Category Archives: Genealogy

Walking with the Ancestors Part 7-A

The next stop on our journey is a little bit west of the Anzick Boy, as discussed in Chapter 6 of this project. This time we are around 9000 years ago, in the state now known as Washington.

anzick-kennewick

We are at the teal dot on the west coast of the USA, circa 9,000 years ago

This find is known as the Kennewick Man, or The Ancient One, and has a long and controversial story behind it. I am going to use a few selections here to set the scene.

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.” (Smithsonian/history)

What was evident right away was how complete the skeleton, which is often not the case with these kind of finds. To see a picture of the skeleton, be sure to check out the NPR link below. There is some great material there, which I am only going to be able to discuss a small segment here.

Okay, so a couple of college students stumble over this really complete skeleton, and almost immediately a controversy breaks out. One of the big reasons being, and something I have mentioned before; the conflict between respect for the dead and the need for future study and research. I will take a few more excerpts to really put this into perspective.

The fight has been raging for 20 years, ever since a couple of college kids stumbled — literally — across a human skull while wading in a river in Washington state. They thought they’d found a murder victim, and flagged down a nearby cop, who called in a local expert. Instead, they had discovered some of the oldest, most complete human remains ever dug up in North America.

Archaeologists dubbed the skeleton Kennewick Man, after the place he was found, and hoped his bones could help settle one of the greatest mysteries in the story of human migration: how did Homo sapiens, originating in Africa, end up in the Americas?” (NPR)

That sets up one side of this conflict. The archaeologists that excavated the skeleton had a lot of questions, and there was a great deal of testing and research to do before they could even begin to answer some of those questions. It is well known that research and testing is a time intensive process, and so they would need to hold onto the bones for future study. In addition, this says nothing about tests and research tools that have not been discovered yet. If a skeleton is reburied, scientists and future researchers won’t have access to it for future study.

However (and this is kind of a long excerpt;

But a group of Native American tribes considered The Ancient One, as they call him, a direct tribal ancestor — and they didn’t need science to explain how people ended up here. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time,” a leader of the Umatilla tribe wrote in a statement at the time. “We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.”

Working together, five tribes demanded that The Ancient One’s remains not be poked or prodded in the name of science, and instead be promptly reburied in accordance with tribal custom — and under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. That federal law, passed in 1990, requires certain Native American artifacts and remains to be handed over to culturally affiliated tribes or provable descendants.

“The tribes had good reason to be sensitive,” writes Smithsonian Magazine’s Douglas Preston. “The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people.” “ (NPR)

The Native American’s claim was wrapped in a deep history of colonialism and oppression on top of the rights of the dead. This is a big issue, and I certainly don’t have the space to detail it all here. I think the excerpt above gives a rough idea of what we were talking about. It is the intersection of a lot of issues that have had a strong (and often negative) effect on Native peoples across the county.

It is an ongoing struggle for sure; as it highlighted nicely by this excerpt from NPR,

“It’s the chafe between science and spirituality,” writes Kevin Taylor at Indian Country Today, “between people who say the remains have so much to tell us about the ancient human past that they should remain available for research, versus people who feel a kinship with the ancient bones and say they should be reburied to show proper reverence for the dead.” “

I have a lot of thoughts about this, as both a student of anthropology AND a spirit worker/shamanic practitioner. I will come back to this at the end of this piece, because there is more of this story to tell.

So we have these two “sides” in conflict about the ultimate fate the Kennewick Man (anthropologists et al)/ The Ancient One (Native Peoples et al), and is the case with many of these things, the conflict has played out of the last twenty years or so.

But for these bones to fall under the protection of NAGPRA, there had to be proof of a connection between the remains and the people fighting to reclaim them today. The scientists said no such connection existed. The tribal leaders insisted it did; they could feel it in their bones. “ (NPR)

That was the crux of many of the ethical as well as legal fights that took place over the last two decades.

That question ended up spawning an unprecedented legal and ethical battle in which prominent archaeologists and anthropologists would sue the U.S. government for the chance to study the bones. Femur bones would go missing under unexplained circumstances. Bitter arguments would be pitched over the migration patterns and feeding habits of sea lions, the curvature and racial implications of cheekbones, the validity of oral tradition as courtroom evidence. “ (NPR)

The skeleton was found on federal land, so it technically fell under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control.” (Smithsonian/history)

In 2004, a San Francisco federal appeals court sided with researchers, citing previous analyses that showed Kennewick Man was not Native American, writes Guarino.” (Smithsonian/history)

On and on it went, and for the most part to verdicts favored the scientists. Now, I am not trying to set up the scientists as bad guys, but they didn’t come out looking spotless either. That being said, it is hard to underestimate what we have learned from the Kennewick Man. I wouldn’t be here writing about my ancestral connection to him if we didn’t.

For perspective;

Eventually, the scientists did get a legally approved (though very brief and highly constricted) look at Kennewick Man, and what they learned is truly amazing. Based on the shape of his skull and other features, they theorized that he or his forebears may have been Asian coastal seafarers. They may have journeyed by boat along the south Alaskan shoreline and ultimately all the way down the Americas, hugging the coast and living off kelp, fish, sea lions and the like.”

