“Dream genealogy” is a process that uses sleeping dreams and shamanic journeying to gather ancestral information.
I discovered this process several years ago when my dreams were urging me to explore my British Isles ancestry.
As a result, I unearthed a lineage filled with hope, war, death, and eventually rebirth.
It all began in 2007 at a workshop entitled “Reclaiming the Ancient Dreamways,” led by active dreamer, Robert Moss. During the retreat I had a very real shamanic dream experience, one that engaged my physical senses to an extreme I’d never experienced in the dream realm. It went as follows:
I am on the top deck of a ship that resembles the Mayflower. There is a misty dampness in the air that moistens my skin.
My ancestor, Jonathan Padelford (1628-1669), and an American Indian who identifies himself as Meeshkawa, possibly Wampanoag, are standing before me.
We touch hands and I can feel the warmth of their skin as though they are real flesh and blood. They speak rapidly, anxiously pleading for my assistance to help heal our collective lineages by reclaiming the ancient ways and honoring our ancestors.
We hold arms as a sign of fidelity and I vow to do my best to honor their request.
Their pleas and desperation are full of grief. So many lives were lost in battles, so many deceased souls lost in despair.
I awaken, full of tears.
When I returned home from the workshop I started researching my ancestors and their connection to the American Indians in the 1600s. As I followed the threads of every lead I could imagine, an old dream memory surfaced. The dream felt significant, like a key to my ancestral mystery, so I dug out a box of old dream journals, dusted off the covers and began to search. I was nervous I wouldn’t find the dream amidst my twenty years worth of journals, but as luck had it, I did.
Interestingly, it turns out I had the dream on September 6, 1991. It was the second dream I ever recorded in a journal devoted exclusively to dreams.
Thanksgiving Day Massacre
I am on a paddlewheel boat with a swing stage. White men are shooting American Indians who wear red face and body paint. Dead Indian bodies are lying everywhere on shore. From the boat I yell in despair, “What are you doing? These are people, too!”
I am devastated by the loss of lives.
In the next scene it is Thanksgiving. The Indians are now dressed like the white people, but when it comes time to eat they are sent to a basement that is dank and gloomy. I go to the basement with them and we sit on the floor while we share a meal together. The white people remain upstairs.
In the last scene it is a year later and Thanksgiving again. The Indians are sent to the basement, but this time it is bright and warm with carpeting and furniture. We eat together again and I try to assure them that it will get progressively better. “Next year we will have a table,” I say.
Still in the dream, I have a vision of the future. I see everyone eating together, upstairs, at the same table. We are equals now, living in harmony as brothers and sisters. I hold the vision and know that I am instrumental in helping it come to pass.
After waking from the dream I was not certain if my dream self was a white girl or Indian. Of course, dreams are often full of paradox and oddities so it’s entirely possible I was both.
Regardless, the dream helped anchor my “dream genealogy” into waking life reality, giving me imagery I could use in my research. There were three aspects of the dream that felt significant:
- The Indians had distinct red face and body paint
- The white people were on a paddlewheel boat with a swing stage
- Thanksgiving was a central theme
The paddlewheel boat was an easy image to understand. In 1969, the year after I was born, my grandfather started a paddlewheel boat business and named it “Padelford Boat Co.” The first boat was named “Jonathan Padelford” after my 12th great grandfather, the same great grandfather I dreamed of at Esalen. On the waking life paddlewheel boat there is a swing stage, identical to the one in my dream. Considering this, I came to assume the white people on the dream boat were my ancestors.
As I researched my dream images, I discovered a clan of American Indians, the Wampanoag, who were known to early settlers as the “red men” because they painted their faces and bodies with a red pigment. This was exactly the image I had in my dream.
Not only did the Wampanoag live near my colonial ancestors in Massachusetts, the two lineages are intertwined with each other in deeply unsettling ways.
The Wampanoag, as you may remember from grammar school history class, are famous for the hospitality they bestowed upon the Pilgrims. The Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims survive their first harsh New England winter. According to legend, the two groups shared a harvest festival together, a feast of corn and other foods the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims cultivate. It is said that this festival eventually became Thanksgiving.
In 1991, when I had the Thanksgiving Massacre dream, I was completely unaware of my ancestors’ involvement in the plight of the Pilgrims, but I have since confirmed I am a direct descendent of the Pilgrims who set sail on the Mayflower in 1620. My 12th great grandmother, Susanna White, whose family married into the Padelford line, was one of only four adult women who survived the first winter and subsequently experienced the famous Thanksgiving feast.
Susanna’s son Resolved was only a child of 4 or 5 when they landed in Plymouth, and he has the distinct honor of being the older brother of Pelegrine, the first white child to be born on this continent.
As I write this I feel an overwhelming surge of emotion welling up in me. It’s a mix of sorrow and awe that stirs my blood.
But sadly, Thanksgiving is not the only common history my ancestors share with the Wampanoag.
The following events would probably not be very interesting if it were not for what happened in 1675: My ancestor Jonathan Padelford died in 1660 leaving behind several children and his wife Mary. Mary remarried Thomas Ames and together they had several children.
When Jonathan’s eldest son, Jonathan Padelford the II, was a young man of 19, the trust between the Wampanoag and the colonists finally crumbled. The King Phillip’s War, named after the English nickname bestowed upon the Wampanoag Sachem (chief) Metacom, began in 1675 and lasted over a year.
It was the Wampanoag my ancestors fought against in a brutal battle that nearly decimated all involved. The King Philip’s war of 1675-6 was a bloody war, leaving few behind to tell the tale.
Of the several Padelfords who lived in the area, only two survived the war. Of the two surviving Padelford brothers, only Jonathan had children. I am his direct descendant.
The pain, the deep seated grief, was real and true for all people involved – Pilgrims, Wampanoag, Pequot, Nipmuc. And even though it was hundreds of years ago, the memory lives still in our bones, in our dreams, and can revisit us as though it was yesterday.
What this experience has taught me is that dreams are not only symbols hoping to be decoded. They can carry with them a legacy of pain and suffering that extends generations deep, living and sitting in our blood and bones until someone is born who is called to heal the ancestral lineage.
I honor all the ancestors, whether they were blood relatives or joined my destiny through bloody battles. I grieve deeply for my Pilgrim ancestors whose one dream was to find a place of their own to call home, and for the First Nations people whose home was destroyed in the process.
May their souls find peace.