Tag Archives: Ancestry

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!

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Multiculturalism and Appropriation

Today, I want to talk about multiculturalism and appropriation. This is kind of a tough set of topics, so I am going to cover them as gently as I can. First and foremost I want to talk about multiculturalism.

I consider myself to be a multicultural pagan, and some of you might be wondering what I mean when I say that? Well, for starters a lot of my practice is informed by my ancestors, who by consequence come from pretty much every conceivable place on the globe at one point or another. All that means is that I am human, and the result of countless generations across space and time.

That is one of the reasons I struggle with nationalism. I was born in the US, so yes I am subject to the culture and laws of that. But ancestrally, and like many Americans, I am a mutt. So when I hear people talk about practicing the “religions of my ancestors”, that really gives me a lot of wiggle room. I hope that is something that comes across in my series “Walking with the Ancestors.”

Some people also might be wondering if “eclectic” is the same thing as “multicultural.” Honestly I struggle with this one a lot. I don’t consider myself to be eclectic, and I’ll try my best to explain why. But please don’t take this as me belittling eclecticism. If that works for you, fantastic! It has never really worked for me, so I had to look for something that did.

To me, eclecticism is like having a bunch of pieces from multiple puzzles in a box randomly, and be expected to make a complete (or at least working) picture. I would sit for hours and hours, and just get frustrated that the pieces don’t fit together. And even if they did, I would be frustrated that the picture just looks like gibberish.

The other side of this might be considered some form of fundamentalism, or traditionalism. The idea being that all the pieces in the box are from the same puzzle. Everything fits together nicely and is nicely bounded and kept together. You get a fantastic picture when you are all done, but it some ways it is really limited. All the edges are sharp, and the picture is clearly defined. It’s nice, but I find it kind of stifling. So I really don’t fit this ideology either.

The thing is, I try my best to stay intellectually flexible and adaptable. And that is where being “multicultural” comes into play for me. It’s like having most of the pieces from several different puzzles, generally kept apart. Most of the pieces that are missing would be the outer edge pieces. As such, from one puzzle I could clearly make the picture of, say a barn. But there wouldn’t be any edge pieces, or clear cut boundaries. On another part of the table, I might have a partially complete picture of a wheat field. If I push the two puzzles together, a-not-quite-complete, but a not-quite-random scene of a farm starts to develop. That is kind of how I think of multiculturalism. Sure there are gaps in my puzzle at the end of the day, but I also have a pretty diverse view of the world. Plenty of room for adaptation and experimentation.

Maybe I will add a tractor from another puzzle? Or I may decide I really hate wheat, and replace it with a bunch of deer instead.

I draw inspiration for my spiritual path from a lot of different sources, and plenty of comparing and contrasting. Am I trying to force together random pieces? Not really. But nor am I trying to make completely opposed concepts work together. Each different piece has its own place, but it adds to the context of the greater whole. It is useful to think of it Venn Diagram style. I move together frameworks that have some sort of overlap, or parallels that can inform my worldview.

I hope that makes sense. I am finding it is a little difficult to express these ideas in words.

All that aside, the more I explored the idea of multiculturalism, the more I have found that there are multiple ways to think about it. Here in America we immediately seem to default to the “Melting Pot” concept of treating multiple cultures. The basic idea being that if we mix all these cultures together something new will be created from the “melting”.

The problem I have with the Melting Pot metaphor is that it often goes hand in hand with assimilation ideas. The idea being that “other” cultures (being non-dominant/majority) need to “assimilate” to the dominant culture. Honestly, it’s kind of colonial. The idea being that “they” need to adapt to look more like “us.” Obviously, it also feeds more into the “us vs them” mentality, and I really have no taste for that kind of thinking. I really don’t think the Melting Pot metaphor is useful in this regard, as it seems to reinforce a kind of homogeneity. That kind of runs counter to my personal values of plurality and diversity. Plus it can lead to ideas of cultural “purity”; I.e some “other” may contaminate our pot of “us.”

