Healing Ancestral Karma:
Working With the Ancestors to
Heal Intergenerational Wounds
By Dr. Steven Farmer
Who are the ancestors?
If you think of them at all, you naturally think of your biological ancestors, those of your blood lineage. In the broader western culture, we tend to consider those who have come before as deceased loved ones rather than ancestors, a word that carries with it a greater depth of meaning, one that implies a stronger, more immediate connection with these progenitors. Once they have died and are in the Afterlife, it may be rare that you can make an active connection with them, other than with the assistance of a professional Medium. They are dead and gone, to be remembered but not known as an active presence in our lives.
In contrast to the way we ordinarily think of ancestors (if we consider them at all), ancient and contemporary Indigenous cultures naturally incorporate their ancestors in their spiritual practices and beliefs. They are considered to be a daily presence in the lives of the living and are honored as important members of the family lineage. In some cultures, it’s believed that one cannot communicate directly with God but can only be reached through the ancestors as intermediaries.
The longstanding recognition that ancestors should be honored and treated as a spiritual force in the lives of the living was subverted by religious doctrine. Ancestor honoring flew in the face of the tenet that anything but direct communication with God was blasphemous or the work of the devil. To do otherwise was also considered uncivilized, the domain of more “primitive” people. Thus in our Western culture the idea of ancestors as a living and immediate spiritual force in our day-to-day lives has faded into obscurity.
Yet there is a renewed interest in connecting more deeply and intimately with our ancestors, of discovering who they were and what they were like. Sites like ancestry.com have become increasingly popular along with visitations to professional Mediums (those who can contact the deceased directly). I’m reminded time and again that one of the purposes of teaching about the ancestors is to convey their desire to help us through these times of massive change.
Ancestors and Family Karma
A radical notion is that with an ancestor’s transition into the world of spirit she can still carry remnants of unhealed emotional, mental, and physical wounds from her life on earth. As well, you can help heal those wounds so they can continue their spiritual evolution in the afterlife. As you do so, you’ll discover how in turn this can positively impact not only you but also your descendants, so that subsequent generations never have to carry these dysfunctional family patterns.
As Hollister Rand, a professional Medium and author of I’m Not Dead I’m Different stated in a personal interview, “When we make changes in our life here, it affects everyone in the past and everyone in the future.” We come into this life with our karma collection that can potentially impede our soul’s evolution on Earth, yet we also have the capacity to be healed with the help of our ancestors—and also to help heal them.
The word karma is Sanskrit and means “act” or “deed.” In Hinduism and Buddhism, it has come to mean any action that brings you good or bad results, either in this lifetime or in a reincarnation. It has also come to mean “fate” or “destiny.” In this context, ancestral karma means those physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental traits and characteristics, life positive and life negative, which you have inherited from your forebears and carry in your DNA and your soul.
Ancestral karma is not something that is permanently ingrained; with conscientious effort it can be modified and healed. It only requires you to be proactive and intentional in your efforts to heal. A Course in Miracles tells us “When I am healed, I am not healed alone” (Lesson 137). Any healing work you do goes forward to your descendants and backward to your ancestors.
One example was when my mother came to me from the Afterlife. While on earth she wasn’t able to really “get” me, nor was I very open to sharing more of who I was. After all, though I look fairly normal, it’s clear that I’m not! After a particular intense reading from a Medium where she was able to tune into the ambivalence my mother had for me and the deeper pain that had been buried at this inability for knowing who I was, I walked away from there shaking and trembling. I started writing what I had just experienced, tears rolling slowly down my cheeks as I tapped into that suffering.
Then, the miracle. She came to me and I could feel her presence. Then I heard her say as if she were right near me, “Now I see who you are!” I began to tremble and shake even more intensely as the gentle tears turned into a deep sobbing and wailing, as my body released this frozen energy that melted at the sound of her voice and what she said. What followed was forgiveness for her limitations without even thinking of it as forgiveness—more like compassion for myself and my suffering and just as importantly compassion and a depth of understanding for the healing she had done in the Afterlife.
