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.