Week Five: Dialogues with the Ancestors/Ethical Responsibilities

This week we’ll be discussing engaging in dialogue with the “ancestors,” broadly defined.

Your job for the week is to make time to attempt imaginal dialogue, preferably more than once, with an ancestor who is willing to come forward. There are many ways to do this—“automatic writing” is one, active imagination is another, “bridging the imaginal boundary” (see the reading assignment) is a third.

These experiences can be hair-raising—my friend Ellen is a speed demon, and used to go with me on bike rides, always urging me NOT to use the brakes going downhill—or useful, like “channeling” recipes that the Ladies—and an occasional uncle—have enjoyed making.

Spend time looking at photos or old letters or just journaling about a particular family member (or even a historical figure that you feel particularly close to); but be open if a different one wants to come and talk. Watch your dreams this week for who shows up in them.

As we do these dialogues, we’re also going to be considering our ethical responsibility to our imaginal friends. Bring your questions and your experiences and we’ll discuss them.


Here’s a blog piece on an ethical question that arose as I was beginning the dissertation process.

Jung was keenly aware that we have an ethical responsibility to the images and beings from the unconscious with whom we enter into dialogue (see the quote in the photos below), as is most everyone who works with imaginal beings. When I worked on my dissertation, I realized that although there were no living human beings from whom to obtain informed consent, the same kinds of concerns extended to imaginal beings like the Ladies.

In a sense, the work of my dissertation was like any study involving human subjects. I entered into a world not really my own, becoming involved in the lives of the Ladies, my “subjects,” and observing and recording what I discovered there. My obligation to the Ladies was the same as that of the psychologist or anthropologist toward the subjects of her study. Working closely with others brings a serious set of concerns, not just in terms of preserving the privacy of those involved but also, and in this case more importantly,

Not only is the observer vulnerable, but so too, yet more profoundly, are those whom we observe — Ruth Behar, The Vulnerable Observer (1966, p. 24).

When you participate in an imaginal encounter, sometimes you don’t know who it is that’s come to talk; you just know that someone is there.

Following up on our discussion about asking for information from imaginal figures, here is an excerpt from my dissertation. It talks about my relationship with Ellen Janney, and how our “discussions” shed light on both her life and my own.

Here’s a quote from Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pages 192-193:

MDR for week 4 Ethics 1MDR for week 4 Ethics 2