Tag Archives: Ancestors

Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 1

We are moving into the time of year where I tend to get really reflective and meditative. It is my big writing time for the year, where I tend to spend most of my time on longer projects. There is certainly a novel or two rolling around in my head, and at least one non-fiction work.

It has yet to be seen if I will actually have the time to work on all three projects (or any that have yet to make themselves known.) I might be able to work on one, having to have a day job and all. If anyone wants to give me a bunch of money or offer me a residency in some far off place (preferably in Scandinavia), now would be the time. Anyone?

Oh, the sounds of silence.

Anywho, enough of that. This certainty has been a hell of a year. There is just so much I could talk about here, I am going to have to be a little selective. As this is primarily a blog for spiritual things (as well as other things), I guess it makes the most sense that I should start with the changes in my spiritual path over this year.

There have been a lot of changes in that regards to be sure. I have been reading on a lot of different topics, and experimenting with new ideas to see what works, and what doesn’t. Some new thoughts have taken root, and I have moved beyond some old ones. A lot of generalities, yes I know.

Well, I guess it is fair to say I have been in “questioning” mode throughout most of this year. There was a time or two I dropped into spiritual crisis over the course of this year. Sometimes the questions without answers become far too heavy to carry after a point. There has been a fair bit of doubt and uncertainty, and through the great ups and downs of this year, more than a share of depression and anxiety.

I have felt lost at times. When I asked myself what path am I on, I don’t know really how to answer that anymore. There is nothing that really feels like it “fits”. Skins I have either outgrown, or were never mine to begin with. In the most general sense, I consider myself an animist. The world is full of people, most of which are non-human. Since I have written quite a bit about that, so I don’t want to belabor that point.

It’s true that my ancestors have always been a real core of my practice. The dead are always with us, in some way or another. On my less “spiritual” days, I know they are still in my DNA, in my blood and bone. Even when I doubt everything else, I know that; on a purely physical level they are with me. That is one corner stone of certainty I can grasp onto when I wonder if all this is just in my head.

That has been a big bit of this year. I think it is normal that we all have doubts, especially in matters such as spirituality. I mean, we can no longer touch the dead, no longer feel them physically in our lives. Sometimes I think I hear them, and other beings too. Yet, some days I have to stretch just to reach… anything. It makes me wonder if it is all in my head? I have felt that a lot this year; looking over that edge and wonder if I should fall off?

I think I am partially convinced that line of thought is wrong. How can this be all in my head if I can look out the door and see the Bird People, and the Tree People; if I can run down the forest trails with the Deer People? That is real, at least as real as these things get. I have been down the road of “what is reality”, and I don’t want to go there again. If this what is “real” is all some kind of hologram, I don’t want to know. Let me think that where I find myself is real, and let me keep my feet on the ground. If this is all some kind of “brain in a jar” Matrix shit, I don’t want to know.

So there are some certainties to be sure, but there are days when the doubts get heavy. If the ancestors, spirits, gods (whatever) I hear some days; if that is all in my head I have some serious problems. That is the other reason I think I am scared to contemplate that possibility. If this is all in my head, I have some real serious problems… That idea terrifies me. I hate having to look at my sanity, and wonder if I am all there?

Other days, fuck it. We are all crazy here.

Perhaps that really gets at the marrow on my year. It has been a lot of that. I also have been reading a lot of my old posts on this blog. Some of them are still relevant, others feel like some long lost skin. I do not see myself in those posts anymore. I have outgrown them, and left them far behind.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. It is kind of like a journal of my path as an individual. If you are all keeping up, you might have notice things have been shifting. Old ideas have not been entertained in a while, and new ones are cropping up all the time. Some might call that growth. Me, I don’t know. Some days it just feels like I am running in place.

Which kind of circles back to the idea of the supposed “path I walk.” I don’t know what to call it anymore. It’s animistic sure, and there is some shamanism-ish in there too. Ancestor work still makes up the core, with a close periphery of work with other people, primarily of the “natural” variety. Trees, rocks, wolves; you know, things we can point to in the “real” world. I know, for a fact, that these things are beyond myself.

I also know for a fact that my ancestors are dead, as are the ancestors of those Trees and Wolves. Is it too much a stretch to thing that some part of what we are lives on after death? Maybe not our bodies, but something? That is where I get into the fuzziness that sometimes makes me question my sanity.

And then there are the gods. Oh boy, that is a big one. I have struggled with this one a lot over the last few years, because I couldn’t quite figure out how to conceive of the gods in a way I could relate to and work with. Some have claimed this is just the nature of the gods. They are unknowable and mysterious and all that.

It has been a long process (not just this year), wading through all this. My spiritual journey started with a Christian church; a Southern Baptist one. I got plenty of the “God’s will is mysterious” and that he is omnipotent, and omniscient and immortal and and and… ad nauseum.

But over the years, and especially this past year. I have stripped away much of that. To me, I think that divinity is more of a “job” or a role rather than an intrinsic state of being. The best word I have found for the gods so far is stewards, and a lot of this has come over the past year or so from my studies in Finnish folklore and belief. I have written a fair bit about that, so once again I’m not going to harp on that to much.

