Ancestral Connection Practices: Sambuccus and beyond

Both in the magical and non-magical communities, intergenerational and ancestor healing is resurfacing. The “okay boomer” conversation that happened this Fall ignited feelings of frustration, anger, and reintegration across generational lines. Now we are being hit with a global catastrophe where our elderly are at a higher risk of crossing over, and we are reaching back. What skills do we have, and where did we learn them from? Who came before us? Did we feel loved and accepted by the people who were charged with our survival?  Did we listen to each other? What gifts and skills did we receive, and what were we left to figure out from our chosen family? Where did we receive comfort and belonging? What conflicts with our home group surfaced as we come into ourselves?

As conversations about Cultural Appropriation in art, politics, science, knowledge systems, and the spiritual realm grow and evolve, a real need for clarification surfaces. Dispossession-from place, from culture, from the generations that came before- is real. It can leave a hole that people fill in toxic ways, relying on cultures that are not ours to feel connection. If we peer into our own roots, we release the need to take from other cultures. 

At the same time, we don’t have to take on everything past generations gave us. How to filter, cleanse, show gratitude, invite, and release different energies and individuals from both our physical lineage and chosen family is messy, beautiful work of rooting, releasing, and belonging. This has been a huge step for me for processing my default experience of rejection, setting boundaries with my family, acting as my true self, and drawing energy from those who have believed in me—both within and beyond my blood family. 

My plant for ancestral healing and connection is Elder (Sambuccus nigra and Sambuccus cerulea) . I live in the Northern Rockies, and have always felt an affinity with forests. I am curious which plants hold generational medicine in desert, tropical, and marine environments, but Elder crossed my path many, many times this year, popping up and asking me to work with it. Your plant pal might be different. The practices below are an invitation; if you want to practice them the way I laid out here, and I encourage you to write your own rituals and activities for connecting with the people, cultures, and stories that came before. 

Elder is a powerful ally in this work. A hedge plant, Elder delineates boundaries and loves creekside, much like Hawthorn. It’s a plant of contrasts-serrated leaves that droop softly, long flexible branches with swells of berries. It shows the earth’s terrain, gravitating towards sinking spots and subterranean water pockets. It’s berries, bark, and flowers are wonderful for building immunity. A favorite for spring colds and flus, the branching berry clusters resemble bronchioles. The rich purple berries look like our alveoli. Elderberry is considered an immune tonic and immune builder-safe to take for long periods of time to help build our immune system. While I won’t go deep in to using this plant as medicine, there’s a lot of info out there on Elder! 

Amidst the pandemic’s collective whirlwind, Elder has become the center of confusion, and a great teaching tool, around immune herbs. Some plants boost the immune response, while some regulate it. Some do both, like a car with both a pedal and brake system. Elder was always thought to do both—boost, build, and regulate.While people scrambled to learn about plant medicine amidst the pandemic, some people said it could cause the immune over-response that tips Covid-19 cases from manageable to deadly, because it boosts cytokines, which are involved in cell communication and part of a healthy immune response. Too much of a good thing can create a cytokine storm, where cytokines trigger an over-response and immune cells start attacking healthy tissue . But, the herbal communities have not yet actually observed Elder creating a cytokine storm in C-19 patients. The safe suggestion is that it is safe to take Elderberry prophylactically, but to stop using it if you show C-19 symptoms. 

Elder is linking us to the ancestors, relying on the knowledge of the past, while also giving us permission to consider the Current moment. It’s talking to us—offering itself as a tool for learning, for inquiry, for communication, turning our gaze to what we trust, and why. Reminding us that the earth might not ever be the same, that the things we once relied on are being brought in to question. The message I received is that it’s okay to question: to search, to consider, and sometimes to return to what has worked. 

Inviting cycles: If you can, find a plant in your area that embodies cycles like this. Spend time with it through the seasons. Brew a cup of elder tea, or the plant ally of your choice. Hold the mug in your hands, inhale the steam deeply, smell and acknowledge the flavors and smells. Let it envelope you. Picture the plant in its ecosystem, going through its cycles-for elder: its feet wet in spring mud, leaves beginning to open, thin branches trailing and the lacy flowers opening, pollinators moving over it, berries sprouting from them, being picked and dropping to the ground, leaves drying, falling to the ground, and the plant’s roots thickening and deepening in fall. Watch as the plant propagates through its root divisions and new seeds, and grows over time, envision the threads of the plants passing through the generations.

Take a moment and feel into this experience of being in cycles. Let the water passing at the feet of elder envelope your feet, taste its fruit. Let death come when it is ready, allowing the cycles to continue. Picture everything repeating, giving way to the next generation, the next generation honoring and holding the last. 

