• Elizabeth Harvey Abrams

Mini Review - Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing by Daniel Foor, Ph.D.

Updated: Jun 30

I found this book as I looked for a structured way to cultivate a deeper understanding of the possibility of relating with ancestors, particularly after having meaningful dreams of loved ones who had passed on. In supporting clients in grief counseling, this topic sometimes comes up as well, as people have dreams and waking-life experiences in which they feel the presence of a departed loved one.

Described as “a practical guide to navigating relationships with the spirits of those who have passed,” Ancestral Medicine provides guideposts for learning about and connecting with ancestors of blood, place, and affinity or spiritual lineage. The goal is to work with spiritually vibrant ancestors to enact healing across key family lines, in the process receiving family blessings and gifts and transforming destructive intergenerational patterns for the better.

Daniel Foor, Ph.D. is an animist psychologist, family therapist, and initiate in the Ifa/Orisha tradition. He refers to material from many cultures, traditions, and teachers including from his teacher the late Buryat Mongol shaman Sarangeral Odigan, Malidoma Somé, Martín Prechtel, Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman, and more. Foor incorporates social justice considerations and implications of this work throughout the book.

Foor’s framework rests on the assumptions that the living and the dead can communicate with and affect each other; and that not all the dead are equally well. His approach involves initiating contact with healed, vibrant ancestral guides (as far back as needed, potentially to the ancient ones far before the remembered dead), and with their support, seeking healing for family lineages including assistance for the troubled dead.

Foor advocates a humble, respectful, interactive approach throughout, emphasizing energy protection techniques, allowing guides to do the work as much as possible, and reaching out to experienced teachers and professionals for assistance rather than getting in over your head. The book contains 17 detailed rituals for working through the lineage repair processes. Though Foor is not prescriptive about this structure, the framework includes starting with four key family lines: the women in the mother’s family line (mother, maternal grandmother, her mother, etc.); the men in the father’s line (father, paternal grandfather, his father, etc.); the men in the maternal line; and the women in the paternal line. Some may find more ease in starting where there is a positive connection versus digging into problem areas from the outset.

The content of this book touches on topics I previously encountered in Robert Moss’s books and trainings on dreaming, which incorporate a foundation of shamanism. The areas of commonality include a focus throughout the book on dreams as a key venue for contact with the departed, learning to understand synchronicities as indicators of ancestor interactions, and approaching ancestors through non-ordinary states of consciousness such as in shamanic journeying (without substances).

The start of the book discusses that when you show the ancestors you are initiating this work, you can expect “things to start happening.” To signal that I was initiating an exploration of this work, I compiled a notebook of genealogy research, old family photos, and emails discussing family history.

That morning, I'd hung some herbs from the garden up to dry on the beams of my house. Later in the day as I delved into genealogy materials, I learned that the town in Scotland where some of my family comes from, Luss, comes from the Gaelic “lus,” which translates as “herbs.” A bright and meaningful coincidence to start the exploration.

For those interested in exploring ancestor work, this book may be a resource for understanding concepts and approaches. These topics and experiences can feel overwhelming, so it's important to feel very grounded before you start and to have experienced support you can turn to. Go slowly and if you don't feel good about moving forward at any point, take a break or shift to another approach or focus. This can be very intense work, particularly if intergenerational trauma is involved. Working with a therapist on the emotional aspects of family issues may be an important first step or supportive concurrent approach to take.