by Cathy Skipper
The more I work with my own trauma and facilitate workshops about trauma, the more I realize the importance of working with historical and transgenerational trauma. We are not isolated humans in isolated lives, we are part of a larger picture. That larger picture consists of our own individual family trees and their place within a community and a larger collective.
When working with your own healing journey or with others as a practitioner, it is important to remember this larger picture. I have found this approach especially enlightening when emotional patterns or reactions arise that don’t seem to have a root in this lifetime. The same goes for chronic physical symptoms. Chronic health issues can affect people through generations as reactions to past traumas. In the same way, health issues can be passed down from specific historical traumas in entire communities and cultures.
Unresolved trauma in past generations finds a way to repeat itself. We feel the trauma inside ourselves, until someone finally transforms it. I have noticed that we seem to be living in a time in history when many of us are being called to do this transformational work and integrate traumas that have been passed down from past generations. The more we collectively become aware of the need to re-think our way of being in the world and where we are heading, the more it becomes apparent that in order to heal the future, we need to heal the past. As we work to transform our personal traumas, these transformations echo out into our families and communities.
There are three common emotional textures that are often related to historic and transgenerational traumas: Loss and Despair, Victimhood, and Shame and Guilt. If these are first reactions that you or your clients have to common challenges, obstacles and confrontations, the solution could be in healing the past.
As I worked to unearth my own ancestral narrative and untangle the threads that lead to my great-great-grandmother, an Indian tea tribe girl, I simultaneously discovered the secret my own mother had been keeping that involved a whole race. I knew my mother was born in India and even though her sister and other members of our family looked Indian, this was never talked about and if mentioned by someone else, it was vehemently denied. Through my research and piecing fragments together, I found out that my maternal lineage were Anglo-Indians. Anglo-Indians are a race that was created during British colonial rule of India to provide ‘middle men’ between the British and the Indian laborers. It has sometimes referred to as the Secret Race.
In piecing together, the hidden aspects of my ancestral lineage, I have not only been able to see where certain emotional and life patterns that I did not understand in my own life came from, but also how this individual lineage fits into the historical traumas of a whole community. Labdanum absolute has been a great ally in the work of bringing secrets and hidden information to the surface. I’ll discuss cistus more below.
Working seriously on transgenerational trauma involves a lot of dedication and hard work. The aim in identifying, transforming and integrating these passed down traumas is that they stop being hard wired. Defensive patterns can become food for growth and healing. As they become conscious and a narrative is formed, we can stop hurting ourselves and others by unconsciously reproducing them.
A good starting point is to take time to reflect on family lineage, whilst mindfully attending to how one is feeling emotionally, what is going on physically and what thoughts are arising. Remember: ‘To feel is to heal’. You could map out a simple family tree of the branch you are interested in working with and explore your place within in it. What is your relationship to the suffering of your family? Are you willing to feel it?
As this work continued, I was able to connect with the healthy ancestors from my ancestral clan. Guided by this relationship and the strong sense of belonging that ensued, I was able to see how this ancestral work resonates with the feminine rising on the planet at the moment.
I believe that it is through the mother line that we are connected to our clan physically. What do I mean by this?
The feminine aspect in the world, i.e. the feminine in both men and women resonates with embodiment, the earth, the cycles of life and our ancestral clans. The great mother that was honored in ancient civilizations has been lost in modern religions and the values of the modern world. This resonance that is the containing, connecting maternal energy is I believe passed down to us through our mitochondrial DNA. This thread of living embodied energy is our maternal bloodline that leads us back to our clans.
Elinor W. Gadon, an American cultural historian said,
“In the late twentieth century there is a growing awareness that we are doomed as a species and planet unless we have a radical change of consciousness. The re-emergence of the Goddess is becoming the symbol and metaphor for this transformation of culture. With the return of the Goddess, the new power of the feminine is being expressed in all areas of life.”
I agree with her and I believe that the feminine is rising through our maternal bloodlines. Mitochondrial DNA is different from the majority of our DNA that is in the nucleus of our cells. It is a small circular piece of DNA that is only passed down through the maternal line.
Jungian analytical psychologist Erich Neumann observed that the earliest form of creation in myths is that of the circle, the Great Round, or the sphere, the womb of the Great Mother goddess as the universal vessel of the world. I love that the mtDNA echoes this circular feminine archetypal form.
Our nuclear DNA is like shuffling the cards from both our mother and father resulting in each person having a unique nuclear DNA. As the mtDNA only comes from our mothers, it remains unchanged as it passes down through the generations. There is an embodied part of each of us in each energy center of the cell that is the same in our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, our great-great grandmothers at infinitum. It is also in our brothers, our mother’s brothers, our grandmother’s brothers, etc. as the mtDNA is passed down to our sons but they do not pass it on. This means that men belong to their mother’s clan and will never leave it. This is their connection to the feminine.
