The Purpose of Ritual in Ancestral Healing Practices: A Metaphysical Perspective


When we think of ancestral healing and shamanic practices in general with regard to ritual, 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 practices that have been taught to or adopted by Western shamanic practitioners and healers. This is certainly acceptable, especially if the practitioner has had a direct learning and initiation experience within a particular indigenous tribe. Teaching the skills and techniques that they have learned through their personal experiences is absolutely what they should be doing to contribute their expression and wisdom to the rest of us.

It is important to understand, though, that shamanic and ancestral healing do not originate from, nor are they tied to any particular indigenous tradition, culture, or ritualistic practice. There are many great misunderstandings 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 this type of connection through another culture or tradition, primarily because we have lost or forgotten our 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 the universe.

Beyond the wisdom and skills I have gained through my own personal shamanic initiatory experiences, I have also studied shamanic healing practices that are heavily based on ritual from many well known shamanic practitioners and healers. I have seen many shamanic rituals performed, and many students follow along enjoying the experience for what it is, without taking a single 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 all work to some degree or another. The experience is often so powerful for some individuals, especially those who have never experienced shamanic healing before, that they become attached to the experience itself rather than the intention behind or the results of the experience. This can sometimes lead to a degree of dogmatic thinking when it comes to shamanic healing and indigenous ritual practices, and creates a desire to suddenly adopt a cultural tradition as one’s own that is extremely far removed from an individual’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 ritual itself that creates healing or ancestral connection, especially when one considers the multitude of rituals from different cultures that produce a same or similar result. So, if ancestral healing doesn’t require reproducing shamanic rituals learned from a long lost tribe in the Andes, what is the point of these rituals and why are they even used?

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 a specific healing. We may 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 a 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. In a tribal context, Ritual 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 an individual 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 healer if they aware of that fact. There is an often unspoken understanding of these factors among shamanic practitioners 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 even genetic connections from way back in our lineage with 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 outside of the tradition that it comes from without permission or with misaligned intentions can potentially lead to ancestral “gatekeepers” from the tradition teaching you a heavy handed energetic lesson.

If a healer or shamanic practitioner is interested in accessing this deeper level of ancestral connection and support through ritual, it is important for that individual 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. Note that this does not have to be a genetic connection, and can be a soul connection of the individual (past/parallel life). Many shamanic 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 individuals learning them that 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 tribal 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 heal 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 tribal collective that is supportive of our growth and healing. It is important to not get too caught up in the details, though. 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.

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