Healing with Land and Ancestors

Trouble with the Land

Three times I walked away from the little house for sale perched on the side of the largest Sheepshead Crossing mesa in Cornville, whose crown had long ago been one of the many pueblo settlements dotting mesa tops in the Verde Valley of northcentral Arizona.  On drive-by one I had seen a dark cloud hovering above the cute little house and entire road.  I turned around and drove off.  On drive-by two six months later – the house hadn’t sold and the location was fantastic, with sweeping views of the greenbelt of Oak Creek and Sedona’s famed red rocks in the distance – I parked at the mouth of the dirt road, wondering what energy had slapped my crown as soon as I had made the turn.  What was wrong with this place when everything should be right?  The word “meth” sprang up in my vision.  I turned around and drove off.  Then, another six months later, my new realtor took me to that land to see that cute little house.  The house was built for a chemically sensitive person, like me, and it had good bones, she said.  This third time I walked away from a contract.  The house was riddled with issues and there was mold, another of my health nemeses, in the bathroom.  Its front door location reversed the Feng Shui luck of the house. And then, compelled by a force that felt to me like a death wish and went against every fiber of my physical being, I entered a second contract at an adjusted price only a month later.  The night I signed the deed transfer, a friend had to drive me to the emergency room, my blood pressure skyrocketing so high I thought my head was going to blow off.

View of the mesa topped with ruins behind the house. Photograph by Gillian Goslinga.

There I was the morning after, financially locked into this place of darkness.  Why had I signed?  What had I signed up for? My Sedona New Age friends had gone from “It’s an amazing vortex of light” to “This will be your last battle with darkness” and “you’re going to have to learn to love more than you fear!”  I didn’t feel capable of that kind of love.  My mother, to complicate matters, and all the way from Spain where she lives, had had her first ever vision of the Virgin Mary over the mesa ruins above the house, not once but twice, as I was wavering atrociously in those final days.  “The most beautiful light I have ever seen, so brilliant and healing, Gigi,” she reported. I myself had experienced the sweetest of energies enveloping me while I walked the land.  I had wanted to believe the ancestors of this troubled place were letting me know they approved of me. 

I had a powerful dream, too, where I walked the slope of the mesa as wild animals have for millennia, crisscrossing their narrow footpaths up to the top.  A retinue of creatures gathered behind me, Pied-Piper-like, in the dream.  My body entered the earth.  Half in, half out, I continued to walk as though through water, except it was soft beautiful fragrant moist rich composted earth.  Behind me, the air turned to faery dust, a brilliant sparkling cloud of twinkling starlight that brought every tree, every boulder, and every creature to shimmering life.

There had been terrifying visions as well.  In a full-moon sweat lodge after I had entered the second contract, where I furiously prayed for some sort of sign as to what to do, I was given a vision of a gigantic black snake with a design of red and white diamonds unfurling along its back. It lay upright and etherically on the slope of the mesa like one of those enormous city letters that greet airplanes from the sky.  The snake’s tail touched the back porch of the house where a skeleton Lady appeared, looking straight at me.  She cut a Frida Kahloesque figure with her ash-colored bones adorned with red ribbons and her hair, also tied with red ribbons, piled on top of her skull.  In her bony hands, she held a bundle of smaller bones and herbs wrapped in red cloth.  Bone Lady smiled at me but my reaction was visceral and unhappy.  I screamed and retched in the lodge, purging violently.   As I wobbled out at the close, frightened and spent, the full moon greeted me like a benevolent grandmother.  I welcomed her bath of sweet pure silver light.  Impervious to human affairs, the moon loves without condition.  I pledged to her that terrible night that I would not buy.  Curses and death poisoned that land and house.  I was sure of it now.  Yet, inexplicably and only a week later, I found myself signing the deed.  This was madness.

