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Ancestral Perspectives of the Healing Journey

by Maria Moran


Recent issues of ‘Inside Out’ (Winter ‘07, Spring ’08, Spring ’09), have dealt with the phenomenon of ‘Wombtwin Survivors’ through the work of Althea Hayton and described the possible psychological effects of such a trauma.  This is work that interests me greatly and which, I believe, offers deep insight into human anthropology. It is an area that deserves to be researched fully and integrated into our work as psychotherapists.  While saying this, I also believe that it is an area which does not stand on its own, but needs to be seen as just one part, and very often a key entry point, into the bigger picture of the ‘Ancestral Healing’ journey.

Ancestral Perspectives of the Healing Journey

Let me begin by saying something about what I mean by ‘ancestral perspectives of the healing journey’ and then I will come back to the link with wombtwin survivors.  As human beings we are relational by nature and depend on each other for survival in so many ways.  The basic community to which we belong is our family, not only our parents and siblings but our extended family including grandparents, great-grandparents etc.  The manner in which the family unit communicates and interacts with each other or not, depends not only on the people concerned in the present but on those who went before.  Our family scripts, a dynamic out of which we live our lives, often at an unconscious level, are deeply influenced by the legacy left behind by our ancestors.  These scripts may include both very useful ways of approaching life leaving us a wisdom worth appreciating and integrating but also they can be distorted ways of thinking that may have evolved out of difficult situations in the past that were never resolved.  The core issue may go back several generations.  This distorted way of thinking can become embedded in the family psyche resulting in the same dynamic being set up time and time again and so we discover that the same misfortunes that our forebears endured are found to repeat themselves in future generations.  Ancestral healing or family tree healing is the process of dealing with those dynamics within the family psyche which are a source of dysfunctional behaviour leading to problems in the lives of those concerned. Unlike genetically transmitted family traits, these connections can be dealt with at an energetic and spiritual level by the present generation, leaving past, present and future generations free of their power. Identification of the meaning and origin of these destructive patterns can lead us into a healing process that frees us to make new choices of how we live and relate in the present.

Ancestors and World Cultures

This is by no means a new concept and many examples of how different cultures deal with these issues throughout the world indicate the importance of including this perspective in any healing journey.  For example, within the framework of traditional African Religions many rituals focus on the ancestors and we are told that the

operating principle is the ancestors’ presence and moral influence in the community of which they are part…their main benevolent function is that of protection.  If they are neglected, (for their main need is to be remembered), then they are capable of unleashing destructive powers on the family concerned. (Anderson, (2002), 1289).

Another example is the Shinto Tamamitsu sect of Japan, where Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, Head Priest, suggests that the Spirit within us is not just an individual entity but is part of the family spirit that births and nurtures it.  In this tradition, it is through the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation that understanding is reached.

In this modern scientific age it is very difficult for people to accept the fact that they are responsible to their ancestors, that they are actually liable for the actions of their ancestors if the resulting karma has not yet been dissolved. Many find it absurd to think that the actions of an unknown ancestor could possibly have anything to do with what is happening to them today. But time and time again, when investigating someone’s karma, I find problems that stretch back generations. Motoyama, (1992),  52).

Coming closer to home, within the Christian tradition in Ireland, we also find a deep rooted custom of praying for ‘the dead’.  The custom is an ancient one and relates back to our Celtic heritage.  It is a custom that is observed by many in Ireland today in the midst of the reality where many religious traditions are considered to be no longer relevant. We still need to bury our dead with prayer and ritual.  We still remember our loved ones on anniversaries and the month of November is still observed as a special time, a time when the veil between this world and the next is especially thin, a time when many pray for eternal rest on the souls of family members who have gone before them.

Influence of Ancestors on Present Generation

As Motoyama puts it, “many find it absurd to think that the actions of an unknown ancestor could possibly have anything to do with what is happening to them today” and yet paying attention to the work that is being done at this level, listening to the experience of those engaged with this way of working and the healing stories told by those who have travelled this journey, then, I suggest, that as professional psychotherapists, we need to wonder about finding a way to integrate this aspect of our human relating that crosses time and space, into our work with clients. This is an area where the spiritual aspect of our humanness is entered into and is an important area to be considered as we journey with our clients “seeking to attain integration in the wholeness of body, feelings, intellect, psyche and spirit, and in relation to other people.” (IAHIP Code of Ethics & Practice 2.2).

