Written · March 16, 2019
Ancestor in Training 101
Breaking cycles of intergenerational trauma that are coded in the bodies of the African Diaspora, Indigenous folks, and essentially all those impacted by colonization, isn’t easy. I believe that the responsibility of a generation who lived to see epigenetics and science confirm that intergenerational trauma can rewrite our DNA is to rewrite the future of our descendants. The question becomes, how do we begin?
Wading into the ongoing challenges of our time, I first thought through what would become a body of work around Ancestors in Training when looking at the state of the world and how it’s impacting people that I love. I felt the need to ensure that my legacy was secure, and that if I were to die tomorrow, that I had left an imprint. It is an embodiment of the statement: “We are the ancestors of the future and what we do now will have an impact” by Yeye Luisah Teish.
It’s somewhere between ordering all of the genetic tests available and collecting oral histories while our elders are still physically present to tell us about where we come from so that we can then in turn tell the next seven generations. Ancestors in Training as an educational framework bridges the teachings of Indigenous peoples of the Americas with African Traditional Religions (ATRs), and asking questions like the following:
- How can we live lives that our descendants and the next seven generations can be proud of?
- How can we walk with integrity in the face of an uncertain future?
- As New Age science catches up with ancient and sacred technologies, what will we do with the tools that we’ve been given?
As a practice, navigating how to be an Ancestor in Training can be complex because there isn’t a one-size fits all path. When confronted with these questions and asking myself what kind of ancestor I hope to be, I’ve found four ways that have been helpful for me in starting the journey.
Say their names
This may seem easier than it sounds, but knowing the names of all those who came before you is critical to nurturing any time of ancestral faith based practice. When learning names, start with the ones that you know, no matter how recently the person has passed. Personally, I have direct or blood related ancestors on my altars as well as movement folks, artists and creators. When I started asking my elders for names of their grandparents, I was able to build up a family tree on my maternal side that goes back to 1865 – which is pretty far considering our Southern US roots.
The key is to know the name of your person you’re calling to for support, and naming them should also include “and the names I do not know.” This acknowledgement is not only for those whose names we don’t have due to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but also the names we do not have access to in the more recent generations.
Alter your altar
Once you have an understanding of which ancestors you would like to guide you in the present, and have a relationship with them, the next step should be to dedicate a space to them in your home. Somewhere that you will see it everyday, and can leave aspects of nature at, whether it is a bowl of water, a candle, a plant or a crystal.
Having a group of folks you can be in community with to process this work is crucial. Whether it is a initiated elder or priest, or another person in your life, researching how to walk your faith, wellness and ancestral practice, or meditating to connect with your ancestors - having an ecosystem of care can remind you that you are not alone in your process.
Practice until it’s a process
Start where you can with what you have. Understand that our physical time here is a finite gift and prioritize your own healing and well-being as a means to set the standard for those to come after you.
This work of being an Ancestor in Training is deep level of love for my descendants that are already on their way. I trust this will reach them across space and time.
As told by
Veronica Agard is an alchemist, educator and connector at the intersections of Black identity, wellness, representation, and culture. Of Afro-Caribbean, African-American and Indigenous descent, she continues to experiment with healing modalities such movement, singing, herbalism, divination, capoeira, and yoga. Her primary channel is writing, and holds healing space for community through writing cyphers. She is the curator of the Who Heals the Healer series and the conference of the same name, the Reparations: Wellness Clinic, as well as the Ancestors in Training series. In 2014, she graduated from The City College of New York with a BA in international studies and history and continued her work as a co-founder of Sister Circle Collective, a role she was active in for five years. As a writer, Veronica’s work has been featured in The Grio, Let Your Voice Be Heard, Mic, For Harriet and Black Girl Magik. No matter the role, she offers her expressions as a means to amplify the voices of those that walk with her.
is part of
a theme that the Black Girl Magik collective explored and invited the community to investigate with us through a practice of communal healing and coalition building.