This is the “coastal migration” theory of the peopling of the Americas, which suggests that a wave, or waves, of people traveled and lived along the Pacific coast long before other travelers chased herds of tasty mastodons and mammoths across a land bridge into Alaska.

They also learned a tremendous amount about what Kennewick Man’s life may have been like. Here’s more from Preston:

“Kennewick Man spent a lot of time holding something in front of him while forcibly raising and lowering it; the researchers theorize he was hurling a spear downward into the water, as seal hunters do. His leg bones suggest he often waded in shallow rapids, and he had bone growths consistent with ‘surfer’s ear,’ caused by frequent immersion in cold water. His knee joints suggest he often squatted on his heels. … Many years before Kennewick Man’s death, a heavy blow to his chest broke six ribs. Because he used his right hand to throw spears, five broken ribs on his right side never knitted together. This man was one tough dude.” “ (NPR)

It is hard to understate how much we have learned from finds such as this one. Like I said, without his DNA data, I would not know I was related to this man in any way. However, the case of the Kennewick Man is one I learned about in my college days; for exactly the reasons I have laid out here. This find is a great case study concerning how we practice science, as well as how we treat the dead.

I am not trying to mince words here. I do feel that the Native Peoples really got the shaft in this case, up until 2015 (I will get to that in a minute). The unethical practices of some of the scientists was really distasteful, and how both federal law (NAGPRA) as well as the legal system being used for a further tool of exploitation and oppression of Native People’s really leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

But the story doesn’t end there. In 2015 new research began to pour out that supported the claims of the Native Peoples.

A group of scientists based in Denmark made a major breakthrough in 2015, after they recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone and used it to map Kennewick Man’s genetic code. When they compared that code with DNA from different populations around the world, the geneticists found it was closest to that of modern Native Americans. Their findings, published in the journal Nature in July 2015, contradicted previous assertions by scientists linking Kennewick Man to Polynesians or to the Ainu people of Japan.

At the initiative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scientists at the University of Chicago were recently able to independently verify the results of that unprecedented DNA study.” (History)

That DNA is why I am able to talk about this at all. Not only did it confirm my relation to the Kennewick Man, it was also the reason that the bones will be given back to Native Peoples, and proved that their claim was a valid one.

Now, members of the Colville tribe and four others say they’ll work together to complete the repatriation — or reburial — process, and the government has shown zero interest in standing in their way. “ (NPR)

I do not know whether or not the Kennewick Man/Ancient One has been reburied as of this time. But this case does open up a lot of questions about the practice of archaeology, and the role of Native Peoples, as well as the general treatment of the dead.

One of the scientists involved in revealing a genetic connection between Kennewick Man and living Native Americans invited members of the five tribes into the lab, where they put on body suits and entered a “clean room” to pay their respects to The Ancient One. In the wake of Kennewick, scientists have been reflecting on ways to work with indigenous communities when these kinds of conflicts come up:

“Many other researchers are taking a similar approach. [Dennis O’Rourke, a biological anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City] says that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to working with native communities. He finds some of the North American Arctic groups he works with eager to contribute to his research, others are less so; and their opinions shift over time.

” ‘We really have to change the top-down approach, where we come to people and say “these are our research questions and you should participate, because — SCIENCE,” ‘ says Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Texas at Austin.” (NPR)

Yet, on the other hand;

Other scientists say there’s a real danger in altering scientific methods to accommodate religious belief. Elizabeth Weiss, an anthropologist at San Jose State, outlined impediments to her own work in a 2001 paper on the Kennewick controversy, and argued that regulations like NAGPRA require far too little evidence proving a cultural connection to modern-day native communities. She also suggested that such regulations — which increased around the world in the wake of NAGPRA — can have a chilling effect on scientific research:

“Consider having dedicated a large part of one’s life to unearthing the materials that are now being examined. Even casts and other important works — such as videotapes, photos, and excavation records — are in increasing danger of confiscation. Some scientists have expressed fear that their federal grants would be in jeopardy if they objected too openly to current policies. Under such circumstances, most scientists do not even begin ‘high-risk’ projects. Finds that could threaten Native American origin beliefs are especially likely to be targeted. Defendants could become embroiled for years in expensive lawsuits that neither they nor their institutions can afford …

“The politics of bone gathering in Africa are notorious … and one shudders to imagine what might happen if activists could convince modern Africans to claim early human skeletons as their ancestors, so that they too could be reburied.” (NPR)

I said I would circle back to this, and here it is. This whole case sets up a clear example of how science can conflict with oral histories, indigenous traditions, and the general respect for the dead. In my opinion, I think it is possible to have our cake and eat it to, it is a question of balance to me. I agree with Raff, in which there is no silver bullet for these issues. That being said, I think there is certainly a case to be made for collaboration instead of competition. When we are talking about skeletal remains, we are not just talking about objects without a context. We are talking about the remains of the dead, and their relationship to their possible still living descendants and traditions.

As both student of anthropology and a spirit worker, I can see this from both sides. I agree partially with Weiss, that there is a real possibility that science may suffer if that uneasy balance is disturbed. As I have already said, I wouldn’t be here talking about the Kennewick Man if it wasn’t for everything we have learned from studying the finds.

