Daniel Foor, PhD, is a teacher and practitioner of practical animism who specializes in ancestral and family healing and is helping make humans relate well to the rest of the natural world and in helping humans relate well to the rest of the natural world.
As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Foor’s doctoral research in psychology focused on the use of shamanic healing practices like clinical mental health professionals. He has trained and lived in other societies, immersing himself in different lineages of spiritual practice, each of which has informed his kind and non-dogmatic approach to ancestor and earth reverence.
A self-described “white guy from Ohio of European ancestral lineages German, English, Irish,” Foor has sought out and trained with many different lineages of practices and teaches ancestry and earth reverence to people in the United States in “an accessible way that helps them to feel connected to their own ancestors and to the land where they live in a way that's also mindful of the history, and social justice.”
In our recent conversation, Foor, who is the author of a recent book, Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing, explains the difference between animism and shamanism, tracing some of their historical evolution and key ideas.
A mature or well-evolved animist is someone who learns how to relate skillfully, respectfully with other kinds of beings, Foor believes, but that doesn't mean that person necessarily holds any specific role in their community as a healer. It's a way of seeing the world. He prefers to use the term, “earth-honoring spirituality,” to describe a critical part of his worldview and practice, in part because it does not take away from or appropriate specific indigenous traditions, or contribute to the history of genocide and colonialism that has taken place among indigenous peoples around the world.
When one is drawn to “shamanism,” or earth-honoring spirituality, it benefits us to get to know our own ancestors, and to come into relationship with both what is beautiful, and also with what needs healing from our own ancestral lineages, Foor insists. That enables us to go about the needed healing in more grounded and more culturally sensible way because it honors our own history.
In our conversation, Foor explained how many modern day shamanic practices are taught by western practitioners—including soul retrieval, extraction, de-possession work, energy balancing, and connecting with spirit allies, among them. Most of the mental health practitioners Daniel drew from in his doctoral research were drawing on those types of practices, he acknowledges, and the conclusion of the research is that it is possible to harmonize or bridge some of those practices into a mental health setting.
However, practices from animist cultures or indigenous traditions generally assume that each individual who comes to Earth has our own destiny, our own unique instructions and original medicine and gifts to bring to the world, he notes. These cultures tend to have a profound respect for diversity because the natural world offers tremendous diversity in the form of revelations and manifestations that are highly sacred, in addition to all the things we can't physically perceive.
It is important that we each get clear about what our particular destiny is, and then determine which specific or unique teachers, spirits, or practices we need to be working with in order to fulfill that destiny. There's really just one script or one pattern, even within the same tradition of practice.
Many of these traditional practices revolve around cultivating relationships and learning to feed and tend a relationship with certain ancestors or spirits through offerings, prayer, invocation; by allowing those beings to speak through dreams, waking intuition, through embodiment or incorporation, possession practices, and also potentially knowing how to also work with different plants and elements of the natural world, which have their own vibration, their own medicine, as Daniel suggests.
For me, this is all a very archetypal idea that information is available which we can tap into through the instruction or the teachings of certain spirits, entities, or deities, but Foor quickly reminds me that, while some traditions favor the practice of journeying, for example—of moving one’s consciousness intentionally out of the body in order to gain information from some other “world”, not all traditions expect or require the practitioner to journey to them, and may even see it as a practice that necessarily favorable.
Another critical tool that some traditions engage in when relating with ancestors or spirits is through divination. This includes an appreciation for dreams, synchronicity, spontaneous events, and ancestral memory in the form of stories—many of which can be invoked to amplify what elders may be seeing in certain situations.
Part of our “predicament” in the West is that people are drawn to spirit, but they don't necessarily have a community to support them, Foor maintains. While working alone can offer a certain modicum of freedom, there can also be loneliness, sadness, or a sense of loss or disconnect from the nourishment that a lineage provides, and also the accountability that comes from a lineage. Ideally, we have elders to whom we can turn for guidance, for analyzing dreams or events, or to help us from getting overwhelmed by archetypal forces. They can also help us deal with inflation, which can potentially be problematic when one feels “called” in a certain way, even if that calling is valid and authentic.
