In traditional cultures worldwide, ancestor veneration has existed in various forms throughout human history. Many ancient cultures developed an entire cosmology around relationship with their ancestors. In some 200,000 years of human evolution, it is only in relatively recent history that ancestor veneration has been less widespread, particularly so in contemporary Western culture. However, I find that the human drive to remain connected to our ancestors has simply evolved to take a new form. Modern developments in science and technology have opened a path to connecting with the ancestors for contemporary humans who are deeply skeptical of the non-material and the ‘unscientific.’
The Internet has made it possible for anyone with access to a computer to research geneology and piece together their family tree. Databases like Ancestry.com provide a platform to search and collect ancestral data, connecting millions of people worldwide. Since 2012 this site alone has grown to host over 4 million users, comprising 90 million family trees from over 80 countries worldwide.
In addition, breakthroughs in the scientific discovery of genetics and epigenetics have given us new ways of thinking about our ancestry. The study of genetics only began a mere 100 years ago, with the discoveries culminating in the end of the 20th century with the Human Genome Project. Completed in 2003, researchers succeeded in mapping the entire human genetic sequence, and were surprised by the relatively few number of genes (about 30,000) having great similarity to much simpler organisms like the fruit-fly. Prior to this discovery, the ‘Primacy of DNA’ concept held that genes were destiny. Following on the heels of genetics, the field of epigenetics is only a couple of decades old but has already settled the debate for once and for all: human development is caused by both nature AND nurture. Epigenetic science unveiled mechanisms for how our genes interact with the environment to determine expression.
The field of epigenetics has opened up new understanding of disease risk as being modifiable through lifestyle and the environment. We now understand how information can be passed genetically from one generation to the next without altering DNA, by turning gene expression ‘on’ or ‘off.’ These days, anyone can go online and order their own genetic test through 23andme or Genes for Good, and this data can be interpreted through websites such as Promethease and Genetic Genie to produce epigenetic reports. This information can be used to create an individualized plan of risk-reduction, since epigenetic expression can be modified through nutrition, lifestyle, stress management, and various holistic healing modalities. In my clinical practice I work with these tests and interpretations which can have great impact on patients' health.
Much of the original human research in the field of epigenetics has focused on the inheritance of generational trauma. Scientists worked with the descendants of Holocaust survivors, and the offspring of survivors of the Dutch famine. They discovered changes in genetic expression which occurred as the result of trauma experienced generations before. In our current sociopolitical context of the West, and specifically the United States, there is a profound legacy of intergenerational trauma and wounding from native genocide, slavery and colonialism that informs contemporary systems of oppression. In our current shifting political climate, the surfacing of these wounds - which have always existed, but remained marginal in dominant culture - invites an opportunity for examination, reparations, amends, and healing.
Regardless of one’s religion, spiritual tradition, or lack thereof, there are many accessible ways to reconnect with ancestors. I believe there to be several benefits to this, including:
Improving our relationship to our origins, which alleviates internal conflict/conflicting commitments/resentments that we carry in our bodies. This can be manifest in a multitude of ways, including genetic history of both colonialism and the oppressed within one’s lineage.
Improving our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and that of our future lineage. I firmly believe that self-care is absolutely essential to be part of the solution to planetary healing at this time.
Invite healing to our lineage for past, present and future generations.
In his book Ritual: Power, Healing and Community, Malidoma Somé wrote that throwing away one’s culture is an insult to the dead that can lead to unresolved ills, including what he calls ‘starvation of the soul.’ To restore ourselves, we must slow down, face our fears, and remember how to perform ritual for personal, community and ancestral healing.
To that end, I am excited to be offering the following upcoming workshops on epigenetics and ancestral healing with my friend and colleague D.K. Brainard - see events details below. In addition I'm offering a 20% discount on Epigenetic and Ancestral Healing consultations (in-person or remote). Click here for information and use code ANCESTORS at check out.