This adds an interesting angle to parenting children which is also echoed in many ancient civilizations that functioned with matrilineal descent. Brothers have an important role in the upbringing of their sister’s children as they share the same clan resonance or mtDNA. This does not mean fathers do not influence their children from a place of clan. They do, but differently. As their children have the mtDNA of the mother and they belong to the mother’s ancestral clan, the father’s role is to share the healthy connection to his clan with his children through spirit, through the eyes as he plays with and educates his children. The feminine comes through the mother in an embodied form and through the father in spirit.
So back to the feminine rising. This continual line of unbroken resonance through the mother line is no longer being honored in many modern societies as colonization, industrialization, wars and religion over time has led us to believing we are separated from this innate ancestral connection. We are always connected, but we have forgotten it. It has been educated out of us. And this is what is rising from within with a great strength and force. This is where, in my opinion the feminine is rising from in today’s world.
That is why in an ideal world, we would only be responsible for working with and keeping our mother lines healthy. Our other lineages would be looked after by those that had the same mtDNA. It is logical really. Of course, we are influenced by the ancestors of our other lines as we share nuclear DNA with them (although only partly as I said before everyone’s nuclear DNA is unique), but we are not of the same clan as we don’t not share the unchanged mtDNA with them.
In my opinion, if you want to reconnect with your clan and help them clean up the line by beholding them, you need to do this through the mother line. Once this connection is made and time and effort are put into building a healthy relationship with them, the time will come where a space can be opened up within where you can behold their work of repartition of the wounded dead. This, however is more advanced work and for another video.
To summarize, the feminine is rising through our maternal bloodlines. Years of repression of the feminine cannot be held down for ever. In unison with the earth, the ancient feminine aspect is surging up from within us, through the generations. It’s time to listen to her calling and this I believe is why there is a resurgence of interest in ancestral research and ancestral healing, people are unconsciously responding to this call.
Some of my go-to oils for ancestral healing work are described below:
We call this oil the ‘Master of the Shadow’. It is an excellent ally when doing shadow work. It helps us to discover hidden, unknown aspects of ourselves. We use it intensively when working on transgenerational trauma and healing. It enables us to really tap into our intuitive skills and touch on information tucked deeply into our cellular memory. There is a clairvoyant side to it. It shows us what we need to know in order to move forward. It is forthright and active. It does not beat about the bush, rather it goes directly to what needs to be revealed. A master at revealing family secrets. We always say be careful. This oil should not be used unless you’ve been properly initiated.
I worked with it intensively at the beginning of my ancestral healing work when I needed to delve deeply into what really happened in my family. It enabled me to unearth the family secrets that I was holding in my bones and my cells. Interestingly enough, as I exposed these secrets, the ancestors seemed to jump on board and guide me to find the information in the external world to back up this information that came from within.
I go back to labdanum regularly, when I need to sit with my story, tune into the ancestral realms and peel away the layers revealing more information, patterns and beliefs that need to be transformed and integrated. I wouldn’t be without this oil.
Labdanum is one of the oldest produced aromatic substances. It is a resin exuded by the Cistus ladanifer plant, a type of rock rose and was one of the first ‘distilled’ aromatic substances. It was used for ritual purposes by several ancient cultures. For example, Egyptian pharaos put labdanum in their beards—not for grooming but as spiritual technology.
This Marigold essential oil is from ‘African’ marigold, which is actually native to Mexico and has been used there for centuries to connect with the Dead, for example on Dia de los Muertos and is known in Mexico as ‘Flor de Muerto’ (Flower of the Dead). To the Aztecs, it was the flower sacred to the goddess Cihualcoatl-Quilaztli (snake woman), a mother and fertility goddess.
This Marigold species took advantage of human trade and colonial routes to make its way to Africa and India. It has also been incorporated into ritual and worship in India. It is also important to know that this is not Calendula, which is sometimes also referred to as Marigold. Most of the Marigold (Tagetes) essential oil available is Tagetes minuta, which has a very different personality and aroma, was not used in ancestral veneration and is distilled for the perfume industry.
Marigold (Tagetes erecta) essential oil embodies the light that is also seen in the bright color of the flowers. It is this light that reaches the dead. It is the light of communication with our ancestors. Regardless of where your ancestors are from, this is a superb, alive aroma that helps with contacting them and doing ancestral healing. It is a powerful, pungent aroma that has a deep slow heartbeat.
