Inherited Memories - Ancestral Knowledge in your DNA

Image by Dingzeyu Li

Image by Dingzeyu Li

Scientists have found in multiple studies that knowledge does get passed down through DNA. One particular study involving mice from 2013 found that not just one generation, but two generations responded to a clinically-induced fear response of the scent of cherry blossoms. A more recent study from 2017 found that environmental information also gets written into DNA, such as diet, disease, and lifestyle. Scientists are still deeply involved in studying the functionality of programming data onto DNA.

What does this mean? It means that more knowledge than we understand gets passed on generationally.

While this is not an entirely new field of study and has been happening at least since the 1940s, the more technology and research improves, the more we understand - and the more our elders are proven correct - we do have, within us, ancestral knowledge.

We’ve spiritually always known, but it is nice for science to reiterate

This is something that, spiritually, our societies knew and practiced. Focus was put on our ancestors, with holidays to honor and meditative practices to bring up ancestral knowledge from our bones. How far back does that knowledge go, exactly? One study suggests 14 generations.

FOURTEEN generations.

Consider, for a moment, the impact that 14 generations’ worth of experience could be having on your DNA right now. Figuring an average lifespan of 50 years, 14 generations back puts us in the 1300’s.

We’re talking Ming Dynasty in China. The Bubonic Plague. The beginning of the Renaissance in Italy.

It’s no wonder why many of us crave a lifestyle that we’ve never lived. It’s no wonder many of us carry a deep sense of being displaced, of having no home, with no explanation as to why. Hiraeth is a beautiful old Welsh word that cannot be fully translated into English, but means something along the lines of “longing for a home that you cannot get back to.” (See my post about healing hiraeth) Perhaps hiraeth is understandable when you realize that your ancestors may have been so emotionally attached to their home or a place that a trace of that emotion now lives in you.

How many other emotional responses, and how much wisdom, could be tied to your own DNA?

A Society Built on Disconnection

Modern Western society doesn’t do much to honor the wisdom of our elders, or the power in the ancestral knowledge buried within us. But other cultures do, with practices and celebrations such as Vodou, Dia de los Muertos, Samhain and Halloween, just to name a few of the more Western well-known. I don’t think it’s fair to mention these without acknowledging that in some cases they’ve been twisted and perverted, vilified, an association built to the Christian Satan or demons (I will save the discussion about “black” magic, and how insidiously fucked up that phrasing is, for another post because it is impossible to address without addressing the political).

Despite that, the connection to our deceased loved ones is so powerful that even Christianity and Catholicism have a day set aside for it, All Saints Day or All Souls Day.

Connecting to Ancestral Knowledge

Connecting to the ancestral knowledge within you is a beautiful practice. Ceremonies, meditation, prayer can assist in calling up ancestral knowledge, and that practice can be shaman-led or done on your own. Showing willingness to learn is perhaps the first step - this knowledge is already affecting your life, literally dictating some of your molecular behavior, and through the denial of acknowledgment, it may be affecting your emotional life in negative ways.

The first step, it would seem, to embracing the lessons of your ancestors is to be emotionally open to learning from the knowledge they encoded in your genome.

To do this on your own, cleanse your energetic body in whatever way makes sense to you - ritual bathing, smoke cleansing, prayer - and then make an intentional declaration of intent by stating, out loud, that you are willing and open to learn from the deep ancestral knowledge within your DNA. Say that you are listening, that you will pay attention to the behaviors and emotions that are etched within your cells. Write your statement down. Revisit that declaration as often as you need to, daily or weekly, and even journal on the topic. I recommend free writing, by thinking for a little while about your declaration of intent and what events have happened in the past week or so, and then allowing whatever thoughts surface to be written down. Many subconscious surprises lurk in the practice of free writing.

If you choose to participate in a practitioner-led ceremony, I highly recommend doing double due-diligence on your research. Don’t skip off to the Amazon to meet with Mother Ayahuasca without digging into all the aspects of what a trip like that could mean; do megatons of research about the shaman, the science of the plant and physiological responses to it, as well as the emotional experience. Research. Find something that fits your culture. I believe that the experience of your ancestors will whisper louder if you are seeking out practices and traditions in line with what they lived. Listen to the quiet call of your cells.

Honoring Your Past

We can honor our ancestors in many ways. Maybe a wall of photographs is a great way to do this, or starting a tradition of visiting gravesites and bringing an offering of flowers, libations, or food on a holiday already dedicated to the dead, like Halloween. Or perhaps by celebrating their birthdays. Find something that feels right to you, and go for it.

The knowledge coded into our DNA from our Ancestors affects our lives, and science is beginning to unlock just how deep the mystery goes - perhaps up to 14 generations of life experience is alive within you, living through you. This genetic chronicle is a rich tapestry of information that historically many cultures believed we can spiritually tap into, and built ceremony and practice around doing so.

What mysteries might you unlock about yourself and life by tapping into your ancestral knowledge?

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With deep gratitude,

Sam