If this series has shown anything, is that I can claim “early skeletons” among my ancestors. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without science. I think we can find a balance between science, and respect for the dead.

Kennewick Man/The Ancient One: Sadly, I do not have an exact percentage match for this one. The data is not included in the calculation tool I use. However, I do know that I do match this one, but it is a low count. I would put our relationship in the “distant relative category.”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennewick_Man

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/05/05/476631934/a-long-complicated-battle-over-9-000-year-old-bones-is-finally-over

http://www.history.com/news/army-corps-of-engineers-confirms-kennewick-man-is-native-american

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/meet-kennewick-man.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/kennewick-man-finally-freed-share-his-secrets-180952462/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/over-9000-years-later-kennewick-man-will-be-given-native-american-burial-180958947/


Walking with the Ancestors Part 4-A

In the last chapter of this series I discussed some of the finds around in the Altai Mountains in modern day Siberia, dated between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago. The oldest of these two finds was a neanderthal woman, who lived some 50 kya. The other find was a little girl, a Denisovan, who had lived sometime around 30 kya. Between the two of them, we see a continuity among my ancestors, who were in the area for at least twenty thousand years. As I pointed out in the comments of Chapter 3C, there was also the remains of a dog found in a nearby cave.

For this chapter I want to continue our journey, but before I do I think it is important to recap a little bit about how the world looked around 50 kya. First off, as was evident from the last chapter in this series, our H.Sapiens ancestors migrated out of Africa and into a world already inhabited by other homins. The most prominent of these was the Neanderthals, who had a range that stretched from western and northern Europe, down through the Middle East and into East Asia.

220px-Range_of_Homo_neanderthalensis

Approximated Neanderthal Range, from Wikipedia Commons

In addition to the Neanderthals, there were others species/sub-species of homin in the area as well. The Denisovans are a notable examples of course, but there may have been others as well. It is important to note that these debates are ongoing within anthropological and archaeological disciplines. In short, the jury is still out.

450px-Spread_and_evolution_of_Denisovans

The spread of Denisovans, Neanderthals and Modern Humans, from Wikipedia Commons

350px-Weichsel-Würm-Glaciation

The extent of the Weishselian glaciation (Europe), from Wikipedia Commons

The world was filled with homins as Modern Humans spread out from Africa over the millenia. More than this though, the world was also covered in ice. The Weishselian glaciation, which lasted from 115,000 BP to about 10,000 BP. For over a hundred thousand years, while the Neanderthals roamed southern Europe and our ancestors came out to meet them, most of the northern parts of the globe were covered in an untold amount of ice and snow. This is the world our ancestors lived in.

From about 50 kya years ago down to about 10 kya years the world was in the time period known as the Upper Paleolithic, and it was a time of a flourishing of art and artifacts across the world. Modern humans spread across the globe, leaving behind them a host of rock art, cave paintings, and tools of all sorts, made of bone and flint in an increasing variety and sophistication.

Which brings us to the next part of our journey, around 45,000 years ago. Here I match with a male in Ust-Ishim, in modern day Siberia. This find is a bit to the west of the Altai Mountains.

Altai-UstIshimMap

Altai-UstIshimLegend

In 2008 the Russian artist Nikolai V. Peristov was searching for ivory to make carvings out of along the river banks of Irtysh near the town Ust’-Ishim in Siberia.

Instead of ancient ivory he discovered something even more magnificent: a 45.000 year old male thigh-bone, a femur.” From Science Nordic

This was how the story of the Ust Ishim man began, and after a few hand offs find made its way into the hands of the experts at the Max Plank Institute, and one man who is one of the leading experts in the field of ancient DNA, a Swedish man by the name of Svante Pääbo. If you recall, he was also one of the leading experts behind the sequencing of the neanderthal DNA at Denisova.

The Ust Ishim man was a spectacular find, because it only added to the work that Dr. Pääbo had already done;

Pääbo’s team of scientists have previously mapped the genome of our closest relatives, the Neanderthal, from 50,000 year old bones. Their studies have shown that our ancestors had children with the Neanderthals during their migration to Europe. This means that all people outside Africa today carry about 2 percent Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.

It has been estimated that this intimate meeting took place between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago, but with the new information from the Siberian man from Ust’-Ishim, this has been narrowed down to 50.000-60.000 years ago.

The scientists found that the Ust’-Ishim mans genome contained Neanderthal segments that are 2-4 times longer than in us today. This allowed them to calculate that the Neanderthal DNA was introduced between 232 and 430 generations earlier.” From Science Nordic

The reasons that DNA varies so much over time is because that it is constantly being reshuffled each time a new generation is conceived. As the New York Times puts it, it is kind of like the shuffling of a deck of cards;

During the development of eggs and sperm, each pair of chromosomes swaps pieces of their DNA. Over the generations, long stretches of DNA get broken into smaller ones, like a deck of cards repeatedly shuffled. Over thousands of generations, the Neanderthal DNA became more fragmented.

Dr. Paabo and his colleagues predicted, however, that Neanderthal DNA in the Ust’-Ishim man’s genome would form longer stretches. And that’s exactly what they found. “It was very satisfying to see that,” Dr. Paabo said.” From New York Times

So, unlike myself, the Ust Ishim Man had traces and much longer of segments of neanderthal DNA in him. Whereas the Neanderthal DNA has been reshuffled in me countless times, the Ust Ishim man was a lot less removed from the events of interbreeding.

