5 Spiritual Approaches to Connect with Your Ancestral Wisdom

5 Spiritual Approaches to Connect with Your Ancestral Wisdom

Just invoking the word “ancestors” creates a sense of personal mythology, of belonging to something larger than yourself: “Ancestors” are those people from whom the magic of you sprung, who did things “the old way”, lived by a different set of rules, and carried throughout their lives the hope that the traditions passed on to them would continue to be passed on after them. They are the ones with the best recipes, the secret ingredients, the ancient rituals, the origin stories, the deepest intuition, and the greatest wisdom of how things “should be done”.

But somewhere, along the way, many of us lost ties with the traditions that were ours to inherit—particularly those of us from immigrant backgrounds, who relocated to or grew up in countries and cultures far from those of our origins.

In my shaman work, I often hear from women who feel a great sense of loss around their inability to access ancestral wisdom. Many times, for one reason or another, they never had close contact with their grandparents, great grandparents, or other relatives growing up. Those of us who are part of the Asian diaspora often grew up with extended family living on another continent or were adopted into a Western culture with little similarity to our own. Others experienced traumatic interactions with relatives in childhood, creating relationships that were stressful, limited, or nonexistent and left little space for the passing on of wisdom.

The common thread in each of these stories is the sense of disconnect—a profound absence and longing that is very real for many people. But it does not have to be.

In many ways, those of us who have been disconnected from our ancestral wisdom, by circumstance or by choice, have an opportunity and a gift to reclaim those wisdom traditions in ways that honor our heritage while celebrating our modern authenticity. I believe that our “ancestors” need not be limited to our direct family. The wisdom offered by ancestral traditions extends far beyond our direct lineage: Beyond what is scribbled into family trees, encoded into DNA, or recorded in legal documents. Instead, our ancestral ties include the land we come from and its collective history and culture, as well as the culture of where we were born or raised, and all the places and traditions we experience in our lifetime.

I believe this is also true for cultural and spiritual traditions, ancestral magic, and healing wisdom, as well. Regardless of your direct connection to your genetic ancestors, the traditions, magic, and healing practices they learned and lived by exist far beyond them—the energy of that ancestry was passed on to them, lived through them, and now belongs to you. Whether you’ve been able to access it as deeply as you would like, or not. The vibrational energy of geography, cultural history, art, music, literature, and traditional practices are constantly manifesting and re-manifesting, being created and re-created. By opening your mind to a broader understanding of ancestral energy, you can realize that you are not so limited in your ability to connect with your ancestors. The origins of your collective ancestral wisdom are already deep within you. All you have to do now is unlock their energy. Consider these five approaches to unlocking and connecting more deeply with the energy of your ancestral wisdom:

1. Nurture a personal, spiritual connection to your wisdom traditions. Researching and practicing the traditions of your ancestors is a helpful place to start, but the true power of connecting to your ancestral wisdom traditions is ignited by approaching that wisdom in an awakened, spiritual way. Nurturing a regular spiritual practice that quiets your mind and opens you to the divine is one of the best ways to receive downloads and messages from Source, Universe, God, your higher self, your guides, angels, or ancestors—no matter what you call it, the magic is the same. Establishing a daily or weekly meditation practice is a great starting point, even if each session is only 10 minutes. Beginning small will help build consistency. Once you’ve established that consistency, then you can grow towards longer meditation sessions. Before sitting for meditation, set an intention for your practice. A few examples I love include:

  • I open myself to the wisdom of my ancestors and other divine beings.
  • I open myself to guidance towards my highest good and greatest joy.

You can also support your meditation practice by engaging with daily rituals like practicing gratitude, journaling, or drawing a card from your favorite tarot or oracle deck. If you are of Korean descent or have a karmic connection to Eastern culture and spirituality, be sure to check out my Morning Calm Oracle Deck.

