“If you can’t get rid of the family skeleton you might as well make it dance.” -George Bernard Shaw
“Your ancestors send you good wishes.” -Anon
“You do know that we are descendants of George Washington,” said my cousin, who proceeds to send me a text image of the index card my grandmother wrote up in her wobbly handwriting, with equally wobbly evidence of this linkage, before she died. The first time I heard this story I was sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, age 8 or 9. Every family has their mythology and this one, while glamorous and fun to think about, was about as relevant to my life as some distant person never met, which is to say, not that much. My family life bore such scant resemblance to that of a noble leader and statesman it was laughable.
Yet we carry the ancestors in our bones – their stories are our stories, too. I’ve had too many spooky moments, poring over birth charts of my parents, their parents and their parents, with synchronous realizations to doubt this. I’ve even begun to open to the idea that every outlier or weird aberration in my own family story could have had its mirror counterpart in some distant relative’s story, too. For instance, my sister, our four cousins and me lost our mothers while young. Then a Capricorn client, friend and budding genealogist (while exploring my family tree to help me see if I can find evidence of immigration from Scotland or Ireland) unearthed the fact that four of my grandfathers lost their mothers young, too. With Pluto in Capricorn currently squaring my Aries Moon, she opened a long-closed door I had to follow.
My family also has a legacy of mothers who “stepped-in” to raise the children of these mothers who died, likely in childbirth. Also motherless, I, too, stepped into my husband’s family and helped to raise children who are not my own. Some of my ancestors rose to the occasion; my Great-Great-Great Grandmother Sarah Jane Swearingen raised seven of her husband’s children. But her son, Bion, and his second wife, only kept their biological child and apparently adopted out the five children from his first marriage (one census year they’re with their father, the next year they are in another state living under a different family name). Step parenting, taking responsibility for lives that were not planned on nor created by your flesh, blood and heart, is a complicated experience. I take an odd comfort in knowing my ancestors realities, one of rising to the occasion and the other, not, because both stories live inside me.
It’s Cancer Sun season, a time of reconnecting to soul, family, past. In so doing we receive a mirror our deepest selves. Our mysterious patterns and vexing conditioning we often trace to our childhood or parents; our anger issues, our parents’ rocky marriage…but go back even further and you may find a relation from another century living an aspect of your life. Patricia Walsh, in her fascinating article Pluto in Capricorn and Ancestral Spirits, says, “You are not an island, and you stand at the end of a very long lineage, that still lives within and around you through the spirits of your ancestors.”
The Moon is Full in Capricorn. Under the light of this Capricorn Full Moon, the ancestral threads are humming, reminding you that the starry tapestry that you are is intermingled with the swirling threads of others’ lives, and lifetimes. Shamanic Pluto, that mysterious planet of hidden riches, is near this Full Moon. Like a crevice or crack in the side of a desert mountain suddenly revealed when the moonlight falls just so, what hidden treasure or resource is ready to be unearthed in your own psyche or life? With Jupiter conjunct Venus in royal, pedigreed Leo, the gift may be a generous one.
I never knew my biological grandfathers, but I now know my great-grandfathers and I share the legacy of motherless-ness, with it’s soul-stretching lessons of loss and independence, the spiritual resilience of having to make one’s way in the world without that motherly shoulder of support, and the sadness that hides in the shadows of a motherless family. In light of this new information, my stepmother role suddenly takes on new gravitas, as if my offering to nurture links me to generations who have, by necessity, attempted the same. Which brings me back to George Washington. Legal documents, painstakingly drawn up in an ancient inheritance dispute, revealed that my fourth great-grandfather, George Custer, was indeed George Washington’s cousin (making the first president of the United States my first cousin, six times removed). I have royal lineage in my blood. Even better? The birthday card I received from my stepdaughter that brought tears to my eyes, “I am so glad you are my stepmother.” I am so happy to say this: I’m glad I am, too.
Spiritual teachers tell us that our ancestors enjoy being remembered, just as we will want to be. Beyond this, why bother to remember? Chances are they left you something more than silverware place settings or dusty family photo albums… but you won’t stumble upon these immaterial mementos while cleaning the attic or basement. In order for the ancestral spirits to offer you their spiritual gifts, of connection, of insight into your own life dilemmas, you need to create a home for them to find you.
So amidst all the holiday barbecues and family gatherings, hug an elder, ask them questions, research your lineage or family tree. And look up. Untouchable and distant, full of cool warmth and white as bone, Grandfather Capricorn Moon shines down, reminding us that our lives extend both forward and backwards in time, and that our life, today – the choices we make, our victories and failures, shortcomings, gifts, regrets, our stubborn inner conflicts and the healing we bring to them -may be far bigger than our own.