Bonding Our Souls
Genealogy is only one of many ways to satisfy a deep-seated yearning for truth and mystery. However, the family tree is perhaps the most primordial way to connect with our roots -- not a choice but a biological given of our existence -- the living mystery of life. It is arguably among the oldest shamanic practices and tropes, and therefore the foundation of magic.
Just as the Scots shouted their clan genealogies before battle, our family tree is a declaration of our intention to 'continue to be' and to continue in our traditional ways venerating our forebears. They recited their clan genealogies in Gaelic, shouted their war cries, then attacked.
Clans and their sept branches are all blood relatives. Highland families had a traditional seanchaidh, a man who could recite the descent of that particular family and state its relationship to other families in the larger clan. For 2000 years, the Senchai, Seannachaidh, or Sennachie have woven the clan's present members with the history, honor, deeds and lineage of those who have gone before them.
Each clan had its own Druid priests and judges under the chief Druid of the Pictish High King. Both a Pict and Gael tradition, this ancient position is a Genealogist, Historian, Bard, Orator, and tribal Herald. The office of Ri-seannachie had supreme jurisdiction in matters of genealogy, and the duty of preserving the Royal pedigree.
To be satisfied in life we must combine inner and outer, the deep inner wisdom with focused activity in the world. Tracing our own genealogy gives us potential for both. But we must seek out our family tree to learn its hidden secrets and find its dead ends. Are you willing to enter the Tree?
As we enliven our tree it enlivens our depths. Here the lands of the dead and the living intersect. Perhaps the most important way of connecting with the ancestors is the act of tracing the genesis oneself so that each part of the discovery process has a chance to work in us and on us imaginally over time. Time alters us and our perceptions.
In the 'Cult of the Severed Head' in Provance, a head carved in stone was the repository of the soul and could live on and continue to speak to the living and make prophecies. Such heads represented a medium for communication with the Other World, hinting at an older Celtic mythos and tradition -- cult of relics.
But cults of Southern France may not correlate with those of Britain or the Neolithic era and elsewhere as a coherent practice. Skull relics are still worshiped there with candles. The medieval town Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume has a basilica and crypt dedicated to Mary Magdalene said to contain the blackened relic of her skull.
Neolithic Jericho practiced burial of loved ones under their houses. Sometimes the severed head was removed and the skull buried after defleshing. Faces were reconstructed with plaster to retain the identity of the family member. Individual facial features were made with red and black paint. Some eye orbits were inlaid with shells and the skulls were decorated with hair and mustaches.
The notion of a 'cult of the head' remains controversial, but it is a fact we imagine it was so. This powerful trope brings to mind cults of martyred saints who carry their immortalized heads and the alleged Templar worship of the head of John the Baptist. Personifications of disembodied metaphysical entities are an ancient equivalent of media 'talking heads' as culture leaders.
What we can take from this practice is the primacy of the psyche for personification of the unconscious -- the multiple personifications or perspectives of psyche. We spontaneously personify psyche all the time, without effort since it is a psychological necessity. Personifying allows the image to work on us -- a potential way of knowing what is hidden in the heart. A grounded ego uses personification for growth.
To personify something from the unconscious is to treat it like a person with a sort of inherent autonomy motivated by purposes and intentions. We even lend it a voice and bond with it. Personifying in archetypal psychology is “the spontaneous experiencing, envisioning and speaking of the configurations of existence as psychic presences.” (Re-Visioning, 12)
Personifying is a way of making subjective experience, passionate identification, and indwelling images more tangible through conversation and relationship in symbolic form. Hillman (1975) called it "an epistemology of the heart, a thought-mode of feeling." It imagines what's inside, outside, and makes this content alive, personal, and even divine.
We personify that which we love. This is the natural expression of mythic consciousness to mythic consciousness. Illustrious ancestors aren't just statues of greatness. Through this spontaneous activity of psyche we enter myth "as if" it were real.
Such non-directive thinking or "soul-talk" is the key to understanding archetypes as both guides and different parts of ourselves. “Loving is a way of knowing, and for loving to know, it must personify. Personifying is thus a way of knowing, especially knowing what is invisible, hidden in the heart,” Hillman says in Re-Visioning.
