Thinking About – Ancestors

Who are your ancestors?photo 1

What do we mean when modern Pagans say “We honour the Ancestors”?

When I considered these questions again I realised that, beyond my immediate parents, I only really knew my maternal grandmother. With my mother out to work, and my father doing night shifts, my nan lived with us and she was there when I came home from school for much of my childhood. We were a typical extended family. Eventually my nan moved out into her own home, leaving me with my parents, and we became a nuclear family. But my other grandparents? I have a picture of my maternal grandfather but that’s about it. I’ve tracked my ancestry back to the 1700s, but not with nearly enough depth or detail. It’s something I’ve decided to look at again this year. I did my ancestral DNA analysis, so I know my deep ancestry and where I came from, but it’s time to honour my more recent ancestors by exploring their lives in more detail.

I wonder how many extended families there still are here in the UK. If we look back to the 70s and beyond it’s obvious that family and tribe were important. Then we were fed the dreams of the individualistic society we have lived in since the 80s. I remember visiting my relations as a child and most of them lived in the same road – although my cousins have since spread their wings and nearly all have moved away. At the time it didn’t mean that much to me. Looking back I see how valuable it was, or would have been if I’d engaged it and kept in contact. But what did I know, I was a child.

Looking way back to our distant ancestors and this connection of tribe becomes even more important. I watched The Sacred Wonders of Britain on the BBC during which Neil Oliver presented the way our neolithic ancestors lived in tribal family groups – the road my relations lived in, but on a much larger scale. A child would know and grow up with their entire family. Then later we have the practice of fostering where families shared the upbringing of children, and further bonds were made. I’m sure it wasn’t all love and light, but it does sound like there was a lot of support, and the feelings we get in this modern age, those of isolation and loneliness, would have been unusual. The biggest punishment was that of abandonment, of banishment from the tribe – from everyone you loved and who loved you.

It seems we do that for ourselves these days, and maybe we don’t need to.

Maybe we’ve been sold the wrong story.

Like many people I don’t talk to my parents nearly enough. It’s time I ask about their parents, about their grandparents, and then look further in the public records, so when I say I honour the ancestors, I know who they are, what they did, how they lived their lives, and how they allowed this family line to continue, and therefore granted me my life.

19 responses to “Thinking About – Ancestors”

  1. It’s important to find out as much as possible about family and the stories that go along with them. Over time so much is lost and forgotten that shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s because I was brought up as a child of the military and didn’t know my family that well. One way or the other the stories the elders have to tell are worth keeping before the are lost for all time.

  2. Damh, As a person how has listened to all of your DruidCast podcasts let me start by saying thank you for those. You make a good point about ancestors. This summer at my son’s wedding I mentioned that we had 5 generations in the room in the living memories of people present. My wife recently got her 90 year old father to write down answers to some simple questions about his boyhood. Its a cool idea and amazing what you learn that you never knew. But I think heritage is also important — celt, saxon, brit, viking, american — lots in the mix.

  3. You made a reference to Neil Oliver’s current series. One thing that struck me on the second episode was him describing a wealthy Roman who adopted pre-Roman symbolism into his personal faith.

    At the time, I thought that was an odd description, especially for Neil Oliver. My reaction was that this so called wealthy Roman was actually a descendant of a long, what we now call, Celtic tribe … who took on Roman ways to “belong” to his current way of living.

    He was adopting Roman ways, not the other way around.

    It is this type of thinking that Neil Oliver was broadcasting that I feel fuels a search for ancestry because of a belief we have lost it.

    There is a lot of USA bred culture in the way we live now. Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and even St. Patrick’s Day for examples are USA creations of bits of old traditions that they repackaged and sold back to us. Our towns are full of McDonalds, Pizza Huts, Foot Lockers, Starbucks etc. Shops are full of Coca Cola and Hershey Bars

    Internet was a USA creation and much of the main social media we use is … but are we yet to call ourselves USA people trying to revive our own ways?

    Perhaps a reconnection to family and ancestors is what we feel we need to blossom more and without that there is nothing to blossom?

    Gangs interest me because they seem to create and expand as an alternative family with different rules, but people within them eventually start to feel lost and want a return to a biological and ultimately spiritual family.

    I think the 70s hippy movement saw a lot of this happening with all kinds of “I’ll save you because your parents were bad” kind of gurus.