One critical tenet of healing is to seek clarity about your own unique destiny and what your needs are as a result of that. This requires “getting well with your own ancestors” and healing your ancestral lineages. The process encourages the psychological inner work that everybody needs to do, aids healing in families, and allows us to come a balanced relationship with the land and the earth where we each live.
Community protects us from “getting too far into the weeds” when it's functioning in a healthy way, Foor suggests. Counterparts who see us on a spiritual level and can help us course correct when we need it, and grounded spiritual teachers can help us move things along and they also help us establish some psychological resilience so we don’t become disillusioned with our sense of calling.
Foor, who has been guiding ancestral trainings around the U.S. over the last decade, believes that everyone has loving and wise ancestors. It's important to expand our understanding of the ancestors to include not only all of our lineage who are remembered by name, but also those who are note, and to know that they can be called upon in the present. “The ancestors live as a spiritual force, or collection of forces, in the present and so we can call on them now,” Foor contends. It’s also important to identify the dead who can help us from those who have passed but are not yet well. That’s another important reason for healing our lineages—not just for our own families and for our psychological well-being, but also for “the cultural healing that we need with respect to racism, sexism, homophobia, all the different cultural poisons that we're trying to metabolize.”
Doing the work of healing the inter-generational pain that's been inherited is also very complementary to social justice work and cultural healing work that's needed. In contemporary shamanism, people tend to gravitate toward relating with certain deities, animals, plants, mountains, etc., but often tend to forego relationships with ancestors, partly because there's so much unconscious trauma about family and a desire to avoid that. If family is seen as a source of pain and disconnect rather than spiritual support, is not surprising that we might view our families in a truncated and incomplete way rather than seeing that we have lineages that go back to tribal, pre-Christian, pre-colonialism times, Foor suggests.
That psychological motivation to avoid the ancestor part of shamanic practice because of the history can potentially prevent us from engaging in the opportunity for healing through the ancestors. The “ones who lived before the trouble” have the potential to bring healing into our own hearts, relationships, and lives. They want to reconnect with us.
As a doctor of psychology and a therapist, Foor sees many individuals struggle with intergenerational pain or ancestral trouble—even sometimes ghost interference—that's been inherited. Our older ancestors have the remedy to shift that, he believes, but these situations involve collective-level medicine. “The older ancestors have the remedy for the poison that we have inherited from recent family,” he asserts. “And they want to help. They're available. But there needs to be a calling on them.” In our conversation, Foor goes on to share some practical and helpful ideas about how to work with ancestors.
“There are literally thousands of intact cultures on earth that continue to maintain daily relationship with their ancestors,” he notes. We have a natural human capacity to engage in direct, nourishing, helpful relationship with our own ancestors. Once we make that gesture, we then just need to trust that the universe will actually respond.
And sometimes, we have to be a little tenacious about it. If you're serious about it, we have to remember we’re building a relationship, and these are real being—not just a part of your own mind. You can't control them. Foor goes on to note several books, authors, and even YouTube videos that have made a difference in his own life.
Foor goes on to profess that one of his” favorite demographics of people” is “white people like him who are ancestrally disconnected from indigenous culture.” It is possible to reclaim animist, earth-honoring, soulful depth level relationship with your own ancestors, practices, community, he affirms, even as he emphasizes that we must be hopeful about it. “It's possible to do it in a way that isn't culturally offensive,” he stresses in closing. “Don't let those things discourage you. We need the reconnection. The others, the not human ones, miss us, and we desperately need to get our framework for how to live and how to relate well with the others back on track”—not just spiritually but politically and culturally, as well.
Visit Daniel Foor’s website, www.ancestralmedicine.org to find lots of resources, including a calendar of workshops Foor offers both in-person or online.
Learn more about Daniel Foor’s upcoming online series, “Ancestral Lineage Healing”, starting October 29, 2017: http://www.depthpsychologyalliance.com/events/ancestral-lineage-healing-online-course
Watch the video interview, Ancestral Healing: Insights on Animism & Shamanism—Dr. Daniel Foor with Bonnie Bright PhD (approx. 42 mins) at http://www.depthpsychologyalliance.com/video/ancestral-healing-insights-on-animism-shamanism-dr-daniel-foor-wi