"Personifying is a way of being in the world and experiencing the world as a psychological field, where persons are given with events, so that events are experiences that touch us, move us, appeal to us." "...all the figures and feelings of the psyche are wholly 'mine,' while at the same time recognizing that these figures and feelings are free of my control and identity, not 'mine' at all." (Hillman)
"By means of personifications my sense of person becomes more vivid for I carry with me at all times the protection of my daimones: the images of dead people who mattered to me, of ancestral figures of my stock, cultural and historical persons of renown and people of fable who provide exemplary images--a wealth of guardians. They guard my fate, guide it, probably are it. "Perhaps--who knows," writes Jung, "these eternal images are what men mean by fate." We need this help, for who can carry his fate alone?" (Hillman)
Hillman notes that personifying is a creative function. Whether it is done pathologically or intentionally, it functions to “save the diversity and autonomy of the psyche from domination by any single power, whether this domination be by a figure of archetypal awe in one’s surroundings or by one’s own egomania. ‘ (Re-Visioning, 32)
In the family tree we don't require the physical relic to honor the deceased, including the heads of the household. "To keep the light alive in the darkness, that's the point, and only there your candle makes sense." (Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pp. 133-138)
Jung stated, "It was as if my tools were activated by my libido. But there must be tools there to be activated, that is, animated images, images with libido in them; then the additional libido that one supplies brings them up to the surface.
If I had not given this additional libido with which to bring them to the surface, the activity would have gone on just the same, but would have sucked my energy down into the unconscious. By putting libido into it, one can increase the speaking power of the unconscious." (Jung, 1925 Seminar, Lecture 5, Pages 37-45).
Doing one's own genealogy, even if it has been done before, is the best way to integrate and digest it. The ancestors do not really live today but are not fully dead either as living images. We can ensoul our growing branches best in the context in which they arise.
Relying on the work of others removes us a step from the core of the process; it might stimulate imagery, but it's more like reading about a journey than making it oneself. Much of the nuance and functional relations are lost -- the chaos, the struggle, the blind alleys. The healing work requires direct engagement for familiarity with the holistic image as well as the details of each family encountered.
Arguably, the family tree is the necessary foundation to psychological integration. We begin a long, slow circulation among the many branches of our tree. Jung says, "The circulation is not merely movement in a circle, but means on the one hand the marking off of the sacred precinct, and on the other, the fixation and concentration." (CW 13, Alchemical Studies, Pg 25).
The circulation of blood in the arteries mirrors the circulation of sap in the tree, and the circularity of cosmological or metaphysical thought -- analogical thinking that links the macrocosm and microcosm, above and below. The ancestral field has an immediate effect, both healing and challenging, on our whole lives.
Repeating the circuit of all aspects of our being generates a transpersonal current that unites conflicting opposites. We repeat the distillation process, again and again, but always on another level -- a new and deeper level of understanding. Cycles of rising and falling echo the ascent and descent in our ancestral lines. This is no disembodied Ascensionism, but a fully embodied, fully grounded soul retrieval, without recourse to 'metaphysical certainties'.
We continually return with a cyclic pattern to our own beginning. This adventure never ends. We are each our own paths. Genealogy is a sacred narrative of origins that forever marks our place in time with a true quest for the fountain of life and retrieval of lost parts of the soul. Jung adds, "So when you relieve the unconscious of non-realized contents, you release it for its own special functioning, and it will go ahead like an animal." (1925 Seminar, Page 115)
Ancient shamanic stories describe a previous World Age in which a colossal tree dominated the celestial landscape, joining heaven to earth. This master-narrative is the origin of the World Tree, and the Family Tree. The sacred tree is the navel of the world, always potentially present everywhere.
Shamans journeyed through visions, climbing the World Tree, much like we climb through the branches of our family tree, tracing and retracing them. They descended its roots to the land of the dead to retrieve the souls of the living who strayed there. They journeyed in vision to the upper world to consult with spiritual ancestors, for healing or wisdom. A mythic boon emerges from interaction with the archetypal tree where the physical and the sacred are united.
In this sense the family tree is a redemptive tree linking us back to source. In the Neolithic and Bronze ages the world tree was the world axis, a nexus where pairs of opposites come together. Originally, the tree was a universal whole: male and female, dark and light, knowledge and mystery, etc.
The Biblical version dissociates or deconstructs this unity. Eve eats the fruit and humanity was separated into dualities, male and female, good and evil. Humanity was thrown into time and space, aware of imminent mortality. The Precession functions as the great cosmic timekeeper, marking off the Ages.