If you want a tangible way to get more intimate with the plants, drawing them, either in person or from photo sources, is a wonderful way to gel.

Generational arrival: Take some time to consider the things you received from generations before the objects, food, values, ideas, and skills. In one column, write out what you want to release, and in another column, write out what you want to receive. In a third, write out what you wish you had received, and allow yourself to receive in from your chosen family. If writing isn’t your thing, feel free just to pause and consider, talk with a friend, or draw out these lists. Mine kind of looked like this:

-Love of the ocean -Comfort in the mountains -Appreciation of science and knowledge -Appreciation for a home-cooked meal -Knowledge about my geneology, especially marginalized groups in my ancestral line-Conditional love, and conditional self-love -“Trophy”/accomplishment-driven life -homophobia -transphobia -patriarchal communication -valuing white cultures over Samoan/internalized racism
-appreciation for gender divergence and fluidity -appreciation for divergent sexualities -respect for cultural autonomy -unconditional love and self-love -comfort  -calm -bravery -confidence

Take the 3 lists and use them however feels right. I sat on the earth, legs out in front, feet on the ground. 

I took the “receive” list and held it at my belly, feeling the fullness, the nurturance, the connectivity sitting inside me like a horizon line, balancing me. I stopped to acknowledge everyone who had contributed to my survival, and felt the arrival of self.  The “release” list, I pictured all of those energies flowing out of my body, back into the earth to be neutralized. I paused to allow myself to feel the full gambit of emotions associated with this release: I compassionately acknowledged what my ancestors felt they had to do to survive, mourned them living a life without giving themselves permission to be their full selves, and felt waves of rage awaken me like that hard sweat that expels a spring cold. I let all that pass through me, and back to the earth. I paused and reminded myself of the ground under my feet. 

I took the “needs” list-the list of things I needed or had received from people outside my physical family, and held it over my heart. I called in the energies of the caretakers I had throughout my life-camp counselors who let me be brave, strong, and honest; teachers who saw my passions and believed in me; doctors and healers who taught me self-care practices; bosses who believed in me, listened to me, accepted and drove me; artists and activists who were unafraid of being their true, full selves, who paved the way for me to open up. I held this page above my head, where the sun flowed in, and allowed myself to receive fully from a chosen family.  I reminded myself that this energy is flowing through my ancestors as well, but is muted or hidden. I paused to acknowledge what they secretly wanted to give me, but couldn’t. 

These practices feel differently depending on the day. Sometimes I want to “receive” from the earth at my feet, not push away. Sometimes I want to shield the mental energy coming in from above. There are lots of other ways to work with these lists. You could burn any of them, releasing them and calling in the energy you want through the smoke. You could make a paper airplane and cast it into the wind, or tie this list to a tree and let the winds pass through it. You could bury any of these lists, reminding ourselves of the energy of that which is lost, and gives itself back in return. You could make a little boat and let it surf down a river, away, or make an in-home altar of water, where you let the lists sit in the water, reflecting, soaking up the ink, and then flush them. The possibilities are endless.  

Weaving immunity: Family trees are complicated. Lots of things interrupt our our memories of our lineages: societal institutions like slavery and blood quantum, mental illness, estrangement from a parent, adoption, and other events and factors might cut out an entire body of knowledge about the past, and there is no shame in that. It is okay to accept all of these things, so don’t feel pressure to have a full family tree where you can trace your family back to whatever county… Start by making a family tree of skills, character traits, and memories associated with what you know. Write out the person’s name, where they lived. Then move on to what cultures they were a part of, their passions, a “quirk” or memory you have of them, stories others tell of them. Take a moment to see how these things skip a generation or seem to switch tracks, or are passed on directly.

Pause, and write down their secrets next to their name. The dark things they did to themselves and others. Their struggles. For myself, I have addiction nearly throughout my tree. I sent a breath of radical acceptance, seeing my ancestors fully, not just what I want to see. Above all the branches, write in your chosen family and what they gave you. They are part of your world as well. I would share mine, but it’s honestly too personal. There are lots of family tree options you can find on google images as examples (including ones that acomodate chosen family).

When you are ready, picture strength coming through those branches and down into you. Push away and transform anything that does not serve you or the highest good. Pause and feel what is “budding” from you— the new branches, flowers, and berries emanating from your self. Remind yourself you are safe and deserve to thrive. The ancestors are with you. 

Published by Fern Moongaze

Wild enby traipsing the forest, awakening stilted hearts, beckoning the homebound to adventure, and igniting wild magic. And Dogs.

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