That being said, I have a lot more in common with the Ust Ishim man than I do with the neanderthals…

Ust Ishim Man: 31.5% Match

And with that is where I will leave off with this post. I am trying to dig up more research about what life might had been like around 50 – 40 kya in this region, but so far I have not come up with much. Of course I will keep on digging.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources, References;

Wikipedia (Neanderthals)

Wikipedia (Denisovans)

Wikipedia (Weishselian glaciation)

Wikipedia (Ust-Ishim Man)

Wikipedia (Upper Paleolithic)

New York Times

Science Nordic


Walking with the Ancestors Part 3-A

In the last part of this series, we started to talk about Homo erectus, one of our earlier hominid ancestors, and the first one to go global. H. erectus emerged in Africa about 2 million years ago, and from there spread out across the globe. Skeletons have been found in Africa as early as 300,000 years ago. Homo erectus skeletons are found in Asia from 1.8 mya ago to about 300 Kya. In Europe we find skeletons dating from about 800,000 – 300,000 years ago.

The reason these skeletons are so important is because H. erectus is ancestral to two populations that are very important to this series; ourselves, Homo sapiens, and a cousin population in Homo neanderthalensis. The Neanderthals,

There is a lot I am skipping over here, and plenty of details that have to be omitted for brevity reasons. Suffice to say, that somewhere around 350Kya, Homo sapiens emerged out of Africa and began their long trek across the globe. At the same time in Europe and into East Asia, arose the Neanderthals.

Which brings us down to about 50,000 years ago, in a world covered in ice (at least in the north), and with two kinds of hominids living side by side in Europe. It is here we get to the real marrow of this series, where I actually start talking about my own ancestors, as revealed through genetic testing. At this point it is important to make a distinction about what kind of genetics we are talking about, because there are three “kinds” that are often discussed in these conversations; Y-chromosomal DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA.

Y-Chromosomal DNA is pretty self explanatory, as it comes from the Y Chromosome found in males, and is used to trace a straight line through ones paternal ancestry, father – grandfather – great grandfather and so on.

Mitochondrial DNA is also pretty straight forward, it is extracted from the DNA of mitochondria, the “power plants” of our cells. This type of DNA is inherited through the maternal line only, mother – grandmother – great grandmother. You get the idea.

I have had testing done on both of the former two types, but I am not going to talk about these just yet. Because, I will be talking about Autosomal DNA, which comes from the autosomes, the first 22 bases pairs of chromosomes in our genetic material. It excludes chromosome 23, because this is is often to referred to as the “sex chromosome”. In males, it is a Y, in females an X. This chromosome is not included in autosomal testing.

The reason I will be talking about autosomal first is because in many ways it is the most comprehensive. While the Y testing can tell me about my paternal line, and the mitochondrial can tell me about my maternal line, autosomal DNA can tell me about my ancestors across ALL lines in my ancestral lineage. This is done by comparing my own DNA with other known samples, either from living people or from DNA extracted from ancient skeletons. I’ll let you guess which we will be talking about.

Which brings us to my first 2 matches, from 50 kya and 30 kya ago. And as you may have already guessed, these matches are from a Neanderthal and a Denisovan skeleton. The location is in the place now known as the Denisova Cave, in Altai Mountains, Siberia.

Altai

(Location Approximated)

Really, in so many ways the Denisova Cave is a tale of three different hominins. (2) Modern humans on one hand, and also the Denisovans and Neanderthals. Seriously folks, I have included plenty of links at the bottom for those that are curious. Wikipedia is good for a general overview of course, but it’s real value lies in the bibliographies on these pages. Those can lead to other websites as well as academic literature on these subjects.

I digress a little bit. In this cave were found numerous fossils from all three hominins, and a few of these fossils still contained viable DNA, which was tested and eventually released publicly. Most of the DNA for the Denisovan came from a small bit of bone, a part of the pinkie. It had once belonged to a little girl. The Neanderthal DNA came from a toe bone, and it belonged to a female.

Once the data was made available to the public, it was possible to compare to that of living people. People like myself. That is how my own DNA, and my own ancestry came into the picture; behold!

50 kya Altai Neanderthal match; 2.47 % (1)

30 kya Altai Denisovan; 1.93%

And that is where I am going to leave this part of the series. Seriously folks, there is a ton of information out there if you are curious about these things. Of course, I am always open for questions and will answer them to the best of my ability.

Thanks for reading!

Notes;

  1. Using “total shared DNA” calibration in the Ancient Calculator tool.

  2. A note on language use. You will see me vary between using the term “hominid” and “hominin”. Both are in fact accurate in this sense, but “hominid” refers to the family Homindae, which includes the great apes. It is a “wide use” term, whereas “hominin” is more restrictive, and refers mostly to the members of genus Homo, that is humans and our closest relations.

