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Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Saturday 18 January 2020

WALKING THE ANCESTRAL ROAD: Healing Family Lines by Caitlín Matthews

‘I felt the presence of an ancestor…I asked him what he had to teach me and he replied, ‘I’ve not come to teach you. You came all the way to this country to do what you could do at home, with your own ancestors, symbolsand heritage…. Look to your own roots.’  - David Wendl-Berry: The Womb Tomb
Door of St Ebbs in Oxford

The Ancestors are closer to us than we think: they are not about us doing lots of family research and genealogy, nor about getting our DNA tested. We do not need to know them personally, nor do we need to know their names before we encounter them. They are much closer to us, contactable and responsive to us, a collective of wisdom that can flow to us.  As David Wendl-Berry discovered for himself, we are often misled into thinking that ancestors are only for indigenous people or in far-away places: if we look where we are we will find that our own heritage and wisdom waits for us too!

Most of my work has been with the ancestors over the last 40 years, and most of this has had oral exposition in our FÍOS shamanic training programme and in other courses, but not yet in many books. Initially, I found the ancestral road very hard to walk because I felt I was opening a door that had been shut for a long time. In my searchings and discoverings, I was aware that this door-opening was not just for myself but for many others: my family, my students, my readers all needed this wisdom.  The problems that all Western people face when attempting to open that ancestor door were also mine: concern about the detritus, grief, and betrayal that clogged the threshold of the door, fear of what I might find, and a darkness devoid of joy which I had inherited from those who had closed the door in the first place.  As soon as I realized that these things were not about the ancestors themselves but rather about our loss of the ancestral wisdom, things changed. The accumulation of stuff littering the threshold of the ancestor door had to be cleared away and then, I went in – what on earth was I doing, taking so long to run into the welcome that I found there?

 In writing the Ancestral Oracle of the Celts, I hoped to share some of these discoveries, so that people might begin to find their own way through the door. The idea for the Ancestral Oracle of the Celtsfirst came back in the late 1980s when we began teaching our shamanic training programme, then a four-part year-long course: in each season, we would meditate and interact with the common ancestors that represented the gifts of the tribe. These archetypes became the 32 Clan cards in this oracle, the cards that are upright portrait cards, each showing an individual function, emblem and keyword. Along with these come the 8 Divine Ancestor cards who represent the Deep Ancestors, who are the forebears of us all: these are landscape cards, representing the horizon that is common to us all.

This 40 card oracle deck is based upon individual ancestral qualities and may be used by anyone, whatever their background. The cards depict characters, from the youthful to the elderly, who reveal the 32 Clan Cards showing the functions of the tribe, as well as the 8 Deep Ancestors who hold the unchanging wisdom. It can be used as an oracle, or for meditation, but as well as for ancestral ceremonies to help support yourself, your family or your friends.  Each of the 32 Clan Cards can be read upright or reversed and give oracles, but the Deep Ancestors are only read upright and they ask questions just as an elder would ask us. Here is a Clan Card and a Deep Ancestor Card :

The Keeper
THE KEEPER remembers the ancient ways of the tribe and knows the relationships and family-ties back for generations. Her great memory is sustained by her attunement to the web of the life, which keeps all things in relationship.   
Upright:  Everything has its own innate wisdom. Despite the effort you’ve put in, things behave according to their nature.  The resonances that you feel between your question and your instinctive knowing are leading you steadily to the truth.  Do not be afraid to name that truth now.  Don’t forget to thank those who have enabled you to get this far.
Reversed:  The lessons that life has been dealing out to you must be assimilated or you will run into them again and again.  What habits or patterns do you need to change in order to be a wisdom-holder rather than a victim of events?  Lay these to rest or the struggle between you and them will only resume at a later time.
Emblem: web     Keyword: remember 
Family Wisdom:  I am the rememberer of the forgotten ways that make the path full of joy.

THE LORD OF LIGHT helps us see with clear vision, enabling us to be strong and resourceful.   
General/Attitude: For what are you most grateful?  Which resources can you use most skilfully?
Work/Creativity:  How do you honourably serve through your work? What gifts do others receive from your creativity?
Health/Wellbeing:  What medicinal elements do you crave? What feeds your wellbeing?  
Love/Friendship:  How can you serve the common good?  Where do you need to get out of the way? 
Quality: Vision     
Family Gift: I impart the gift of skilful vision. Whatever the difficulty, you can always find solutions when  you shine my light upon the issue.

All of the cards have their own wisdom and guidance, and you can lay one to many cards to answer questions or seek help, but here I want to reveal the way in which the cards can be really helpful for making reconnections, supporting and guiding through simple rituals that enable the ancestral strength to flow down into our lives today. 


