Some days are gray - there is a misty colorless quality about them, a light cold breeze, a shiver in the body.
Something whispers in the background.
These are the days to stand still. These are the days to listen and to bring back the voices from the bones pile. These are the days when your ancestors open up the door to peek at what you are doing, sitting outside of that café with your pen and paper; and if you are sharp and grounded enough, you too can have a glimpse of what they are up to.
I don’t know if it comes from the gray of the day, the about-to-rain weather, the end of a season, or the darkness of a morning. It might just be the alignment of everything into an in-between state. When nothing is certain anymore, and every piece of your life lays on the edge. When the day itself is in-between dark and light, when the Earth under your feet is in-between two seasons, when your heart is in between grief and contentment. Only uncertainty can lead us to the edge of the worlds, to the threshold between the living and the dead, to the doorway of our innate humanity. And I let that state of in-between take me slowly to the other place, I drift away as time dissolves, and now I stand, on the other side of the river of blood.
My ancestors are moving, slowly, it would all be silent if not for the sound of ruffled skirts and the thudding noise of the firewood they pile up in the center. They are in preparation for a gathering, a storytelling time that does not look celebratory but very solemn. I would expect some singing, but no - everything is very quiet.
Like here, in my world, it is not night and it is not day, everything is enveloped in a gray haze. The mountains are dark in the horizon but the grass under their bare feet is green. The logs are in place, and each woman carries a stone and places it in a circle around the tower of wood for the fire-to-be.
Behind them stands a long table with a lace tablecloth on it, crafted by old gnarly hands, threads woven and crocheted together into a delicate pattern. There is nothing to eat, no food, no opulent or extravagant banquet, but on the table rest crystal glasses and pitchers, small jars of oxymel, vases filled with wild flowers. The flowers are mostly dry and dark, black spikes of echinacea, obscure crimson roses, and a lot of yarrow, with just a few stems still coiffed with white and yellow flowers.
A spider trails her silk between the branches and the stems, creating an arachnean connection between what is dead and what is living - she brings the same attention and reverence to both.
“Be that spider”
This is my entry point, my invitation to the ancestral gathering, my call to step into the portal. I come in, and stand by the table.
It smells like morning dew and fresh grass after the rain, with a sweet note of decay. The circle of stones is now complete, their shapes and sizes reflecting the many stories and experiences of this human lineage. Some smooth, some cracked, some with glittery hints of mica, others with that gray-blue slate tint like the 18th century roofs of my hometown.
These stones come from all over Europe: from cliffs of Wales, countryside stonewalls of France, mountains of Switzerland and rocky pastures of Ireland, from a dirt street of a medieval village in England, and pine forests of the Mediterranean coast. These stones are my ancestral geological map, the nomadic quality of my bloodline witnessed and reflected by the Earth.
Why did my ancestors leave? Famine, escape, love, social unions, religious repression, heartbreak, war. Only the next generations question the motives - when you are leaving you only know that it is the right thing to do, and sometimes it is the only thing to do. There is seldom romantic reason to the right-now of survival move - literally moving away in order to survive.
I, too, carry a few stones with me but it is not my time yet to place them around the fire. I will keep them in the warmth of my belly for now. I look at the men and the women around me and all I want to know is how they are breathing. I come closer in order to hear the rhythm of the air entering in and coming out of their nostrils. I look for the rise and fall of their diaphragm, I search movement in their chest. I think I am concerned that they did not really breathe, even when they were alive. It is all so shallow and quiet.
Can I breathe for them, in my world of the living? Can I fill up my lungs so they sense the spaciousness in their own dead and hollow chests?
The women look at me. I am a bit of each of them, and yet I am very different. They know it, I know it, and none of us tries to make things be different than what they are. I watch the visible differences in them: some are obviously from a high place in society, some are dressed in rags, some have a provocative look, as if they spent their life pleasuring men.
Country lines have been crossed, boundaries of bodies and values have been shattered, and the next generation found itself in a totally different context, in a different language, a different role, a different body, with the opportunity to start it all over again and be new. But it does not really work like that because we are made of blood and of stories that are not ours only.
And there is the woman at the piano, whom I have met before, behind a heavy scarlet red velvet curtain. She looks at me with a smile while I am wondering what is missing here. I then turn around and see the men. They are sitting on the ground, turned toward the mountain. They seem almost transparent, their substance ethereal from centuries of dismissiveness. I, too, did that to them for years, when my narrative was entirely focused on the women. The women who have been abused, disempowered, raped, abandoned, who have rebuilt and found power again, the ones left behind, left alone. The women who have been drowning in sadness and grief for their lost children.