2. Spend more time connecting to nature. The earth of your “motherland”, combined with the geography of where you grew up and currently live are all pieces of your ancestral equation. Personally, when I visit Korea—especially the beautiful natural geography—I find that I experience energetic connection and healing in such a profound way. But when I return to my chosen home to Richmond, Virginia, I also feel a similar connection and pull. Setting the intention to spend time in, connect with, and appreciate the natural world can heal and inspire you.

In these moments of connecting with nature, be mindful that you are not just going through the motions, but rather explore how you can tune into the land and its creatures on an energetic, vibrational level beyond your physical body. Relish presence and your own place in the vast expanse of all living things. As you do this, you will feel yourself open to a spiritual, unbreakable connection with nature.

3. Explore a variety of cultural connections. Once you’ve begun to open yourself up to what the spiritual, energetic world has to offer you in terms of connecting to your ancestral wisdom, it can be immensely powerful to learn more about what cultural traditions draw you to your origin identity. Consider things like your familial language, traditional food and music, historical and contemporary art, or literature. Discover what specifically your energy is drawn to and how those cultural traditions nourish your connection to your lineage. Do the same for cultural elements of your adopted homeland. Consider what figures you might choose for your ancestors if you could. Learning more about whatever gives you joy, healing, wisdom, clarity, and love furthers your connection with ancestral wisdom.

4. Explore your past lives. We are not confined to our biological lineage in our present life. Through reincarnation, our souls have lived multiple lifetimes and experienced a multitude of cultures and geographies. Take time to consider what other cultures you are drawn to and would love to learn more about. Perhaps you’ll discover you’re drawn to a country or culture that you don’t have any conceivable tie to, but for some reason your energy is guiding you there. If this is the case, follow that! In my own experience, I have a very distinct memory of a cottage in a field of wildflowers, located somewhere in Europe. It’s a vision I have often thought of, drawn, and painted since childhood. During other past life journeys and meditations, I’ve also seen visions of Mongolia.

Consider exploring past life regressions on your own, or work with a shaman or other spiritual practitioner if you are unfamiliar with the work. It’s important to remain open-minded and approach past life explorations with a relaxed, playful energy. Take your time and be gentle with yourself.

5. Last, but not least: Travel! There is something supremely magical about stepping foot onto your ancestral land. Connecting physically to the earth of your heritage is a powerful way to activate strong energetic connections between you and your biological ancestors. Experiencing the food, the music and art, the architecture and physical land, and the spiritual sites of your homeland are key to feeling closer to your collective ancestral energy. When I embarked on my own ancestral pilgrimage to South Korea in 2018 and 2019, I experienced some incredible synchronicities and connections. In 2018, I was unexpectedly connected to both of my teachers: One during a random day hike and another when I was purchasing a book on Korean shamanism. In 2019, I followed my spiritual pull and guidance and, by complete coincidence, ran into a cousin whom I hadn’t seen for 35 years! My intuition has ushered me to meaningful sites that honor my paternal ancestor, Choi Chiwon, who came to me as my shamanic deity. These are all experiences I may not have had if I did not make the commitment to step foot on the land of my ancestors.

If you have a willingness and the means to travel to your own ancestral land, I highly recommend you make the trip. There is nothing else like it. Experiencing the energy and connection of physical presence with the people, places, and traditions of your origins can unlock the ancestral wisdom deep inside you, healing any generation trauma that might be in your soul. If you identify with Korean ancestry and exploring Korean shamanism in any capacity, consider joining my Korean Ancestry Retreat. You can learn more about the value of this retreat and see a sample itinerary here.

Connecting with your ancestral wisdom can be an awakening, enlightening, and healing experience. In the fast-paced, globalized world we live in, it can be easy for those wisdom traditions to fade or get lost in all the noise. Nonetheless, their magic lives within you. All you have to do is access it.

