The Stories of the Forgotten Ones

September 23, 2022

As the wheel is turning again and we are at the Autumn Equinox, perhaps you, like me, have your sights on the next festival, Samhain.

This is a particularly special Samhain for me.

Samhain is the festival of completion marking the end of one Celtic year and the beginning of a new one. It's also traditionally the time to honour the ancestors, and so it's perfect for the announcement I am about to make here in this blog. Which is (to a drumroll!):

I am launching my first book on a topic which fascinates me: ancestral healing.

Those of you who have been a part of our The Way of the Buzzard community for a while will know that this book has been a long time coming. For some years now, I have been asked repeatedly: 'when are you publishing your book, Nicola'.

Well, I can proudly now say: at the end of October!

My book is called: The Path to Forgotten Freedom: Healing Unresolved Ancestral Trauma, and it’s coming into the world with a bit of a splash. We have two free events, one in-person and one online, and a three-part blog series covering the key themes of my book.

Interested? Read on. If you want to skip to the end and pop the launch dates in your diary, please feel free to do so. These are free events that include an ancestral healing ceremony, so book launch aside, they are well worth coming along too.

Honouring the ancestors

Earlier this summer, I marked a significant anniversary. On June 12th it was four years to the day that I completed my wilderness vigil: a year for every day and night I spent alone in the forest.

A wilderness vigil is an ancient tradition that still holds importance for indigenous communities worldwide. For four days and four nights, I had survived in the forest, alone with just my thoughts, a few things to keep me warm and dry, some water and my journal. It was one of the toughest things I have ever done. Walking back to base camp after over one hundred hours alone in the forest was a very special moment for me.

But there is another significance to this day. When I walked out of the sun-dappled glade that morning, I had no idea of the synchronicity of that date in my ancestral history. At that moment, it was the 142nd year that my great-great-great grandmother Catherine had died. This synchronicity holds great importance for me.

Catherine had arrived in London in her late twenties as an immigrant from Ireland during the Great Famine of 1845-52. Undoubtedly she left behind family members and friends who were to succumb to the fate of starvation. On arriving in London, she survived almost thirty years living on the streets of Westminster and in the slums and workhouses. Her story was buried with her, not spoken of by surviving family members because of the shame that cloaked it.

Almost a century and a half later, I was to uncover her sad tale just months before I went on my wilderness vigil. Thoughts of Catherine were running through my mind during those four days and nights in the forest. At the time, I wondered if it was because I was so hungry, which was something Catherine would have felt for much of her adult life. On reflection afterwards, perhaps it was because of the date's significance. Or maybe it was because Catherine’s message was the one I was to carry with me as I left those woods and stepped over the threshold into my post-vigil world.

After discovering why my Irish ancestor migrated to England, I researched the Great Famine. I learnt that over a million people died, and a further million left Ireland for Britain and America. Amalgamated and written on a page like this, ‘two million’ seems a big number, but I can’t relate to it. Yet, behind every one of these two million people, there is a story. I would imagine, like with my ancestor Catherine’s story, many of these stories were lost, buried in the ground along with their bodies, because of the shame of being an Irish pauper.

My ancestors that came after Catherine didn't pass on the real reason for my family emigrating from Ireland. I was told it was for employment, road-building in London. But when I researched my family tree, I found this wasn’t the case. For many years Catherine remained my only great-great-great grandparent who was unknown to me, a blank space in my family tree in a row of thirty-one other ancestors of that generation.

To speak of Catherine would have brought great shame to her descendants for at least the next hundred years. It took me many attempts of trawling through records to eventually find her. It took many more to research her story and find the courage to share it by writing a book.

The stories of the forgotten ones

In ancestral healing, I have found that the family secrets, the unanswered questions, have the loudest voice of them all. I have also found it is where the healing lies.

Common questions people interested in ancestral healing ask are: ‘how do I know where to start? how can I find the root cause of the ancestral wound that needs healing?’

From my experience and working with others over the years, the place to start is by following the story in your family that intrigues you most. In my case, as my family name is Riley, an anglicised Irish surname, I wanted to know where in Ireland we came from and why we came to England. Following this enquiry led me to the root cause behind the ancestral wound that I carry, which is one of the main themes in my book.

I am lucky, as I found a lot about Catherine while looking into my family history through the archive records in Westminster. I was able to pull the threads of archival data together to create a story about her life. It is a story filled with emotion, which has been hidden in dusty pages for the best part of two hundred years. Despite being two centuries old, it is surprisingly relevant today. Catherine’s story carries themes that are playing out and being amplified in the 21st Century: themes of power and powerlessness, oppression and control.

Since my wilderness vigil, I always mark the date of Catherine's death. It is an important reminder of my freedom compared to my ancestors who lived in extreme poverty. It is a day when I can pause and remember how they survived imaginably difficult lives.

This year I took myself off on a creativity break to the Yorkshire Dales. I booked a campsite close to several pubs where I could enjoy meals out and sleep in my little red van. I spent my days exploring the wildflower meadows of the upper valleys, writing perched on the limestone outcrops and next to crystal clear mountain streams. I also browsed the tourist shops.