On the other hand, there are other ways of to think about multiculturalism. Another idea is the Salad Bowl metaphor. The basic idea being, let’s take all of these diverse pieces (apples, oranges, chicken, nuts, whatever you like in your salad) and toss them together in a bowl. The pieces are not “melted” together to form one uniform whole, but each retain their individual apple-ness or orange-ness. What keeps them together is not uniformity, but the bowl itself. The bowl might be what we would call the “common”. The common law of the country, the language(s) we share to communicate with each other. Afterall, communication, community, these all hinge on the idea of the “common”.

I am not saying this metaphor is perfect. It still is subject to majority/minority politics. The “common” of the bowl might be defined by the over abundance of lettuce. The entire salad might have the “official” language of lettuce. Obviously this puts the apples a little bit at a disadvantage if they wish to interact with the “common”.

However, I think the big positive of this metaphor is that it doesn’t require the apples to be assimilated into lettuce. Even though the lettuce may define most of what the bowl stands for, the apples get to retain their apple-ness, though they will need to interact with the “common” of the salad bowl.

Anyone else getting hungry?

Alright, to move this conversation a bit into another direction, I want to share a modified version of a graphic I have shared before.

religiontreemod

Original from the Human Odyssey, by Simon Davies

Modifications (highlights) added my yours truly

Now, I want you to look at the above graphic. I have shared this before, but this time I have made a few changes to it. This is what I mean when I call myself “multicultural.” These are just the lines I have put a fair amount of study into, and most of these choices have been informed by my ancestors. There is still plenty of work to be done of course, and maybe some day I will even learn some non-English language. What can I say, research and study is a time investment, and I am still fairly young. Plenty more time to put in in the future.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to draw your attention to the circles that are not green. There are a few yellow ones on this chart. These are my “caution” flags when it comes to approaching certain culture complexes.

The reason is because of appropriation. There is plenty of writing on there on the nature of cultural appropriation. There was a recent article on Patheos by Yvonne Aburrow, which I think does a decent job at getting at the heart of the matter. There are plenty other articles by the same author, which are also linked below.

Cultural appropriation has plenty of “fuzziness” around it, and that can sometimes make it a difficult concept to pin down and define without nuance. That being said I think there are really two aspects to cultural appropriation.

1) Taking something (whether intangible, such as beliefs or rituals, or tangible, such as artifacts), that you do not own/have no claim to; without permission. (Especially in a exploitative manner, IE for profit)

2) When 1) is done in a context where there is a notable inequality in power dynamics

I want to have you look at the above image again. You see the yellow circles yes? You know what a lot of those cultural complexes have in common? They have a long and recent history of being colonized, exploited, and downright marginalized.

I have wrote a little bit about the Sami on this blog before. I have done my best to do it in a respectful manner, because if I am not careful I may be engaging in some form of appropriation. The point being that the Sami have had about anything you can imagine taking from them. Their cultural lands, their way of life, their cultural heritage. They have been exploited, and colonized, and many of those practices continue to this day.

And if I were to take something (ideas, artifacts) from the Sami, I would be further engaging in those very same practices. Many Native Americans suffer from the same kind of exploitation today, and I could point to countless examples. In fact, in my next post I hope to talk a little bit about the protests going on in Standing Rock.

Also, I am saying this as someone who may (as yet unconfirmed) have Sami ancestry, and recently I wrote a post about how there is some Native American in my genetic makeup. You won’t see me claiming to be “part” of either of these cultures. I don’t feel genetic ancestry gives me real claim to these cultures. Maybe my ancestors did at some point, but I am well removed from that time and context. And so, I do everything in my power to be careful, and respectful of these cultures, and others besides

There is a lot more nuance that could be teased out here, but for now I would like to move on to other writings that are pressing for my attention.

Thanks for reading!

Sources, references;

Misconceptions about Cultural Appropriation – Yvonne Aburrow

What is Cultural Appropriation? – Yvonne Aburrow

 

 


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.


Angry Dead, Toxic Dead – Follow Up

When I wrote “Angry Dead, Toxic Dead”, I didn’t exactly expect it to become the topic of another discussion night at the local metaphysical store; The Wandering Owl. However, that is exactly what happened, and I found it it be an enlightening experience.

