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>Have we really grieved our dead?

22 May

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Talking with the Ancestors:
Initiation and the Purpose of Life
Excerpt of An Interview with Malidoma Patrice Some’
by Michael Bertrand, 1995
In your culture you have relations with the ancestors. That’s something that we’ve basically lost touch with in our culture, not only how to do it but even why or even if there are any.

   That is again a very important point that is tied to the reason why there is a need for initiation. How do you practice something so ancient when you are disconnected? It’s just an irony. The connection with the ancestors is a primary requirement for the reconnecting with initiatory practices. It is one of the conditions for the healing that needs to happen for the modern world. We cannot go forward until we look back at those who have preceded us, in an attempt to produce a reconciliation between us and them.
   Otherwise, the perpetuation of denial is fostering all kinds of illnesses that indeed are encouraged by the very ancestors that we’re forgetting, because that’s they’re only way to keep ringing the bell in our psyches about the necessity for this connection to happen. It is just as useful to them as to those caught in western phenomena. It is not something that can be avoided. Therefore, it’s just a basic acknowledgment of life to acknowledge that one has ancestors.
   I’ve discovered over the years that people prefer to look forward because when they look back they find the memory they have of their ancestors is not that good. Those who can remember are connecting with crime, violence and pain.
With the colonialism…
   That’s right. With colonial violence and so on and so forth. It may then feel very uncomfortable having to relate to figures in that manner. Yet, what we must understand is that being alive at this time makes us the prime healers of the very ancestors who were remembered in this time. Unless we’re able to reconcile with them we can be of no use to ourselves as well as to them, because our relationships start in a dysfunctional compost. It is that dysfunctionality that those of us who are alive are therefore able and qualified to fix.
   This is why I like to talk about healing the ancestors. In this context it means eventually returning to them with a humble heart to let them know that indeed we’re here to help do whatever it takes to repair the energy that has been broken through time and space. We are, therefore, opening ourselves to our suggestions as to what we need to do in order to reconnect or to open the mind with them in a healing fashion.
   It doesn’t mean we have to invent something. They know from where they are what needs to be done. It’s up to us to tell them we’re open to receiving that knowledge so we can take the proper action, because we’re still caught in a human body. They don’t have a human body so they can’t do what it takes to fix that problem.
So, we’re saying that problem, or the healing of the ancestors, implies that we have to do it because we need their help as much as they need ours.
   That’s right. It’s reciprocal. They need our help because they need to produce a situation where there’s continuity. We need their help because we need to resolve the turmoil that we get ourselves into in this modern world. The turmoil in the downtown and the inner cities, the violence that’s going on, is all connected with the fact that we’re disconnected from the ancestors. They can fix that because they know where it’s darkest.
   It is mostly in our interests and in the interests of those coming after us that we do that. Otherwise when we die we’ll join them and attempt to continue to complicate the (–vision?) here hoping that eventually people will remember where they need to go in order to get a solution to the problems. This is why I insist that it’s a reciprocal thing, something that helps both parties.
So, in essence too, you’ve implied in your book that the ancestors need to be helped along their way so they go where they need to be in the afterlife.
   Yes. Unless this happens we’ll not have the kind of benefit that they also seek. One thing we need to understand is that their constant interference in our day to day life is motivated by the fact that it would pay us to allow them to join the place that they need to join in order to feel complete, which is the land of the ancestors. Otherwise they will keep sticking around in our cities and creating the kind of turmoil that they think is the only way for them to remind us of what we’re here to do, of the necessity of our relationship with them.
   Consequently, of course, this is an opportunity to take back and learn from existing indigenous cultures where this leads to a lot of ritualized grief because that grief helps in that journey across to the land of the ancestors. As long as we know that it is in our interest that they go there.
   What they’re saying here is we are robbing them of their right to journey where they belong, where they can also be a proper source of help to us.
So, one of the way to heal the ancestors is to grieve them. If there were some way in which a day were taken where everybody in a given country spent it in grief for the ancestors so they could go to the land of the ancestors would be positively useful to us. I’m sure that several million tears, a double billion people shedding tears for the same ancestral pool would be likely to make a difference.
   This is the kind of thing that eventually will have to happen. Maybe this is the only condition that will help us break into the remembering space that allows the understanding of what kind of initiation is needed in order to bring out the birth of the kind of community that people feel comfortable with.