Still, a big part of that was the ideas of haltias in Finnish folklore. The idea of a being that was a steward over a group, a clan, a tribe, a species; what have you. A haltia can be a elder ancestor, and/or a representative; and is generally concerned with the wellbeing of “theirs”; however they may be grouped. I groked with that, I understood that.

Which lead to the other parts starting to fall away. The gods, as stewards, likely don’t know everything (some try for sure), are not all powerful, and are limited in a very real sense. They are also not likely immortal in any sense. The stories are filled with “average” people becoming gods, and gods being stripped of their power. There are also stories of dead gods, forgotten gods, and all shreds of nuance around that.

Personally, a world full of numerous “limited” gods makes more sense to me than one “Almighty” something or other.

This all leads me to think that godhood is a role, a position of responsibility. Could you imagine the responsibility on the shoulders of a being that is a steward of humanity? Such a role would almost imply you had to take the long view of things. It also implies that the life, or death, of one particular individual might not be important as the “grand scheme” of things. It would be much more about the welfare of the “whole” rather than the “parts.”

Does this all make sense? Or am I just rambling?

Still, it makes me think that maybe godhood is something that is a potential in all of us. Maybe someday, we will all be stewards of that type. Divinity might well be something that is “earned” or “granted”, and just as easily be taken away.

Or I could be way off the mark. It’s fun to think about all the same.

I want to leave this topic for a bit, and move onto another one. As I said, my “path” has been interesting so far. I have no real titles to claim, and no real “tradition” that I am an adherent to. There has really been no initiations, no big ceremonies. In many ways it has just been me stumbling my way through. Sounds a lot like life in general.

I am not trying to diminish the contributions of countless numbers of people though. I have had many mentors, guides, teachers, friends, collaborators; human and non-human both. Some of them I truly respect an count among my friends and allies, and they have helped me grow a lot as a person and on my spiritual path. Yet, at the end of the day, I am mostly self taught. One situation, one idea at a time, I have had to figure out (sometimes the hard way) what works and what doesn’t. In some wide sense, some of what I have learned has been hard earned. It has come with deep financial, mental, physical and emotional costs.

I have taken a great bit of inspiration and learning from my ancestors. There are reasons I study things like crafts, archaeology and anthropology. Not only do I get enjoyment out of doing so, in some ways I am bringing that past learning into myself. In no small way, I am taking old material and reforging it.

Because, at the end of the day we have to face the facts of the present. We no longer live in the times of our ancestors. Their teachings and traditions were created and shaped to deal with the challenge of THEIR times, not ours. The world has moved on. Yet, I find some of those old tools still work, even if a little bit differently than originally meant to.

The fact is, the past is history. Without some cataclysmic event, we have to deal with the realities of the here and now, and also for the future. That is what I feel I am doing. I am taking the threads left by my ancestors; the fragments of long decayed tapestries. I am taking those threads, and rebuilding something for the present. I am re-weaving, rebuilding, and reshaping all these ideas into tool for our own time.

As well as onward into the future.


Walking with the Ancestors Part 6-B

The tent was mostly dark, except for the small fire burning in it’s center. The shadows danced and played across the the hide sides of the structure. The air was filled with the scents of countless herbs.

In the middle of the tent, sat a shaman. With a steady, melodic rhythm; he pounded away at his drum while calling to the ancestors of his people. The world shifted, and the shadows started to come out of the walls, and sit besides him by the fire.

“What is it you need?” One of the ancestors asked. The shaman took a deep breath before he answered.

“There is a large decision before our people, and I wanted to seek advice from you.” The shaman said.

“You are wondering if you should follow the path through the ice?” Another ancestor spoke.

“Yes. I have discussed with some of the wisest among our people, and they say that world is changing. The ice is melting, and some think we should follow the path that is opening up for us.”

“The ice is melting, let there be no doubt about that. The world is warming in a way that has not been seen in ages.” An ancestor said.

“How can you be sure? The ice has been there as long as the oldest stories tell, and some of my people think that it will always be there.” The shaman said.

“All things change in this world, and if you doubt us, we can show you.” Another ancestor said.

“It is natural to have doubts, and it is wise to ask questions.” A second ancestor added. The shaman nodded.

“Show me.” He said. The ancestors circled and started to chant. The shaman did not know this one, but soon picked it up, and chanted along with them.

The outline of the tent shifted and fell, and a great hole opened up below them. The shaman fell into the dark abyss, and fell and fell. He screamed out in terror, fearing for his life. He saw light fast approaching at the bottom of the hole, and he knew the end had come.

He fell out of a hole in the sky, and into snow that was deeper than he had ever known. His body plunged beneath the snow, and the snow fell in around him. He struggled for air, but all his lungs found was the bitter, suffocating cold. His chest tightened, and he tried to cry out; but there was no air in his lungs.

Several hands plunged down through the snow, and grabbed his wrists. With one mighty pull, the ancestors pulled the shaman from the snow.

“Sorry about that.” One of the ancestors said.

“I nearly died.” The shaman added.

“Do you think that kind of travel is easy? We make mistakes.” One of the ancestors said.

“Well, he makes mistakes. I told him he was doing it wrong.” Another ancestor added.

The shaman couldn’t help but laugh.

“Where are we?” He asked.

