That prefix, Dis, is the name of the old European spirit of the underworld, the one who rules the darkness and the realm of death. Dis is the energy of reversal, un-doing, deconstruction, the swing of the pendulum, the inevitable dusk of each day. Dis comes to us regularly in life, in small and large ways, but in autumn we palpably feel its power. It takes us downward, inward, toward darkness. The shamanic term: dismemberment.
It’s helpful to trust that much of the disarray we feel caught in – personally, nationally, globally, even cosmically - is actually a spiritual dismemberment, guided by the Unseen, pointing us to a new, deeper life. It’s not easy at all to trust that, but it’s helpful.
But not all of this disarray is spiritual dismemberment. Often it is merely disconnection, which is a symptom of our toxic culture and the driver of so much anger, selfishness and compulsion we see each day.
This is why ancestor work is important to me. Like each of us, I am always in some process of dismemberment, always in conversation with Dis. But, like each of us born into this culture, I am trained from birth in disconnection: from nature, from one another, from history, from my own soul’s purpose, from what my Celtic teachers call the power of Sovereignty – the ability make my own decisions.
For me, shamanic work, as I see it and do it, is about re-membering. It’s about protesting the powers of disconnection injected into me by my culture and it’s about the slow, often confused and clumsy pathwalking back to a place of connection that my soul knows exists, but the maps were stolen long before I was born.
Ancestor work is a map. It is not the only map, but it’s a good one if we want to remember who we are and remember our connection to the web of life, to the creatures and the unfathomable beauty in which we swim.
So I offer you an easy ancestor ceremony: take something you love to eat or drink, and offer it to your ancestors. For me it might be good whiskey. I pour a few drops in a glass, I take it outside, I leave it overnight in the garden or yard, or pour it on the earth, or over a rock, or into flowing water. I sit and drink mine, and I just try to remember as much as I know (which isn’t very much) about my blood ancestors. Mostly I thank them for living hard lives and passing on the life force so that I can live.
If you want to go a little deeper, try this open ended prayer below. The prayer acts in two directions at once: it is us talking to the ancestors, and the ancestors talking to us:
My blood is your blood
My skin is your skin
My heartbeat is your heartbeat
My tears are your tears
My loves are your loves
My fears are your fears.
On an on you can go, Thinking of everything physical and emotional and remembering that these things all belonged to your ancestors as well as to you. You could sprinkle in this line:
Remember me. Remember me.
Spending a few moments with your ancestors, especially at this time of year, but also regularly, can help to re-member in you what has been dismembered by the culture.