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Samhain prayer for the grandmother i long ago scorned


This is the time of year when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, they say. A thin veil facilitates communication with our ancestors, those who have passed into the other/underworld, the beyond. They are close enough now to feel the heat from our breath. They are right here, upon us.


I suspect the veil between our conscious minds and the chthonic dark of our own personal unconscious thins during these days, too. I suspect we have greater access to our own unknown bits, should we desire such a thing.


I myself, do desire such a thing. I relish every opportunity I stumble upon to dive into my own interiority; access to the illuminated darkness of my own psyche feels like a treat indeed. I have never wanted to engage my ancestors, however. Beyond the perfunctory nod to my genetic inheritance, I have all but scorned the people I come from. I have next-to-never wanted to feel their presence in my life or name the stories they silently sung to me as I've grown. Their existence has only proved a source of terror for me: from them I have inherited the bitterness of unrealized dreams and a mountain of tedious unrest. I have inherited the blueprints for a drinking problem and a dangerously compulsive nature. I have inherited self-hatred. It has never felt useful to honor the broken people behind me, for they gave me nothing but their brokenness.


The Inherited Pacts; Pedro Castroortega

I read today that all of a woman’s eggs, each of them potential life planted in her fertile womb like so many seeds buried in the dark earth, develop in her body when she herself is still in utero. At four months, the female fetus develops its ovaries and all of the eggs that lie therein. Which means that the seeds for every single one of us, every single human being, are planted in our mothers while our mothers are still within our grandmothers. It means that my grandmother was the receptacle in which my entire physical potential—my latent life—came online. As your grandmother was for you. In a sense, we were all born of our grandmothers.


Wild and wondrous as this truth may be, it renders me a tad stupefied, for I am profoundly afraid of the woman that was my maternal grandmother.


Here is what I know of Grandma Mackenzie. She was beautiful. She was profoundly fragile. She lived with deep wounds, and suffered tremendously under their weight. She might have been abused; it might have been incest. She was a drunk, out of control, and often could not manage to care for her five daughters, who learned to steal groceries and clothing to take care of themselves. My grandmother suffered and she suffered and she suffered. After her girls were born, her husband left her. She filled the void with a string of lecherous, slovenly men, like so many women do. She never once knew the feeling of being worthy or lovable, so ingrained were the beliefs she was inherently unworthy and unlovable.


It was from this woman that my mother was born. It was inside this woman that my own mother's ovaries developed, and inside those ovaries that every egg my mother's body would ever produce developed. Like a Russian nesting doll, it was in the womb of this woman, my grandmother, that my own wild and precious life started.


A terrifying revelation.

Inherited Absolutes; Imants Tillers

I have frequently resented my grandmother, Elizabeth Mackenzie, and the havoc her addictions wreaked on her descendants. I have frequently felt like it was easier to disconnect from her than to let her in, easier to sever the line than know its pain, easier to disinherit this person, my family whom I never met but who gave me my bones.


But denial never stays easier for long, and I am no motherless child. I may be born of a troubled lineage, but I am born. I can no longer tolerate a life of separation from my ancestors, a life lived sans acknowledging the breath they have breathed into me. So today, I choose to remember the womb of the woman in whom my life started. I choose to recollect the time I was a seed, buried deep in the darkness of raw potential. I choose to own that soil as my rightful home. In reverence of the now gossamer veil, I choose to let her in, just I as I was once in her, this broken woman. I will feel her pain and remember her suffering. I will know her power by my own.


Today, from behind the fold I summon my maternal grandmother and my matrilineal inheritance. I call forth from my own unconscious the dissociated parts of myself that I long ago named Grandma.


Elizabeth Mackenzie, my grandmother

Elizabeth Mackenzie, after whom I am named, gifter of trauma, addiction, and self-loathing: I see you. I am you. It is to you I dedicate this life and all the healing it will hold. You left so much unprocessed, so much ugly emptiness, so much mangled. From you, unworthiness has been my primary inheritance. Yesterday, I could not bear to name you. Today, I choose to reclaim you.


And so, like our names—reversed—I am flipping the script. I am writing a new legacy for us, and for the seeds I carry that come from my mother, your daughter. I am writing a legacy that holds this life as sacred. One that honors this body with luscious love and gentleness, one that knows the truth of my own power. I cry tonight knowing that you were never able to see how beautiful you were, how magically inclined and how profoundly powerful. You did not know—you couldn’t have—but I do. I know it about you as I know it about me. And you are me. This knowing is for you, this healing your inheritance reversed, this embodied heart your home. Welcome.


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