The desire to communicate with our ancestors is an innate part of the human experience. We intuitively sense their presence in our wisdom bodies and it begs the question: can we communicate with them?
Through daily prayer, mediation, creation of art, music, food and ceremony, the ancestor spirits can communicate, guide, protect and heal the living. Ancestral communication has been an ancient practice in every wisdom tradition throughout time. Your ability to connect with your ancestors is always available.
In particular, the days on and around October 31 to November 2 are a transformational portal on the wheel of life. It’s the mid-point between fall and winter, the death and dying season. Therefore, it’s a powerful time to communicate with one’s ancestors. This article offers guidance on how to create a beautiful ceremonial journey to communicate with your ancestors.
The Traditions of Ancestral Communication
Ancestral communications is an ancient and daily practice found in many cultures around the world, including Mayan, Celtic, Aborigine, Indigenous American, Ancient Greece, Ancient Eurasia, African Tribal, Tibetan and the Vedic/Yogic traditions. Some major religions, such as the Catholic faith, honor the deceased on All Saints Day and All Souls Day with prayers, candles, incense, chanting, ceremony and offerings. In Mexico they celebrate the Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos). And in the Celtic tradition, Samhain, which observes the transition time between the two worlds.
In our culture, we are familiar with Halloween or All Hallows Eve. However, much of the essence and spiritual wisdoms connected to these ceremonial days - meant to honor and communicate with one’s ancestors - has been lost.
I lost my own father early in life. Through ancestral communication, I have been able to open my heart, experiencing a deeper love within myself, due to the work I have done to connect with my father and other ancestors. Through this work, I have been able to reconcile deep wounds and karmic patterns that stem back even beyond my Dad, but also to my deceased grandparents and living family.
Ancestral work can transform the karmas of past generations, as well as work into the current and future generations for healing.
Halloween and The Day of the Dead
These two celebrations are traditionally considered ceremonial days and nights to honor and communicate with one’s ancestors. This is a time to create family altars, perform ceremonies with the ancestors and lay out offerings of flowers, incense, crystals, art and food. Halloween or All Hallows Eve literally means Holy Night or All Saint’s Night. It is a time to honor and communicate with those that have taken their spirit walk, ancestors and the holy or saintly ones. The Day of the Dead maintains the spiritual essence of ceremony, honor and communication in the deeper regions of Mexico.
Last year at this time, I was in southern Mexico, in the city of Merida, studying the Mayan tradition. Two days before Day of the Dead, I decided to take a walk in the main plaza to enjoy the night air. I encountered a celebration amongst the locals. Dozens of families from surrounding villages were joyfully creating altars, cooking and sharing food, lighting candles, putting up photos of their deceased and playing music all around the central plaza. It was a very moving experience and I could feel the light coming in through their intentions and offerings to their familial ancestors.
Elements of these beautiful ceremonies and altar practices can be observed in our modern Halloween by way of candles in jack-o-lanterns, candy offerings and festivities. If you choose, you can mindfully reconnect to these ancient practices while the veil between the two worlds is open this time of year.
Who is an Ancestor?
The Lakota say Mitakuye Oyasin, “All are my relations”- the tree, water, sky, earth, animals, brothers, sisters and those that have taken their spirit walk. There is a sacred hoop, a medicine wheel, a mandala of life. All is connected. All is life and all has the essence of Love. All are children of the Great Mother and Father - in spirit and physical form.
An ancestor is one who took a physical body and experienced the loves, sorrows, joys and pains of being human. They are your parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents. Anyone who has taken their spirit walk. Anyone who is in your soul tribe.
The ancestors are ones who intimately know what it is like to take the human incarnation and share your spiritual and/or physical DNA. They can have great empathy, compassion and sensitivity for what it is like to be in a personal earth journey. They can provide helpful teachings, guidance, protection, healing and forgiveness from the spirit dimension. Ancestors may also have their own continued healing work and evolution to do as a spirit and are still considered part of the sacred hoop of life.
There are other types of ancestors, including Territorial Ancestors (aka Land Ancestors) and Spiritual Ancestors. Territorial or Land Ancestors are beings that incarnate on a piece of land and are now connected to the land as spiritual guardians and stewards. Your family ancestors can also be your Territorial Ancestors if you are living/working on ancestral lands. Your Spiritual Ancestors are lineages of spirit beings that your soul repeatedly chooses to work with. This could be Archangel Michael, Buddha, Quan Yin (aka Guanyin), White Buffalo Calf Woman, Star Beings from the Pleiades, or the Egyptian wisdoms spirits- the sky is the limit. There are infinite possibilities and a particular ancestor could be in multiple “categories”.
For our ceremony on how to communicate with your ancestors, we are going to focus on your soul tribe ancestors. It is perfectly all right to invite your other ancestral lineages to be present and assist as well.
Why Communicate with Your Ancestors?
When my father Robert Schenkelberg died of a sudden blood clot to his lungs in 2003, I was far from resolved on many things with him. There was a mixture of deep love, grief, confusion, anger, sadness and many unanswered questions about some childhood experiences. I was not particularly wanting a spiritual connection at that time and even shunned it.
Ten years went by and I had lost more and more connection with my own heart. I found myself in an ashram in the mountains searching for inner peace and was reading a book about a spiritual teacher who knew when he was going to die. Inviting all his students together, the teacher shared that when someone dies they are not gone - they are present in Love. They have transitioned to the spiritual dimensions and are still present with us.