    Corporations do this. They often give executives the choice of the corporation or the family. My own father got trapped into that one, plus he was also active in the shaman and druidy things of his family so his life was corporation then retreat in places like the Himalayas, Tibet or Andes so family never seen. Corporations also love to promote same sex relationship people to high positions because of the low risk of them having children tot take away attention. Harley Davidson, surprisingly, seem to start that trend.

    It seems that our biological and spiritual ancestry is something that large ‘alternative’ groups of people try to take us away from to follow their’s. These ‘alternatives’ being corporations, governments, religions, and cults.

    Even some so called pagan groups are very active in this by trying to convince us that their pathway to ancient ancestors is more useful and rewarding than following those of our recent ancestors.

    • Thank you John for a considered and thought provoking reply. I have to agree with pretty much everything you said. This exploration and reclaiming applies to many aspects of our lives, including our stories and songs.

  4. My own ancestral interactions have never been restricted to just genetic ancestors (leastways I have never just restricted them to genetic ones and it hasn’t always been my choice in this). It is an ongoing thing and the thing for me considering interactions with genetic ancestors is the “life baggage” that can sometimes “colour” how you may continue to interact with them. Who they were then and who there are “now” is usually different, in my experience.

  5. Great article. I no longer have any parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles living. I do have wonderful and not so wonderful memories of summers, holidays and gatherings with them. In my spiritual practice honoring my ancestors has always been very important and diverse. As an American, I have many ancestors from a variety of places. It occurred to me once that very tiny amount of Chippewa blood I have( and I do mean tiny) lead to me think about about seven generations after me. Then I had a flash of another thought. What if I am my actual ancestors? What if I return every seventh generation? My choices which have always been guided by that principle got very serious. Because if that kind of karma is real and I now act as if it is, I will inherit the world of my choices. I honor both my ancestral self as well my as my relatives. I really believe we are here by our own design.

  6. As with others, I have no living relatives to ask anymore. My paternal grandmother did do a family tree for her grandchildren that took us back to 1692 in Liverpool. Thanks to her, we have names and dates, but we don’t really know who the old ones were, or who came before them. Although I would have liked to know more, and maybe one day I will be able to dig back even further, for the time being, it is more important to know in my heart that they know me. I believe that they do, and that’s really all that matters.

  7. I have also traced my family tree back to the 1700’s, seems to be where most people get to from what I hear of those who have tried. This both for my mother and father. My mother’s family have been all over the place throughout Britain before settling. Rumour has it that before the records start they came from France although I can find no hard evidence of that.

    On my fathers side it seems they were much more settled and we know where the graves of several ancestors are and have visited them a few times. We have a break in the tree with people of the same family name going back a long way into history, but around the 1700’s there is no way to connect them. Even though it would seem unlikely they were not in some way connected given the locality and shared name.

    On the hills above where we live and above several of the villages where my known ancestors live are burial barrows that have been dated to the Roman era. Although I have no evidence I like to think that my father’s line going all the back are somewhere up there, there are just so many mounds it is hard to know then all. I guess I’ll never know for sure, but I like to think so given the number of families with the same surname living in the surrounding villages going back as far as documents go. Often in summer I would go and sit on them thinking about the people who lived here back then and what must they have been like?

  8. I’m one of the relatively fortunate ones, my wife was an avid genealogist for a number of years and traced part of my paternal line as far back as the Loire valley in the mid-1400s (the French and Acadians are very big on keeping records :)… We have also made the very deliberate choice to stay where we are and raise our daughter close to family on both sides – she has a close relationship with all her grandparents, and her cousins at least on my wife’s side, where the whole line basically came to this area in the early 1700s and then just stayed… and she knows and can walk many of the places where we know here ancestors lived.

    i believe it’s a valuable thing for everyone to know where they come from, and I applaud you for taking up the challenge!

