Bread and Blessings: Healing Ancestral Wounds in Simple Ways

cliffs of moher
The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. The southernmost point is the embodiment of Cailleach, the Celtic ancestor goddess. Image taken by author.

 

For Persis

In early April of 2019 my grandmother passed away. She was my dad’s mom, and I last remember seeing her at my great-great Aunt Jane’s funeral at age seven or eight. I can’t remember how old I was. In the years that followed my dad became estranged from my grandmother, and I became estranged from my dad. All of which, I believe, stem from the intergenerational trauma related to alcohol addiction.

A few months prior to my grandmother’s death I launched this blog as a project to discuss my personal relationship with magic, and her death impacted that relationship in deeper ways than I could have anticipated. Throughout 2019 subtle events unfolded that taught me of a deep, quiet love that alchemizes emotional pain experienced during this finite lifetime.

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Harvest of Lughnasadh

Harvest at Lughnasadh
Sheaves of Wheat in a Field by Vincent van Gogh. 1885. From Wikiart.org.

Today is Lughnasadh (pr. Loo-nah-sah), the ancient harvest festival of Ireland and Scotland, typically celebrated July 31st through August 1st. The holiday marks the start of harvest season and is named after the Celtic god Lugh who was master of all arts – poetry, music, battle, diplomacy, and justice.

Lughnasadh occurs six months following its sister holiday, Imbolc (January 31st – February 1st). At Imbolc we are called to plant the seeds of our hopes and intentions for the coming year. It’s associated with the goddess (and saint) Brigid, who stokes the hearth fire to germinate our growth and development. Now, halfway through the year, it’s time reap what we’ve sown.

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The Beauty of the Dark Night of the Soul

The beauty of the Dark Night of the Soul
Eternity by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. 1906. From Wikiart.org

Often when I hear people talk about the dark night of the soul it’s usually described as a form of depression, without much attention given to the euphoria of the experience. The concept comes from an untitled poem by Saint John of the Cross, written in the sixteenth century. The poem emphasizes the act of turning inward during an existential crisis in order to align the soul with the Divine. In fact, the poem describes the dark night as joyous and repeatedly praises it for its transformative power! The dark night of the soul is a cathartic (and ecstatic) experience and deserves further examination beyond the crisis point.

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Four Ways to Heal Your Inner Child

abbottcinderella
Cinderella by Elenore Abbott. 1920

Humans are social creatures, and a major aspect of the human experience is fulfilling a sense of belonging. We want to connect with each other. But in adolescence the desire to belong is so strong that we might ignore our own intuitive intelligence and instead look outside ourselves for external validation. Expectations and/or pre-defined hopes are put onto us from peers, mentors, culture, and media to be and think certain ways. And if the environment is painful enough, we might choose to reject those parts of ourselves that others find taboo, just out of survival.

Rejection of the childhood self can still run on autopilot in the shadows of our adult psyches, and reacquainting ourselves with those lost parts helps to heal the areas where we feel wounded. By gently reintegrating those aspects, we gain the joy of embodying unconditional love and respect for our own humanity. Below are four techniques to reconnect with your inner child.

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Spirit Bath for Ritual Realignment

Circe Invidiosa, by John William Waterhouse
Circe Invidiosa, by John William Waterhouse

I’m heading off to the desert this week for an utiseta, a ceremony in deep wilderness that allows a practitioner of magic to go under the veil and completely disconnect from the human world. There’s nothing “to do” during an utiseta other than meditate and open oneself to receive answers as they come (while also utilizing basic survival skills).  While I’ve been preparing for the six-day ceremony for five months, most recently I completed a spirit bath to balance myself before entering the void.

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John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara and the Mystery of Friendship

children of lir
Children of Lir, by John Duncan. The Children of Lir spent 900 years cursed as swans, healing and consoling the people of Ireland with their song. Image from The Athenaeum.

This year I was fortunate to come across the written works of the Irish poet and theologian, John O’Donohue. O’Dononhue’s first book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom expounds on the Irish concept of an anam cara, or “soul friend,” a spiritual mentor of the early Irish church. In his analysis, O’Donohue examines how  the theory of an anam cara might be applied to contemporary life for spiritual development. Additionally, O’Donohue draws upon the syncretism of paganism and Christianity within Ireland to tell parables about the anam cara, which appealed to me as an Irish-American deepening her work with ancestral magic. I find Anam Cara to be among the more thoughtful treatises within the self-help genre. Its framework allows for compassionate healing, without falling into the trap of hyper-individualism often represented in New Age literature. Anam Cara is a guide for how to be a good friend, and its central theme is worth exploring as a model for living in this world.

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To Serve and Be Served in Good Ways

Buon Tring
Annihilation of the Montagnard village, Buon Tring, during the Vietnam War. From ICRC Archives.

As someone who was raised in a New Thought household, I have spent my life studying and practicing positive-mind mechanics, such as Law of Attraction. Often when I encounter theories about the causative power of the mind, arguments generally fall into one of two camps: either every thought creates our reality or there’s a rejection of the notion entirely. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do think that the mind plays an intimate role in how we experience physical reality, but I don’t believe it is the only influence. Because in addition to being raised within the New Age community, I am also a professional historian who studies and teaches social movements of twentieth-century America. I have a deep understanding of the power of historical context, which in the collective memory is often very painful. Just as shadows exist in our individual psyches, so do shadows haunt our collective past. Thoughtfully speaking about positive-mind mechanics can be challenging in New Age circles due to the over eagerness of most practitioners to diminish the influence of historical and cultural contexts. I want to expand on this by exploring why context is important, and how applying contextual analysis can help craft a life desired of living while ethically contributing to the mutual benefit of others.

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