That tree fails to unite heaven, earth, and underworld. The temporal end remains unfulfilled unless the disparity of the tree can be transcended in some manner in this particular mythos.
Only the universal archetype, the World Tree unites the world of temporal matter, death, and the paradise myth regained after the completion of life's journey. Not just a diagram, the spirit of the family tree is a reconciling and redemptive symbol linking us to the origin, but we have to pluck its fruit -- the links and loops of kinship.
Tree of Visions
The World Tree is an integral part of the shamanic cosmos and links the world of humanity with the world of the spirits. Spirits pass from one world to another on the Tree. There are Siberian stories of climbing the World Tree to attend a school for shamans run in heaven by the ancestors. Without living links to the spirit world, there is no longer a Tree.
Only mythic dissociation -- the split of sensibility of body and spirit, female and male -- separates the Tree of knowledge from the Tree of immortal life. The body and psyche both derive from the ancestors. In the unus mundus, they are one integrated tree -- the creative source of becoming. We unite them when we resume a dialogue with our souls. We recognize truths in the mysteries of myth.
This Tree of Life or mother-tree has its roots in heaven and its branches growing downward through genealogical descent, bringing life-giving function to the possibilities of life. It is an icon of the unus mundus, an underlying unified reality from which everything emerges and to which everything returns.
The family tree is a system of interactive complexity and emergence. We grow its branches, and sometimes merge with lines compiled by others. Our own tree is a canopy of growth that connects us all the way to the stars and our aspirations while grounding us in our roots.
Our family tree is our map of the undifferentiated unconscious -- maps of relationships in the Land of the Dead, the co-existent underworld of shades. In the beginning, it is like drawing a map of the world on a sheet of paper with as little concept of our ancestors as the unknown seas and continents where they lived.
Over and over, we plot our course through the maternal and paternal lines of ascent that predispose our responses. The scintillae are soul-sparks of partial or emergent consciousness. Insight in the ancestral field stirs the imagination. What we don't deal with remains buried. The dormant, lifeless, and withered awaken, expanding consciousness and renewing psyche, from deadness to life-force energy.
Jung called these "scintilla, or soul sparks, the innermost divine essence of man…symbols which express a God image, namely the image of Deity unfolding in the world, in nature, and in man." (Jung, Archetypes of the Unconscious pp.389)
At least symbolically, God climbs down to mortality. Some tribes deified their ancestors. And these divine archetypes -- gods and goddesses -- are just what we find at the far reaches of our royal and legendary genealogical lines. Our mortal descent is a fractal reiteration of their divine essence, our own images and conflicts. Jung named this quintessence the Self, bridging from the physical and instinctual to the spiritually transcendent psyche.
Scintillae or sparks of light in the dark emerge through consistent interaction, our persistent interest, and curiosity. Metaphorically, we love them back to life. These points of light, iridescent eyes, mimic the starry heavens or reflective surface of the sea with spontaneous amplification.
Representing the multiple consciousness of the psyche, they connect us with the animated soul of the world. As we focus, their virtual presence, numinosity and luminosity draws us toward pervasive meaning. The noumen is healing. Philosophers say that solar consciousness must inseminate lunar unconscious. This act gives birth to a third aspect of consciousness in our being, the luminous subjective self as the inner divine child.
Our 'dead reckoning' navigation means charting a new course of relationship and conscious attachment through successive immersions. Native Americans say we are affected by the seven generations that came before us and affect the seven generations to follow. We may actually include all our emotionally-charged generations -- the redeemed and unredeemed Trees.
Milky Way; Mother's Milk
Once we embark on our mission, we find that like the heavenly constellations, we have family constellations to guide us toward innate healing. Hidden dynamics in a family can be worked with and healed through a process that has the power to shift generations of suffering and unhappiness. Our most pressing challenges are reflected in those of our ancestors and the genetic relationships and patterns among them.
This relatively brief therapy helps us develop intuition and insight while exhuming hidden solutions that restore the flow of love. We conceive a new perspective and circumambulate a variety of associative and interpretive treatments, clearing the emotional body with the balm of tears.
Over and over we ask what does this feel like? How does it continue to feel, or how do the feelings change and amplify over time, and what is it asking of you? Redemption of the psychophysical body lies in this direction -- redeeming spirit and soul, conscience and consciousness. To do so, we have to metaphorically dig up graveyards and excavate cities.
