“The Dead Can Dance, Part 4: The Inspiration of Ancestors” by Mathieu Thiem

The fourth in a 4-part series, originally published at The Woven Song.

V. The Inspiration of Ancestors (Air)

“Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelops the earth.” – David Suzuki

During my trips amongst the caves and valleys of the Cross Timbers, the bioregion of Texas to which I belong, there would be times when I could hear the earth groan when the drafts of air entered into the hollows of its body. The cool breeze coming up and out the shaded interior, while the warmer airs filled with the scents of the land came in from the outside. It was slow and rhythmic like a sleeping giant in a deep dream. The land was breathing!

It is actually quite a surprising notion every time I dwell on it. The very air that the land breathes, that the trees breathe, and that I breathe, is ancient. Our atmospheric medium of shared breath is more than just a sucking of air, it is a rhythmic cycle of breathing, by which we are connected to the ancient story of our ancestors. The same atoms of oxygen going into my blood were at one point in time breathed by my ancestors, and here in these beautiful hollows of limestone, the ancestors still breathed. Sure it was different, but they were now the lungs of the land, something much deeper than before.

For me, the ancestors communicate in a different way, they don’t talk to me with a mouth from disembodied ghosts, but rather they move my being in profound ways. They dance with me in the ever shifting pressure of the land’s breath. Like a shared spirit of mutual invigoration. One moment I can be moving through the cave enjoying its mysteries and the next I can feel our breath come into unison, and as I feel this deep connection like a link to the ancient land itself, it moves me with a profound awe and inspiration. I am affected by it with a depth I would not have realized had I not been there to experience that interaction.

Inspiration is a good word for how ancestors communicate with us. When we break it down etymologically, in- meaning into, and -spire meaning spirit which is further broken down to mean breath, we are given a very different and enlivened sense of the depths of breath and spirit. It is no wonder that the ancient human cultures would see breath as the medium of spirit, the invigorating pressure which sustains our bodies and the atmospheric cycles of the Earth. The very atmosphere of our Mother Earth was none other than the very breath of the Great Spirit, inspiring and animating us.

This breath is more than just the breath of a body. Think of a story that lacks meaning to our culture, that lacks relevance, it feels like a kind of choked spirit waiting to be unblocked from the corners of your mind. You can almost touch upon its relevance and yet, it fails to inspire you, to be inhaled by you. But when you can find a sense of lineage to the story, a connection which helps you piece together how the meaning of your life now links back to the meaning of your ancestors, it is like the story is no longer choking but immediately receives a breath of fresh air. Like breathing in a deep long gust of wind after holding your breath for a long time. You feel the story just as much as you understand it. It seeps into your chest and your mind, it oxygenates parts of your being with meaning and purpose. The story makes sense! Here we take sense to mean that it is quite literally sensual, felt by your being.

When you gasp for air you feel a huge awakening in your body. Is the same not true for realizing the stories around you? When you are inspired, you are enlivened once more by the breath of the ancestors. Being in awe of the canyon or of your grandfather’s old tool box, is a kind of inspiration. A way of coming to know parts of them that had been important to their life. The dead enchant this world, as they enchanted the springs, and this enchantment comes through to us in our shared sense of place, in our shared breathing, in the sharing of the land’s dreaming intelligence.

The ancestors don’t have bodies like we do now. Rather they have become something different. They are transformed in ways that make them more vast and yet also more dependent upon our intra-action with them. They become more a part of the stories of the land, the culture, the old towns they inhabited and now haunt as memories. They reach out to us with agendas laid out in the mythic cycles of our dreaming ecologies, full of symbols and unfinished business. Communicating comes from being able to listen to their stories, experiencing them somatically, through sensual understanding. It comes from finding the tracks they left behind and following in their footsteps to embody their story, to share in their mythic ecology. The deeper our attention given to them, the deeper their response will be, till you enter into ancient times of giant monsters and exploding stars. How you revere them will be the measure by how they will be revealed.

VI. The Dead Are Here and Now (Entanglement)

“I call to the ancestors who walk with us on each fateful day into each new world.” – Lorna Smithers

The world we live in is one filled with stories. It is built upon the ancestors as the crucible of life. From the star fire that enlivened us to the stories that inspire us and the dead that build up our sense of place and culture, we are living with the ancestors in a mythic and dreaming world. The dead can dance, and they do it every day, right under our noses

Entire aspects of our culture are indeed ancestral, some good, and some in deep trouble. Not all mythic cycles are good for people, some hold a deep darkness to them. A darkness that needs to be healed by tending to them, by rooting them back into the land. While other mythic cycles hold within them families created by the bonds of struggle and revolution. Queer liberation movements for instance, hold a beautiful and powerful ancestry, an ancestry born of myth and sacrifice, an ancestry that welcomes their people to carry on their work regardless of the blood running through their veins. The same can be said for all kinds of revolutionary movements, for such movements are built from the stories of ancestors. Honor them. Find them. Join them in their unfinished works.

Once again, to close this out, I will be using some of my writing from Interanimism because I feel it rounds out the idea I have been trying to court. I hope it serves you well.

“The ancestors are the culminating influences of the past embedded onto the present, all their gravitational waves pushing us forward into the expanse of the universe. The ancestors are not ghosts that pop up like some spooky ethereal being from a television show, rather they are their past actions imprinted upon the informational matrix of our reality which produces an emergent agency capable of communicating with the living, forever affecting and inspiring our future.


I call on my ancestors because I must become aware of how deeply we are affected by them, even though they have changed form. In many ways their death hasn’t stopped their meddling in our world, to the point where one must wonder if they ever really died at all. Their wisdom and stories are embedded into the fabric of our reality, and this has vast implications.”

Sources and other great articles on ghosts and ancestors:

“Norse Death and Afterlife” at Norse-mythology.org

“I Call to the Ancestors” by Lorna Smithers

“Walking With the Ancestors” by Nicholas Haney

“A Haunted Landscape” by Emile Wayne


Becoming Animal: An Earthy Cosmology by David Abram

Die Wise: A Manifesto For Sanity and Soul by Stephen Jenkinson

The Story of B by Daniel Quinn

About the Author

Mathieu Thiem is a bioregional animist who spends his time studying the art of mythic living and running a blog called The Woven Song. www.wovensong.co


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