Embracing the Ancestors

A couple of years ago I arranged (but did not run) a Celtic-Shamanism inspired workshop on ancestors. As a participant is was something I felt uneasy about. A number of people got in touch before hand to say they didn’t feel able to come because the idea of connecting to their immediate ancestors was such an uncomfortable one.

Our families provide the basic, biological forms that we walk around in. We may manage the odd mutation, but basically we are a random amalgam of our parent’s genetic material. Science has yet to decide the precise influence of genetics and upbringing on how a person turns out, but these are the basic forces that shape us, and we get them from our families. Whether we become like them, or define ourselves in opposition, they still inform how we view the world and the choices we make.

Modern paganism is young enough that many people come to it having rejected something else. Usually a secular, or monotheistic background that came as part of the growing up experience. Shifting religion is, for many people, a rejection of where they’ve come from, and a way of creating distance, and difference between them and people they have not found it easy to relate to.

Druidry and Celtic-Shamanism both direct us to honour the ancestors. How can a person do that, if they cannot connect with their most recent ones? Pre-Christian cultures were very much about family, tribe and Clan. To step away from that was exile, and to many folk, worse than death, yet we as modern pagans so often seek exile from our own blood clans and tribes. We have the advantage of being able to make new tribes based in shared belief and philosophy, but is it ok to reject where we came from if it doesn’t really suit us?

Making peace with your ancestry, your immediate family and your own roots is a very healing thing to do. It can be incredibly liberating. Peace does not necessarily mean reconciliation, but it does require understanding, some soul searching, and a willingness to let go of old grudges.

When trying to make peace with the ancestors, there’s a lot to be said for not starting with the most immediate ones! Ancestry goes back to the first primordial stews that birthed existence. It ties us to all living things. Sometimes it helps to think of ancestry in broader terms – the countless grandmothers and grandfathers whose names are lost, but whose genes we still carry. In our bloodlines, will be folks who faced all kinds of challenges and sorrows. People who felt as we do. People who did not. Working with the breadth, enormity and wonder of ancestry, thinking of the countless lives lived in order for us to exist, changes perspectives. Recognising the humanity, frailty and the sheer improbability of us having got here…can make dealing with those more immediate ancestors an entirely different experience.

Bryn Colvin