Sources and references;

Essentials of Physical Anthropology: Discovering our Origins. By Clark Spencer Larsen

Wikipedia (Human Evolution)

Wikipedia (Neanderthals)

Wikipedia (Denisovan)

Wikipedia (Upper Paleolithic)

Wikipedia (Altai Mountains)

National Geographic 

BBC

The Guardian


Changing Narratives

“Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.”
― Clifford Geertz

Ok, some of you may have noticed that there was not a blog post last week. Maybe some of you did. Either way, there was not a blog post last week because I powered my way through the end of another book. So that is another project off my list. Also, we don’t currently have internet at the new house, so that has made posting here a little more of a hassle. We are working to resolve that issue, hopefully this week.

So yeah, you could say this is another filler post. I will, ideally, be posting another piece later this week. I am working on a series about initiations and the bear cult. I just have to finish it up.

There are a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head. I have been thinking a lot about narratives. About the stories that surround our lives and give them meaning. I have been thinking about the narratives the create meaning in my own life. They have been shifted over the last year, and it has changed the way I view myself as well as the world.

I have commented a little in the past on how narratives are born out of experience, and at the same time they help to shape that experience. We tell stories about our lives. At the same time, those stories define our lives. Our experience shapes us at the same time we shape our experience through narrative.

We are constantly surrounded by narratives. Take modern media, such as Fox News, MSNBC, or NPR. Each can take the exact same story, and spin very different narratives. You could also use recent events as an example. Think of the recent events Ferguson. That is a great example of multiple (often competing/opposing) narratives.

Storytelling is an interactive process. From Wikipedia; “Narrative storytelling is used to guide children on proper behavior, cultural history, formation of a communal identity, and values. Narratives also act as living entities through cultural stories, as they are passed on from generation to generation. Because the narrative storytelling is often left without explicit meanings, children act as participants in the storytelling process by delving deeper into the open-ended story and making their own interpretations.”

Honestly, I wish I was a better oral storyteller.

Living entities. I really love that part. It gets me thinking about the narratives of my ancestors. I have a pretty good idea of the grand scope. However, adding Skadi to the mix shifts that narrative a bit. It shakes up my preconceived notions, and adds face and personality to the overall story. She could be considered among my Mesolithic ancestors. Between myth, genetics, and genealogy, I can shape a narrative that traces my ancestors from the Mesolithic in Scandinavia, through England, to America and down to the present. It shapes a narrative in such a way that adds meaning to my life. That is a curious thing.

It also makes me think about the narratives as they are passed down to us. As modern pagans, we inherited the narratives, the stories of previous generations. These are not fixed things, in unalterable form, by those like Snorri. We are participants in the narrative process now.

Now, there may be something else going on that shifts the narratives I tell myself around even more. More on that in the next post, where I hope to expand on these themes a little more.

 


Ancestors

Let’s start with updates. Yup, not really a whole lot to say. I’ve been ramping up the writing again, and will have about half a book done in the next week or so. I started learning how to knap arrowheads out of bottle glass. My hands are showing the abuse from this endeavor. Hunting season starts with small game in just over a month, with deer season being just under two months away. So the preparations for that are already in motion. Practice shooting, scouting, making sure my gear is all in order, fletching and so on and so forth. I’ve already got a bit of the hunting fever. I have also been working on a few knives for my own use, and want to try again with the bow making soon. So much work, and so little time.

Some days, I wish I could just leave the civilized world behind and go live in the woods like my ancestors did, but sadly the world is a different place now.

Which brings me to the topic for today, the topic of my ancestors. Really, the whole point of this post is a chance to organize my thoughts for my upcoming submission to the Walking the Worlds project. The upcoming topic is Ancestors and Hero Cultus, and I’ve decided to focus more on the ancestors side, since I don’t do a lot of “hero” work.

The ancestors have been a core element to my practice since I first started ancestor work. To be fair, I have been interested in things like genealogy and history for a long time, and my ancestor work almost is an extension of that. It is a lot of work, a fair amount of time and money, but I only think it has strengthened my practice.

I mean, because what is ancestor work, if not honoring the heritage, the ideas, stories, beliefs and rituals left to us by our fore bearers? I think genealogy is almost implied when it comes to honoring the ancestors. It goes beyond that as well too, I think. After all, family, and therefore ancestors, aren’t always blood related.

As I was saying, so much of my spiritual work has come from my ancestor work. It has shaped my practice into what it is today, and will continue to shape it into the future. As my understanding of my ancestors has evolved, so has the core of my practice. I know I have touched on these things before, but I would like to expound on them a little more here.

As my understanding of my ancestors has evolved, so has the narrative that connects me to that heritage. The stories that shape my practice have changed, and so, has the practice. I want to expand that narrative now, perhaps for myself as much as for others.

My ancestor journey began with the paperwork, the genealogy. My mother’s line has been in Michigan for several generations, but my father’s line, admittedly were most of my work has been focused, had a knack for moving around a lot. My father was born in West Virginia, and going back, I have male ancestors from Kentucky, a brief stint in Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Right back to the early 1700’s. One of my earliest ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. William Haney, son of Michael/Mikkel Haney.

After that, the historical work dried up. I have no real idea why, a name change, illiteracy, the very act of crossing the Atlantic, I have no idea. However, I only had the slightest of leads. In those early days, Virginia was an English colony, so there is a good change that my ancestors came from England. Still, not much to go on. General guesswork, but not anything specific.

I had to turn to genetic testing once the paperwork failed. As it turned out, I was on the right track. Here is an excerpt from Ancestry, concerning my last name.

