On water, ancestors, and memory

Gabriela Smiling, date unclear (film)

It’s almost the end of Cancer season, and I’ve been thinking about water a lot lately. This is also partially because of a class I’m taking with Weaving Earth, which has been focused on water for many weeks. It’s been a beautiful exploration, even when putting me face to face with the ways water has been used and abused for many centuries.

Mostly, I’ve been contemplating the intelligence of water. The ways it shapeshifts, adapts, moves, and molds itself. The ways it embodies intentions that are infused into it, like how tears shed while feeling different emotions all have distinct molecular structures when viewed under a microscope. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that water takes on the energetic imprint of what is infused in it (through sound or other means), for better and for worse. The notion that a few drops of water infused with a particular intention, emotion, or goal can alter the makeup of an entire cup, bottle, or jug of water is the foundation of making flower essences. For a long time, I thought this was nonsense, yet the more I look into water’s intelligence and learn about the magical creativity of this element, the more true it all seems.

Waters I have sung to before drinking them taste sweeter. Waters I have thanked before diving into them feel fresher. Waters I have blessed before anointing myself or another transport the anointed to a mythic time, where the here and now melt into a more spacious reality. I believe magic carries memory and that in infusing water with intentionality, the water changes not only itself but those with which it comes into contact. In the words of Octavia Butler, “all that you change, changes you….”

My thoughts about water’s intelligence have coincided with some thinking I have been doing surrounding ancestral connection. As a white person with multiple European lineages (and some Ojibwe heritage) in my family tree, I have found that learning more about who my ancestors were before they were labeled as “white” by capitalist systems has been an important part of dismantling white supremacy within me. The melting pot mentality of the United States forced many of my ancestors to hide, forget, or be embarassed by their cultural practices. I view it as part of my life’s purpose to (imperfectly) begin a process of reconnecting with some of these old ways of knowing. Not to fetishize the past, but to embody ways of knowing that reflect a healthier relationship with self, others, and the earth.

All of this is to say, I think about how the waters of my body — blood, sweat, tears, and more — might be vehicles of memory and intelligence. How they might be repositories of intelligence that can guide me on a path towards healing from the ways white supremacy, capitalism, and more have disconnected me from ancestral knowledge. What if my body and its waters could be seen as holders of knowledge that span beyond my lifetime? What if the liquids I am made of are pre-programmed with the wisdom of my ancestors? Instead of thinking I need a DNA kit to prove who my ancestors are or relying on historical records to “connect” me to them, what if I could trust that connecting to my lineages was possible through my own body and its waters (along with the dreams and intuitions that arise from them)?

I’ve been amazed at how certain things sound and feel so familiar to me, even though I’ve never heard or seen them before. An example of this is Scottish folk songs, even though I have never even set foot in Scotland, nor was I raised with any education surrounding my Scottish heritage. Yet the more I learn about water, the more I wonder if centuries of ancestors singing those tunes (or similar ones) altered the make-up of the waters in their bodies (and the bodies of their descendants as a result). Perhaps my sense of familiarity with Scottish folk songs (and Scottish Gaelic in general) is a manifestation of the waters in my being resonating with something they were intentionally encouraged to recognize over centuries of ancestral waters reverberating with those same sounds.

While a DNA kit can be helpful for those to whom it is accessible or appealing, I don’t think I need one to prove to myself that I am of Scottish or Irish or French or Spanish or Ojibwe heritage. When I hear those languages, sing those songs, and walk across those lands, the waters in me tell me so. My ancestral molecules light up at the sounds and sights.

Water is a vessel for memory, and the body is a vessel made of water. My very being is a vessel of ancestral knowing. Even when recorded histories cannot tell me who exactly my ancestors were or confirm ancient truths I know to be real, I can still feel my people in my bones and know that my ancestors (and their wisdom) are within me. I can trust that my body and its waters know what they know. Water’s knowing is enough.

On divination as relational praxis

Constellation Map, 2021 (digital) © Gabriela De Golia

This summer, I am taking a class with the organization Weaving Earth that blends ecology, astrology, earth stewardship, and more. One of the facets of this course is the practice of divination with and through nature, including but not limited to bird watching.

