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Reflections on the ones who came before us

“We honor our ancestors who, in spite of the inexplicable vagaries of evolution and unimaginable hardships of famine, hunger, war, and pestilence; managed to pass the sacred gift of physical existence to us.”

I was recently asked why I believe that working with ancestral energies is so important. My answer is because they directly affect how we live our lives. While our ancestors may no longer be alive in their ownbodies, they continue to exist in ours. In every one of our cells, we carry the gift of many thousands of generations worth of genetic material that was provided to us by our ancestors. Not only are they alive in our bodies, their spirits are able to assist us with our daily lives.

A series of studies done in 2010, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology,2compared those who thought about their ancestors with those who made no preparation before taking a series of problem-solving and intelligence tests intended to measure how effective an individual is at meeting the challenges that may arise in everyday life.

The results of the tests proved beyond a shadow of doubt that people who considered their ancestors before taking the tests received significantly higher scores. Reconnection with the ancestral energies imbued participants with better intellectual performance and enhanced their ability to find solutions. In other words, connecting with our forbearers—even through memory and imagination—enhances our ability to accomplish the challenges of life with more ease and confidence. Interestingly, the tests provided the same results whether or not the test subjects knew or even liked their ancestors! In every situation, simply thinking about their ancestors provided the participants with a clear advantage. It is now possible for us to see that the “primitive” tribal cultures across our planet that venerate their ancestors, have had the right idea all along. Simply by keeping our ancestors close at heart and in our minds, we are far more able to solve the emotional, mental and physical puzzles that life presents us, with measurably more skill and grace.

Who of our human ancestors gave us the desire to create beauty or the desire to care for other beings? Which one was the first heart to feel love? As spirit walkers, we can simply ask, because inside of us, all the myriad of beings that have contributed genetic material to us—all of our ancestors—are still alive. When you step into the spirit world in your journeys, these predecessors may be consulted for support and guidance.

Our physical bodies reveal points of connection that our ancestors believed were an intrinsic feature of life. Today, we know that the elemental raw materials that compose our bodies, such as iron, calcium, oxygen, sodium, and all the rest, are the same materials that make up the mountains, seas, atmosphere, and soils of our planet.

Within every one of our cells, we also carry DNA, that remarkable double helix-shaped chain of chemical information that shapes our physical form. And housed within the twisting steps of this amazing molecule is the story of our evolution as human beings. What is truly astounding is that we share 90 percent of our genetic material with other species. Everything from the bear to the oak tree to the tiniest bacteria has the same four nucleotides making up their bodies.

Recent discoveries have documented the fact that inside of the 60,000 to 80,000 genes that constitute our human genome lie the information to create all other life forms on the planet. When molecular biologists examine the complex strands of our DNA, they also find housed within it more than a blueprint for a human being, but rather an extraordinary library of codes for all life on Earth. We carry the entire interlinked biosphere in every cell. We are part of all of Creation and all of Creation is held within us.2

Since the DNA we carry in every one of our cells is like a library of our biosphere, our bodies may be thought of as a kind of sacred bundle. Much in the way a shaman’s sacred bundle or a medicine bag holds a collection of objects through which a shaman feels a connection to power, the DNA in our cells can remind us of our connection to all beings and our complete integration into the body of the Earth. We are inseparably connected with our home. We live in her body and her body lives inside of us.

Our DNA carries many surprises, too. For instance, as much as 8 percent of our DNA is genetic material that came from viruses. Our mitochondria—the cells’ power plants that convert nutrients into energy—were passed to us from bacteria that entered cells in the primordial sea approximately two billion years ago.

We are in relationship with every being on Earth and those that have been here before us. For instance, we share genes with every single creature on Earth that has a backbone—and even some that don’t.

