Honouring the Ancestors

Jul 8th, 2013 | By | Category: Articles

joann vander HoevenIn Druidry, often the ancestors are honoured from three different spheres that can overlap each other. These spheres are the ancestors of blood, who share our bloodlines; the ancestors of place, with whom we now share our physical space; and ancestors of tradition, those who have practiced in the same vein as we do.

Our ancestors of blood are those that normally come to mind first.  We think of our family trees, spanning back hundreds of years. Yet our ancestors of blood are also those who are still alive, and those of our blood who have yet to come.  Our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles are all ancestors of blood.  Also, our children, our nieces, nephews, second cousins and so on are our ancestors of blood – some may not have even been born yet, but they all share in our blood line.  Honouring the ancestors is restrictive if we simply have a linear view of time – expand that a bit further and a whole new world of blood ancestors opens up, from our ancestors dating back to the Neolithic, and even before we were classified as human.

In honouring the ancestors of blood, we see that in essence we are all related.  With the gift of consciousness, the homo sapien sapien (the being that’s aware that it is aware) is able to see the world in a different light, should he or she choose to do so.  In light of the fact that we are all related, why create war and strife? We are no longer simply animals fighting for territory – wars are based on a myriad of other things that have very little to do with the animal urge to fight and defend territory, the tribe, etc.  Being conscious that we are all related can lead to a sense of peace, as well as an end to racism, sexism and so on.

Our blood ancestors from the past have made us who we are, at least physically. They may have bestowed some other gifts as well – artistic ability, exceptional maths ability, an ability to sing in perfect tone and pitch.  What we are right now will be carried to our ancestors of the future, whether or not we even have our own children. Our blood is mixed with that of everyone else on the planet.  In a sense, there is no “last of the line” when viewed in this manner.  There is no fear, to need to procreate to continue the line in our already over-populated world.

Honouring our blood ancestors can also bring about peace. It can connect us to our most recent relatives, and also heal the wounds created by any discord, strife or grief that has occurred.  Where violence or abuse has taken place, coming to terms with the blood line can bring about great healing.  It can be the most difficult thing one has ever done.  You may not have to even like the person, but you can see the shared blood and make the change in behaviour if you need to do so, in order not to pass something along the bloodline.  Acknowledging what has happened can have tremendous power. Even if forgiveness is not possible, acknowledgement always is.

Ancestors of place are those who have shared the same physical space that we currently reside in. It could mean our homes, our communities, our country, our continent.  Some of the wilder places may not have many human ancestors of place, but do we need to limit ourselves to just those of the human race?  If we live in the wilds of northern Canada, where few humans have ever lived, we can honour those humans who have, and also those spirits who have always made their home there – the bear, the wolf, the squirrel, the caribou.  Looking at ancestors of place in this light can be fascinating.

Some places have very old human connections, such as here in the UK.  In honouring the spirits of place, we can not only acknowledge those who built our house, or our village or town, but also those who first settled in these lands. With wave after wave of people coming into the British Isles, there are many to choose from: Saxon ,Roman, Norman, Norse, Celt and so on.  With a very strong and long line of human history, the possibilities are almost endless in a country rich with human heritage.

Knowing that one day we will also be an ancestor of place gives us a responsibility to maintain our human habitats to the best of our ability.  It means looking out not only for ourselves and our community but also the entire planet.  Our future ancestors are, after all, the ones who will inherit.  Being a spirit of place we can have an effect on the present and the future by having organic gardens, recycling, keeping bees.  Investigating the land upon which you live is a wonderful exercise in honouring the ancestors. Find out who lived there before you did, how they lived. Find out what you can do to honour them, and how you can leave a great legacy that will improve your own place, whether that it your own little plot or the whole planet itself.

Often, the ancestors of tradition can become relegated to the back-burner; most often when people think of ancestors it is those of their family lines that they think of.  Also, ancestors of place can take precedence in a setting where their songs are still widely sung and heard in the deepening twilight.  The ancestors of tradition, however, will always hold a special place in our hearts if we make room for them.

Some people may have inspired us on our spiritual and religious path. They may not even have been of the same spirituality or religion, but share ideals held in common.  Oftentimes, these can be seen as the more prominent people of the traditions, those who have garnered a supposed “higher” status due to their position, their accomplishments and their deeds.  The cult of celebrity is rampant even among us pagans.  Some are widely known not only for their virtue, but because of who they are – the Dalai Lama for example. Others have been known by the virtue of their deeds (not to say the Dalai Lama isn’t worthy) and an example that springs to mind is Mother Theresa, or Dr Martin Luther King Jr.  All these people can be ancestors of tradition if we hold the same beliefs, morals and attitudes as they do, even though they are not necessarily, or essentially pagan (whatever that may mean!).

Celebrity pagans abound, now due to social media, the increase of pagan books being published and television and radio appearances.  These people to whom the media seek out for whatever reason can be seen as an ancestor of tradition. We may not like what they are saying or representing, but they have become the spokespeople that others are listening to. This can be disheartening when you don’t agree with their principles or the execution of shared principles. It can also result in elation when there is agreement – yes, someone “important” is saying what I’ve been saying all along, what needs to be said, what needs to be done, etc.  Whether we choose to honour them or not is our decision.

Just because someone has written a book, or ten books, or appeared on television or the radio, doesn’t make them any more noteworthy than the pagan who quietly picks up litter by the roadside and sings to the sunset in her organic garden.  It is the cult of celebrity that has changed our perceptions.  Our ancestors of tradition incorporate all ancestors of tradition, from the inspiration gained from the wailing women in black on Anglesey who stood alongside the others to oppose the Romans, to the RSPB volunteer who speaks out against those who wish to harm birds of prey out of fear and ignorance.  We may take inspiration from acclaimed authors whose words strike a chord in our hearts – equally, we may take inspiration from the pagan family in the next town over who host seasonal celebrations in their backyard for all in the community.

Honour should not be bestowed simply because of celebrity.  Equally, honour should be bestowed from within as well as from without.  In honouring your very own self as part of a spiritual or religious tradition, you also honour those in whose footsteps you may follow, whose words we listen for on the dawn’s solar wind.  The ancestors of tradition are a vital part of my own Druidry, and consist of people from all over the world who share the same worldview as I do.  Some of them are considered celebrities, some no one has ever heard of. What matters most is that in honouring them I am also honouring the tradition itself, its values and what it means to be a pagan.  It is all too easily forgotten.

In honouring the ancestors of all three spheres, we are also honouring our very selves. 

joann vander Hoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, the Director of a Belly Dance Company, a Marketing Officer for a music company and an author. She was born in Canada and moved to the UK in 1998.  Her philosophy on life is simple – live it. Fully and as aware as you can. Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow itself. She lives in East Anglia, UK.

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