Ritual in a Different Form
A ritual has many different forms! It brings together a community, which according to Malidoma Some embodies, unity of spirit, trust, openness, love and caring respect for the elders respect for nature and cult of the ancestors. Ritual, Power Healing and Community, Some 1991 Pg 52.
In my work, what I see, and hear is what I honour and Ancestral Constellations is the development of a modern African ritual, fashioned for a Western audience. What does this mean in practice, a ritual constructed in ‘sacred space?’
Every ritual, a consultation, a workshop, a witness constellations session start with the invocation, calling on the ancestors for support and their guiding presence as we take the first step into the past that connects the present. This calling on our guiding angels, the family, community and nature spirits is to seek permission to create a community working together in sacred space.
A Mini Ancestral Shrine
We always have a mini ancestral shrine with flowers, water, incense, and representatives for the ancestors and guardians, in the form of shells, stones, or figurines. This represents those from the past that are connected to us in the present. It is not a long ceremony and the shrine is not always named, it is just there beside us as we do the work.
For me as a Caribbean women this represents the African aspect of constellations work. Bert Hellingers when he developed the Systemic Constellations method when he returned to Europe from South Africa, acknowledged that he had taken some aspects of the Zulu African family ritual, which he combined that with systemic western thinking to create the constellations model.
For those of us, particularly with African heritage the core of this therapeutic approach is turned inside out, so that the ritual, found in community unity, is the important starting point. Ancestral Constellations workshops bring together people from different African, Caribbean, Asian and bi-cultural heritage. It does not exclude others, but it focuses on Black and Brown representation because there is a need for a safe space to express and talk about the impact of these ancestral lineages on contemporary family life.
Sitting in Circle
And there are not many of us from an African or Asian background doing the work. During a workshop, there is an expanded awareness of ‘other ways of knowing’, other than a eurocentric frame of reference. There is a RE-Membering, often of family connection, found through a constellations community that goes beyond the individual and includes the history of all its members.
We sit in a circle of black and brown people knowing that we share something deep, a past collective trauma and present day struggle, especially those of us who come from a history of slavery, colonialism, or other ancestral lineage traumas. It is not about being exclusive, rather, there is power and comfort in not having to explain and not feeling shame about talking about the many real issues of divisions, discriminations, and dis-ease that impact our communities, often named, less often discussed. We just sit in all our colour and diversity and do the work.
When I first started on my family constellations journey I was struck by how few black people, or any people of colour would be in the room. I struggled with how much to raise my own issues about my struggles with being a black woman, would I be accepted, would it be okay and often it was fine and sometimes, it was met with challenging, misunderstanding or deflection.
Where are the Constellators of Colour
I asked a few family constellations facilitators, why there weren’t more people of colour doing the work. There was a range of opinion from a not knowing stance, to “you have to create that community for yourself.” And so I do and I have! And before you shout me down, yes there are some people, regardless of their background or colour or culture who do not have to name their pain in colour, and there are many others who are waiting for the opportunity to do so.
So I name the issues, out loud as a form of permission giving, want to talk about shadism in your family, go ahead. Want to talk about your anger around the racism you experienced as a child, go ahead, want to discuss the issues around your parents leaving the island for a better life and leaving you behind, go ahead.
All issue that could be discussed in any family constellations settings but aren’t, because it brings up shame, and powerlessness and fury.
Constellations are Rituals as a form of African therapy. They seem to connect us to a homeland that has bee left behind, forgotten, or that we have no clear identification with. Ritual is a healing act and it is a journey of identity. All of these things you find in our approach to ancestral family constellations. Join us if you can and find out more here.
Sonya’s first published articles appeared in the Training and Development Methods and Coaching at Work journals in 2006. She returned to writing in 2019 with articles for the systemic constellations journal, The Knowing Field and Therapy Today. Sonya is currently writing a commissioned book, that explores Transgenerational Therapy and Ancestral Remembering in the African Diaspora. For more information visit Sonya’s author website.