Ancestral Healing & Wombtwin Survivors

To come back to the link between our ancestral healing and the healing process involved in dealing with the phenomenon of ‘Wombtwin Survivors’; it is my experience and the experience of many working in this area, that one of the gifts associated with the phenomenon of wombtwin survivors is a level of sensitivity that is higher than average. This leaves ‘Wombtwin Survivors’ more susceptible energetically to ‘picking up’ the unresolved issues within the family tree.

The positive side of the personality (wombtwin survivors) is that they tend to be sensitive, intuitive, creative and empathetic…….(and) so often the one who carries the lion’s share of their family’s ancestral shadow by virtue of the fact that the  missing twin acts as a hook for such material to latch onto. (Cogley, (2007), 160).

This means that as this child grows into adulthood that he/she carries with them not only the burden of their womb trauma but the unresolved issues of the family tree which they hold at an unconscious level deep within their psyche. This is an area that needs to be dealt with specifically and is particularly relevant for those who have spent years working at a psychotherapeutic level with very little reward or understanding of their ‘disease’.  So when a client deals with the loss of their twin in the womb, this then can have a knock on effect of pulling them into ancestral issues which can be very difficult to deal with unless they are seen for what they are.

Dr. Kenneth McAll

In 1982 Dr. Kenneth McAll wrote of a remarkable new method of healing he discovered resulting from his work and experience as a missionary surgeon in China and his subsequent training and 25 years experience as a consultant psychiatrist in the United Kingdom.  In describing his understanding of these patients he suggests that many of them were living under the influence of another person’s control, another person who may be alive or dead, known or unknown. This phenomenon was described in 1960 by Dr. P. M. Yap, a psychiatric specialist, as ‘possession syndrome’. This ‘psychic bondage’ may belong to a series of different scenarios such as bondage of the living to the living, the living to the dead, both related and unrelated, to stillborn, miscarried or aborted babies or to those who once inhabited a particular place now inhabited by the one affected.  Fr. Jim Cogley who has been working in this area for over twenty years suggests that these family bonds do not dissolve through the physical death of a family member as the spiritual bond lives on:

Traumas and unhappiness don’t just die with those who were the original victims; they remain to reverberate down through the family tree… In general it may be said that it is those traumas that have never been faced which tend to recur again and again….. Ancestral Healing is an opportunity to recognise and bring healing to family influences from the past, in a way which has implications for the future. (Cogley, (2007), 4).

The core issue in dealing with this work lies in uncovering the true story of what happened and taking responsibility for how it is affecting our lives in the present.  This may involve breaking unhealthy ties, acknowledging the story or the people who were never acknowledged or spoken about, emptying the cupboards of the skeletons stored there and naming the proverbial elephants in the rooms of the family psyche.  This is deep work and work that requires great integrity.  It is not always easy to tell the truth because to do so we need to get our own version of what we perceive as the truth out of the way.  We need to be open to discovering the bigger picture and this is not always easy as within any family there are usually many perspectives on the story to be taken into account.  “It takes knowing the truth to be set free from the psychic injury caused by wrongdoing.” (Volf, (2006), 75).  Once we grasp the truth and are willing to speak it, the door is then open to breaking the psyche links, freeing all concerned through acknowledgement and forgiveness where necessary and bringing about closure through ritual for past, present and future generations.


In conclusion, I firmly believe that, as with any new way of understanding our humanity, this whole area of understanding our connectedness to one another outside the normal experience of time and space is so vital to our well being that, as practitioners, it offers us the challenge to consider its implications for our work.


Anderson, A.H., (2002), ‘Traditional African Religions’ in Religions of The World, M. J. Gordon and M. Baumann (eds) California: ABC CLIO Inc..

Cogley, J (2007), Wood You Believe Series. The Ancestral Self.  Wexford: J. Cogley Bethel.

McAll, K. (1982), Healing The Family Tree. London: Sheldon Press.

McAll, K. (1996), A Guide to Healing The Family Tree. California: Queenship Publishing.

Motoyama,  H. (1992),  Karma & Reincarnation. New York: Avon Books

Volf, M. (2006), The End of Memory. Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Maria Moran, a psychotherapist in private practice in Wexford has a particular interest in Ancestral Healing and The Spiritual Journey.

Contact: mariapacmoran@yahoo.ie or  087 2648577

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