and I helped my grandfather start to assume his place among our loving and supportive ancestors.
I have led more than one hundred trainings for over a thousand people and have spoken with hundreds of others through talks, monthly circles, and personal sessions. By holding a supportive space for others to directly contact their loving ancestors, I have witnessed profound transformations that also convey benefit to relationships with living family of all ages.
Three key lessons from guiding others through the work year after year are that:
1. the work is about relationship,
2. everyone has loving ancestors, and
3. relating with our ancestors is entirely normal.
First, getting to know and love our ancestors requires a deep and sustained reckoning with our family, our culture of origin, and our selves. This process takes place over years, not months, and certainly not in one weekend training. The ancestors are not a “subject” we can master or complete; the point is building a relationship with the collective spirit of family in ways that help us grow into wise and loving human beings. Although there may be natural stages or cycles to the work, we are never done with the ancestors until we join them after our death, Ancestor work is both deeply personal and inherently relational.
Second, we all have family ancestors who lived, loved, and worshipped in intimate relationship with the Earth, and getting to know our ancestors can heal and empower people of any ethnic or cultural background, including adoptees. You don’t need to have some kind of spiritual calling from the ancestors themselves; it’s fine just to go knock on their door. We are all unique and blessed, and no one is more special, more human, or more deserving with respect to the topic of ancestors.
Finally, I’ve realized that contrary to fear and popular misconceptions about the unseen worlds, working with the ancestors may actually make you less--rather than more--strange. In my case, although supporting others in talking with dead people is one part of my day job, I am a down-to-earth, straightforward Midwesterner who loves and respects his family, his country (mostly), and his cultural roots. I pay taxes, read the news, and vote. I sometimes eat fast food, like going to the movies, and struggle to make it to the gym.
I’m also a Western-educated psychotherapist and doctor of psychology with a deep love and respect for the physical sciences.
Sometimes people assume that having a relationship with the ancestors requires quitting your job, doing pilgrimages to Egypt or Peru, eating magic mushrooms, or adopting some kind of new, weird identity. To the contrary, ancestor work has functioned in my life as an antidote to spiritual snobbery by helping me to get grounded in this reality and to value my family and myself.
I have witnessed the work have similar effects in the lives of those who take it to heart. There is nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about having a healthy, ongoing relationship with our ancestors; in fact, it’s one of the most inherently human things we could possibly do.
Copyright ©2017 by Daniel Foor, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Bear & Company,
an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc. www.innertraditions.com
Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing
by Daniel Foor, Ph.D.
Everyone has loving and wise ancestors they can learn to invoke for support and healing. Coming into relationship with your ancestors empowers you to transform negative family patterns into blessings and encourages good health, self-esteem, clarity of purpose, and better relationships with your living relatives. Offering a practical guide to understanding and navigating relationships with the spirits of those who have passed, Daniel Foor, Ph.D., provides exercises and rituals, grounded in ancient wisdom traditions, to help you initiate contact with your ancestors, find supportive ancestral guides, cultivate forgiveness and gratitude, harmonize your bloodlines, and assist the dead who are not yet at peace.
About the Author
Daniel Foor, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist and a doctor of psychology. He has led ancestral and family healing intensives throughout the United States since 2005. He is an initiate in the Ifa/Orisha tradition of Yoruba-speaking West Africa and has trained with teachers of Mahayana Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and different indigenous paths, including the older ways of his European ancestors. Visit the author's website: ancestralmedicine.org