Ancestral Reparations, 2020

Tanya Taylor Rubinstein
7 min readNov 30, 2020

In the fall of 2019, I participated in an Ancestral Family Constellation session with a small group in Santa Fe.

I’ve been doing this work for about the last dozen years and have had many powerful experiences retrieving my connection to my own lineage.

This work actually led me to meeting my father for the first time in 2012, two years before he died.

During this particular session, the facilitator asked us to open to receive what the “Knowing Field” wanted to show us rather than focusing on anyone’s personal family issue. This work is phenomenological as well as trauma informed which means the field is a way to open to and access quantum information.

One person stepped into the circle to represent the land we were standing on in New Mexico. Her body became agitated almost immediately, eyes darting about at first and then settling, gazing intently downwards.

The facilitator asked for somebody to represent the unseen story she was staring into, and I felt a strong pull to volunteer.

As I laid down on the sand colored carpet in her cozy adobe living room, the most powerful current(other than when I was in labor with my daughter) I’d ever experienced began to pass through my body.

Immediately, I began to shake and writhe. Then the wails began coming through me, over and over and over again. The quality of the sound was from an endless well of emotional, spiritual and physical pain, that I’d never felt directly in my molecules, now running through the blood of me.

The facilitator asked several times if I could speak. I shook my head “no” as I could not even look up at her or the other participants. What was running through me was too consuming. To say that I felt hopelessness or abandonment minimizes what I felt.

There was a mythic sense of being forsaken, left to suffer in horror at the end of the known world. I’d never felt it before and I haven’t felt it since. It was eons beyond my personal experience or even anything I’d ever touched as a professionally trained actor.

When the circle finally was brought to a close, I revealed what the others had already gathered.

A massacre of Native people, a genocide, part of the still openly unacknowledged Holocaust, the biggest holocaust in the history of the earth, that went on for five hundred years was coming through me.

I didn’t know what specific tribe it was, but I knew that I had just represented a collective of women, young mothers.

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During a break, later in the day, one of the other participants said something to me about the intensity of what I’d been called to represent.

She continued, “I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes when you’re called to represent something archetypal, it’s likely that there’s a matching picture in your own lineage.”

That statement stayed with me, and that night, when I got home after dinner, I started poking around the Internet.

At least on my mother’s side, our family knows quite a bit about our direct descendants, who were settlers in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

We know that major lines go back at least last six hundred years or so to Devon, England, parts of France and the Isle of Skye. Taking a look at those lines revealed nothing new.

However, through one obscure site on cemeteries in New England, I fell into a wormhole that took me down a direct line of descendants, on my maternal grandfathers’ side, the Chapin’s from Massachusetts, that I didn’t know much about.

As it turns out, in the sixteen hundreds, two of my family’s descendants, one of whom is memorialized as a statue in the town square of Springfield, Ma. called “The Puritan,” were organizers and leaders in King Philip’s War and Pequot Massacres which were responsible for killing hundreds of native people.

A sick feeling came over me as I forced myself to keep reading the details of the massacres. I found the passage about the description of one of the battles:

“It was Captain Mason who led his troops into the Pequot palisade and began hand to hand combat with the surprised Indians. Finding this battle was taking too long, Mason made the call to burn the whole village including women and children. As the village burned, the Pequots tried to escape the flames but were killed by the English who surrounded the village palisade. In under an hour, about 500 to 700 Pequots including women and children were burned alive. The colonists pointed to their victory over the Pequots as an act of God over the Indian “savages.” The remaining Pequots sought refuge among other tribes but eventually were captured and sold into slavery in other colonies and in Bermuda and the West Indies.”

Matching pictures.

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A few months later, I returned for another Constellation.

This time I asked about how my work as a story and writing facilitator could expand to be of greater service to the world.

“The Puritan,” my ancestor, showed up.

His attitude was one of annoyance and condensation.

Coldly he wondered aloud why I, his distant future descendant, was calling him out of his many centuries long slumber.

The representative of his energy in the Constellation kept repeating, “This all happened so long ago.”

The facilitator asked me to turn to him.

I looked squarely into the eyes of this patriarch and said, “No, it’s happening now.”

As I look at him, I remember my own time living at the foot of Black Mesa, a sacred site, when the road that I walked on daily became my non- human teacher for two years.

I flash on the Dakota access pipeline fight and the warriors, the water protectors arriving from all over to Standing Rock.

The progression of the constellation is slow.

There is a turning, a slow, deep painful turning of “The Puritan” towards me, though he still doesn’t get it.

He is unmoved as I offer him peace.

I offer him belonging and ask the same from him. Stoic silence.

I ask him to support my path of liberation. I ask to be supported in creating a new lineage for our family and in my work to benefit others in the world.

I am no longer waiting for his answer.

Other past and future ancestors arrive from different timelines and bless me in stepping all the way in to serve now, with them at my back.

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After that Constellation which allowed me to integrate the ancestral healing work I’ve done moving into the 13th year, my integration of the work starts connecting itself more fully into my work in the world. Reading a book by Daniel Foor, “Ancestral Medicine”, I read the words “Ancestral Medium” and take an out breath.

This is part of who I am, who I’ve always been, as other’s personal and dead have not only visited me since childhood., but come into my thoughts, awareness and body.

I didn’t know there was a word for what I did effortlessly. I used to think of it as my freakishness and the thing, along with my not fully digested queerness that would always set me apart. Instead, coming to name it, much like my queerness, set me free.

In 2020, after two decades of story work with students, I started to incorporate phenomenological ancestral work into my practice with others, as well as a series of work I’ve created on writing the body, writing the land and writing worthiness as shame is the number one issue in my European ancestry, female identifying students arrive with in their work with me. One thing I’ve noticed is that for women of all kinds, the more financial and social privilege, the deeper the shame we carry. Writing the body and reconnecting with the exiled mystic is medicince that allows us to liberate our voices and unspoken truths. For those of us who hold memory of being burned as witches, using our voices can feel like life and death when it comes to speaking and writing uninhibited truth.

If those of us who are European are able to connect to the Celtic, the Druid, the Priestess, the Bard or the Witch we will not feel the need to appropriate Black or brown identities to attempt to find meaning.

Before we were Christian, we were once all Indigenous to place.

There is an enormous identity waiting to be explored for those of us with European ancestry that relates to before our own people got split crossing across the Atlantic, leaving homelands and customs behind when we came to the stolen land of these Americas and signed on the dotted line of whiteness.

The deeper I go in uncovering the archeology of my own story; accessing layers of sediment, dirt, blood and bone, the more I understand the power that is waiting to be retrieved in each of us and through us as writers of the new and ancient global myths.

And make no mistake, we are living in mythic times.

Future narratives and ancient myths are held in the same liminal space, which is always as close as one breath.

I am so grateful for every blind spot, all unconscious racism, classism and colonizing impulses I’ve been able to see in myself and my people. There are many teachers, seen and unseen who continue to be willing to befriend me and help me along the long path towards liberation.

The nature of a radical activist is actually quite selfish.
I don’t do this work to be anyone’s savior.
I do this work because I understand as activist Lilla Watson once wrote, that my liberation is bound to yours.

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