He suggested that we could choose to honor them and send them love. This statement awakened my soul and opened up the portal to a profound shift in my spiritual heart. In October 2013, the mid-point between fall and winter, my father contacted me in a dream. It has been an evolving process over three years through prayer, meditation, ceremony, daily dialog and surrender to deeper transformation. However, this connection with my father has been the most profound journey into healing for myself, his spirit, my grandparents and even my living family - including my mother, brother, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles.
Opening up your heart and learning how to communicate with your ancestors can provide deep, transformational healing on all levels.
I have found many moments of joy and contentment when I am in communion with my father and my ancestors. They laugh with me, they send me messages in the wind, they sail in on the wings of a hawk, they comfort me with love and provide loving guidance for my soul’s path in this life. This requires personal work - to dissolve old programming, emotions, grudges and stories - and it continues to require these shifts. For me, ancestral communication and healing has been the most powerful and rewarding gift of my spiritual journey.
Why Practice Ceremony to Communicate with your Ancestors?
There are many ways to communicate with your ancestors and eventually it may become a daily practice and dialog for you. Simply calling them into your heart and having a quiet moment can be perfect. However, ceremony can help to amplify the communication.
Spirit is energy and uses high vibration frequencies to access the earthly realm. Ceremony is high vibration. The difference between offering ceremony and personal prayer is like the difference between playing a guitar amplified or playing a guitar acoustically. They are both beautiful and appropriate for different needs, but one has a stronger resonance and reach. Just as it is easier for us to hear the amplified guitar, it is easier for spirit to communicate with us using the higher vibration of ceremony.
We have held ceremony many times personally, in groups, at our yoga studio, on retreats and with people of varied faiths and beliefs. We have found that most people have an innate remembrance and connection to ceremony even in their first experience.
What is Ceremony?
There are many ancient wisdom traditions on our planet that share the gift of ceremony and there are many ways to do ceremony- individually or in groups. While the specifics of the ceremony may vary, there are three essential pieces that apply anywhere, anytime:
Intention: In the yoga tradition this is called Sankalpa, which translates to "vow of the heart". Declare your purpose. It can be a positive affirmation, asking for an answer to a question or healing. Attention: Be Present. Or as Ram Dass says, “Be Here Now.” Get grounded in your heart and clear your mind. Energy flows where your attention goes. Purposeful: Make sure what you doing is meaningful to you. When you are in a group ceremony there may be aspects that don’t connect to you in that moment. That’s okay. Keep your attention on your inner intention, on what you are offering up from your heart. When you are creating your own personal ceremony, create a ceremony that inspires you and has meaning for you.
How to Create an Ancestral Ceremony
Once you’ve completed the essential three, now you are ready to create your Ancestral Ceremony and open up the communication lines. Here is a list of elements that may be part of your ancestral - or any- ceremony:
Create Sacred Space
Find a place that is conducive for your ceremony: being outside in nature is highly recommended or a quiet place inside. Create an altar for your ancestors. This may include:
Lighting incense, copal, sage, or palo santo to clear the energy and open the portal Elements of nature, such as fire (candle), flowers, a bowl of water, crystals, shells, feathers, tobacco, corn or grains Ancestral Memorabilia, such as photos, personal items like a ring, a pocket knife, a book or favorite foods of the ancestors Spiritual relics like your favorite deity, prayer flags or anything that represents spirit to you Rattles, drums, bells, gongs, or singing bowls to open up the portal through sound
Asking Permission and Giving Invitation
Ask for permission, guidance and protection from Spirit to do your ceremony. Call in your Spirit Guides and Angels to assist you and invite in your ancestors that you would like to be present by name at the ceremony.
Call in the Directions
Ask the spirits of the Four Directions, Mother Earth and Father Sky to be present at the ceremony.
Offer a handwritten letter to the ancestor(s) that can be burned and carried to Spirit through smoke. Or make a statement to the deceased out loud. Follow your words with an offering of the items you chose for the altar.
Take a Moment
Sit quietly and be in the energy of Spirit and your ancestors. Focus in on your original intention. Listen with full attention in your heart, mind and body for any messages. You may receive an instant knowing, an image, a feeling, inner light, love, or even words. Or, it may just be a peaceful repose. Spirit answers in divine time. More may be revealed in dreams, nature and future interactions.
Mantra and Music
You can choose a song, a mantra or chant that feels right to you. It can be accompanied by your voice or instruments of drums and rattles to bring the primordial heartbeat of Mother Earth.
Guided Journey (Optional)
Try a guided journey: this is often performed by a shaman or someone trained in guided meditations.
Close the Ceremony
Close the Four Directions, Mother Earth and Father Sky. Thank your Spirit Guides and Angels for their assistance and send out a final blessing to your ancestors.
Celebration and Reflection
Share some food, water, music and/or discussion with loved ones and record your feelings and experiences in your journal.
Be open to whatever comes. Spirit can come as a whisper or as cosmic smack up side the head. And sometimes it comes immediately and sometimes it comes when you least expect it. What matters most is your intention, attention and purpose. The seeds you have planted will grow if tended with an earnest heart. Trust the process. May the ancestors be with you.
Learn more about co-author Katrina Gustafson.