Could our family ‘secrets’, our ancestral unfinished business, be somehow invisibly related to the issues that haunt and trouble us? Continued from Part 1: The Eighth House and The Ancestral Legacy.
If the Eighth House holds our inheritances legacies & fortunes, material and immaterial, from other people, living or dead…how do we contact an ancient ancestral inheritance? Astrologically, through our Eighth House planet and ruling planet. Erin Sullivan, author of The Astrology of Family Dynamics, says the Eighth House is the house of the Ancestral Legacy and planets here describe our inheritance from our ancestors, which, to collect we need go into the in-between world – the realm of the unconscious- using symbolism, ritual and images. Astrologically, the Eighth House is a water house. Water holds the collective, ancestral and personal unconscious. For that reason, we can reach the water houses and their archetypes directly through our non-rational side, through use of symbols, metaphor, art (and more specifically for ancient issues) we can look to our familial ancestors for help and guidance.
I didn’t come across this subject on a whim. In a Plutonian/Scorpionic vein, I began exploring the ancestral lineage of my Eighth House because a season of despair, general frustration and futility descended upon me. The biographical information of my day to day was neutral enough, but it didn’t match the strong repetitive feelings I kept experiencing. One day while sitting in my hot tub, a clear as a bell thought entered my head, these problems may not be my own. This thought had strong vibrant energy attached to it so that when, in an email, I voiced this thought to my good friend she zipped right back with that line in the subject heading so exactly I thought she had quoted me. It turns out this exact phrase was on a a *Family Constellation website page (*see below) she had just been perusing.
That awareness ignited a little experiment …in talking to the dead. I sat down, lit a candle and meditate for a few minutes. I had several of the birth charts of my ancestors, as far as I knew them, in front of me. Then I wrote down my issues at the top of a piece of paper: “Frustration. Futility. Anger. Despair” opened up my consciousness and asked my ancestors for help. I said, “I’m in quite a bit of pain and need your help. Ancestors, living or alive, if there is something you took to the grave that you need freeing through me, something you want to be heard, I am listening and I will do my best to help –without taking on your karma (that caveat, I felt, was a necessary protection).” I silently asked to know their regrets and frustrations. I told them I was willing to listen, and do what I humanly could. Then I waited.
I was surprised that the first person ‘wanting to speak’ was my maternal grandmother, still living. She had married to an alcoholic husband before alcoholism was recognized as a disease and was a source of shame for many families. As I wrote for her she used words like: ‘trapped’, ‘powerless to change’, ‘desperate’, and ‘I don’t know what to do’ all words that I had been using to describe my situation – though I didn’t have a clear source for these feelings. Writing down some of her frustrations seemed to help me; the intense feelings abated. I also wrote for other ancestors, who reminded me of their creative gifts. My grandfather was a concert pianist, my great-grandmother, a poet. How does this relate to my own Eighth House – empty of planets? Taurus is on the cusp, ruled by Venus. Venus is a prominent figure in my natal chart; she rules my Libran Ascendant and is conjunct my Cancer MidHeaven. My approach to the world, and to some degree my mission, is tied to Venus and so is my ancestral lineage. The fact that they wanted acknowledgement for their creative lives, told me that their creative lives affects me today -and shed light on the recurring feelings/thoughts I have, feelings like the following, ‘if I don’t make art, I will die.’ Did they have that thought, too?
I offered this eye-opening experience to a client of mine who I’ll call Virginia, a passionate woman with Mars in Taurus in the Eighth House (square Uranus in Leo). Virginia was experiencing deeply distressing sexual frustration in her marriage, causing her to look outside her marriage for the connection she craved. She also expressed concern about not wanting to “create more painful karma” in her relationships by handling all of her relationships in integrity, but as the tension and her marriage neared physically unbearable levels (Eighth House Mars-Uranus square) she was in crisis over her capacity to stay faithful. A creative and spiritually progressive woman, Virginia listened to my experiment. Then, through her own automatic call and response process she was able to identify an ancestor born in 1563, an ancestor she named Sarah. Sarah, a Crusader, was ostracized by her family for her fiery sexuality when she fell in passionate love with a man who wasn’t available to her (also a theme for Virginia). Although long dead, Sarah was very much alive in the year 2010. Here, Virginia recounts her experience with Sarah and it’s a beautiful example of the powerful healing possible when we ask for help from our ancestors and how using ancestral objects, art-making and ritual facilitates this.
I created a small art piece, a feminine assemblage of crimson raffia hair, a gown made from a beautiful paisley scarf I had been given by my maternal grandmother as a Christmas gift– which Grandmother had graciously returned to my mother so she could die unencumbered with material things– and so I could wear the scarf that had never been removed from the gift box. The feet of the art piece were beautifully adorned in a hand crafted pair of Cydwoq heels. These scraps I pieced together I fondly began to call the “wall woman” (resembling the shape of an ancestor I eventually name Sarah). Once visibly present, I initiated a line of healing inquiry into my maternal lineage. I made a connection between Sarah’s shame and loss and my own. It became curious to me how all three women suffered sexual shame within their families. An excruciating psychological pain plagued each one of them and has been ongoing for nearly five hundred years! My mother was scorned by the very Grandmother who once owned but never wore the paisley scarf, scorned for carrying me out of wedlock. My mother had been deeply shamed by her own mother for becoming pregnant before marriage.
My entire life I have carried a huge sense of guilt and shame similar to my ancestor Sarah. When I became old enough to understand my mother’s psychological plight, my aunts confided this to me. I grew up often feeling unwanted by her parents and a source of their own desperation, but insights from her aunties helped me release some of her self-blame for the anger and frustration of her parents. As an adult woman, I had also been rejected by my family for following the passions of my twenty four year old heart when I married a black man (Virginia is white) I met while serving as a soldier in the U.S. Army in Mannheim Germany. My conception, during which my mother experienced sexual shame and hid her own passionate sexual nature, had been the family sore spot since the beginning – or perhaps a story repeated with origins from Sarah in the sixteenth century. I also bore a son conceived out of wedlock with a man not accepted by the white German Lutheran family, causing more familial guilt. The circle of shame and sexual frustration was handed down from the Reformation era through Sarah to my mother in the late 1950’s and then finally it fell to me. I am the one who finally asked for healing beyond time.
*Family Constellations Therapy is an experiential process where a central person has an issue to resolve (say, depression or unexplained illness) and a group of people will act as ‘stand-ins’ for both living and dead relatives. Together , through creating a ‘shared field’, the process is followed until a healing resolution is reached. The ‘stand-ins’ will uncannily accurately express as the relatives — the things they might say, mannerisms, physical composure etc.,– almost channeling those people. I have witnessed a Constellation session, and the healing shifts can be dramatic.
**A note about the Artworks on this page: As Virginia worked with Sarah’s energy in her own life, her artistic representation of Sarah evolved. The top picture was taken at the beginning; the middle picture after working with Sarah over time (check out that leopard print & pink. Sarah’s got her groove back!) The work started with Sarah eventually led to Virginia’s creation of The Emerald Lady, see blog post Part 3.