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Every cell in our beautiful and amazing bodies contains the whirling wisdom of the universe. This is the journey of one witch remembering that, and celebrating the sacred and divine in beings of all genders and manifestations.

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Release the Pain, Keep the Wisdom

         I was receiving acupuncture to address some ongoing health issues.  At one point in the treatment I had a deep visceral experience of a vortex or portal opening up around my belly and the words “Release the pain, keep the wisdom” came into my head.  Those words continued to run the next day as I had a long session with a powerful practitioner of magic who does her healing through deep body work and massage.


As a witch myself, during these body work sessions I often travel into the winding labyrinth that is my ancestral lines.  Sometimes I go in seeking the wisdom of particular ancestors of blood or choice, touching the walls to activate their memories and experiences as I journey to the middle where I will often find one of them waiting for me.  Sometimes the labyrinth feels more like a maze and I wander a bit lost and come to dead ends, places where there are walls sealing off pain and cutting me off from moving to the center.


As I lay on the massage table this time, I found myself in that maze place, but something different happened when I encountered a wall.  This time each ancestor whose pain was behind it, moved with me to break the wall, feel the pain so we could release it, receive the gift of the wisdom of the experience, then move on to the next blocked place.  Many ancestors were from generations back and I didn’t recognize them, some I knew like my Great-grandma Anna Higgins.  She met me at the wall blocking her pain that had come from being an unwed mother in 1908 Wyoming trying to support herself and her baby, when her own mother took away the infant and sold her to another woman in town.  Together we destroyed the wall so we could feel the pain and release it, leaving the wisdom as a precious gift.


The ancestor I knew immediately was my grandma Peggy, the infant who was sold away from great-grandma Anna.  I lived with Grandma Peggy as a child, and spent hours with her as an adult until her death at almost a hundred years old in 2008.  When Grandma Peggy appeared, my body worker Kaelynn and I had been working for over an hour and were now focusing on my belly, that power place where the words “release the pain, keep the wisdom” had materialized the day before.  I became aware that the pain was from a story I had heard many times before.  My Grandma had been barren, married for fourteen years without getting pregnant.  At age thirty-two, after healing from some internal injuries which had resulted from a fall, she conceived my mother.  The medical folk say she had had a tipped uterus and the fall repositioned it so that she could get pregnant.  When it came time for her delivery the labor was hard.  The country doctor was drunk, and finally after close to twenty-four hours of her pushing, he was sober enough to know she needed a cesarean section to release my mother into this world.  It almost killed her.  As the words “release the pain, keep the wisdom” got louder and louder, my beloved grandma and I, and my amazing body worker, did just that.


As the process continued I realized that each ancestor working with me was a woman, and the pain being felt and released all had to do with childbirth or the loss of children through death or other tragedy.  At the end of the session my body worker said it was like energetic rivers of blood flowing from my womb and down my legs much of the time.


Later that day I began searching census records to get a clearer picture of how many children in my more recent ancestral lines had died.  I knew that US census records from 1890, 1900, and 1910 all asked women, “How many children have you had? How many are still living?” Of course this didn’t even count the trauma of miscarriages.  According to the census records Great-great grandma Nancy Ellender Sevedge had had seven children, three had died.  Great-great-great grandma Andiziah Charlton Bundy had five, one had died.  Great-great grandma Mary Long had three, one had died.  Great-great grandma Eliza Ann Conway Bassham had had ten, four had died.  From other records I knew that Eliza Ann herself had been born literally on a river boat on the Missouri River, which must have been quite an ordeal for her mother, Great-great-great-grandma Elizabeth Conway, who was later committed to an insane asylum in Tehama County California, cause of hospitalization: “Childbirth with an intent to murder.” 


I also knew from family stories that Great-grandma Cecilia Fergus Clark had had a “stroke” after the birth of her first child.  She was partially paralyzed until the restorative waters of hot springs outside Anaconda Montana restored her and she went on to have eleven more children.  All of her children lived to adulthood, although a few died before her.  


Because I have been researching her story extensively, I knew that Great-grandma Josie Juarez Romero Lindsey Smith had given birth to eleven children and four had died: one at birth, one at seven months, one at four years, and a little eight year old girl crushed under the wheels of a wagon on the streets of San Francisco in the summer of 1898.  So much pain to be felt and released.


And so here I am the recipient of all this wisdom born of so much of my ancestors’ pain.  For me the wisdom brings the ability to see my ancestors’ experiences in the larger context of human history, and gives me empathy for those currently experiencing similar pain.  


We all carry in our bodies the experiences of our ancestors:  their pain, their struggles, their joys and delights.  Blessings on you as you find yourself wandering through those ancestral labyrinths and mazes.  Blessings on you if you choose to find ways to feel and release their pain and joy so that you can receive the gifts of their wisdom.



Gratitude to Ann my acupuncturist and my Grandma Peggy for helping open that particular portal for me, and to Kaelynn my ongoing partner in this deep ancestral work.


The photo is of Grandma Peggy and my mother, Sandy, in the late 1940s.

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Lizann Bassham was both an active Reclaiming Witch and an Ordained Christian Minister in the United Church of Christ. She served as Campus Pastor at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley working with a multi-faith student community. She was a columnist for SageWoman magazine, a novelist, playwright, and musician. Once, quite by accident, she won a salsa dance contest in East L.A. Lizann died on May 27, 2018.


  • Leanne
    Leanne Sunday, 23 April 2017

    Maybe it was Anaconda, Montana. Fairmont Hot Springs is close by. Thank you for your essay. Makes me ponder my own ancestral pain . . .

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Sunday, 23 April 2017

    Yes it was Anaconda - thanks for catching that - I just corrected it. They eventually had a ranch outside of Whitehall. Blessings on your ancestors Leanne and all their descendants.

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