Divination is something I’ve long thought about and practiced. As a tarot reader, I am easily identifiable as a practitioner of at least one form of divination. But divination, for me, is not what many think of it. Namely, I do not use divination practices to foretell the future. At least, not directly.

I view divinatory practices as akin to mirrors. They reflect back that which is already present, but in a new way that “reveals” new insights and opens doorways we hadn’t previously noticed were there. It’s less about finding out what’s going to happen in order to prepare yourself for an outcome we can’t control, and more about discerning what is within our sphere of influence right now. That way, we can make better choices in this moment that will help us build a better future. I believe the seeds of the future are planted in the now, so to the extent divination is about predicting (and possibly influencing) the future, one must understand divination as a method for entering into a deeper relationship with this moment. We must get to know, understand, and relate to where we are now if we are to have any chance of co-creating a worthwhile tomorrow.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately, mostly as a result of something my summer course teacher brontë velez said, has to do with divination as a relational praxis. In a recorded conversation with water protectors, brontë brought up an alternative understanding of the Biblical story of Moses miraculously parting the seas, which they’d read in Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean by Jonathan White. In short: rather than engaging in impossible magic, Moses might have succeeded in bringing his people to safety by being so attuned to the tides that he would have known when the low tides could give him and his people safe passage (and when the high tides would return and swallow his pursuers whole). “When you give your attention to the land enough, Creator will work with you for your freedom,” brontë emphasized.

I’ve been turning these points over and over in my body, mind, and spirit, letting them work their magic on me. The idea that offering greater attention to something can be a doorway towards freedom hits home for me.

(A small side-note: obviously, the capitalist systems around us constantly grab at our attention, encouraging us to be fixated on things that often run counter to a liberated existence, such as social media algorithms. I believe such forms of attention is different from becoming attuned to something we can be in an active, co-generative relationship with, such as the land we reside on, the bodies we occupy, the divine, etc. I hope it’s clear that I am talking about the latter in this piece.)

As a result of this conversation, I’ve been thinking about various forms of divinatory practices and how they might, quite simply, be forms of relationship. Relationship that guides us on a path towards freedom. Whether the divinatory tool be nature, tarot or oracle cards, our body, the stars, or anything else that fills us with awe and helps us feel more enlivened, what strikes me is that the key ingredient to any form of divination is relationship. Before touching the freedom we seek (through divination or other means), we are first and foremost in relationship. Relationship is the precursor to freedom.

When I think about my tarot practice, it is very apt to understand the way I offer divinatory readings as relational. Namely, I am in a relationship with the cards I use and with the person I’m engaging with. I am also in relationship with the moment and space we are in, the circumstances that brought the encounter to bear, and much more. Even when I already know the person well, my tarot readings last ninety minutes for a reason: it takes time for the reasons someone sought out a reading to unfurl comfortably; it takes time for me to explain my methodology and help the person feel safe in the process; it takes time for the seeker and me to court each other and settle into a resonance that feels conducive to vulnerability; and it takes time to discern what the cards are communicating. I take my time with readings because relationships are built with time.

My relationships to the cards and my own intuition have been built with time. I believe I am a talented tarot reader not because I’ve memorized card meanings, but because I have become friends with the cards (which are vessels of meaning) and with my inner landscapes (which are the ground from which I offer meaning) over long stretches of time. My cards are my friends, and I am theirs.

To practice meaningful divination is first and foremost to be in a healthy relationship with ourselves, our tools, and the present moment. Rather than view the cards (or whatever our medium of choice is) as something to merely extract information from, what if we could relate to them as companions who are capable of — and interested in — being in relationship with us? Rather than view the future as something immovable and imposing, what if we approached it like a being we could relate to through the present moment with love and care? And how can we better understand that, whenever we offer readings to another person, we are forever changing them and ourselves through the act of relating with each other? How might all of these questions and the insights they illicit make our practices more magical, pleasurable, grounded, and healing? And might such attentive relationality be, as brontë suggests, a miraculous doorway to freedom?