One of the first spirits that I suggest that people connect to when interested in shamanic and spiritual work is their ancestors.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that ancestors are pretty close to us energetically and so are easier to contact. They lived human lives, and are rooted in Earth energies. Energies such as the elements, varying deities, angels, or other spirits are less compatible with us energetically. They may not have lived lives as humans, or from their vantage point, human concerns may seem trivial (or they may not understand them).
Our ancestors also have a vested interest in us. We are a part of them, a part of an energetic line of all ancestors that flows backwards and forwards and through us. We can be scientific and refer to the remnants of their traumas, triumphs, and fears as “epigenetics” but in spiritual terms, we energetically carry on the stories, wounds, and gifts of our ancestors within our bodies.
Our ancestors are often the easiest spirits to contact because of their connection to us. They care about us and about the lineage in a way that other spirits will not. In larger terms, our own individual healing ripples backwards and forwards. Our ancestors benefit from the work that we do to heal ourselves, and to heal our lineage.
A big part of spiritual healing is to heal the unhealed ancestors of our lineage so that we no longer carry their wounds. Just like us, our ancestors experienced trauma, loss, love affairs gone wrong, and emotions too large for them to process. At death, quite a bit of emotional and energetic release occurs. However, some emotions and traumas are too large to release at death, and they carry on in their children and through the rest of their ancestral line until someone does considerable healing work (including ancestral healing) to release them.
Healing our ancestry allows for us to develop a considerable support system spiritually as well as to embody the gifts of our ancestry. These gifts are often stuck within needs for healing, and as we heal our ancestry, the gifts can come forward after the wounds have healed.
In the modern world contacting ancestors can be confusing for many. This is because we do not have the full story of our ancestral line anymore. It has been broken through immigration, slavery, Westernization, and family systems that are no longer straightforward.
A good example of this is adoption. Over the years I have worked with many individuals who have been adopted who are misinformed that they cannot do ancestral work because they do not have knowledge of their birth parents or their ancestry.
Similarly, in a family a father or mother may be out of the picture, there may be step-parents, guardians, and all sorts of family structures that do not exactly create a straight line or a clear picture.
In terms of healing, I have found that adopted individuals need to work with their early childhood and adolescent household in terms of healing. Their family may have many variations and changes during that time.
While this pertains to a lot of different family systems, I will specifically gear this towards adoption. Upon adoption, the adoptee will have some healing work to do with their family (the people who adopted them). This will include other closely related members of the family, such as grandparents, great-grandparents, guardians, and even close friends (such as neighbors, good friends of parents… basically anyone who was close enough to be considered “family” as a part of your childhood).
In terms of ancestral healing, the adopted individual will typically need to work with the living relatives and family (adoptive) that they have been in contact with. This will not only include any trauma or needs for healing that the adoptee experienced in that household, but also the wounds of those who lived in that household.
Put more simply, if Grandma was a depressed alcoholic that felt that she was all alone in this world, those wounds will permeate the family and need to be looked at and worked with by the adoptee in some way.
For adopted individuals I find that the need for healing and working with ancestors of the adoptive family is limited to those that the adopted individual has been in contact with directly. Basically, if a relative that you knew during life dies (becomes an ancestor).
Healing the family of origin and their ancestral lineage will then take dominance. This lineage may extend back hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Because of the way that ancestral healing work was transmitted to the West, there has been a thought with it that the lineage must be known in order to work with it. I do not find this to be true. In fact I find that people knowing too much information about their ancestry in the modern world can be a significant detriment. It puts people in too much of a head space, which can stop authentic spirit contact as well as prevent spiritual healing from occurring.
For example, if you know all about your Great-Great Grandma Sara who was a strong figure who experienced child loss, there is a good chance that your mind will want Sara to be your ancestral guide and you will assume that the pattern of child loss will need to be healed.
This all may very well be true, but it is often best to keep on open mind, even with known history.
This is largely so that we do not mentally create (rather than spiritually connect) but also because another ancestor may want to provide support that would be a better fit for you… or Sara is still an unhealed figure in your ancestry rather than a healed figure. Generally unhealed energies will still have trauma that lingers quite emotionally and physically, and they will still be in some way tethered to this world, while healed spirits will have moved enough beyond human daily reality to be of greater perspective and assistance.
So for those who are adopted or that for one reason or another do not know their ancestry, not having any information (or not having very much) can actually be a blessing, as you can be a blank slate and see what comes through.
It may be surprising to those who have had difficult experiences with adoption, abandonment, or otherwise traumatized family members who cannot offer support that there can be healed ancestors that can be connected to. It is immensely healing to receive this type of support, and it often proves to be an essential step during in-depth spiritual work for adopted individuals to be able to connect with healed ancestors. We crave love and connection with family on such a primal level, and so many exist without it and suffer when there are spiritual sources of support that are waiting, ready, and able to provide it.
For anyone who is interested in connecting with their ancestors, I suggest setting up an Ancestral altar. Instructions for how to do this are in my book, The Shamanic Workbook 1
There is not just one way to do spiritual healing, or ancestral work. If done well, ancestral healing as well as connecting with your ancestors can be both life-changing and deeply healing. When doing any form of spiritual healing success will mean not only our thoughts will change, but also our emotions, who we consider ourselves to be, how we inhabit our bodies, and how we live in this world. This is the sign of truly transformative work.
Mary Shutan has been a spiritual healer and teacher for twenty years. She is also the author of several books, including The Shamanic Workbook series.