6 Simple Steps for Setting Up Your Altar (Or Any Sacred Space)

6 Simple Steps for Setting Up Your Altar (Or Any Sacred Space)

Setting an altar or sacred space in your home or place of worship is a beautiful practice that is celebrated around the world. Most cultures and spiritual traditions have their own versions of altar setting, and while the basic ceremony of setting up an altar is similar across the globe, altars themselves can be as varied and diverse as the people creating them. As a sacred space is reserved for reflection, contemplation, and connection to the divine, your spirit guides, ancestors, and other energetic messengers, the most important aspect of your altar is that its placement and aesthetics resonate uniquely with you.

While there are some key steps to setting up any altar, you should always feel free to customize yours in a way that is authentic to your own style, energy, and what specifically you want to use your altar for. Whether you are interested in honoring your ancestors, releasing stuck energy, setting intentions, performing an astrological ritual—like a full moon ritual or a solstice celebration—or simply using the space for quiet meditation and introspection, your altar will be most powerful if you personalize it to suit your style and vibe. Plus, it’s more fun to make it your own!

Setting up your altar can be an uncomplicated, enjoyable process—one that you can return to again and again as your practice grows and evolves. In general, an altar is simply a dedicated space for strengthening your intention setting and connecting to high-vibration energy, as well as supporting your ability to manifest your intentions. There is no wrong way to construct an altar, celebrate a ritual, or set an intention. You don’t have to perform regular rituals at your altar, and you definitely shouldn’t stress out about doing it perfectly. The only right way to set up your altar is the way that feels right to you. Follow wherever your energy guides and altar setting is sure to become a practice you love.

When I set up my own altar or help clients set theirs, I recommend an easy six-step process that can be replicated for any altar—including yours.

 

  1. Decide where and when to set up your altar.

In general, an altar is best set in a quiet, out-of-the-way space in your home, place of worship, or the outdoors, that will allow you to sit and reflect as desired. I have my main altar at my healing space (my “office” or “shrine”), which is a dedicated space where I do all my shamanic work. Because my shrine is a few minutes of drive away, I also have a smaller altar in my home for when I can pray and do my work from home.

An altar is a place to work with energy: releasing old energy, calling in new energy, transforming existing energy, connecting with ancient or ancestral energy. With that in mind, also consider when might be the best time for you to set up your altar. For example, if you are performing a ritual around the new moon or the full moon, setting your altar a few days prior can support you in clearing out old energy and preparing to welcome in new energy. If you are setting up your altar to connect with an ancestor or spirt guide, consider any dates or times that were significant to them—a date of birth or death, for example. But remember, there is no right or wrong time to set up or update your altar. You’ll enjoy the most benefit by following your inner wisdom and personalizing your method so it feels authentic to you.

 

  1. Cleanse the energy of your space.

Gather: One of the following of sage (or other cleansing herbs), incense, palo santo, sea salt, holy water, shamanic cleansing water, or another spiritual cleansing water.

Once you’ve decided where you’re going to set up your altar, it’s important to cleanse the energy of that space. If your altar is indoors, consider using cleansing smoke, or lightly spraying the area with any cleansing potion/water. If you’re outdoors, sprinkling sea salt in a circle around the space in which you’re going to set up your altar works great as well. I personally use smoke from herbs or incense for daily cleansing and a cleansing water I make with combination of distilled water, alcohol and essential oils for occasional deeper cleansing. I don’t like to use salt indoors, because I don’t like having to vacuum after using salt.

 

  1. Set up your altar.

Gather: At least one each of the items that represent different elements of Universe: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Plus at least one item that represents Spirit/Divine/Magic. At my own altar, I have a few crystals (earth), incense (air), handmade Tibetan bell (air), Candles (fire), and a clear water in white ceramic bowl (water).

For the fifth element of Spirit/Divine/Magic, you can use any of the following: prayer beads like mala beads and rosary, a statue/picture of deity or goddess, ancestral heirloom or symbols, tarot or oracle cards, etc. At my own altar, I have calligraphed names of all my shamanic deities, a beautiful marble statue of Kuan Yin from my trip to Vietnam, a handmade statue of Goddess Mago/Gaia that I made myself, and prayer beads from a Buddhist temple at my paternal ancestral city of Gyeongju.