And one day, while visiting France during a family picnic, I talked with my male cousin. We started with the usual catch up and the kids have grown so much, but very soon I sensed depth coming. A longing crept from his heart and spilled all over the space between us. The grass became dark and thick in that beautiful Summer afternoon along the river, his tristesse was palpable and it touched my heart, I suddenly could see what centuries of family pattern had erased. “It’s hard”, I said. It was half an affirmation and half a question. He acquiesced and I knew he was weeping inside. He had been weeping for years, I could see, in that moment, the suicidal thoughts, the walks in the fields with a gun in his pocket, the feeling of being trapped, the longing for love, a whole life of being misunderstood, the unresolved guilt, and the endless sorrow.
I left the picnic early because of the limits of my own emotional strength witnessing such a wounded circus displayed in that park, and because a friend of mine had died that morning, in the US, and I needed to walk with her death and my own grief through the old paved streets of my hometown. I ended up with my husband in a 16th century chapel that day, and lit a candle for her.
I also let it sink in me that for the first time I realized how dismissed the men of my lineage have been. There are no other better words than this: dismissed. From the latin dimittere - sent away, let go of.
They have been sent away to the mountains on a never-ending quest to find the goddess Echo, the one who had her voice stolen and who was eternally living in the mountains - in each mountain - singing the song of the last words.
They have been sent away to wine and absinthe, mislead in their search of forgiveness into the abyss of forgetting.
They have been sent away into other women’s arms and bellies who maybe had more to offer, or less to receive.
They have been sent away to camps and prisons, whether as captives or as executioners, and in both cases participated in the tragic loss of freedom and beauty.
My ancestors knew how to make beauty, and at some point this knowledge was lost. To be an artist became shameful and irrelevant, had no value anymore and had to be condemned. Something came, maybe slowly, maybe suddenly, and the fire inside the stone circle could not be lit anymore. The songs stayed in the mountains, the men remained separated from the women, the children became adults too soon. Silence took over, and it expanded into an ineffable pressure in the air. It exploded the glasses on the long table, the precious medicine of nourishing and life-supporting nectar spilling on the crocheted tablecloth.
The mountains are dark in the horizon, and the glasses are shattered.
But the grass is green under my bare feet and the logs are in place.
I can come back to the stone circle and light the fire.
- Eight Of Cups card from The Wild Unknown tarot deck, by Kim Krans.
All stories link to our own golden threads, a source of understanding, insights, comprehension, and a portal to our own Mundus Imaginalis (world of the imaginary).Take time to sit with the story, let it unravel within you, feed it space and time.
Feel free to travel with one or all the exploratory questions below, or follow your own path if one appears clearly.
As always with deep inquiries, and especially around ancestral work, give yourself plenty of time and space to process. Observe synchronicities, stay nourished and invite soft nurturing in your days.
Where are you in this story?
What image, smell, taste, sensation has a particular resonance for you - stay there, observe your own presence in that place, where it resonates in your body, what it connects you to in your own personal book of stories.
If you think of connecting with your ancestors, what is your first reaction - eagerness or resistance?
Either one comes from a place of valid feeling, observe it and invite yourself to a discussion around it so you understand what is underneath.
Is there a divide or an imbalance between the men and the women of your lineage? Can you broaden this vision to the concepts of the masculine and the feminine?
- Qualities generally attributed to the feminine: soft, open, circular, flowing, affective, nurturing, passive, compassionate.
- Qualities generally attributed to the masculine: linear, direct, strong, leader, independent, assertive, protective.
How do you connect with your ancestors in a way that is regenerative for you and for the future?
- Meditations / journeys
- Journaling and writing: set the intention to write with your ancestors, call them in as you start and let yourself slip into a writing space that travels through times. Let the voices of your ancestors flow through your words.
- Dreamwork: go to bed with the intention of connecting with your ancestors. Make it a clear practice every night or on certain days of the week, or for a specific amount of time (one week, one month, one quarter...).
If you look at this image of the Eight Of Cups card and imagine it comes from your own lineage, what is the reason for the shattered glasses? Was the gathering happy? did something outside of the family system happen or something internal to the family system?