Staying with the Trouble

The celebrated science studies feminist scholar Donna Haraway refuses to see our times as an Anthropocene, a time of endings, but instead as times ripe for formidable new becomings, a Chthulucene.   Always the word magician, Haraway tropes the Greek world chthonic and its rich associations of ancient, subterranean, and underworld to spawn the metaphor of a thick and crumbly dark humus of composted histories of trauma, survival, and love from which to make kin once again, not only amongst us humans but also with the nonhuman1See Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2016..   She invites us to stay with the trouble long enough so we can make kin with these histories bringing us to the edge of extinction.  Staying with the trouble means staying in place.  I rolled up my sleeves to attend to all that was wrong with the house and the land, now on a mission.

The house, however, quickly became “The Little House of Horrors.”  There was more mold than the inspection had found.  Rooms had to be stripped to their studs.  Things broke randomly; even my glasses snapped in my fingers as I took them off one day.   My predecessor had rigged many repairs, and the home inspector had been sloppy, missing much.  My first contractor, charged with the priority task of moving the inauspicious front door, announced on our first day as we finished coffees watching a beautiful sun rise over the horizon of mesas across the valley, “I just had a coyote cross the road to your house.  Haven’t seen one of those in a long while!”  He was thrilled, but coyote has always announced big trickster trouble for me.  Accidents, reversals of fortune.  I sighed, my stomach tying into even tighter knots.  

And the troubles were many, dragging everything out for more than a year and a half.  I did have a terrible accident soon after the coyote sighting, totaling my car on the switchbacks that rise up out of the valley floor behind my mesa, a place on the road of many accidents.   I figured the Indian wars that had been fought in this and the surrounding valleys, ending in their own Trail of Tears, were at the root of the darkness.  I was sure the house was built on a geopathic fault line as the house directly faces the majestic House Mountain across Oak creek, the youngest shield volcano on Earth and surely the geological mother of this valley.2I still don’t know the Native name for this beautiful mountain, her wide lava flows congealed into snake-like ridges when the setting sun strikes her flanks.  Settlers called her “House” Mountain because of a canyon ridge at her crest in the shape of a house.  I tip-toed around the ancestors on the mountain thinking they were in fact angry, refusing me, the new white settler.  “Fuck you,” had been the energy echo from the mesa one full moon night when I led a small circle of women outside to bow in her direction in a display of “respect” for the ancestors.  I was not the only one to experience the angry echo.  We retreated back into the house, which had become, suddenly and ironically,  a fortress of safety.

This image is in the public domain, possibly from the Yakima Tribe of the Pacific Northwest.  Hopi, who were the first Pueblo peoples to settle mesa tops in the Verde Valley of Arizona, also have a Snake medicine but permission to use those images must be given by the Hopi Water Clan, which I don’t have.  The Hopi and many other North American First Peoples have prophesied that Black Snakes will grip the hearts of humans in these ends of Time and course through the land causing widespread death – oil pipelines are a manifestation.  But Snake medicine is good if balanced within and without. The fragile equilibrium between life and death rests on this balance.

Then, as only Chronos – Time – in her infinite wisdom can reveal, information started to come to me, little by little.  I learned from a random handyman that there had been a Church of Satan that the FBI busted up in the 1970s, right across the Creek, on the direct path between my house and House Mountain, the shield volcano. Another helper at the house, a local, volunteered that one mesa over, people used to gather to sight E.T.s in the 1980s.  The “Star Light Ranch” sign that stubbornly clung to its weathered post on our road had been the group’s meeting place for decades.  I explored the canyons in between the E.T. mesa and my own, and to my amazement found natural springs and the very old foundation of a house, nested deep in the canyon.   Hiking the mesa ruins above the house, I discovered three contemporary graves, two with Christian crosses, amidst the pueblo ruins.  The realtor who had insisted I look at the house had been a devout Seventh Day Adventist and she, too, had once lived in the shadow of my mesa, on the Creek, and had shared she took refuge on her ridges during her troubles.  The strong Christian presence surprised me, though it shouldn’t have given the settler history.  