Several things came up that I feel deserve to be expanded upon.

I want to elaborate a little bit on my current understanding of the nature of the spirit, and about death. I have pretty complicated views on both these things, and I think both deserve a little more exposition.

As I understand it, the spirit is not one singular entity, but more of a unified whole composed of numerous parts. It is analogous in many way to the physical body, which is composed of countless numbers of discrete cells, organs and systems. Overall however, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The level of organization in my body is something greater than any individual cell or organ. And, as is the nature of cells, they multiply, and are swapped out when the cease to function.

The spirit is similar in many ways, at least in the way I conceive it. “How many parts?” is a matter of some debate, because honestly I don’t know. That is one of the things that defines my view of the spirit, is that is dynamic and adaptable. The overall number of “parts” changes over time, based on a variety of factors. Sometimes parts drop away that are no longer needed. Sometimes new parts are added as a marker of some measure of spiritual growth. I suspect the number and kinds of parts of my spiritual “parts” is very different than ten years ago, and will be different ten years from now.

Obviously, there are all kinds of implications and nuances that go along with this. Certain parts can be isolated and healed. Others can rot, and have to be stripped away, for the health of the whole. As was a big thing in shamanic communities in the near-past, some spiritual parts can be “lost”, and might have to be retrieved. Just as a generality, I would argue that some measure of “soul loss” is natural, and might even be healthy. The fact is, I am not the person I was ten years ago, and my spirit reflects this. Sometimes “outgrowing” our proverbial skins could be a good thing.

In addition to this, spirits don’t exist in isolation. We leave spiritual “pieces” all over the place, as do other people. That is part of the process of how we shape meaning in our lives. Our homes and objects are dotted with little bits of ourselves. The things we create, the people we come to know, all of them are touched with pieces of spirits. It is also a two way street, and the people we know and the meaning in our lives does the same thing to our spirits. Connections are made, and bonds as well as spirits are shared.

It’s like countless little drops of water suspended in a spider’s web.

Death, in light of this model, is a “breaking down” of all the spiritual parts we have at the moment we pass away. Some parts live on as ancestors, or ghosts, or some other form. Some are lost forever, and some are recycled into whatever comes next. Some parts of us live on in our loved ones, and in the things that we leave behind. But just like the cells in our body once we die, the spirit starts to break down as well.

It is a completely natural process in this sense. I touched upon this kind of thing in the last post, so I am not going to detail it all here.

As such, I want to circle back to one of the points raised in discussion. In the last post, I talked about violent death, traumatic death, as leaving behind angry spirits (pieces). If left untreated (through rites, mourning, what have you), some spirits can go bad, and become the kind that only wish to inflect suffering on others. These are no longer the angry dead, but the toxic dead. They are polluted, and poisonous.

The question that came up in discussion was; what can we do about the angry dead and/or the toxic dead?

Caring for the Angry Dead

Several different people at the discussion group weighed in on this topic, and I thought their responses were nothing short of fantastic. I wanted to recap a few of the ideas here.

1) I briefly hinted at this in my last post, but I wanted to reiterate here. “Rest in peace” is not just a quint platitude, but is often the motivation behind burial ceremonies and mourning rites. The idea being, to help placate and “heal” the angry dead, and help them work through unresolved issues so they don’t become toxic.

Death ceremonies are also for the living. Like I mentioned in the last post, violent deaths hurt/wound the living too. The connections we share with the dead (especially loved ones), are torn away, and “tear out” pieces of our spirits too. In the case of violent death, healing is for both the living and the dead.

2) Offerings and placations. The idea being to help the angry dead come to terms with what has happened. To help “calm” them, and to help heal them. This can be a lot of work, and a lot of negotiation. They fact is, like many angry people, the angry dead might not listen, or might not accept what has happened to them. There are a lot of different forms this can take.

3) Holding space for them. The idea here being, creating a space or environment that gives the angry dead proper space and the time to work through their unresolved anger, so that it doesn’t become toxic. It might involve any or all of the things listed above. The way I understood it, the point is to make the angry dead “comfortable” and “sage”, so that they have the time to calm down and work through their death in a more constructive manner.