“English and Scottish: probably a variant of Hanney. Scottish or Irish: reduced form of McHaney. Americanized spelling of Norwegian Hanøy, a habitational name from any of four farmsteads so named, from Old Norse haðna ‘young nanny-goat’ or hani ‘cock’ (probably indicating a crag or mountain resembling a cock’s comb in shape) + øy ‘island’. ”

The genetic testing revealed me to be Y haplogroup I1, which by current research, probably originated in the area of Denmark somewhere between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago, with pre-I1 people going back to the last glacial period in the area. My genetic testing, also revealed a high number of matches in Norway, and England, as well as surrounding areas. Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and so on. Really, anywhere you could get to by boat from Norway.

Thus, the ancestors of my ancestors probably have been in Scandinavia since the ice retreated, though of course this is only guesswork. It also has the potential of things like Sami ancestry, though once again only speculation at this point. Somewhere along the line, they migrated to England/Scotland from Norway, perhaps with a change from the Norwegian version of my name to the more English version. Vikings could be a possible connection, as they had a knack of going to England from Norway. Though to be fair, it didn’t nessacarily have to be the Vikings that brought my ancestors to England. It’s just make a good story, at the least. From England, my ancestors came to America during the 16th century. That’s the rough outline, at least for my mortal ancestors, and I am still working to fill in the details. I am hoping to find a way to contact some of those matches overseas. A lot of work still to be done.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve been learning, albeit kind of the hard way, that spiritual ancestry is more complicated than mortal ancestry. They simply don’t play by the same rules as the flesh. As such, among spiritual ancestors, can be counted thing likes dwarves, giants, elves, fairies, gods, animals, plants and such ad nauseum. It adds a whole new layer, and quickly bridges the gap into things like shape-shifting and divine ancestry. I’m am going to leave those topics lie for the moment.

I touched upon how this information has influenced my path, and I wanted to talk a little more about that. With what I have outlined already, my path draws a lot from my hunter-fisher-gathering ancestors, the northern Mesolithic from about 12,000 years ago up until farming took hold. This is where my shamanic interests come in, and my general animistic tendencies. I also find I get to apply my archaeological and anthropological training as well. But it doesn’t stop there, because there is a wealth of historical material as well. Obviously, I bring the Eddas and Sagas into the fold, because I count them among my heritage as well. Vikings and all that comes into the fold as well. Also, folklore bridges the gap from Pre-Christian times down to nearly modern times. I draw a lot from that as well. In addition, there is the Celtic element of my ancestry, because I have a decent cross section of ancestors from Scotland and Ireland as well. I explored Celtic related things in the past, and I have been looking at those things again, with the understanding I carry now.

As such, my current path (subject to change) embraces Celtic, Norse, Forn Sed (old custom in Norwegian, draws a lot from folklore), shamanism, animism, and a lot of other things such as hunting and survivalism as well. That is the gift of the ancestors to me, down through the generations.

It is true that there is a strong disconnect from the ways of my ancestors, as the old ways have not been practiced for some time, millenia in some cases. I am literally disconnected from the land of my ancestors by nothing less than the Atlantic Ocean and countless years of time. I wasn’t born into these traditions, and the burden that comes along with that is immense. I work with ancestors that have not been heard for eons, and it is difficult to know even where to begin with a backlog of a few thousand years worth of work.

I mean, being an Norse-Celtic-Anglo-American isn’t much right?

References/Sources;

http://www.forn-sed.no/main/english/information.htm
http://walkingtheworlds.com/
http://www.ancestry.com/name-origin?surname=haney


Ancestors Part 2 – The Gods and the Giants

As the second part in this series, I wanted to explore the idea of Gods, and by extension giants, as the eldest among our ancestors. A fair place to begin is with a recap of the creation story. However, this is told in a little different way, and is actually an excerpt from my current project. Just bare with me for a moment. This may be considered a plug, but I think the point is valid too.
“Take your ‘creation story’ as an example. I’ve heard it a hundred different ways, and most of them miss the most important point. Ymir, that great bonehead, arises when some ice melts because there is some fire nearby. Then a cow shows up in that icey-firey spot, and Ymir loves her milky tits. This makes him tired, and three kids just pop out of his pits and his feet. The cow likes some salt because lactating makes it hungry, and poof! Buri shows up out of the salt lick.
I ask what the hell kind of story is that?
Ymir was not the first giant, nor even the first life form. No one has any clue whatsoever if there was even a first ‘life’ if you get my meaning. Let me tell you this story a different way.
Once there was Fire, and Fire was a lonely sort of fellow. He was the son of Fire, who was the grandson of Fire. One day he is out wandering, and he comes across Ice, the daughter of Ice, who was the granddaughter of Ice. She is beautiful to him, but kind of uptight and cold. He says to her;
‘Hey beautiful, how about a dance?’ So he takes her hand, and the two of them dance. It is a very sensual dance, and Ice starts to melt. Fire starts to steam, and she starts to sweat. Then, nine months later out comes Ymir. You see what I am getting at here? Of course you too. I saw the dreamy wide-eyed way you look at each other. Humans, I tell ya.
The point is Ymir had parents, and they had parents before him. Same for Audhumla, and the same for Buri. Born from a salt-block my oversized ass. That is the thing you humans miss. Ymir didn’t just spring out of the void, neither did Audhumla or Buri. Nor did any of their kids, or dwarves or man or any of them. Creation is procreation you thick headed idiots!
Every family of gods and giants has descended, provided of course the descendents of others didn’t kill off said family. I’ll use some names you are familiar with. Mimer got it on with some frisky maid, and they had kids. Somewhere along the line those kids had kids. And so on, until those runts became known as dwarves. Mimer is not the dwarves creator, he is their daddy!”