“A good vantage point. Come this way.” One of the ancestors said. The small group crossed the snowy terrain, and came up a high ridge.

At the top of the ridge, the shaman looked out over the land. As far as he could see, the land was locked in snow and ice. The blinding white seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon.

“Now watch.” One of the ancestors said.

The shaman watched as the sun started to race across the sky, and was followed by night. The moon trailed across the sky not long after, and the shaman knew that time was passing at an incredible pace.

After a point, time was moving so fast that there was barely a clear distinction between night and day.

The shaman watched as the ice before him slowly started to melt. Great rivers started to form in the glaciers and ice plains, and these carved great valleys into the ice. Soon, an entire canyon opened up through the ice, and the shaman could see a clear path to the horizon. He also saw green start to appear at the edge of the ice.

“That is where your people will need to go.” One of the ancestors said.

“That will be a long journey.” The shaman said.

“It will be, but that land will be home to thousands of generation of your descendants.” The ancestor said.

“When will the path be opened? It looked to be a long time from now.” The shaman said.

“It is open now. Do not let what you have seen here trick you. You have seen from ages in the past to many winters into the future. You must go soon.” The ancestor said.

The world dropped out and faded to black.

The shaman snapped back to his tent, and he slowed the rhythm on his drum until it came to a stop.

 

Commentary;

I tried tackling this story from a few different angles, but still came up against the ominous wall of writer’s block. This story just popped into my head this morning, and so I went to town typing it out. I think I am happy with the results.

At first I tried to construct this from the perspective of the Anzick Boy, since that was the topic of the last part in this series. But no matter how I tried, that didn’t just seem right. As such, I created this story as a kind of “prequel” to the Anzick Boy, and how he got to North America.

It is important to note that there are several different “paths” the ancestors of the Native Americans might have taken. Some theories suggest they might have come by sea, following the coast around the North Pacific. Other scholars think they might have migrated through paths in the ice as the glaciers retreated as the last Ice Age came to an end. That was the idea I hooked on here.

I guess that is it for now. Onward!

Thanks for reading!


Walking with the Ancestors Part 6-A

I just wanted to take this moment to acknowledge two things.

First, this blog is coming up on 900 subscribed followers. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all my readers. You folks are amazing!

Second, I am creating a master index page for both this series and it’s companion, Walking with the Spirits. The reason is ease of navigation. If you want to read multiple chapters from these two series, I have now made it easier to do so.

Onward!

In the last chapter of this series, I mentioned that we would be moving east across the globe following in the foot steps of my ancestors. For this part of the journey, we have moved across the Beringia Land Bridge, and into North America. It is here we will meet up with the people from the Clovis Culture

clovismap2

Map of the Beringia Land Crossing (From Crystal Links)

So, for context of the Clovis Culture, we turned first to Wikipedia for a brief overview;

“The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture, named after distinct stone tools found at sites near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s. The Clovis culture appears around 11,500–11,000 uncal RCYBP (uncalibrated radiocarbon years before present), at the end of the last glacial period, and is characterized by the manufacture of “Clovis points” and distinctive bone and ivory tools. Archaeologists’ most precise determinations at present suggest that this radiocarbon age is equal to roughly 13,200 to 12,900 calendar years ago. Clovis people are considered to be the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas.”

However, it must be said that this particular part of my story does not take place in New Mexico, but in Montana, with the bones of a infant boy. To get a little more context, here is a short excerpt from the BBC article;

“Scientists sequenced the genome of a one-year-old boy who died in what is now Montana about 12,500 years ago.

Some researchers have raised questions about the origins of early Americans, with one theory even proposing a link to Ice Age Europeans.

But the Nature study places the origins of these ancient people in Asia.

The infant was a member of the Clovis people, a widespread, sophisticated Ice Age culture in North America. They appeared in America about 13,000 years ago and hunted mammoth, mastodon and bison.”

anzick-2

(We are at the Lime Green dot in North America, ca 13 kya)

Some of the finds from the Clovis culture in North America are pretty fascinating. Go ahead and type Clovis Culture into Google and just look at some of the things that come up. The artifacts of particular note are the stone points associated with this culture.

I can picture it, this small boy sitting in his mother’s lap, while his father nearby is working away at a stone point for the next mammoth hunt. Which is something to keep in mind over the coarse of this series. We are just talking about artifacts here, but ancestors. Their way of life would have been very different, but they would have been as human as you or me.

Moving on, with a little more context from the BBC;

“The boy’s remains, uncovered at the Anzick Site in Montana in 1968, were associated with distinctive Clovis stone tools. In fact, it is the only known skeleton directly linked to artefacts from this culture…

Eske Willerslev, from the University of Copenhagen, and his colleagues were able to extract DNA from the bones of the Anzick boy and map his genome (the genetic information contained in the nucleus of his cells).

The researchers found that around 80% of today’s Native Americans are related to the “clan” from which the boy came.”

There is quite a bit in this tiny little little paragraph. First off, it tells us a little more about the site when the boy was found in 1968, the Anzick site. The baby boy was found alongside other Clovis-type artifacts, and this connects the boy to the Clovis people, which is a cultural complex that stretched at the time from the state of Washington to Florida.