The unconscious belongs to no time in particular, being seemingly eternal. We consciously realized that as a peculiar feeling of timelessness. The "time" in which the ancestors lived and still live is a "time when there was no time," -- an ancestral world of thought-forms, beyond which is the sense of indefiniteness, timelessness, oneness.
We gain a unique perspective to make new choices or follow unforeseen pathways. Emotional resolution of systemic entanglement can help overcome patterns of behavior repeated in related families for generations, by bringing up the family images held in the unconscious mind. Such work on where we are stuck or feel pain is built around inclusion: the reconciliation among all parts of the self, our family, and our history.
In time, the stream of ancestors comes forward in a flood of imagery -- prevailing, enduring, haunting, mapping out hidden truths. We cannot escape the spirit of the depths who forces us toward the mysteries. Jung described not only 'possession' by the ego, shadow and anima/animus but by the transgenerational family history.
We can only find our right way with an eye fixed on the far horizon. Perhaps such 'dead reckoning' -- our own confrontation with the unconscious -- helps us navigate our imaginative journey. We calculate our current position from a previously unconscious position, to fix, and advance that position to the far horizons. Our attention flows toward an unforeseen destiny where meaning beckons beyond the bounds of consciousness.
Jung describes the horizon as a whole as the quaternity (four quarters of heaven)..."There are always four elements, four prime qualities, four colors, four castes, four ways of spiritual development, etc. So, too, there are four aspects of psychological orientation...The ideal of completeness is the circle or sphere, but its natural minimal division is a quaternity." (Psychology and Religion: West and East,)
We have unconsciously sacrificed our ancestors and disheartened ourselves. We've set them adrift in the unconscious without mooring to the living. Over time we integrate this imaginal world as we trace our family tree through the islands and continents of the unconscious. This reality is mediated by information patterns which in turn are constantly evolving.
The tree is the record of the multigenerational courses from the known starting point, and the known or estimated 'drift.' Along the way we find many lines -- grand dynasties that have gone extinct, “beginnings without continuations.” But, somehow, despite all odds our own line has passed through or culminated in ourselves and our own 'pioneering' work.
Paraphrasing Jung, we stumble through unknown regions, are lead astray by analogies, forever losing the Ariadne thread. We are overwhelmed by new impressions and new possibilities, and the worst disadvantage of all is that the pioneer only knows afterwards what he or she should have known before.
When we encounter the second and subsequent generations we may have the advantage of a clearer, if still incomplete, picture. Certain landmarks on the frontiers of the essential have grown familiar. We now know what must be known if we are to explore the newly discovered territory.
Does our attention 'condition' the ancestral field? We learn to spot the most distant connections. We can unravel problems and give a coherent account of the whole field of ancestors, whose full extent we can only survey and 'know' at the end of our life’s work.
Thin Red Line
The ancestral map is a beginning, a framework in which later discoveries can be placed. What is confusing at first is clarified in a later stage of the journey. The family tree helps us establish a connection between the natural and sacred figures and our own psyche. Or, as von Franz notes, "Only if you look from afar, from a certain objective distance, do you realize that there is a pattern of wholeness in it." (Interpretation of Fairy Tales, Pages 6-7)
This special perspective or psychic viewpoint is a revelation of the soul, nothing short of the Holy Grail, whether as myth, bloodline, relic, or spiritual quest. We acquire depth in our attempts to heal ourselves. In 1949, Jung said, "Ultimate truth, if there be such a thing, demands the concert of many voices."
Family dynamics appear in individual therapy as well as in engagement with the family tree. They include repetitive patterns of interactions and significant events in the family history. Some suggest unconscious loyalties to previous generations leads to synchronistic repetition and unwitting reenactments of ancestral events and dates. The group functions ritualistically. Plurality becomes mimetic flow not just dissociative rupture. Intergenerational family identity is positively related to well-being.
We may find that our research uncovers more than we could ever imagine. The family tree operates as an alembic, a sacred vessel or temple of transparent walls that contains our pain, suffering, and confusion without judgment or analysis. Instead it offers us a rich array of stories. We can act out, play with, identify with and allow ourselves to be carried away by these ancestral stories – within a contained, ritual setting.