The California purple sea urchin is a spiny creature about three inches across that lives its life eating algae and nibbling on the stems of kelp.2As an echinoderm (Greek for spiny skin), it is a relative to the urchins found in Atlantic waters, as well as starfish, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers. In November 2006, a research team led by Erica Sodergren and George Weinstock at the Baylor College of Medicine-Human Genome Sequencing Center; announced that they had decoded the genome for this creature. What they found was quite remarkable. The urchin’s DNA revealed genetic connections far beyond all other spiny-skinned denizens of the deep. Human beings and the urchin share a common ancestor that lived over 540 million years ago. Lead researcher Sodergren stated in her report, “The sea urchin reminds us of the underlying unity of all life on earth.... It is a similar set of genes and proteins being reused in different ways, different numbers, and at different times in the life cycle to create the diversity of living forms.”3

Science is finally proving the wisdom that shamans have always known—the understanding that all that is living is part of our family.

As to our human family, our archaic human ancestors roamed far and wide from their African homeland beginning well over 100,000 years ago. They roamed farther and wider than we ever imagined. Early humans populated the entirety of the Eurasia continent before subsequent waves of “modern” Homo sapiens sapiens,arrived on the scene. When these newcomers met their archaic forbearers, they made connections and interbred. Current DNA research (Stringer & Garrigan, et. al.) has shown beyond a shadow of doubt that not only are we all Africans at our core, every individual on the planet is a hybrid of modern and archaic human subspecies.

These stunning scientific truths have revealed that the ideas we might cling to of being a “pure bred” person of any sort must go out the window! Outmoded ideas of racial or geopolitical tribalism are illusions and our stubborn desire to defend them is a tragically misinformed urge that interferes with our need to work together. It is the next step we must take in our transformation.

Our ancestors can be an invaluable help in this evolution. Journeying to the beings who contributed to your sacred bundle can help you access information that has been lost, skills that have lain dormant, and wisdom that is timelessly important for today’s world. It is especially important if you haven’t had good connections with your immediate family. Looking further upstream in your genetic river, beyond any immediate familial struggles, you can feel a sense of connectedness and belonging that is so necessary in shamanic work. There are tens of thousands of generations who have gone before you, preparing the way, and each of them has contributed something that has made you uniquely who you are. You are a living and vital reflection of all they learned, the struggles they fought and the power that they carried. When you tap into them, their wisdom and perspective can enrich your current life experience. Great crowds of open hearts are standing behind you. Having gone into the Light, they have shed the limitations of their personalities and are willing to participate in this time of remarkable evolution and change.

The ancestors even prepared us to meet with them in our journeys. A study published in 1973, found that altered states of consciousness are virtually universal in their distribution across human societies. The study sampled 488 societies and found that fully 90% of those sampled groups exhibit institutionalized, culturally patterned forms of altered states of consciousness. The study also concluded that the capacity to experience an altered state of consciousness was so universal that it seems to be part of the psychobiological heritage of our species.2We have been wired for altered consciousness experiences.

Shamanic journeying is a right-hemisphere; theta and low alpha brain wave state that, quite literally, changes our mind. During journeying, we experience enhanced creativity and imagination, better problem-solving ability, heightened intuition, enhanced abilities to synthesize new information and retain memories, and other astonishing mind skills that can provide us with new possibilities.

Using the expanded consciousness methods of the shaman, we can take the best of all of our ancestors’ collective wisdom and our own transformative capacities to dream new possibilities. We can use these gifts the ancestors gave to us to transform our destructive trajectory into one of personal and planetary renewal.

© 2015 Evelyn Rysdyk


Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. In joint practice with Allie Knowlton as Spirit Passages, their web site is

1 P .Fischer, A. Sauer, C. Vogrincic, and S. Weisweiler. “The Ancestor Effect: Thinking about our genetic origin enhances intellectual performance”. European Journal of Social Psychology. 41, number 1, 2010. 11—16.
2 Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth, Tree of Life, originally broadcast on public television 1999 (A & E Home Video, 1999).
3 Monterey Bay Aquarium, Online Field Guide:
4 As reported by the National Science Foundation in a press release dated November 9, 2006.
5 Erika Bourguignon. “Introduction: A Framework for the Comparative Study of Altered States of Consciousness”. In Religion, Altered States of Consciousness and Social Change. E. Bourguignon. ed. (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University, 1973). 3—33.


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