The ruins themselves were at the hub of a large medicine wheel of sacred mountains all around, marking the cardinal points on the 360-degree horizon:  Bear Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Tuzigoot, Squaw Mountain, Mingus, two “sugar loaves,” one of which was a registered burial ground, and, on clear blue-sky days, the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, the emergence place of the Hopi Kachinas. I found out from a Sedona friend that the famed and now elderly author of The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life, a metaphysical New Age classic about the sacred fractal geometries that organize Creation – lived just a few homes away from me.  I had devoured his books in 2015.  

I had the broken pottery sherds that were in a pile in the yard when I bought the property dated.  These sherds were everywhere on the mesa slope. They held more than thirteen hundred years of memories, including of Hopi.  They told of trading between five tribes, from 125 A.D. to the 1500s, across vast Southwest distances.  Archeologists still speculate as to why the settlements were abruptly abandoned. The valley was a rich mosaic of composted Christian and Indigenous histories, and New Age heavenly metaphysical inspiration.  I mused that the fractal of breakings that was a cyclic experience in and around the house might have something to do with the broken sherds.  Death by massacre or other violence shatters the generational bonds of life.  There had been bad death for sure in this valley.  The pattern of breakings and even repeated accidents on Cornville Road, which I later learned lay over the Amerindian and then settler trails in and out of the valley, were signatures of the bad death that had happened here.  I knew by now to wait for more to be revealed.

And the sins of the Fathers shall be re-visited upon the Sons

The Flower of Life, the ultimate fractal and unified field of Creation, also seen during embryonic mutation.  The image is in the public domain.

Death that violently and irreparably breaks the continuity of life wilds the land, writes the late cultural anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose, following the teachings of her Australian Aboriginal mentors.  Aboriginals, like the Indigenous peoples of my valley, endured near genocide, witnessing their lands go wild with grief and the scattered bones of their loved ones, the past unable to compost into new generational becomings.  Deborah names as one of the deadliest legacies of Christian settler colonialism a “Ground Zero” phenomenological orientation towards life, where the present is wiped clean of what has come before, just as Jesus Christ the Savior’s birth reset the clock to zero for the Christians.  In a repeating fractal of ground zeros and new world resurrections, our settler-colonial culture breaks off from the past, fleetingly lives in the present, and land and peoples are razed to the ground, to make for new and improved – capitalized – futures. 

Life however insists on continuity and inclusion.  Violations, as in bad deaths or forced banishment, haunt the present through repeating trauma fractals as nonlinear invitations to reconciliation.  As I worked on my house, my own history of trauma came up again with a vengeance.  The psychological temptation for us moderns is to privatize our traumas, and, in another ground zero move, wipe out the ancestral dimensions. But I had been studying Systemic Constellations.  As a former cultural anthropologist, I discovered in this modality powerful synergies with the shamanic healing circles I had been a part of in South India for my ethnographic research.  Both looked to the wrongs of the past to heal afflictions in the present. 

In my case, the pull towards death had been strong since childhood.  My car accident on the Cornville switchbacks had not been my first serious accident.  As a teenager and young adult, I obsessed about suicide.  A series of constellations finally connected the dots.  My French maternal grandfather lost his only and older brother, Gerard, to suicide.   This young sheltered aristocrat had lied about his age to enlist as an officer in World War I at 16 and fought in one of France’s most famous frontline artillery units, regularly mustard gassed.  He was 18 when the war ended and within a year had killed himself.  I was deeply entangled with Gerard’s death.  At the height of my chemical hypersensitivity in 2013, I had in desperation bought a gas mask just like those worn during that war, to help me cope with the violent fumes of an apartment I had moved into, freshly painted and newly carpeted.  The fumes were searing my sinuses and brain.  I remember experiencing an anguish and terror that was primal, as if my death were imminent.  I bunked up in a small nook of the apartment the three nights I tried to stay in it, feeling trapped and utterly uncomprehending.