All of shamanism comes from one root -- the unseen world of gods, demons, and ancestral spirits, responsive only to shamans. The ancestors and the pathos of their epic restore our soul. "The sin to be repented, of course, is unconsciousness." (Jung, Aion, Pp. 191-192.) We construct a unique history of the evolution of our own consciousness with the bodies of our ancestors and the body of myths as the phenomenology of this same evolution.
Our Tree returns us to the lived experience of events, imaginal connections, and metaphorical reality. Primarily through afflictions, symptoms, and phenomenology, imaginal mythology seeks the movement of the soul to a fuller awareness of itself. We return to the origins, through memory, of our life story that goes beyond simple succession and co-existence.
Without hypostatizing the idea to some otherworldly plane, Jung suggested our primordial behavior is informed by archetypal images. This is the difference between a psychological and a metaphysical, "spiritual," or religious approach and worldview.
Jung implied "Sooner or later all the dead become what we also are," but that we know little or nothing about that mode of being, and "what shall we still know of this earth after death?" Still, he felt, "The dissolution of our time-bound form in eternity brings no loss of meaning."
Reification, concretism, or hypostatization is the fallacy of ambiguity or misplaced concreteness. Abstraction (abstract belief, metaphysical or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event, or physical entity. The issues of reification are usually philosophical or ideological. This is the error of treating something which is not concrete, such as an idea, as a concrete thing. Reification confuses a model with reality: "the map is not the territory." Reification can also be an "as if" figure of speech, and actually understood as such, rather than literalized.
Jung saw consciousness as "essentially the psyche's organ of perception, it is the eye and ear of the psyche." Even the scientific view is still infused with unconscious myths and symbols, as "all that comes into our heads proceeds from the unconscious." (ETH Lecture II, April 27, 1934, pg. 98). Jung identified 'Psyche' as the unknown that we simply name 'Psyche,' therefore ambiguity has to be enough for us.
We can't concretize our ancestors into mythical metaphors, metaphysical statements or entities, etiologies, causal explanations, cookie-cutter archetypes, or name tags. But we can free them of unconscious 'dead weight' that affects our lives profoundly.
Peronified ancestors speak through the masks of image and symbol. Our felt experiences of them are real events but they are perspectives toward events which shift our attitudes and experience of events."The unconscious can move in every possible direction, even in time it can go forward and backward, because it knows no space." (Jung, Visions Seminar, Vol. I.)
We also discover ourselves as imaginal beings through rich intuitive resonances, metaphor, and personification, without over-identification with our subject ancestors, without insisting the subjective must be objective, without egoic, foolish, idiosyncratic, or superstitious interpretations. The irrepresentable has an immediate, subjective power of conviction because it demonstrates its own existence.
"For the understanding of the unconscious we must see our thoughts as events, as phenomena. We must have perfect objectivity." (Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 103) Otherwise, "One can even come to clairvoyance; but when such a gift as the latter is developed, it makes the person permeable to all sorts of atmospheric conditions that may result in his misery." (Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 115)
Our ancestors may make what happens intelligible, but they don't 'happen' themselves. They reveal archetypal themes in history and the myth in the mess of ordinary lives. The mythic stories we embody in our own wounds are informed by all the figures in our Tree, not only the ones we believe most represent us.
Life is Short; Death is Sure
In the last analysis every life is the realization of a whole, that is, of a self, for which reason this realization can also be called "individuation." All life is bound to individual carriers who realize it, and it is simply inconceivable without them.
But every carrier is charged with an individual destiny and destination, and the realization of these alone makes sense of life. (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Page 222)
It is the mourning of the dead in me, which precedes burial and rebirth. The rain is the fructifying of the earth, it begets the new wheat, the young, germinating God. (Jung, Liber Novus, Page 243.)
Our poetic approach is echoed by Csikszentmihalyi: “the poet’s responsibility to be a witness, a recorder of experience, is part of the broader responsibility we all have for keeping the universe ordered through our consciousness.”
“Poetry leads us to the unstructured sources of our beings, to the unknown, and returns us to our rational, structured selves refreshed. Having once experienced the mystery, plenitude, contradiction, and composure of a work of art, we afterward have a built-in resistance to the slogans and propaganda of oversimplification that have often contributed to the destruction of human life. Poetry is a verbal means to a nonverbal source. It is a motion to no-motion, to the still point of contemplation and deep realization.” ―A.R. Ammons
This is the burden everybody has to carry:
to live the life we have got to live.
~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 515-516