I have to say that the most exciting part, is how this small boy was related to 80% of living Native American’s today. That would indicate that relatives of this child spread far and wide, in both space and time. His ancestors and relatives would go on to populate parts of both North America, as well as some in South America as well.

However, the Clovis Culture was short lived, though its people lived on. As NPR states;

“The artifacts from this culture (Clovis) are found from Washington state to Florida and many places in between. But the culture also disappeared suddenly, around 12,600 years ago. “

As the article goes on to point out, one of the possible reasons for this disappearance might have been climate change. Right around the time of the end of the Clovis Culture, the Younger Dryas period set in, a time when the climate turned much colder. The Clovis people would have to adapted to this change.

Certainly, there are some parallels to our own time, as we too face a changing climate. I wonder what adaptations we will have to make? What technologies we might have to leave behind? Perhaps that is a post for another time.

Before wrapping this post up, there is one more point I want to raise. In order to continue these studies, more data and research will have to be done. As NPR points out;

“That (the research) will require, among other things, cooperation with native peoples.

In the case of the Clovis child, the archaeologists worked closely with modern tribes to make sure the scientists were treating the remains appropriately. The Clovis infant is to be reburied later this year, on the property where he was unearthed.”

I think this is important to explore for a bit, since we are talking about dead ancestors here. I am thrilled that the archaeologists are working along Native American’s in this work, as I think it should be. As an animist, there is a lot more to working with the dead than just digging up bones. The remains should be treated with respect.

That being said, I do struggle with the idea of reburial. From an animistic perspective, the dead should be respected, and reburial would be the proper thing to do. However, I am also trained in archaeology, and I realize that the techniques and tool of tomorrow’s science may be different than those today. There might be more to learn from these remains, but that would require them being dug up again and again, or housed in a museum.

Honestly, the jury is still out on that one. Perhaps museum/reburial is something we should determine on a case by case basis. In this case, and in cooperation with the local Native Americans, I think they made the right call.

Besides, we are not just talking bones here, but a distant relative of mine as well.

Anzick Boy: 27.85% Match

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

NPR

BBC

Wikipedia (Clovis)

Clovis Culture


Walking with the Ancestors Part 5-B

The boy sat by the edge of the river, gently poking at the small fish near the shore with a stick. His mother was nearby, keeping a watchful eye on him. That did not concern the boy at all, because his attention was elsewhere. He watched the young woman as she talked among the fishers.

She was tall, and wore an old-tattered black wolf pelt over her right shoulder. The boy did not know what exactly they were talking about, but she fascinated him. There was something about her that drew the attention of others.

As a boy of only four, he didn’t really understand why she drew his attention, and he certainly did not have the vocabulary to put his questions in the worlds, so he just watched and tried his best to understand.

He watched the woman turn away from the fishers, and make her way up the river bank towards where the boy was sitting. He felt very excited as she drew closer, and started to squirm in anticipation. He rose to his feet to meet her, and she smiled at him and pat him on the head.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” The wolf woman smiled down at him. He couldn’t help but return the smile in turn.

“To see you.” The boy said, with a huge smile on his face, and he reached his arms up towards her. The wolf woman turned towards the boy’s mother, and she nodded her approval.

The young woman swept the boy up into her arms, and spun him around. He laughed the whole time, and he imagined he was flying just like the Bird People.

When she finally set him back down, he was struggling to catch his breath. His laughter had taken all the wind from his lungs.

The wolf woman continued to smile down at him, and he looked back up at her.

“Can I be a hunter too?” The boy asked. The wolf woman flashed a smile at him, but as she looked down at the boy her smile grew cold.

While the boy could not see it, one of the Shadow people had appeared by her side.

“His ancestors are already calling him home. He will leave this world come the next winter.” The Shadow said.

The wolf woman continued the conversation in her mind.

“No! You cannot take him. We have lost too many of the young already.” The wolf woman said.

“I wish I could help you, but this has already been decided. There is much more he can do with ancestors of your people. There is little I can do to change that.” The Shadow said.

“But he is so young.” The woman protested.

“That cannot be helped. For what little comfort I can offer, know that he will be a great man in another world.” The Shadow said, and then turned and vanished.

“Why are you sad?” The boy asked. The woman panicked for a moment, and then reached up to touch her check. Her hand was wet when she pulled it away.

“I am not sad! I am happy that you are so beautiful in the sun!” The woman said. She had lied, and she knew it.

The boy didn’t know it though, and he beamed with pride.

“Momma, I am bu..tiuful.” The boy struggled to say the long word. Both of the older women laughed.

“Would you like to hear a story, little one?” The wolf woman said. She had learned many stories over the years, as many as her father could teach her.

She had learned more from the People.

“Yes!” The little boy beamed, as he sat down by the river, and the woman sat next to him.

“Do you know where the fish come from?” The woman said. She chuckled as the boy’s eyebrows wrinkled as he tried to figure it out.

“From the water!” The boy exclaimed,

“Yes, but where do the waters come from?” The woman said. She hoped he would get this one too.

“Ummm. From the ground?” The boy said. She knew that some of it did, but it wasn’t the answer she wanted.

“Where does the rain come from?” The woman asked. The boy caught on immediately.

“From the sky!” The boy continued to beam. The woman thought he was a smart little boy. She was pained by the sadness in her heart, knowing that this boy would not grow to ask all the questions that filled his young mind.