4) Banishing. Sometimes, the angry just don’t listen, and you can’t get them to calm down no matter what you do. Sometimes those feelings of anger might go unresolved, or the dead may openly refuse to face them. What do you do in that case? One of the points that was raised was to “take all their energy and get rid of them.” The point I think is if the angry dead refuse to be cooperative, sometimes the best thing to do is to protect yourself and those around you. To “diminish” the angry dead, and send them away, minimizing both the harm to yourself as well as others. This can apply to the toxic dead too.

Caring for (dealing with?) the Toxic Dead

One of the questions that was raised during the discussion is; what do you do about the toxic dead? Keep in mind we are talking about a whole other level of nasty here. While it is in some way normal for the dead to be confused, or even angry (in the case of violence), the toxic dead are what happens when that anger and hatred goes unacknowledged and untreated. To use a rough analogy, it is what happens when deep wounds go untreated, and become infected.

When the anger is left to fester, the hatred left to ferment, and the calls for vengeance and the sufferings for others becomes the only motivation, that is when you get the toxic dead. And speaking frankly at this point, there is little else anyone can really do for them at this point. In my own experience, they don’t tend to listen to reason, or even want to be placated. They want to stay angry, and they want to hurt people. I don’t much care for dichotomies, but the toxic dead may be a case of the truly evil.

I would say once the dead become toxic, there is little left in the area of diplomatic solutions. Only two real options are left for dealing with the toxic dead.

1) Banishing: As I raised this point previously, I am not going to harp on it all that much. The idea being, is diminishing the toxic dead so that they can cause little harm to others, and sending them away. This can be a lot more difficult with the toxic dead, for reasons I will detail in a minute

2) Pulverizing: This might strike you as an odd word choice, but hopefully you will see what I mean. As I said before, death is a kind of “breaking” of the spirit into various parts. Violent death is more of a “shattering.” However, it is some of these pieces that remain behind that become the toxic dead. They can be “broken/shattered” again. In other words, the dead can die again. They can be shattered to the point that they are practically nothing, or have been pulverized into something else. I imagine it as a kind of spiritual entropy.

Perhaps a good analogy is a clay pot. For most of its life, it could be considered whole. But then it falls off the table. Smash! In effect, the pot has ceased to be a whole pot, just as the dead have ceased to be living. But the parts still remain. If you had the reason to, you could keep smashing those shards until they are nothing but fine clay sand. That is a far cry, and quite distinct from being a whole pot.

All analogies aside, I feel a certain disclaimer is in order. I feel “don’t try this at home” doesn’t really convey what I am trying to say here. Inevitably, there is going to be that person that reads this and goes off to hunt for the toxic dead.

Don’t. For the love of whatever you cherish, Don’t. I do not have heaps of experience with the toxic dead, but the ones I have encountered are nasty. As in don’t ever try this by yourself kind of nasty. This was a point actually raised during the discussion. These sorts of spirits are really bad news. Like one person taking on an armada bad news. You would be the one, of course. Unless you brought an army, which is kind of the point. Don’t deal with these things alone, and specialists in nasty things should probably be among them. Allies are important. Also, so it a crapton of heavy caliber cleansing. In my experience, not only are they singularly nasty, they also have a habit of polluting other things, infecting other people. They like to spread that shit around.

Think of Nago the boar demon from Princess Mononoke. Think of the pollution monster voiced by Tim Curry in Fern Gulley. Seriously, don’t try this at home.

Military Dead

All of this could imply that there are very serious implications to not only being killed, but the taking of other lives as well. I speak as a hunter here, and as I mentioned in my last post, taking a life does something to your own spirit.

This is some thinking out loud, but something I also mentioned in the discussion. I wonder about soldiers, not just ours, but everyone’s. Regardless whether “enemy” or “friend”, most soldiers either have taken lives, or had their own taken from them.

I wonder about those military dead that still linger.

But I also wonder about those that came back, the ones that lived. Righteous or not, they still have the dead on their hands. Would they come back with broken spirits, carrying the weight of the dead? I would think so. I would also say there may well be a deep spiritual component to things like PTSD.