Einstein said: ‘coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous’. Another way of saying this might be: when synchronicity happens, it is our spirit guides seeking to get a message through to us. On the day of this year’s anniversary, my mind full of Catherine’s story and upcoming book launch, I wandered into a bookshop. There on display was ‘Vagabond: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century London’ by Oskar Jensen. On opening the cover, I read something of particular note in the introductory pages:

In this book, I want to listen to the voices of people [tarnished as vagabonds]. Stories that have rarely been heard and taken seriously, both at the time and in the histories we write about our society.

These street sellers have been imprisoned by the authorities that spoke for them and over them: it is not their invidious voices that we hear in our histories, but those of the wealthy learned men (and the occasional woman) who have reshaped their stories, put them in boxes, sensationalised and exoticised their lives as dirty, disreputable - as vagabonds in the most unreconstructed sense of the word. I want to set all that aside.

Oscar Jensen

These are my exact sentiments. Oskar Jenson has written his book for the mainstream. He wants to bring through the stories of those people who have been, both at the time and through history, tarnished with the name vagabond. And yet, these were people struggling to survive in a terribly difficult period in history.

I feel the same. What about the voices that have not been heard? What about the stories that are buried? History has largely been written by the victorious. When I was at school, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions were heralded as successes: necessary for progress. If the adverse consequences of these developments were taught, they were quickly forgotten. I can’t recall being told about the millions of people thrown into extreme poverty as they lost the rights to their land and had no choice but to starve in their rural communities or take their chances in the city slums.

Yet, researching my family tree back seven generations I found that I have many ancestors to whom this happened through the English Enclosures and the Irish Famine. These people were severed from their land to carve out a new life in the industrial cities of Britain, away from their communities and traditional way of rural life. Catherine’s story is just one of these stories.

Each of these people has a story. How much better do you feel when someone has sat down and really listened to you, not with judgement, but with empathy? There is great healing in the telling of these ancestral stories. The ripples stretch out far and wide.

The power of ancestral healing

Ancestral healing is taking a front seat now. Many people who have been working on their own healing for many years have realised that something deeper is going on that they can’t quite get to. They are peeling away the layers but not getting to the root cause of the unhelpful patterns they are trying to overcome. In many cases, this may well be because the wound they are carrying goes deeper than their lives: it is a wound they have inherited.

Through my book, I bring the story of one impoverished person to the light. I show the trauma my great-great-great grandmother suffered from living in extreme poverty following severance from her land.

I share how these traumatic experiences in her life still impact me now, five generations down the line.

I offer practices I have drawn on to help heal this trauma, so it no longer impacts my life in such a way that it holds me back from my soul's growth. These range from shamanic journeying and core shamanic healing methods, such as soul retrieval and soul exchange, to therapeutic practices, including embodied relational therapy and wild therapy.

And I explain the steps someone can take to begin this ancestral healing process, including meeting an ancestral ally in the Otherworld, conducting ancestor honouring ceremonies and going on ancestral pilgrimages.

Are you ready to go on this adventure with me? I hope so, as I would love to share this with you.

Post blog update

The launch event

Over the festival of Samhain we held an online event to launch my new book, The Path to Forgotten Freedom: Healing Unresolved Ancestral Trauma. Click here to watch the replay.

The blog series

In the lead-up to the launch event I released a blog trilogy covering some of my book's key themes. Each blog follows the previous one and will work well when read sequentially. They are also standalone if one topic draws you in more. They flow from cause-effect–solution and are:

  • ‘Severance’: Inherited ancestral trauma from forced migration. Click here to read.
  • ‘Non-stop’: The inherited work ethic. Click here to read.
  • ‘Rewilding’: Claiming back our connection to the Earth. Click here to read.

I  offer ways to identify and heal ancestral wounds. And  share the relatively new science of epigenetics that proves that trauma experienced by our ancestors can be passed down within the genetic coding that their descendants inherit.

Order your copy 

Click here to read more about The Path to Forgotten Freedom: Healing Unresolved Ancestral Trauma and order your copy. 

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I strongly believe that epigenetics will open up a lot of understanding of ourselves in the future and was happy to see this mentioned in relation to your research.

  2. Super exciting to hear your long awaited book will be with us soon. I'm hoping to make the launch at the Monastery in Manchester.

  3. Love your quote 'Coincidence is God's way of staying anonymous' I'm sure Catherine is sending you much love and gratitude for listening to the 'whispers.' and writing your ancestral story. For getting quiet enough to start listening to your subtle thoughts and feelings and most of all following the guidance. Often a slow process. Looking forward to reading your book

  4. Lovely, this warms my heart. Fascinating subject, looking forward to reading more of your findings. Will be attending the online launch😊 Bless you🌳

  5. Absolutely love it Nicola – can't wait for the book release – I will attend one or the other – waiting for guidance which one – lots of resonance here. Love the profile too! 🙂

  6. I so want to accompany you on this journey. I am in awe of your capacity to have travelled this road alone and your willingness to assist us in ours. I would love to be with you in person in Manchester and was hoping I would be able to. But sadly it seems not to be the case. But I would love to be with you on the 31st thank you for holding space for us to join you. Kind regards Kim ❤️

    1. Ah, thank you so much for your words here Kim. I am really touched! It is a shame not to share Manchester with you but at least we have our time together at the online launch on Samhain eve 🙂

  7. Congratulations on your new book amazing was just reading through information then something hit me tears filled my eyes and I felt a deep connection to this will definitely be buying the book xx

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Would you like us to keep in touch with you?

If you enter your details in the box we'll be able to update you with our event news, courses and more.