At least, not in this world.

“That is right, the water comes from the sky. In days long past, the world was hot and not a good place to live for anyone except the Fire People.

As others wanted to live here too, they had to find a way to cool the world. That is why the Water People came down from the sky. They came in great numbers, and fell like sheets on the hot world. This made the Fire People a little unhappy, and so they went underground to escape the rain.

But the world was cooled all the same, and the air and the earth formed up as the Water People came down upon the world. So many of the Water People came to the world that they covered most of it. The came down from the mountains in mighty rivers, and made their way all the way to the Great Waters.” The woman said.

“Fish! Look a fish!” The boy said, having turned his attention to the river. The woman smiled.

“That’s right. The Water People loved the Fish People, and they decided to give them a home in all the waters. That is why there are fish in the water.” The woman said.

Commentary;

This is another short one, as I really wasn’t sure where to go with this one. It is another version of the origin story that I first created at the beginning of this series. More than that though, it is also a story of otherworldly things, and the concept of Death, here represented by some formless Shadow person. In truth in my animistic worldview death can be a pretty complicated thing. I have touched upon this a little in my piece here.

In addition, it is also a continuation of my last story. The wolf woman is the young girl in the last story, and she now wears the tattered Old Wolf fur. She is still young in this story, but has already gained a reputation among her people. In no small way, she is the shamaness in this tale, the story-teller. I felt it was fitting since I drew upon the Mal’ta-Buryet Culture for my last story, and since that is the rightful place of the Mal’ta boy, I felt it was fitting to continue that arc.

All that being said, I think I will take this story in a little bit of a different direction as we move on in this series. One thing I don’t want it to become is just a rehash of the same kind of story line over and over again. Though, I am not sure quite how I will do that just yet.

Thanks for reading!


Not in my Paganism

There has been a few recent things that have grabbed my attention, and I wanted to say a few words about these. I don’t feel I can stay silent in good conscience. At very least, I have to stake out where I stand on these things.

Perhaps some of you are aware of some of the controversies surrounding the Asatru Folk Assembly? And as of today, there is some new “uncuckery” about…

Lupa wrote a few words on this issue HERE. It inspired me to hammer out a few words of my own. Speaking generally, I am the kind of person that likes to keep my head down in these kind of things. Most days I am content to be a passive observer. In addition, I try to keep my mind open, and try not to draw a lot of hard lines. I really don’t enjoy divisive, polarizing rhetoric, and I prefer to keep myself ideologically flexible.

That being said, I do have a few hard lines, and I tend to push back when I feel they are crossed. I think that Lupa did a great job tearing into the AFA, whose recent statement is blatantly and unapologetically racist.

In my worldview, all persons (human or not) are inherently worthy of dignity and respect. This means that there is no place for prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia; or bigotry of any sort in my paganism. That is just not how I do things.

Let’s be clear about a few more things. The idea of “whiteness” is steeped in a history of racism and bigotry, and that kind of toxicity is not doing us any favors. I really have no time and no tolerance for that kind of thinking.

In addition, this extends to things like Islamaphobia and general hatred towards monotheisms as well. It is a point of fact that monotheisms make up about 2 billion people on this planet. I cannot in good conscience believe that all those people are “evil” or “out to get me” in some way or another. Do I have deep philosophical differences? Of course.

The fact is that there are shitty people in every group (Christian, Muslim, Heathen, Pagan, whatever), and we cannot condemn a whole people based on the actions of a few. But we can condemn those few; for being shitty humans.

In fact, the idea of “Europe for Europeans” is just as bad as saying “America for Americans”, or “Make America White Again.” As far as I am concerned, you can take that shit and go, and try not to let the door hit you on the way out.

There is something I want to say here about ancestry. I have made no efforts to disguise the fact the I practice ancestor veneration. I do not see anything inherently wrong with wanting to honor the ways of your ancestors. However, when that becomes an excuse for bigotry is when there is a problem. No amount of ancestor veneration is a reason for bigotry.

The reason for this is that ancestry is really, really complicated. If my series “Walking with the Ancestors” has demonstrated anything, is that I am a lot more than my nationality, or my ancestors nationality. I have hundreds if not thousands of known ancestors in my research, and across the board there are Germans, Norwegians, People of Color (our earliest ancestors likely had dark skin), Muslims, Christians, LGBT folks; gods you name I probably have it…

Just for the record, one nation = one culture is bullshit. National “purity” is also bullshit.

I am a mutt, a global citizen of a multicultural world. I am a multicultural pagan (ect ad nausem)… To be honest about ancestry,I would pretty much have to claim all nationalities. If, as some have claimed, I need to be my nationality, how about you tell me who I am supposed to be?

This is why I advocate for inclusiveness, for tolerance. Because at the end of the day, to be a bigot is to insult a member of the human race, and a distant, or not so distant, member of our own family.

Thanks for reading.


Walking with the Spirits Part 3-A

For this one, I want to talk for a bit of what we know about the “origins” of religion. How did it begin? Where did it begin? Why did it begin? In reality, these are huge questions, and there are no real clear cut answers in regards to these questions. There are many difficulties with dealing with the past, and in no small amount there is a degree of interpretation involved.