Healing with the Ancestors
Any healing that you do for yourself will naturally affect those who came before—and any descendants you have or may have in the future. There are so many resources available these days to help us heal and move on in our lives that previous generations simply did not have available. As noted, any healing goes forward and backward. There are a few different ways you can work directly with the ancestors to relieve the suffering that no longer needs to haunt the generations, but I will offer one that is a powerful way to release some of the family karma. It’s an exercise in forgiveness.
Forgiving Your Ancestor
The intention here is not just to mouth the words but actually experience a state of grace and peace with this ancestor, which is achieved when you truly forgive. It’s important to not force it. If you’re not ready and that’s your truth, honor that until some day if and when you’re ready to move on. Give this a try and see what happens.
Set two chairs, preferably dining room type, facing each other at a comfortable distance. Sit in one. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths as you call in your helping spirits. Pay close attention to your breathing throughout, and if you find you’re not breathing, begin breathing slowly and regularly again.
Now invite the ancestor to sit in the chair opposite you. You may feel, see, and/or hear this ancestor’s presence. Express whatever you want to him or her. Ask any questions you may have. Let your ancestor know how you feel right now, how you feel about the wounding. Say whatever you want but say it in three to five minutes.
Then stand up, take three deep breaths, and walk slowly over to the other chair. Ask the ancestor if you can merge so you both can heal and your descendants can heal. Assuming the ancestor says yes, gently sit in the chair and close your eyes.
Assume the posture of this ancestor. What are this person’s fears? What about joys? Is there sadness? Grief? Hurt? How does you body feel as you tune into this ancestor? What is it like to have their spirit with you or next to you? Is it uncomfortable? (If you prefer, you can place a third chair beside this one and sit there instead.)
How does the ancestor you perceive the usual you? Are you happy to see your usual self in the other chair? What do you want your usual self to understand about you as this particular ancestor? Speak freely across the divide to your usual self.
Now cross the room as you cleave from the energy and leave the ancestor sitting in the chair. Notice how you feel as you sit in this chair. Tell the ancestor across the room how you feel toward them. Don’t hold back. Do you feel angry? Hurt? Fearful? Loved? Respected? Speak to the ancestor as if he or she were actually in that chair (which in a way they are, across time and space). Speak freely knowing the ancestor must listen. Switch chairs again, and once you are merged with the ancestor speak your truth.
Enter into a dialogue with yourself and the ancestor by exchanging chairs a few times. Clear the energy you carried in either role prior to moving from one chair to the other. Pause between each exchange, then take three breaths and move to the opposite chair. Pause again, and when you feel ready, sit in the chair. Eventually, each chair will become anchored with the energy of the role you’re in. When this feels complete, release the ancestor, thank your helping spirits, and take a few minutes to journal about what this experience was like for you.
There are many other exercises that can promote the healing of ancestral karma, some of which you’ll find in my book, Healing Ancestral Karma. Remember also that some of the karmic attributes really don’t need healing. I have always appreciated and treasured my mother’s sense of humor, one that I carry and absolutely do not want that to change. It’s a nice balance between my tendency to be too serious and, as Hummingbird spirit often reminds me, to lighten up!
Thank you ancestors!
Dr. Steven Farmer is a licensed psychotherapist, soul healer, and author of several bestselling books and oracle cards, including Animal Spirit Guides, Earth Magic, Earth Magic Oracle Cards, Children’s Spirit Animal Cards, Healing Ancestral Karma, and the recently released Shaman’s Path Cards.
Dr. Farmer offers individual consultations and relationship counseling in person or remotely by phone or zoom, drawing from his wealth of training and experience as a psychotherapist, shamanic healer, and trauma recovery specialist. He offers a popular individualized Spiritual Mentorship and Life Coaching program and serves on the board of the Society of Shamanic Practice.