I hope you all had a good laugh. I know I did while writing it. Yet, I think it only helps to bring the point home. I am not a literalist, especially where creation myths are concerned. Origin stories are important, but as a storyteller I realize that they change with every telling. Each narrator will emphasis different parts, add in certain details, leave others out. The process of storytelling is a very fluid, dynamic and organic thing.
So with that in mind, I want to examine the story of ‘creation’ a little more closely. First a few definitions. I come from an animistic background, meaning that I believe nature and the universe is just crawling with life, seen and unseen. There is a vast assortment of spirits, great and small, that keep everything going. Forces, mountains, energy, lakes, winds, forests, spirits all in some form or another. Giants are those spirits that I would consider natural forces. The powers of air, fire, water, earth, mountains and seas. Giants are those spirits that cause earthquakes and floods, wild fires and tornadoes. Big spirits. Powerful spirits. Follow so far? Now gods are those giants whose skills, abilities and influence intersect with the human world. To put this another way, gods are giants that actually take an interest in human affairs. Most giants just don’t give a damn one way or the other. It’s kind of like stepping on an ant hill. A god will say “sorry ants, let me help you.” Whereas a giant will go; “what a pity, but you were in my way.” As a boy, I stepped on a lot of ants.
All gods and giants are spirits.
All gods are giants.
Some giants are gods.
Got it? Good. Now this sets up an interesting concept when we consider gods and giants as ancestors. Everyone likes origins stories, likes to have a sense of where we came from. This is a good thing, but they should not be taken literally. Much of what follows is my intepretation, so please keep that in mind. As such, Fire and Ice are our most distant known ancestors, because all things we know of started here. Non-human ancestors to be specific. I like to use the categories of non-human, near-human and human ancestors. Just makes thing easier. All gods and giants are non-human ancestors. They may live, die and breed, but they are not human. So from Fire and Ice comes Ymir, and by extension Audhumla and Buri. From these three come every being and creature known in the literature.
Ymir’s three kids with Audhumla (because he loved her tits) are Mimer, Bestla and Thrudgelmir. Of course, depending on interpretation. Some scholars theorize Mimer and Bestla are siblings. In the Poetic Edda Bestla is the daughter , or even granddaughter of a giant named Bolthorn, not Ymir. Either way, take it or leave it. God and giant genealogy is complicated enough. I’m going with the three of them as Ymir’s kids, for simplicity’s sake.
As was mentioned above, I think of Mimer as the God-Father of dwarven kind. At first came the family of dwarf-gods, which includes Ivuldi and Sindri. (known as Durin and Dwalin to the dwarves. Their language is difference than ours, so are their names for things.) From Thrudgelmir comes Bergelmir, and from him all giants after the death of Ymir, which floods the world and kills most everything.
From Bestla and Bor come Odin and his two brothers, Vile and Ve, or Honer and Loki. This is one of those cases I think the two are one and the same. Most gods I will treat as individuals, but I think Honer and Loki are Vili and Ve. Odin had 99 names, why can’t his brothers?
As the general course of the myth, from these three comes all the peoples of the Norse men. I would say that Ash and Embla are their children, their human children, in some way. The men worship their “divine ancestors” as gods, and rightly so. The older of the non-human spirits are the gods, and later their mortal descendants which are the humans. In this way, the gods can be considered as a another type of ancestor.
That is another reason why ancestor worship is so central to what I do. Genealogy and ancestor work, lead me step by step, back through time to my mortal ancestors, and then to their gods. The gods of the North.


Ancestors Part 1 – Dwarves, Elves and the Dead

I can finally get some writing done here, now that my other project(s) have come to an end for the time being. It has been a long year, but now I have pushed a 250,000 word project on to editing. It is nice to have a little time to breathe. My mind now turns to my other project. A revision of the Wanderings, which is in for a complete overhaul. My plan at least is that it will be part story, part thesis when all this is done.
Which is where most of my blogs will be drawing inspiration from. They are my current attempt to get my thoughts and order, and start putting together the pieces for the next edition of Wanderings. I am even considering changing the title. It just doesn’t convey what I want it to. But that is another matter entirely.
My spiritual path has been a winding one, and it started nearly a decade ago. While that recap is going to be glossed over heavily, I wanted to say that my ancestors have been a core and central aspect of my path. They have defined my path more than any other aspect. I started as a Wiccan, without any real sense of heritage or foundation. That was around the same time I got into genealogy. As my understanding of my ancestors developed, so did my spiritual path. I traced them back to Ireland, Scotland and England. My path turned from Wicca to more Celtic and Druidic. But the buck did not stop there. Once the paper trail dried up I went to DNA testing. That took my ancestors back to Scandinavia, Norway specifically. I turned to the Northern Tradition/Heathenism after that.
To put a fine point on it, my ancestors have been foundation. Every sense of heritage or spiritual practice I currently steams from them. They are core and center of most of what I do right now. Long and short, I owe everything to them, from my flesh and blood to my spirit and heritage. I would not be who I am today if it was not for my ancestors. And that is a term that has gotten much wider for me lately. That may be a whole other post entirely.
With Winternights come and gone, I have been contemplating the ancestors quite a bit lately. I have a lot of work to do in this area, and certain new revelations have come forefront. But recently I read “The Ancient Heathen Afterlife” about all the places the spirit can end up. In summary, it is quite complicated. Here is just an overview. A great deal has been written about these, so I will not go into great depth here.