For purposes of this discussion, religion will be taken to mean really any form of spirituality or spiritual beliefs. I will be using it in a very wide context, in order to help navigate the vagueness of this all.

In short, we just don’t know the answers to these questions with any real degree of certainty. Part of this has to do with the very nature of prehistory and archaeology in general. Prehistory means just that, before written records. As such, we don’t have any writings to help us nail down the specifics. There is no prehistoric text that clearly says “religions begins here.”

In addition, archaeology is an interpretive science. The data and artifacts are collected for countless sites, and then debated and compared. It can really tell us a great deal about the past, but it is important to keep in mind that there are very real limits when dealing with prehistory. The questions of “how” and “where” are easier to answer than the “why?” I will do my best to explore all this in a coherent matter.

So let’s look at the how’s, where’s and why’s to the best of our ability.

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This is a good map by Simon Davies, showing how many of our contemporary religions developed over time.

I think this map is a great starting point for this discussion. I want to draw your attention to its lowest branch for the moment. The base of this tree is labeled as “animism” at ca. 100,000 BCE. I will be getting into the nuance a little later on in this post, but I wanted to start here.

In chapter one of this series, I talked a fair bit about the ideology of animism, and how it has changed over time. I am not going to recap all that here, but suffice to say that animism is often cited as the oldest of all spiritual beliefs. It often serves as a foundation for the later diversification of numerous branches of religion.

Now I would like to draw your attention to the second branch from the bottom; which includes the categories such as “European Animism” and “Fosna Shamanism.” Shamanism is the another important part to this. I have not spent much time talking about shamanism yet in this series, and that may have to wait for another post. That being said, there is a deep interconnection between shamanism and animism. As I mentioned in chapter 1 of this series, (new) animism is the idea that the world is full of persons, most of which are not human, and that life is lived in relation with one another.

Shamanism as such, is the ideas, concepts and methods of dealing with these other-than-humans persons. A shaman is a specialist in these regards. I have wrote a lot about this subject, and the reader is invited to Google the topic if they want to know more.

We will not be moving any higher on the tree with this post, and so the later polytheisms, monotheisms and others will not be covered here. Sorry folks.

So we have established both animism and shamanism as the two ideological foundations for religion, but there is one more piece of this puzzle that we have not yet covered. In a chapter by Matt Rossano, he talks about the three elements of early religion. Animism, shamanism and ancestor worship. As he rightly points out, it is impossible to tell if these “constitute religion’s original traits”; but that they are so commonly present in the oldest religions that they might be considered “universal”, and have deep evolutionary roots.

Animism, shamanism, and ancestor worship. These are the big three, and will be the core focus of this series going. In addition, as I explored in chapter 2, so will be totemism as it is strongly interrelated to all these concepts.

So, with our ideological focus in mind, let’s explore some of the early archaeological evidence for these religious ideas.

Ancestor Worship

As Rossano and many other scholars have pointed out, the evidence for ancestor worship is more prominent in burial finds and grave goods. There are countless numbers of sites that could be brought in as evidence, and that would be far too exhaustive for this post. That being said, we can focus for a brief moment on Shanidar Cave in modern day Iraq.

The remains of ten Neanderthals were found in Shanidar Cave, and are dated between 65 and 35 kya. One of these skeletons was found to be buried with a flower, which can be argued to be evidence of not only intentional burial, but can also be pointed to as evidence of some form of burial ritual to the dead. It is important to note that this find has been recently disputed.

However, a less disputed site is present at Qafzeh Cave in modern day Israel. At this site was found the burial of two modern humans dated to about 100 kya. They are thought to be a mother and a child, and both bodies were found to be stained with red ochre. This is thought to be evidence of a ritualized burial.

There are countless other sites that could be mentioned that provide much more detail and specifics to this line of thinking, and we will explore them more going forward in this series. But for now, generalities will have to suffice.

Shamanism

As Rossano points out; “in traditional societies the shaman’s role is to enter altered states of consciousness wherein he/she connects with spiritual forces in order to gain knowledge or effect cures. The shaman is the community’s spiritual emissary…”

Naturally, Rossano points to several Upper Paleolithic cave art sites in support of early forms of shamanism, from the caves at Chauvet and Lacaux which date from about 30 kya and 17 kya respectivetly. The notable traits of the cave sites, such as shapeshifting and theriomorphic and anthropomorphic images on many of the cave walls.

Some sites even push evidence of shamanism and animism back until the Middle Paleolithic (ca. 300Kya – 45 kya), such as this excerpt from Wikipedia;

“Likewise a number of archaeologists propose that Middle Paleolithic societies — such as that of the Neanderthals — may also have practiced the earliest form of totemism or animal worship in addition to their (presumably religious) burial of the dead. Emil Bächler in particular suggests (based on archaeological evidence from Middle Paleolithic caves) that a widespread Neanderthal bear-cult existed” (Paleolithic Religion)

In addition, another source at Britannica adds, in the context of animal worship;

“This phenomenon is similar to what is still known today as animalism (or nagualism or theriocentrism). It is characterized by close magical and religious ties of humans with animals, especially with wild animals. It is also characterized in terms of otherworldly and superworldly realms and practices, such as placating and begging for forgiveness of the game killed, performing oracles with animal bones, and performing mimic animal dances and fertility rites for animals. Animals were thought to be manlike, to have souls, or to be equipped with magical powers. Animalism thus expresses itself in various conceptions of how animals are regarded as guardian spirits and “alter egos,” of the facile and frequent interchangeability between human and animal forms, and also of a theriomorphically (animal-formed) envisioned higher being—one who changes between human and animal forms and unifies them. Higher, often theriomorphic, beings are gods who rule over the animals, the hunters, and the hunting territory, or spirits in the bushland and with the animals.”