My French family was Catholic.  As a suicide, Gerard could not be buried inside the Church’s cemetery with his father, who had died of illness when he was only nine, or his other ancestors.  The pain of his loss for the family got amplified by shame and judgement about his suicide and his banishment from the fold of the Church.  Decades later, in a blind act of redemption, his younger brother, my grandfather Michel, would forcibly, and to the dismay of his daughters, bury their Protestant then atheist mother, my grandmother, in a Catholic cemetery’s communal fosse, disregarding his wife’s wishes for cremation.  That now made two souls trapped in the same loop of broken hearts and forced exclusion, leaving the living with more guilt and pain.  In a constellation where these wrongs were named and their deaths honored, my grand uncle and grandmother souls could now rest in peace.  I cried tears of relief, for myself, for them, for all of us.   

On my father’s side, there are even greater generational wrongs to be redressed. As Dutch colonialists, their trauma fractal goes deep into the heart of Africa, the killing of natives, sexual violence, and slave trading. My immediate family had been colonial administrators in the Dutch Caribbean, and the secrets had been many.  There was a hidden family with a slave descendant that came to light decades later, and, in the family itself, my father’s youngest and seventh sibling was born black.  The family had set up house in old slave quarters on humanistic grounds.  My grandfather became a scholar of Dutch colonialism, exhaustively documenting Dutch brutalities, in an early version of settler colonialism historical critique.   

At the end of the colonial period, working in West Africa and in another blind redress of sorts, my young father emerged as an advocate to his oil bosses for the Africans in Congo and other west Africa colonies, and then, jettisoning his promising career at thirty-three, he walked away from these bosses to help the new nation of Algeria establish her national oil industry independently of the West, working with Russians instead of Americans.  He was blacklisted.  

Inside the family, the fractal of sexual violence raged on as did cruel, shaming paternalistic governance and the murder of life.  My father, in a twisted re-enactment of the brutality of his ancestors on his own children, ordered the termination of two of my mother’s pregnancies, one before me and one after.  My own life was decided at his mercy.  My young mother, terrorized, chose to terminate her final pregnancy on her own, after my brother, who was the only child both wanted immediately.  This explained my insane jealousy of my brother.  At just three, I had knowingly pushed his pram down stairs in a bid to get rid of him.  

As these dark pasts came to light, the perpetrator-victim fractal loosened its ancestral grip on my being, and my heart softened, filling with compassion and respect for the terror unleashed within my family by the crimes of my ancestors. I could now understand my father’s cruelty, mental illness, and alcoholism.   I was able to also make peace with my tortuous years at Wesleyan University in the anthropology department, where I got violently mold sick and lost my academic career.  The department was housed since 1853 in a building whose water damaged basement had seen Serpent and Skulls masonic rituals, with the heads and bones of African descendants, and was full of bad death.  When the University finally conceded a mold inspection in my disability case, those basement walls were found to be filled with decomposed rats and squirrels.    

No wonder I had been magnetized like moth to flame to a place in Arizona of colonial trauma and bad death, for there had been much unfinished business in my own lines when I signed the deed.   

A Cell Tower  

On September 11, 2021, a date that is itself a memory key in the modern collective fractal of war on life, my beloved horse Spirit unexpectedly kicked out and broke my leg, the only harm he has ever caused me in our 18 years together.   In shock at yet another break, I was forced to stay in the Little House of Horrors 24/7, and be with the tense energies.  These hadn’t left, despite the beautifying renovations and a powerful land and house blessing by traveling Tibetan monks.  The house creaked and cracked with mysterious energies and I still was experiencing that unpleasant hum in my nervous system when home. Then, a month later, I heard from a friend that a 10-story high cell tower had been approved for the mouth of our dirt road, to be planted by AT&T up against the Oak Creek greenbelt like a flagpole claiming our rural scenic valley for its market territory.  

The viewshed from the mesa ruins to the burial mound with tower.  The distances are lengthened by the choice of lens. There is a further alignment, with the sun as it travels the horizon. Photograph
by Lila Wright.

