One of many tragedies of our time is that we have lost connections many of our to our past. Whether one looks to agriculture, to handicrafts, to the stories from the past, or even to just knowing basic information of our Ancestors, many of us have lost these connections.
Some of these connections we are happy to lose, and others we lose to our detriment. I, for one, am happy that women are not considered second-class citizens, are able to hold a job, vote, and make their own way without a man. I am happy that LBGTQI rights are in the forefront of discussion in America, and our society is, albeit slowly, moving towards adopting them into full protections that any citizen can expect.
I have lost many connections with my Ancestors. I am only recently learning how to grow crops with my Dad, I am rediscovering handicrafts for myself, and I know very little of my family outside of the last generation or two. I am missing some very vital ties back to my older Ancestors, from knowing how they were able to provide shelter, to how they grew/raised their food, to my own genealogy.
Why would I consider these vital ties? Providing shelter is a basic survival tactic, one that many of us, myself included, do not know how to employ. Providing shelter also brings together people, whether they are communities or families. One need only mention a ‘barn raising’ and what instantly comes to mind is a community coming together to build together. When I think of agriculture, I remember the stories my parents told me of how they got up every day before the sun and grabbed eggs, milked cows, and sometimes weeded the crops before heading out to school. They did most everything as a group, as a family. In short, my Ancestors were far more collectivist than individualist, and this seeped into everything they did, even after the Industrial Revolution. It is only the recent generations that have really forgotten how to rely on one another, and with the forsaking of these connections, we find ourselves in communities we barely understand, let alone with people in them that we know.
Handicrafts, whether sewing, leatherworking, woodworking, sculpture, etc. often provided ways of telling stories of the Ancestors, whether through stone sculpture telling myths and legends, or quilt-making that brings people together to celebrate the lives of AIDS victims. They can be functional, as well as decorative, and losing these crafts has meant many stories are simply not passed on. So many stories are told through the simple building of a thing, such as the Lushootseed people’s construction of their homes. Losing these connections has sundered many people from their own creation stories. We can recreate these with our Ancestors, and make new connections to our future generations. We just need to reach out, learn, and do it.
Agriculture and other forms of self-sustaining lifestyles are ways that many Americans have simply never connected to. There was a time when most Americans farmed. There was a time when most of the human population farmed, foraged, or hunted for their sustenance. Cutting ourselves off from food production has put many of us, myself included, in the thrall of whatever is cheapest to buy and/or make for our meals. By reintegrating our Ancestors’ ways, perhaps alongside ways that work better with our modern world, such as permaculture and transition towns, we can reconnect not just to Them, but to the landvaettir as well in a deep way. As much if not more than barn raising and similar practices, the growing and harvesting of food brought communities together. It helped to feed the heart as well as the body and soul.
There are many reasons to despair of this loss of connections to our Ancestors, but so many more to reestablish these connections. In my experience, when you come to understand your Ancestors you can better understand yourself. We are Ancestors-to-be, the iteration of all our families bloodlines. Our Ancestors are part of our makeup, from DNA to soul. In addressing our relationship to the past, and to our Ancestors, we can be better equipped to not make their mistakes, and to take strength from and in their strengths. In addressing our Ancestors, we can also better address ourselves. In addressing our Ancestors’ wrongs, we can heal old hurts, and teach our children and those who share this world with us better ways of being. By reaching back we can relearn old skills that will help us survive both in our everyday life, and in times of trial. One of the best things, in my view, that results from reintegrating one’s Ancestors into their life is all the learning you can do. For the Ancestors, in my experience, it is the relationships they forge anew with you, and the ways of passing Themselves onto the next generation in ways that may have long been denied to Them. Whether you are doing basic genealogy research, or integrating Ancestor worship and veneration into your everyday practice, each reach back brings Them that much closer.
I am not for a moment saying that those who have left from abusive family situations must reestablish those connections in the flesh. I am not even saying that they should do that in the spirit; that decision is between them, their Ancestors, Gods, and other spirits with whom they work. Yet, it may be helpful to perform elevations with their Ancestors, helping Them rise out of past pain and anguish. Again, that is a decision up to each person, their Ancestors, Gods, and spirits. For more information on this kind of work, please look to Elevating the Ancestors by Galina Krasskova here.
Losing our Ancestors’ connection creates a hole in our lives. It is not knowing where we come from. It is not knowing where we’ve been, or how we came from there to here. It is a vacuum which will fill itself where it can, in a search for identity. Taking nothing away from all humans having the same Ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve, our more recent Ancestors, even those from a thousand or better years ago, inform our lives in deeply intimate ways. How has your ancestry shaped your life?
My great-grandfather came to America during WWI when he could hear boat guns off the shore. He could have stayed in the Netherlands, and rather than become a citizen of America he could have stayed a Dutch citizen. I can’t begin to think of how very different my life might be if he had not gotten on the Rijndam on April 14th, 1916, leaving the only home he knew, and sailed into Ellis Island on May 3rd, 1916. Yet this is only one of thousands of stories that distilled into me.
Each and every one of us is a distillation of these stories, legends, myths, truths. Reconnecting to a story helps to fill a hole in my memory, my understanding of where I come from and what has happened so that I am here. Listening to my Ancestors in meditation and prayer has helped fill others, brought lessons on how to do things, such as making a fire, into my life. The Ancestors can reach out to us, as surely as we can reach to Them. Whether we recognize Them reaching out to us is another story. Some of the many ways Ancestors can reach out to us is by giving us a feeling of Their presence, reaching to us through dreams, working with us in our magic and other spiritual work, helping to effect change in subtler ways (i.e. ‘coincidence’, coming into contact with their graves/things by chance, etc.), a story of Theirs being told, or even inheriting things from Them. Our Ancestors can use each of these ways, and more to grab our attention, give us a clue, communicate with us.
The biggest challenge I faced when I started seeking out my Ancestors was reaching out at all. In most of America, even mentioning you want to speak with your Ancestors will get you odd looks, if not outright anger. In this Protestant-dominated discourse on religion, it is sometimes difficult to talk about mystical experiences, let alone actively seek them. Yet, seeking our Ancestor’s is a mystical experience, even if it is not Earth-shattering. It leads us back, and by following the paths back to Them, we can follow new paths forward. We can invite Them along, or They can come as They will, with us on our journey through life. Simply sitting and meditating, perhaps with a photograph, or looking through old records can be connective. It can be a walk through the forest in contemplation of our Ancestors, it can be building a fire. There are innumerable ways to invite our Ancestors into our lives. We just need to invite Them. Even if we don’t recognize all the faces, voices, or figures, They will come, and They will work with us to understand Them.