Hel and Helheim;
The goddess of death and her dwelling in the underworld, literally “Hel’s Home.” She often takes those that die of old age, famine or the “common” dead. She favors the poor and the elderly, and the common folk. As a good transition; “While Odin and Freya divide fallen warriors and Thor gets the common folk, Hel receives those who die of sickness or old age…” (Norsemyth.org Part 6)

Valhalla and Folkvang
The halls of Odin and the Freya’s dwelling. Both of them like to “split” the dead that fall in battle. Odin brings his chosen warriors to dwell with him in Valhalla, and Freya takes her share and, generally, they become the Valkyries.

Thor
See above. I have read this before somewhere else, but Thor was considered the champion of the common folk. He has multiple dwellings, including Thrudvangr (thunder/power fields) and Bilskirnir, his palace, which is said to have 540 rooms. A lot of rooms for just Thor and his family I’d think.

But the multiplicity does not end there by any means. We find other places like Nastrond, where the evil dead go. Also there is Svartalfheim and Alfheim, the homes of the dwarves and elves respectively. This is things really get interesting. The lines between dwarves, elves and the ancestors is sometimes blurry. In the long view, they are all related. I will do my best to make distinctions between the three. I wills start with the dwarves

Svartalfheim (I prefer Dvergarheim as a term) and Nidavellir (The Downward Fields)

Once again, I will not be recapping the vast stores of knowledge that have something to say on the dwarves. Dwarves are the most ancient of mortal ancestors. They are the “first” created of the gods, formed in far ancient times from the flesh of the earth (Ymir). There are a few stories on this regard, creation myths aside. In my opinion they are not unlike the neanderthals, having live far in the ancient past before modern man came into the North. They are shorter than modern man, but stronger and more crafty. Their intelligence often exceeds our own, as they are an ancient people and have accumulated much knowledge and wisdom over their long existence.
In several sources, dwarves and closely connected with the dead. It is my interpretation that the dwarves are one kind of ancestor. I consider them near-human ancestors, like the neanderthals, beings that once had a mortal existence, though that not longer reside in the Middle World (Midgarde) as we know it. Over the long years we have interbred with them and they have been absorbed into human lines, and pushed entirely into the Underworld. They now have an almost entirely “otherworld” existence. Nidavellir is one realm within Dvergarheim, and its name means “The Downward Fields.” In my meditations this world appears to me as a mirror of the upper world, a place of rich forests and mountains. There are animals there, and humans and dwarves. I have met several of my ancestors in this place, and I would propose it as another “option” in the manifold afterlives.

Alfheim

The Alfar and the Disir, being male and female elves respectively, are another type of ancestor. Alfheim is a place for the honored ancestors, those of great wisdom and courage who are honored among the living. They are not unlike saints, or folk heroes. They are those that did great deeds for their people and the well being of others. Here they dwell as semi-divine beings, to watch over and aid their descendants in need. Shamans, priests, teachers, mentors of all sorts. These are the wise folk, and those that live revered lives in their communities may end up here. In my experience, dwarves, humans, giants and many others may be counted among the “elves.” The Alfablot and Disirblot were to honor ancestors of this type.

In conclusion, there is a lot of the places the spirit can end up in the Northern Tradition. All of these realms can be subdivided, and I am sure there are others that have not been uncovered or have no names. Nor is this survery exhaustive by any means. The word ancestor, does not only mean blood relations. Gods, giants, spirits, dwarves, elves, humans, plants and animals may be counted among ancestors. At the spiritual level at least, a fair amount of intermixing appears to be possible.

In some way, I would propose, that there are a great many of possible afterlife destinations. It would depend greatly on the gods you serve, and your ancestors. Chosen by Odin? Valhalla may be your destination? A devotee of Freya? There is always Folkvangr. Thor could pick his own, as could the dwarves, the elves, Ullr, Skaid, Njord, Heimdall and the rest of them. Loki could take his own, and Angerboda hers. Those with dwarven ancestry may end up in Nidavellir. A wise wo/man may end up in Alfheim. Could it be said there is a certain amount of choice where we end up? I would say so. Morality plays a part as well, but once again, a topic for another time.

In the next part of this series, I will look at gods as ancestors.

Sources;
http://sacrediceland.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/the-ancient-heathen-afterlife-not-as-simple-as-you-think/
http://www.norsemyth.org/ “The Gods and Goddesses Parts 1-6)
http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/ancestors/
http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/elves/
http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/dwarves/