I do not think anyone can be that intimate with violence and death, and not be effected by it.

How many military dead still linger? How many broken spirits came back?

Native Americans

Which leads me to my next session of thinking out loud. Here in America, we built our country on the genocide of Native Americans. The bodies of those dead are under our feet. How many of those people have been left unattended, left to fester?

Hell, when you drive away and kill the people that care for them… Would it be a surprise if they were left untended?

You always see how bad things get in movies when a house or something is built on a Native American burial ground. What about a country?

Do those of us still live still bear the scars of the deeds of our ancestors?

In some way, I think we all carry the burdens of the dead.

 

Wow, that got heavy… Thanks for reading!


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


Walking with the Ancestors Part 2-B

The boy shivered in his furs. Winter would be here soon, and the nights had gotten bitter, and the winds gnawed at his bones. He made his way back to the old woman’s fire once more, and continued to shiver until the warmth of the fire finally beat back the cold.

“You have returned for another night? Could it be that you want to hear another story as well?” The old woman said with a smile.

“It is just so cold. I just want the fire.” The boy said, pulling off his mittens and shoving his bare hands towards the fire.

“Then perhaps that is the story I will tell you about tonight? Shall I tell you about how our ancestors learned about fire.” The old woman said and the boy nodded.

“Very well. As has already been told, fire was there at the beginning of times, and that is why there are stars in the sky, and too why the fire people dwell far below the earth. In ancient times, the fire people covered the whole of the earth. But they were the only ones that could stand the heat, and a great discussion took place. You see, other peoples wanted to come and live on the earth as well, but most could not stand the heat. So the world was cooled, and the fire people retreated into the ground. But they could not disappear forever, for the sun still had to rise, and the stars still had to dot the night sky. Otherwise things would grow cold and black.” The woman said.

“But why is it so cold? Is it always cold when there is no fire?” The boy asked, staring out into the night as far as his eyes could see.

“Long ago, our ancestors lived in a place that was warm, as it was blessed by the heat from the sun. It was a land covered with vast plains and forests, and rich beyond all measure. They dwelled in those forests, and generally were very happy. But as time passed, some felt the urge to seek out new lands, and so they left that place of warmth and forests. Soon they discovered that the lands beyond were not as blessed by the sun, and these places were cold indeed. In those days there was no fire to keep them warm, and so they stayed in the warmth of the sun.” The woman said.

“So it grows cold when there is no sun?” The boy asked.

“Some places are more blessed by the sky fire than others, child. Where there is fire, there is warmth. The sun people rejoice in the warmth. But they cannot bring warmth to all lands, and in some places they are not as easily found. In some places, the sun people disappear for many months.” The old woman said.

“Who lives there?” The boy asked.

“Those that love the cold. The ice people can be found in those places, and the people of shadows. They love such places. ” The old woman said, and the boy looked up.

“Are there people up there, shadow people?” The boy said.

“Oh yes, the enjoy all dark and cold places. They have been there since long ago, just as the fire people.” The old woman said.

“There is a lot of shadow up there. There must be a lot more shadow people.” The boy said. The old woman could do nothing but smile.

“Perhaps child, perhaps. You would have to live long indeed if you wanted to count them all. Our ancestors wondered the same thing, when they first met the cold, and they turned back to the lands of warmth and sunlight. But they longed to explore new lands, and finally the other people took pity on them. They said to themselves; ‘we should teach them the lessons of the fire people’.

Our ancestors had long wondered about the fire people. Just like you child, they saw the sun rise each day, and the stars in the sky. Some even saw the fires rise up from the earth, or those that rode with the lighting. They knew of fire, but they did not understand it, not in those early days.” The old woman said.

“And did the fire people teach them?” The little boy asked.

“Oh yes, they did. People of all kinds, of wood and tinder, of fire and air, and even those of water, came to our ancestors and taught them.

The people said to our ancestors;

“Look here, fire is always hungry. This is what it likes to eat.” The people of wood and grass said, and many others.