  9. I am privileged to be able to channel the ancestors and hear their remarkable stories for our clients. The stories amaze me, and in many cases are confirmed by the client either from knowledge they have from their own parents, or through patterns of behaviour they observe in themselves or their children. If you’re interested in this wonderful and cleansing work, you can seee more about it onthe DNA page of our website

  10. My dear Mother began researching our family history in the 1950’s, and with the help of I am continuing the genealogical pursuit. My roots are diverse, but I’ve found strong ties in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, as well as ties to my Native American heritage here in the United States. I find it interesting that my Great Grandfather whose family hailed from Great Britain (Originally from Ireland) spent his time traversing the Rocky Mountains and learning the ways of the Indians in this area. He told my Mother of the Great Circle of Life and the web that connects us all. She held that knowledge sacred, and she spent quite a bit of time making sure that I understood the importance of all of this “ancestral knowledge”. When I made the decision to walk the Druid path I felt in my heart my decision was inspired by my ancestors. I honour the ancestors with my love of nature and my spiritual commitment to the “Old Ways”. The Sacred Ground beneath my feet must be preserved for future generations. Ignorance and greed will destroy it, if we don’t make an effort to educate people about the “Great Circle of Life”. Here in the Rockies, my opinions and my knowledge of the importance of wildlife conservation makes me unpopular in certain circles at times, but that doesn’t matter. I like to think my ancestors are proud of me. Good luck Damh in your genealogical pursuit and may it bring you as much peace and fulfillment as mine has brought to me.

  11. Hi, I would love to have my Mitochondrial DNA tested. How, where and how much did it cost? I am coming over from Australia to UK in March/April. And would love to check it out then. I am adopted, so find it more difficult to trace my ancestry. . . . So why not start at the beginning so to speak.

  12. GOSH what interesting comments you’ve had posted in response to your thoughts on our ancestors. My Mum & Dad are both dead now but before they died they both traced their respective family roots back as far as records go. I am very grateful that they did as I know quite a lot of my roots on Wirral and in Liverpool.

    Every morning as part of my practice I talk to my ancestors, those who I knew and those I did not get a chance to meet and I ask that their memories should be kept alive, even if only through me! I think this is an important aspect of life and it makes me feel that I’m not as alone as I sometimes feel….

    THANKS for writing about it Damh and also thanks to the others who’ve written their thoughts too.

  13. Wow, thank you all for your amazing comments. I think time spent doing this research is not just a gift for those doing it, but for future generations too. Bless you x

  14. While I know some things about my family ancestry there are many little bits of stories that I don’t yet know although my mum has a lot more information. At this time when the media is also talking about commemorating the first World War I have decided that my own commemoration will be to learn about those family members that were alive during that time and how the war affected them. Names become so much more when we know something of their sotries too.

  15. I was lucky enough that, before my father died, he’d done some family history research. What was (and is) important to me was not the family tree that he drew up but the stories he gathered about my ancestors. He wrote many notes, longhand, and also used to tell me, each time I visited, what he’d found out. I’ve now put all of his stories together with pictures etc into digital format, along with the stories he told of his own life and of my own childhood recollections. (“Google streetview” was great for getting pictures of some locations I haven’t been able to visit/photograph myself.) My son is about to get married this year and one thing that I’ll be giving him and his wife is a copy of all these stories. Perhaps he’ll be interested, perhaps not, but somewhere down the line I may be an ancestor myself and one of my duties, I think, is to try to make sure that the story of the family continues to be told. To me the story is more important than the DNA.

    In addition to this, and not done out of any sense of duty but just because they wanted to come out, I’ve been moved every now and then to turn some of the stories into songs. These I inflict on innocent but generally patient folk club/singaround audiences from time to time. (Some of the songs are in my “family & History set on

  16. Immediate family history is very important as a stepping stone to the past, unfortunately children do not realize this importance while they are young and rarely ask questions. Its not until one gets older that one becomes interested in ones own family stories and by then it could be too late. My case is very like yours Dave, I only remember my paternal grandmother, she lived in Ireland so I didn’t get to see her much, only on the odd occasion when she visited us in London and even then she rarely spoke to me, in those days children were never included in adult conversation and consequently I never had a close relationship with her. My father moved away from his family in Cheshire and for some strange reason I never asked why. There were lots of family secrets but these were always taboo subjects and sadly have never been addressed. My parents are now both gone and for me, it is too late to ask the questions I need, to get a picture of their lives as they grew up or to learn about the extended family such as aunts, uncles and such. My advice to anyone interested in their family stories is to ask questions, try and get them talking about themselves, ask aunts, uncles and any other family member who might throw a light on family history and record it if you can. This information is so very valuable. I wish I had been more persuasive when I had the chance.

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