I use this oil regularly for my own work and when guiding others on journeys to connect with their healthy ancestors and clans. It really does guide, which I think is because it is a road well-trodden having been used as far back as the Aztrecs for the same thing. It creates a path of light that the ancestors and we can follow in order to connect.
Ruh khus can be a really good essential oil to create a warm and nurturing groundedness when someone is working through the feelings and patterns of transgenerational trauma. It is important to feel earthed, safe and embodied in order to be able to be mindful of what comes up. The physical body holds a lot of information in its cells, known as cellular memory. The more we inhabit our bodies during this work and the safer we feel, the more those cellular memories can rise to the surface.
Once time and attention have been given to this form of reflection, gradually, a direction or a feeling may point to a pattern or reveal a fragment that is asking to be explored more deeply.
Remember to look for links between your individual trauma, your family trauma and stories of collective trauma. By doing this we recognize the threads that connect individual, transgenerational and collective trauma. This enriches our strategies for resolving these conflicts and systems.
Unearthing the ancestral story may reveal forgotten personal trauma. Maybe the story has been passed down, but no one has yet put two and two together and connected the emotions within the family system to the story. Everyone’s journey is unique.
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) essential oil
The beautiful and powerful Immortelle also known as Everlasting or Helichrysum, helps us transform the wounds that come through from our ancestral stories. Its earthiness and connection to the feminine brings us into our body’s wisdom, the place where this cellular information is stored. Helichrysum remembers the heart, a vital aspect in this type of healing where self-compassion is primordial and right relationship to ourselves is the vessel. Once these things are in place, helichrysum is the balm that soothes the pain of the unconscious forces as they come into the light and touch our souls. Its wound healing properties bring disconnected parts of ourselves back together to be held at a central point of alignment. This is ideal when identifying and incorporating transgenerational trauma. Helichrysum helps us clear the fears that act as blockages to feeling and opening to the whole of ourselves.
I have become aware that often we hold a key to this transgenerational trauma and healing through every other generation. By this I mean we hold a key that fits with our grandmothers, whose key fits with our great-great grandmother (their grandmothers) and so on. It’s interesting to note how diseases and physical illnesses are often passed down in this way, too. I have found that we often resonate with someone further back in our family tree. Bear in mind that what has been hidden, repressed, distorted in the past will often create a counter force that pushes to re-surface with vengeance through a member of a later generation.
As we advance with our internal and historical detective work and these narratives become clearer, a need for transformation occurs. This transformation involves connecting with and beholding our healthy ancestors as they repatriate the wounded dead back into the clan. The wounded and abandoned ancesotrs take back their place in the family tree and the integrative healing takes place in the past, the present and the future simultaneously.
In my own journey, I travelled to India to trace the story. I was able to reunite deep cellular memory with historical fact. I was also lucky enough to be accompanied by sacred Indian oils and attars that spoke to my roots through my limbic brain. India, through her people, her colors, her sacredness and her smells reminded me that I belonged. Mitti attar made from baked earth, as well as rose attar, the mother note, both became healing allies, bridging the gap of time. Jasmine and tuberose healed the young tea tribe girl within me. She was finally able to smell and anoint herself with precious oils that she would have only been able to dream of as a poor slave girl.
Beyond my own cultural story, I find that the precious Champaca absolute—just a sniff at the right moment—expands our inner world, brings in a light, removes obstacles and allows the integration process space to happen. I have been using it constantly as my journey intensifies. When the obstacles within come up with force and demand to be stepped through, champaca blows open the healing space. This work is powerful healing and demands powerful allies.
A central part of becoming whole is allowing the ancestors to reincarnate within this lifetime’s personality. For women this is becoming intimate with the ‘She’ that has always been there. It is ‘She’ that is rising with the feminine through our maternal lines at this time on earth.
To summarize: The following stages, in a simplified manner, may be helpful to remind you where you are at in the journey and what the challenges are that need to be worked on.
- Confronting the trauma – make sure you are grounded and have tools to help you with this; grounding oils (Ruh khus, sandalwood, angelica, etc.), journal, collage, therapist, etc.
- Understanding the trauma: looking for patterns, family systems, threads that link to past generations. Labdanum.
- Feeling and releasing the pain of historical trauma – to feel is to heal (helichrsyum, rose attar, geranium, etc.)
- Connecting with and beholding healthy ancestors (ancestral clan) so they may repatriate the named wounded ancestors back into the clan.
- Going beyond the trauma and integrating the narrative. The trauma becomes your gift. Your strength is in the integration of your unique narrative. Find oils that connect you to a specific place, sense of belonging. For the integration process, champaca, angelica, myrrh, etc.
For personal and global re-alignment, we must open up and tell our stories and the stories of our ancestors.