This is where personalization really comes into play: In choosing the items you’re going to set on your altar. As you consider the items you’ve selected for your altar, each should coordinate with one of the directions and elements. Each item needs a home on the surface of your altar, and each element should house an item that represents it. Trust your intuition and aesthetic taste to arrange them on your altar.

If you decide to use a tarot card or an oracle card on your altar, you could consider selecting a card that represents the intention you’re bringing to your practice. Or you can completely give way to intuition and pull a card blindly. I sometimes pull cards before I start my meditation/prayer at my altar or choose cards that reflect the intention I want to hold for my prayer or ritual. You can do both.

 

  1. Take a few moments for meditation or contemplation.

Once you’ve set your altar and the space feels good, it’s time to practice some form of contemplation: Intention setting, meditation, energetic release, prayer. If silent contemplation doesn’t feel quite right to you, consider journaling or intuitively writing about the intention you have for your altar. If you’re practicing a ritual around releasing old energy and welcoming in new, allow yourself to take a few minutes to journal about the things you want to let go of and things you want to call in. If you discover something that resonates with you—an intention, an intuitive message, a quote or prayer— consider writing that down on a separate sheet of paper and including it in your altar ritual as well. (If you’re working on an energetic release, you’ll get to enjoy burning this paper shortly.)

Some examples of energy to let go of include:

Judging oneself and others.
Financial stress or strain.
Self-doubt or limiting beliefs.
Anger towards oneself and others.
Old attachments.
Any practice, habit, feeling, or belief that is no longer serving you. 

Examples of energy to invite include:

Acceptance towards oneself and others.
Opening to an abundance mindset.
Trusting oneself and one’s intuition.
Compassion towards oneself and others.
Freedom.
Any practice, habit, feeling, or belief that will serve you and your highest vibration.

 

  1. Perform your ritual: Intention setting, energetic release, calling on guides or ancestors, etc.

Once you’ve had some time for contemplation and have a clear intention to serve as the focus of your spiritual practice, it’s time to work with that intention. If you’ve set an intention to release stuck or low-vibration energy, ritualistically release what you want to let go of. (This is where you get to light your paper on fire.) Consider lighting your paper inside a small cauldron or oyster shell, on a metal plate, or outside where you’re not at risk of burning anything other than your paper.

If your intention is centered around calling in new energy, consider placing your written intention on your altar, in whichever space feels right to you.  There are many resources of different rituals and divination practices that are suggested for various purpose – feel free to research them and find what resonates with you. Be sure to modify it and make it your own practice.

Personally, my rituals usually include offerings and prayer. Food offerings are common and are carefully selected and prepared for the ritual (never something that’s been sitting in my fridge or pantry). Sometimes my ancestors and/or deities ask for specific items added to the offering at the altar – flowers, cash, clothing, cigarettes, etc. – and when this happens I make sure to follow the specific guidance.

 

  1. Enjoy a self-care practice.

Finally, include a ritual for yourself by practicing a little self-care or self-nurturing. Some of my favorites include enjoying a warm tea, taking a salt bath, indulging in a glass of wine or piece of chocolate, sensual self-pleasure, massage with essential oils, charging crystals or cleansing other sacred objects, spending time in nature—anything that brings you pleasure, raises your vibration, and feels rejuvenating and healing to your body, mind, and soul.

I think this self-nurturing practice as part of rituals or spiritual practice is an important one. There is much magic and truth in the spirit realm we hope to reach and access, but without our own selves (our mind and body), it is impossible to manifest this magic into something that can influence our lives or our world. So, making this intentional commitment to nurture this vessel (our self) is also a sacred practice.

So, what do you think of these steps? All in all, however you decide to set up your altar and whatever spiritual or healing rituals you choose to perform there, I hope you find your altar to be a place of awakening, illumination, rejuvenation, healing, and spiritual growth. With time and practice, setting your altar will become more intuitive and increasingly aligned with your authentic energy and soul path.