Reassessing Rituals in Ancestral Healing Practices

ancestral ritual
Ancestral Healing

Reassessing Rituals in Ancestral Healing Practices

A Metaphysical Perspective on Ritual in the Modern World

When we think of rituals in ancestral healing, we may instantly think of indigenous ceremonies, ritualistic dancing and drumming, and even the use of plant medicine to achieve healing and connection. Looking at the various methods of ancestral healing taught in the West, these rituals are often based on a particular indigenous tradition or cultural practice that has been taught to or adopted by Western shamanic practitioners and healers. This is certainly acceptable if the practitioner has had a direct learning and initiation experience within a particular indigenous tradition. Teaching the skills and techniques that they have learned through their personal experiences is absolutely what healing practitioners should be doing to contribute their expression and wisdom to the rest of us.

It is important to understand, though, that ancestral healing practices do not originate from, nor are they tied to any particular indigenous tradition, culture, or ritualistic practice. There are many great misunderstandings in the West that come from thinking that this type of healing can only be legitimate or effective if it comes through the traditions, ritual practices, or instruction of an “authentic” source – meaning foreign indigenous peoples. 

In the Western world, we think that we must seek methods for ancestral healing through another culture or tradition, primarily because we have lost or forgotten our own connection to this wisdom and to our ancestors within our own culture. This leads us to believe that we must follow a ritual that we have learned to the letter or that we must have certain substances or “shamanic tools” in order for a healing to truly be effective. We have forgotten our own roots and our own power to heal ourselves through our personal and unique understanding of Spirit.

I have seen many shamanic rituals from many traditions performed in my life, and many students follow along enjoying the experience for what it is, without taking a moment to think about why the ritual does what it does. These rituals are as varied as the traditions that they come from; however, they do typically work to some degree or another. The experience is so powerful for some people, especially those who have never experienced this form of healing before, that they become attached to the ritual itself rather than the intention behind or the results of the experience. This can sometimes lead to a bit of dogmatic thinking when it comes to indigenous ritual practices and creates a desire to suddenly adopt a cultural tradition as one’s own that is extremely far removed from that person’s actual background, belief system, and life experience.

Prior to exclusively working in the world of energy healing, I worked as a web designer and developer for over a decade. This means that I’m wired to not only look at the pretty screen in front of me, but also look at the code behind the scenes that makes everything work. When we look at the code behind any ritual, it is not the specific ritual itself that is the requirement for healing or ancestral connection, especially when one considers the multitude of rituals from different cultures that produce a similar result. So, if ancestral healing doesn’t require reproducing certain rituals learned from a long-lost tribe in the Andes, what is the point of these rituals and why are they even used?

The Purpose of Ritual

Rituals are actions that serve as a physical representation or symbol of a specific intention. The ritual act, regardless of what it is, is meant to anchor the energy of an intention into physical reality, whether that intention be to connect with ancestors or produce specific healing. We can use the analogy of driving to a certain destination to understand this. The intention of healing is the fuel in the car, the healer is the driver, and the ritual itself is the car. When we are trying to get from point A to point B, what the car looks like doesn’t really matter as long as the driver has enough fuel (a solid intention) and the knowledge of how to get there. Essentially, for healing to work, all that is required is a strong intention, an understanding of what is out of balance and what needs to be changed to achieve balance, and an action (ritual) to anchor the healing into the physical. Any action at all that represents an intention can serve as a healing ritual.

Native peoples and indigenous cultures worldwide understand the relationship between intention, action, and working with “energy” or “Spirit” as a fundamental part of their relationship with life. The rituals they perform for ancestral healing and otherwise are crafted through tradition and a cultural understanding of the world around them.

Rituals can also have the additional function of serving as a portal for connection with all who have performed the same ritual before. The ritual allows for someone to tap into the collective consciousness of those who have performed the ritual previously, and the energy and support of that collective becomes accessible to the person if they are aware of that fact. There is an often unspoken understanding of these factors among shamanic practitioners, healers, and mystics. The ritual itself can be the connection to ancestors when those ancestors have participated in the same ritual and come from the same cultural tradition.

This is where participating in rituals that originate from outside of one’s own culture can get a bit hairy. It is possible that we might have soul connections or genetic connections in our lineage tied to a particular indigenous cultural tradition that can allow us to tap into that culture’s tribal collective through their rituals for ancestral healing. However, if we have no connections to the culture or tradition we are working through, the ritual loses the extra impact of affording us a direct connection to our ancestors, as our ancestors do not reside within the collective of the tribal spirit that we are connecting with through the ritual. If this is the case, at best the ritual simply acts as an anchor for intention and nothing more. In the worst case, performing a ritual from a tradition outside of one’s own without permission or with misaligned intentions can potentially lead to ancestral “gatekeepers” from the tradition unleashing a heavy-handed energetic lesson.

Ancestral Healing Through Ritual

If someone is interested in accessing this deeper level of ancestral connection and support through ritual, it is important for them to either work with the traditions of a culture that they are connected to in some way or to craft their own ritual practices based on their personal lineage. Many practitioners teach ritual from traditions that they are deeply connected to themselves, which makes those rituals very powerful for them through this connection; however, these same rituals may have far less impact for people learning them who are not directly connected to the lineage that they come from.

When using ritual in ancestral healing, it is important to understand that a ritual can be anything at all, even made up on the spot, in order for it to anchor a healing intention into physical reality. The ritual does not need to come through a particular indigenous lineage to be effective in this way. This means that anyone can learn ancestral healing practices and the metaphysical principles behind them, and effectively heal ancestral energies by creating their own rituals. This also means that it is important to explore your ancestral lineage and healing of that lineage through methods, traditions, and practices that resonate with you most strongly rather than adopting taught cultural practices or traditions that feel foreign or uncomfortable to you, as there are an infinite number of ways to arrive at the same healing, especially when the basic principles of ancestral healing are understood.

Ritual is a powerful thing. It can anchor great healing for us, give us an avenue to healing ancestral trauma and patterning, open connections to healed ancestors who can provide us with great care and guidance, and can even connect us with a familiar ancestral collective that is supportive of our growth and healing.

It is important to not get too caught up in the details or the novel appeal of a complex ritual, though. A ritual can be a simple statement spoken aloud with a strong intention, it can be hands folded in prayer, or it can be taking a certain action for a reason, even if we don’t call it a ritual. Regardless of how we integrate ritual into our practices, understanding its true function and purpose is essential to connecting more deeply with ourselves, our ancestors, and our healing.