We can see some of these aspects in the archaeology of numerous sites, which as mentioned before, will be examined in more depth later. However, the idea of animal worship brings grants a bridge back to animism in general

Animals and Natural Spirits

From Rossano’s text, we can see the evidence of many of the animal worship that was just discussed above in the context of animism. Rossano points to many of theriothropic images in Chauvet and other caves from the Upper Paleolithic.

He even highlights how there appear to be certain chambers that are dedicated to certain animals, or their spirits.

For example; “The ‘Lion Chamber’ at Les Trois-Freres contains a large feline mural along with the remains of a fire surrounded by apparently deliberately place bones.” – Rossano

Or another one; “In the ‘bear chamber’ at Chauvet Cave, there is a bear skull carefully placed atop a large limestone block. Below the block are the remains of fire and more than 30 other bear skulls that seem to be intentionally place.” – Rossano

So where does this all leave us? I think I will give Rossano the final world here, in his section aply called;

Ancestor Worship, Shamanism and Animism:

Supernaturalizing Social Life.

In which Rossano says;

“The critical point about religion’s primitive traits – ancestor worship, shamanism, and animism – is that they represent the addition of a supernatural layer to human social life. For example, the ancestors are typically thought of as fully participating members of the social community who play a critical role in the health, prosperity, fertility, and future fortune of their earth-bound tribe.

Ancestors are the ever-watchful, “interested parties” whose goals and concerns… must be considered in the everyday affairs of the living.

Likewise, the shaman is the spiritual world’s earthly messenger, relaying critical information about the spirits’ desires and demands…

Finally, an animistic view of the natural world incorporates nature into the human social world. There is considerable evidence that this sacred orientation toward the land and its resources can curb exploitation and enhance human cooperation over the sharing of scare resources.”

I could not have said it better myself. With this kind of framework in mind, we can move forward to exploring some of the beliefs of our ancestors.

Thanks for reading!

References/Sources;

 Map of Religions

Walking with the Spirits Part 1-A

(I find that Wikipedia is good for general survey, and has a useful bibliography for finding other sources)

Wikipedia (Evolution of Religions)

Wikipedia (Paleolithic Religion)

Wikipedia (Prehistoric Religion)

Wikipedia (Shanidar Cave)

Wikipedia (Atapuerca Cave)

Wikipedia (Qafzeh Cave)

Rossano, Matt

Britannica


More Reflections on the FFA

Recently, a few of my posts on the Finnish Folklore Atlas have been getting some attention. I myself have also been revisiting my posts as well as the source itself. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I have been in “exploration” mode for a few months now as far as my spirituality is concerned.

I have spent time studying a lot of different traditions and paths, and along the way I have picked up many different “pieces” of my spiritual path. But at the same time, I don’t belong to any one “tradition” or even one path. My way has been long and winding. And at each with each step, I have learned something new.

What matters to me is that what I learn and discover, works. It has to work, and what works for me may not work for everyone. That is one of my core criteria in most of my spiritual explorations. Does it work? If not, I move on.

In addition to this, in many of the traditions I have explored, I have been lead there by my ancestors. When my Celtic ancestors said “look at this”, I looked. I took what worked and moved on. When my Norse ancestors said “look at this”, again I looked. I found many things that worked, and moved on. Same too with my Finnish ancestors.

Which is what lead me in many ways to things like the Kalevala, and the Finnish Folklore Atlas. And there too I found a great many things that worked. Which is what I would like to revisit for a moment if I may.

Let’s start with part 7 of my series about the Finnish Folklore Atlas. In this part of the series, I talked about haltias, or haltia spirits. Here is a brief recap from the FFA;

“Haltias are supernatural inhabitants of a certain place and guardians of living creatures, living in an invisible environment but capable of showing themselves to humans and appearing in the world on this side. In Finnish interpretations, the haltia has been the supranormal original inhabitant or guardian of a place, albeit also the female progenitor, the eldest of the species or the first representative of some species of animal. A haltia may also be a human being after death, one who was the first to inhabit a place and was buried in his dwelling-place; on the other hand, a person can also have his own haltia, a guardian.” – Sarmela

I have been sitting with this since I first wrote that piece, and I find that this really resonates with me and my animism, as well as intersecting with ideas of totemism and polytheism as well. For example of something that may be totemic, a haltia can be “ the eldest of the species or the first representative of some species of animal”. In some of my interactions I have found this to be the case. I work with individual spirits on a fairly regular basis.

As my relations with these spirits have developed, I have come to understand that no spirit stands in isolation, just as no man is an island. We are all embedded in webs of connections of relationship to one another. So just as I work with individual wolf spirits at home, they too share in connection with representatives of their species, and possibly even the first ancestor of their species. Those that might be considered the “totemic” Wolf, considered from an animistic perspective in this case.