For many people, ancestral connection is something that is avoided as their minds are full of recent forebears who have treated them badly, but this avoidance also cuts us off from wisdom that it is our heritage. The sensible thing is to step beyond the recent sphere of hurt and go back deeper into your line, to enable healing and help to come down to you. You don’t need to know or identify anyone in that line – you just work with the ancestors who step forward. These can be from a long time back,  beyond the reach of memory. Allowing this movement backwards actually enables the road forward in a way that is remarkable, but don’t just take my word for it.
Hadrian's Wall Path                                                        
If there has been break-down between you and one branch or person in the family, it’s important to go back beyond the break, to common ancestors who bridge the gap with wisdom, humour and love. While you may not feel warmly about the relative in question, you nonetheless have forebears who did have the qualities that you need now, and who still discern you and your struggles with loving support. You can also look at your relationship with one person and with a family line.  Choose at least one Divine Ancestor card to stand for the strength that flows down to you, even though that relative was unable to make you aware of that. Then lay out a few cards to represent the strength that you feel comes to you from those unknown forebears who act as a bridge. 

It is good to lay the cards on the ground and to stand up, approaching each card as if that ancestor stood there and have a sense of what is conveyed to you, taking your time, closing your eyes and feeling with each cell of your body and atom of your consciousness how you and your ancestral heritage can be with you. By physically allowing your body to be a receptor, you begin to walk the ancestral road for yourself.

                                                             Maternal & Paternal Lines 

Above we see two lines: the top one is for the mother’s line and the bottom one for the father’s line.
Here, Mandy has chosen the cards to represent her parents and their lines: she did not have a close relationship with either parent, but feels the need of a more powerful sense of support for herself at a difficult time. Her mother was very young when she fell pregnant with Mandy, who was brought up by a much older sister, while her father was a young musician who only briefly met his daughter a few times.  Having chosen these cards, Mandy lays them upon the ground and stands at the beginning of the line, next to her mother, slowly walking back the generations, picking up each card as she goes and holding it to her chest, sensing her maternal forebears, feeling what each of them conveys to her.  She lays the Mother, the Weaver and the Keeper as her cards.  From a sense of abandonment, she finds foremothers who welcome her with delight. Finally, she comes to the Deep Ancestor at the end of the line, from whom she experiences a great deal of power.  In her father’s line, she encounters forefathers who have a better sense of responsibility than her dad ever demonstrated, and she connects strongly with them; she is astounded to feel just how wise they are and that part of her heritage is wound up with a creative expression and dedication.  The sense of loving care and strong support grow in her from this time.   


The cards adapt well to rituals of prayer and healing. Sometimes there is an individual or a group whom you wish to specially bless: a person or family may be undergoing hard times, illness, difficulty, heartbreak at this time. Witnessing to someone and holding them in your heart is a prayer that everyone can make. Place a candle for the individual or group at the centre and any emblem that feels appropriate – it could be just a stone.  Then, randomly or purposely, choose Divine Ancestors and Clan Cards to form a circle of support and blessing for them.  Choose fewer cards if you wish, but no less than 4-5. Contemplate the cards you’ve placed to support that person or group.  What blessing do each of the ancestors give to the individual?  This is something you can speak aloud, as if you were speaking for the ancestor, using the wisdom that it given in the accompanying book for each card. So, if a chosen card was The Way Shower,then you might adapt the Family Wisdom sentence as if speaking to the person you’re blessing: ‘The Way Shower opens the ways beneath (the person’s name) feet and in (his/her) dreams.  Whenever (s/he) cannot find a way through, the Way Shower is there to help find an opening!’  Or you may find more appropriate words as a blessing that arise spontaneously. Be led by what is suitable for the person or group. Let each of the cards you’ve placed speak a blessing, while you clearly envisage the help and support of the ancestors unconditionally streaming towards the one you bless.  Leave out these cards on a table or floor for the rest of day to support the blessing.

                                  Blessing Ceremony for a Friend

In the example above, Brian, has laid out cards for his friend, Terry, who has been excluded from a group of which he has been a dedicated member for many years. His sense of betrayal is huge and he is very bitter. Brian lays four Divine Ancestors to support his friend: the Lord and Lady of Love, the Lord of Life, and the Lady of Lore: he also puts a bronze horse statue near the light, as Terry loves horses.  He randomly choses a few Clan cards to represent ancestors who support Terry: The Spinner, the Adultrach (Pictish for ‘second wife’), the Protector, the Hunter, the Tracker and the Healer.  Using the Family Wisdom sentences of each card, Brian speaks them for his friend; so, with the Spinner, he says, ‘Terry is faithful and innocent in the face of mistrust and suspicion: may envy and distrust be lifted from him!’  With the Lord of Life, he blesses his friend with, ‘May Terry receive the gift of a new beginning, the ability to step over the threshold into his true heritage.’

It is not our business to enquire whether a prayer or blessing has ‘worked.’ Our job is to keep out of the way, and allow the help, support, healing to make its bridge. We cannot determine or force a particular end to prayer, it must be free and unconditional, or else we may find ourselves cursing, rather than blessing. Our witness enables the subject of the blessing or ceremony to be seen as they really are, and not merely ‘someone in need.’ We keep them in witness as equals, not as ‘unfortunates,’ or else we diminish and disrespect them.

As Merlin says in his prophecies: ‘the dust of the ancients shall be restored.’  May your own deep connections be strengthened and may the wisdom flow down and through you to your descendants!

THE ANCESTRAL ORACLE OF THE CELTS:Call On Your Ancestors For Guidance, Help and Healingby Caitlín, art by Wil Kinghan is available from all the usual places, or personally signed from our website:  http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/product.php?id=128&pageid=5167.