Dude, My Ancestors Did This: How to Reconnect with Ancient Wisdom


My brain is in that mushy, fresh-out-of-ceremony state: I just spent four nights dancing under the full moon with 200 women from all over the world as a part of an ancient Mexica rite.

We fasted, we prayed, we sang our hearts out. We were up all night freezing our tushes off and were up all day getting broiled by temazcals and the fierce Costa Rican sun. It was hard—mentally, physically, emotionally—in ways I still can’t quite put my finger on, and I also bathed in the sweetness of being with some hilarious, outrageous sisters.

One thought that kept me going: Dude, my ancestors did this.

I talk about this all the time: Our bodies and hearts know so much more than our minds. We hold an ancient wisdom that most of us have no idea exists. We are the sum of our ancestors and all their hopes and dreams for us—how can their prayers not be etched into our bones?

When you begin on a path, especially a spiritual one, you may notice you are drawn to certain traditions and practices without quite knowing why. Yoga was the starting place for me: Though I’m not of Indian descent, I found a firm foundation in asana, meditation, and philosophy. Since yoga is everywhere in the West, I found it easy to study even the more esoteric yogic practices. 

Coming across Mexica spirituality was a little more work: I began dabbling in traditional Latino herbalism and studying with my teacher in Costa Rica. Little by little, I became curious about the bigger picture of what plants were a part of—traditional Latino medicine and Mexica spiritual practices—and the people appeared to support me and that insatiable curiosity.

My mother’s family is from Mexico, so is it any wonder that I am inexplicably attracted to these practices? That I somehow stumbled upon them in a tiny village in the South Caribbean? To me, the answer is clear:

This is in your blood, woman.

So how to get close to your own ancestral callings and relations?

First, ASK.
Ask for guidance, always. Pray about it, meditate about it, ask your ancestors to be with you throughout your day and guide you as your make your decisions.Ancestors2

During the ceremony, one of the abuelas said something that sent chills down my spine:

“Your ancestors prayed for you to be here.”

I kept that thought in mind every time I got stuck: when I was falling asleep on my feet, when the sweat lodges were getting extra toasty, when I didn’t think I could handle standing in the sun for another second. My time and effort became an offering, and I would think of that phrase and become grateful.

“Your prayers are always answered,” a dancer said in a sweat lodge one night. “But you have to pay attention.”

So as you ask for guidance, start to notice the little things that catch your attention, that ignite your passion, that light a fire under your ass. This is the way that your ancestors and your own deep knowing point you in your truest direction.

Honor Your People
In the Lakota tradition, they say “mitakuye oyasin,” meaning “all my relations” or “we are all one.” Find your own way to connect with your heritage, whether it’s whispering prayers to your grandparents or Googling a ritual from the culture of your ancestors and making it your own.

When I teach people how to smudge, I always encourage students to do a little research into the plants of where their families are from. Someone with roots in North America might resonate with sweetgrass, while those of Asian descent might check out sandalwood or agarwood, and those with families from Central America may love palo santo or copal.

It’s the same idea with honoring practices: Do some research and use what works for you. Talk to your parents, your grandparents, or elders in your community. 

Connecting with living elders, even if you’ve never met them before, is a powerful practice. They hold so much knowledge, and far too often their wisdom dies with them simply because no one ever asked them about the old ways.

Ritual is what keeps our souls grounded and nourished. When you find a way of honoring your ancestors that works and feels good to you, keep it up. They are always with you, always on your side, and always there for your guidance—that is the nature of ancestor spirits. It’s like having a tough-love pep rally of your very own behind you. The more interest you show in them, the more guidance you’ll be given.

So, how do YOU honor your ancestors?

Images by Elena Ray and Ismael Nieto

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Raquel Scianna


Raquel Scianna is a yoga teacher, writer, women’s wellness coach, and mid-morning chocolate eater. She delights in magical realists, solo travel, howling at the moon, and those weird tingles she gets from seeing mountains after spending most of her life in Chicago. A perpetual student and teacher, she loves facilitating women's community through the grace of spiritual embodiment practices. She has recently mastered the art of swirling a glass of wine while looking pensive. Connect with her at raquelalexandra.com.


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