This has important implications for my work with my spirits, as well as a hunter. Here is another quote from Part 7;

“Haltia belief is closely related to belief in ancestors and earth folk, inhabitants of an inverse world. However, the supernatural guardian of a place is always a solitary being who guards its domain, its natural environment and peace. A supernatural guardian of animals has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered animals back to life on earth. Haltias are in their own sphere and among their own kind guardians of the invisible boundaries between man and nature, with human survival and prosperity also dependent on their benevolence.” – Sarmela

I do not think this can be understated. The deer I hunt might be under the care of representatives or some ancestral “Deer.” I have had to create connections with this Deer, because those I hunt are under its (singular or plural) care. So too is Deer in this case; “in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered animals back to life on earth.”

The last part is important to keep in mind as well, and is at the core of conservation and ecological concerns; “ Haltias are in their own sphere and among their own kind guardians of the invisible boundaries between man and nature, with human survival and prosperity also dependent on their benevolence”

As is the case with Deer, or Lettuce, or Cow, or any of the assorted things that we eat, we are dependent on the lives of others for survival. At the heart of this is being on good terms with our food, because at the end of the day they are much more than food. They are people that gave their lives so we could eat.

I mentioned earlier, this also overlaps with my understanding of polytheism. Consider for a moment what was said above about haltias being “the eldest of the species or the first representative of some species of animal.” I think too applies to humans, and offers more of the overlap with ancestor reverence and polytheism. Humans too have haltia-spirits, and maybe this conceptual understanding might apply to the gods as well. Perhaps a form of revered ancestors or spiritual guardians of humanity.

I have to admit I have always had a problem with the “Creator” concept. Taking the Norse Creation myth for a moment, I doubt there is any “literal” truth to humanity being formed from some driftwood. Metaphoric truth maybe, but hardly literal. I think the case for evolution is strong and that kind of goes in the face of the whole “man and woman formed from driftwood” context.

Yet, the gods as a kind of ancestral guardian invested in The gods as a “guardian of humanity has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered humans back to life on earth” and ““the eldest of the species or the first representative of humanity.”

There is something there that resonates with me.

Now I want to turn the attention to Part 4 of my series on the Finnish Folklore Atlas, because I have been incorporating parts of some of what I have read into my practice. In the piece, I quoted this from the FFA;

” The religion of Iron Age hunter-cultivators and Savo-Karelian swidden culture consisted of the ancestral cult and sorcery. In the emerging agrarian communities of the Gulf of Finland coastal circle, the dead were buried in hiisi woods near dwellings or on stony islets in the middle of field clearings. The deceased guarded their living environment even after death, and their cult sites gave his surviving family the right to cultivated land; the land belonged to the ancestors. The oldest marks of cultivated land possession are perhaps cup stones; hiisi woods were probably followed by the village burial grounds of Karelia and the sacrificial trees of Lutheran eastern Finland.” – Sarmela

I went on to detail how all kinds of things were associated with both the ancestors as well as the hatlias of a place

“Maps show the locations of cup stones, stone altars, and sacred trees that in some way or another were all associated with ancestor worship. The finds of stone cups include both single cups, as well as clusters of cups. They have been found near houses, near field clearings, and near burial sites. Sarmela suggests the cups were built as needed for the ancestors.

Like the cups, finds also included stone altars, which were natural rocks and boulders. These sites were used as offering places for ancestors, but also for the supernatural guardian of the place, that may or not be an ancestor. The sacred trees filled a similar function, and would serve as locations for offerings, either for the ancestors, or for the guardian of the place” – Me

Trees, stones, stone altars, the amount of animism here is staggering. But that is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk how I have been applying some of this knowledge into my own practice. I find that it clicks very nicely with me, and the results have been good so far.

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This is a picture of a stone altar I have put up in our yard. There is a second in the works. You may noticed I cheated and used a plastic cup. It is just a stand in for now until I find something more stoney and permanent. I for one have qualms about using plastic as a form of spirit worship, but sometimes you have to work with what you have. So far the spirits have not complained too much, as long as it doesn’t stay too long. We put this one in in front of our new berry patch, which we just planted this year.

I currently have plans to set up a second one, as there is a small pond insert in our yard we are hoping to find a pump for this year. I think a place with some water will be a fantastic place for another stone altar.

On the topic of hiisi woods, my family has had several acres of land for many years. I have hunted, camped and generally spent a fair bit of time out there. Part of it use to belong to my paternal grandmother, who just recently passed away. Now all of the family land belongs to my father and my uncle. There are several non-human family members buried in the family woods, and from what I understand grandma’s ashes will be spread out there as well. The family woods have become in many ways our “ancestor’s woods”, our hiisi woods. I hope to set up some stone altars to trees as well as to ancestors out there as soon as I can.

And yet, it makes me wonder. Those woods have belonged to three generations of my family now, and yet I have to wonder whose ancestors once called those woods home? It is true of all immigrants, that the bones of the dead have been here a lot longer than I have.

Well, that is all I have at the moment.

As always, thank you for reading!

Sources/References;

Finnish Folklore Atlas, By Matti Sarmela