The colonial echo was not lost on me.  Its massive ganglia of antenna would be on par with the ruins on the surrounding mesas and block the sight line between my mesa ruins and the ancestral burial mound on a loop of Oak Creek further down river.  Birds of prey, including endangered Bald and Golden eagles hunt the chapparal groves on the mesas top and nest in the riparian corridor below. The planned 4GLTE and 5G millimeter radiation microwaves that would penetrate the surrounding habitats of air, water, and land are foreign to Earth’s lower atmosphere.  For insects, birds, and other flying mammals, whose body sizes or parts approximate or match those waves lengths and whose body cavities are full of magnetoreceptors that naturally attune them to Mother Earth’s low level electromagnetic fields, these bioengineered radiation frequencies spell great harm, up to instant death, as these creatures easily go into partial or full resonance with them.   

Compelled once again by a force greater than myself, I rallied the community from my couch and then my hobble leg, to protest the tower.  The fractal date 11 repeated over the months.3 In The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (University of California Press, 2008, page 271), historian Peter Linebaugh observes that in the history of the Charter of Liberties, the Magna Carta Manifesto, the date 11 repeats in the key dates in the conflict between commoners and capitalists, a fight between sovereignty and freedom versus privatization and monetization of life.   On January 11, 2022, at our Cornville Community Association quarterly meeting, we confronted the cell tower executives, who had been invited by our pro-tower Board of Directors to talk sense into us, along with our county officials.  The valley needed to modernize. Emergency services were hampered by poor reception.  Suspicious of the executives lawyerly phrased claim of compliance with the federally required National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) review, two of us filed a Freedom of Information Act request at the FCC.  Our FOIAs turned up nothing.  By April 11, 2022, we had filed our closing documents requesting NEPA environmental review at the FCC.  The developer had been forced to initiate compliance.  On September 11, 2022, after another round of environmental screening disclosures by the developer, packed with false claims that only our feet-on-the-ground could counter, the FCC ordered the developer to open a new public window for environmental review requests.  In that window, the Hopi, whom I had alerted to the impeding desecration of the sight lines from mesa to burial mound months before, could now also write to oppose.  I learned then that the mesa of ruins above my house, the burial mound, and another mesa of ruins and another mound formed an ancestral geographic complex of the Hopi Bear Clan, the first clan to have settled in the valley on their Fourth World Great Migration.     

Over those initial months of opposition, I discovered and nurtured in myself a fierce love, one greater than fear.  I observed, just as Deborah Bird Rose had argued, that genocide and ecocide travel together in white settler colonial worlds.  A blind self-centeredness soon gripped our valley over the tower, where the sacrifice of the green belt and its many endangered species and critical habitats were a price many were willing to pay for the convenience of a cell phone working everywhere.  I received Old West style threat calls – you are making enemies, Gillian, watch out – and was trolled on social media.  But I also found new allies, on the land.  The red hawks that nest in the Oak Creek corridor below, and hunt the chaparral groves on the mesas above, began, now with exquisite precision, to time their whistles, appearances, and flyovers with my intuitive hits on what action to take next or my moments of deepest doubt.  Hawk helped me trust myself and also withstand the backlash.  Heart- shaped stones popped up every time I walked my mesa slope, in a reversal of my Pied Piper dream, blessing me with faery like goodness.  After months of trying to find a lawyer, my email about the “Oak Creek Case” to biologists and scientists fighting the same fight reached a lawyer with NEPA and FCC experience, who emailed me to offer pro bono consulting, a miracle.

Coin, Yellow Roses, and Healing with the Ancestors  

Coin, heart shaped stone, and yellow rose on my altar. Photograph by Gillian Goslinga.

