Archeology of the soul


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging…
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog…
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

1966 Seamus Heaney

I dig the earth too. The earth of my ancestors. Literally and figuratively, searching for hidden treasure, for roots, for the tap root of my soul. I too use my pen to dig my soul’s garden.

We are made up of layer upon layer. In recent years our culture has begun to recognise the effects of parents and grandparents on our psyches, but what of the layers going further and further back? What were the factors which made your great-great-great-great-grandparents who they were? Their life events, occupations, parenting experiences, health? What historical events shaped their lives? It matters, it really does, because it is a part of us now. We carry unconscious ties that hark back into the darkness of human history. Our pre-verbal selves stretch back into the pre-literate annals of our cultures.

There is a huge growing interest in family history, researching family trees. People feeling called to reclaim history for themselves, to claim it back from the glory and horror of war, the dominance of kings and generals. I think us women especially feel that millenia of our historical heritage has been lost, denigrated, dismissed. Who were we?

Personal history seems an important quest for so many. For those who have intact families there is still a desire to quest, to hunt, to track down leads, for those who have been separated from families through adoption, death, migration or war, the compulsion is visceral. We yearn to understand the parts of ourselvesfor which we have the evidence but not the answers. I am sure that part of the growth in personal development, the interest in consciously shaping ourselves is fueling an equally strong need to know about where we came from.

We start with the outer layers our physical inheritence– I have my grandmother’s build, my mother’s early greying gene. We look in each new child for signs of belonging, of being part of the clan. And as they develop we see ourselves and our families in them, he likes to paint like his uncle or she is stubborn like her grandma. And then as we continue in life, our curiousty, or small anomalies occur, and we want to know more, and so back we look, into the mists of time, to find out: who was my tribe?

Who we are and where we come from really matters to us. And who we are, when we understand ourselves this way, goes far beyond our own personalities. We are far more than what we have made ourselves in this lifetime. We have so many stories, strands, rhyhms of ourselves, unconscious behaviours, hidden memories which are “ours “ but not made by us, we have inherited them… many believe in past lives, but whether you do or not, what I am talking about is the unconscious learning, the fabric of who we are which we inherit through genetics and behaviour, the very fabric of life, made flesh once more in our individual selves, which is woven through time and circumstance, which we seek to unravel.

I am delving back in various ways… I am starting a project recording my father’s memories of his family, whom he doesn’t speak that often about to find out that side of my inheritance. My mother has assembled a family tree of her side which I treasure. I have boxes full of my grandmother’s letters… the middle ground is rather blank, but then I am delving into the deep past, the history of my heart-land, of wise women nad herbs, and reading about the Celts. Celtic history is what unites my various parts: grandparents from Wales and Scotland, a childhood divided between southern England and southern Ireland. The land of the Celts is my heart-land, my soul scape. It is these mountains, moors and craggy coastlines, this rich arable land which has been farmed and upon which cattle has been raised for millenia. These rounded stone carvings, standing stones, dry stone walls, wild flowers cures and intricate spiral insignia are carved on my soul. They feel deeply familiar.

And this is what it comes down to: a felt sense of belonging, a heart land, an understanding of ourselves. We must feel our way, sense our layers of being, the archeology of the soul which Jung described as being like a house, and we dig down into the subconscious and then the unconscious basement and then below it the earth, full of skeletons of ancestors past upon which our being is built. Bones dust, earth, meaning, life…
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  1. Hannah

    An important reflection and spooky for me as yet again you blog about something that’s at the front of my consciousness. My parents are about to depart on a fact finding trip to Ireland to hopefully find my dad’s birth mother, my grandmother, or her family. While they’re there my mum will also be looking for more information on our other relatives. After reading this I wish I was going with them!

  2. Dreamingaloudnet

    Glad it touched a chord! It felt a bit muddled writing it, I couldn’t quite touch the clarity, but put it out there anyway cos it was important.

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