“Look here, fire is reckless and may eat more than is needed. I can help tame it.” The people of water said, and so too the people of earth, and many others.

“Look here, fire needs to breath. Look how he grows when he breaths deep!” The air people said, and others besides.

“And what did the peoples of shadow and cold say?” The little boy asked.

The old woman let out a hardy laugh.

“They said; ‘EEK! Get away from me!’ “. The old woman laughed again.

“Is it because warmth and cold are enemies?” The boy asked.

“Not at all child. They are not enemies, but are very different. The cold people do not do well in the warmth, and so they avoid it. Just as the shadow people don’t much care for the light, so they flee from it.” The old woman said.

“What happened next?” The little boy asked.

“The secrets of fire were gifted to our ancestors, just as the secrets of rock and stone had been before them. Our people learned to make tools from stone, and then the lessons of fire were taught to them. And so our ancestors spread out from their warm home, and they were pleased to find that the cold and dark fled from them. They journeyed to new lands, some colder than others.” The old woman said, just as a brisk wind howled across the camp.

“I sure wish we would have stayed in the warm place.” The little boy said as he moved closer to the fire. The old woman laughed once more. She threw another bit of wood on the fire.

The flames danced and flickered.

Commentary;

You might notice this one reads a little bit differently than the first one. In the first story (1B), I said that the people “…shaped the world from its burning core, and they were pleased with their work.” In this one, you might notice, I said something more along the lines of; “In ancient times, the fire people covered the whole of the earth.” I wanted to point out that while I am trying for some measure of consistency; each story does have a different focus, and might read a little bit differently. I am going to really try for a coherent narrative, or more accurately a series of narratives. I will do my best to avoid glaring contradictions, but this does not mean that each story will exactly reflect the others. It’s a balance in my mind.

Also, I do not think it is inconsistent from an animistic perspective. A world shaped by fire, and a world covered by fire people, are more or less synonymous. However, it is important to remember the focus is a little bit different this time around.

I really tried to avoid adversarial dichotomies throughout this story. I didn’t want it to turn into another “fire vs ice” story, but in some ways this was unavoidable. The fact is that opposites exist. Cold and warm are opposites. Fire and ice may be opposites, but instead of making them enemies or opponents, I tried to give the impression that they were merely different. So instead of a “fire vs ice” story, I went for more of a “fire and/or ice” story. Not enemies, but very different. One of the foundations of my animism is diversity, that the world is full of people, most of which are not human. Each will have its own desires, will and personality. Some may even be down right fatal to one another. But I don’t necessarily consider this an adversarial relationship. Consider steam for a moment.

Or the concept of steamy. Oh la la.

As I discussed in the last part of this chapter, it was fire that helped to contribute to Homo erectus‘ expansion across the globe. In addition, as has already been discussed, it was around the time of H. erectus that we see the first evidences of stone tool use. I regret that that fact got little more than a cameo in this story. I don’t in any way want to minimize the importance of stone tools and the impact they had on our development as a species. The impact was immense, and would continue to be so for a very long time. If I created a story to explain that, it would be much like this one. It would be a “teaching” story, in which the people of stone and earth teach our ancestors how to make stone tools. There is so much more to be said here, but the important thing to remember is that this story is about fire, and so it is central.

Sorry stone people.

As I said, I do not in any way want to minimize the impact of stone tool use. However, fire was just as vital, if not more so to our survival. I think it would have been very difficult for our ancestors to survive outside of Africa without the use and control of fire. Realize, that over time they would have to endure an ice age in Europe. The use of fire opened up much colder climates to settlement, and also brought about a change in both cultural and dietary habits. I do not have the space to really detail all of that, but it cannot be understated the importance of fire.

And with that in mind, we leave this chapter behind. In the next chapter, I am going to get to marrow of this series, and bring us up to the time where I can start talking about my own ancestors in a much more specific way.

Hominids, neanderthals, and humans oh my!

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

1) I have started to consider each grouping of posts a “chapter” I.E this would be chapter 2, part B. So in the future if I refer to “chapter 2”, it means this post and it’s companion part A.


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