Around the June solstice, as the cell developer’s NEPA compliance report deadline was coming up, I had the impulse to put Feng Shui wealth coins in a circle on my altar.  The following week my constellation group decided we would explore the unbearable tension that I was still experiencing when in my home.  What emerged was the aftermath of a massacre but, unexpectedly, the period was not settler colonialism as I had long thought, but the arrival in the valley of Spanish conquistadors in search of coin in nearby traditional Indian mines.  No wonder the broken pottery sherds stopped abruptly in the 1500s.  No wonder my mother had had a vision of the Virgin Mary above the mesa top and Christians had buried two of their dead on it.  Also unexpectedly, a trauma fractal appeared in the constellation of Spanish soldiers, many of whom had been conscripted from Spanish prisons to fight in the new colonies.  These wretched men had apparently been left to die on the land side by side with the pueblo people, and without the Catholic rites of absolution that would have redeemed their sins of pillage and rape, and guaranteed entry into their Heaven. These were the angry souls still haunting the mesa.  The “tyrants,” as the Hopi called the Conquistadors, had in fact traveled the ancient Hopi Palatkwapi Trail from Hopi settlements in Northern Arizona to our valley in search of coin in traditional Indian mines in the nearby Mingus range.  An historical map showed the Hopi Palatkwapi Trail branching right through the proposed site of the cell tower, an undertaking also motivated by greed.   

A guest at a potluck at my house, the day after this constellation work, brought with her a gift of dried Castilian yellow roses from her garden.  This felt to me like no coincidence and I invited her to present the roses to the mesa behind the house and place them on my altar.  She carefully laid the roses between each coin on the circle.  She had no knowledge of the history.  As soon as everyone left, I researched the yellow rose and Catholicism online.  One of three Rosas Mysticas in the Catholic cult of the Mother Mary, the yellow or golden rose represents the spirit of penitence.  The Spaniards had brought the rose to the Americas, a symbol of the Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven.  When the Virgin Guadalupe made her appearance to Juan Diego, an indentured Indian, in present day Mexico, it had been on a mountain where the Spaniards had destroyed a native temple as was their ground zero custom.  She made appear a bouquet of yellow roses Juan Diego was to bring to the Spanish bishop, to prove the vision of Mother Mary was authentic.  

A week later I convened another constellation group.  The wild rage of the soldiers passed over for death rites by their Lord-Priests and the wild rage and grief of the Pueblo people whose loved ones had been massacred and whose homes had been demolished, bringing their way of life to a bad end, filled the room palpably.  A woman had chosen to represent the land and she reported the same hum coursing through her body that I experienced at my house and on the land.  The land was holding these cursed emotional energies, forcing a repeat of the trauma fractals in the present, because life knows no ground zeros.  As soon as reconciliation between victims and perpetrators happened, spontaneously, the room in turn palpably quieted and a feeling of grace descended upon us.  Something monumental had shifted, and healed.  Over the next few days, this same quiet descended on me, my house, and the land. 

Becomings in the Chthulucene

In the crest of old growth cottonwoods marking the path of the Creek, a serpentine figure appeared around September 11, head to the left, when the FCC re-opened the window for public comment.  Can you also see the heart window in the trees?  Through it, in the distance, is revered Thunder Mountain in Sedona, AZ. Photograph by Gillian Goslinga.

As of this writing, the FCC has yet to make their NEPA determination of authorization or denial of the tower.  A few weeks ago, the Hopi came down from the Reservation to visit my place.  As we walked the land, a red-tailed Hawk circled above us for a long time, punctuating our conversation about the land and the proposed ill-placed tower with its piercing whistle.  “Our ancestors have come,” announced Leigh Wayne of the Hopi Bear Clan with a smile.  We looked up to admire the majestic bird gracing us.

About the Author

Gillian Goslinga is a former cultural anthropologist now living in the Verde Valley of Arizona with her cats and old horse Feather Spirit.  She has been on a deep healing journey from chronic lyme and environmental illness since 2007, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the gateway illness that brought out her root hypersensitivity to toxicity in all its modern manifestations.  Her researches in South India on women’s experiences of childlessness and a South Indian god famous for the gift of children in the idiom of spirit possession, radicalized her understanding of life’s grammar of being and the beginnings of life.  She learned to see all affliction, including infertility, as more than a personal psychological or biological condition .  Gillian is a long time student of systemic constellations and subtle energy metaphysics, knowledges that have enriched her understanding of the unity of all phenomena: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  She has contributed past essays to Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, and published academically, including “Spirited Encounters: Notes on the Poetics and Politics of Representing the Uncanny in Anthropology” in the journal Anthropological Theory, 2012.

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