“Our ancestors, even if neglected for 10,000 years, are still an ongoing part of our current manifestation. They bore us. We carry them.”
Where do you begin with such a thing? When you tug on any ragged thread the pull is felt 500 years back, 1,000 years back, perhaps clear to 10,000 years ago to the Neolithic Revolution.
You tug and a weak flame flickers to life in a damp dark place. Your ancestors’ bones begin to ache. Your own bones begin to ache. Your heart aches. You start to comprehend that your tendency toward appeasement, invisibility, and self-editing is causally related to their survival mechanisms. Oh.
It’s an epigenetic homeopathic dilution. For your people, there was true and present danger; genocide, oppression, burnings, beatings, famine—and, for you, epigenetic switches are clicked on for anxiety, fat storage, wariness. Oh.
This narrative has come to me in bits and pieces over an extended arc of time. Like a whiff of peat smoke on a breeze or an evil feeling in a churchyard, little clues have been accumulating since childhood. Fragments of my mother’s superstitions resolve into Irish diaspora tales. They came from Connacht. Oh. Things for which I have a deep affinity, like rugged coastlines and lapstrake rowing boats, turn out to be “heritage”—not just some strange preference. They came from Kilbrandon and Kilchattan. Oh. The sensation is of a slow-motion puzzle clacking together.
In my youth, there was no deliberate transference of heritage. No cultural underpinnings. No creaky relatives leaning on a cane and telling me legends of the home country. In fact, there was deliberate severance. A leaving behind of the unpleasant memories of political upheaval and personal trauma. An American reset, a new beginning, a fresh place with possibility. A great forgetting.
Yet we and the ancestors are linked in oddly hinged ways. Lineage mycelia runs through the ether. Ancestral telluric currents wait for amplification. The relatedness doesn’t go away even if we wish it. It’s subtle. It’s mysterious. Our ancestors, even if neglected for 10,000 years, are still an ongoing part of our current manifestation. They bore us. We carry them.
We carry their strengths and their weaknesses. They are reservoirs of potential great gifts; perseverance, courage, steadfastness, humor, valor, cunning, rootedness, skill, heredity. We are also tainted by their famines, silenced by their land clearances. We are the children of the children of those who had to hide well and stay hidden. We are the children of the children of those who endured shattered and oppressed cultures, forbidden languages, demonized ways.
When you begin excavating the stories and experiences of your ancestors, you may churn up fear or shame or a strange sense of having betrayed them by exposing their techniques for survival. We still aren’t safe—you aren’t safe—what are you doing?! You may be rattled by the bone-deep, soul-deep loneliness you feel. Your own newly exposed hiddennesses and lack of belonging may make of you a sorrowing pilgrim. You may find yourself traipsing through the long-term ramifications of racism, colonialism, and religious oppression.
We can begin to understand then, at some unconscious soul level, the ongoing sensations we feel of the dangers of speaking up and being noticed. We can sense in our own bodies the instinctive fear of powerful men with governments behind them. Our hearts can atavistically suffer the inconceivable loss of traditional music, ritual, stories, and healing ways. Like echoes, history repeating itself, we jointly face the betrayals of those we thought we could trust. We carry them. The same things are with us now in different forms.
They want to help us. They want to be known and remembered. We want to belong. To have continuity. Borne together, us and them, swept along on the archaic whisper, we recognize a shared deep longing for a reality that once was. A whole culture, a home landscape, being claimed by a people and a place. Often flawed and imperfect, yes. But intact. We desperately want to belong to something unshattered, unashamed, sound, whole.
It’s a peculiarly North American affliction, this longing for continuity, community, and tradition. A nation of amputated exiles and cultural orphans, we find ourselves severed, displaced, and yearning for legacy and place at the same time we hold a great disdain for this very thing. The stifled desires come out twisted, as our youth culture and materialism, and in individualism, the cult of personality, our constant need for movement and novelty, and our tendency toward cultural appropriation.
I’m a third-generation daughter of diaspora. I’ve been seeded far away from home landscapes. I’m the progeny of those who deliberately smothered their cultural heritage. I epitomize a growing yearning for something intact, something with admirable longevity, something embedded in a specific place, something understood within the context of long-term, ongoing lineage. I so want to be learned and trained in the ancient ways of my people. I want to recover and restore and remember. I want to hand down something full and rich to my daughter.
These things take time and support. In typical North American culture, we have a tendency toward recklessness and dabbling. If these kinds of things hold an interest for you, find a teacher and be cautious. I’ve learned to approach the Other World mostly through meditation, ritual, prayer, and art or craft. I’ve worked for many years with Mara Freeman of the Chalice Centre in Wales learning about Western Magic. I’m on my second year of learning with Dr. Daniel Foor through his courses and book on ancestral lineage healing. I consider myself very much a novice.
For me, the revelations are still coming. Clues continue to appear. It’s like a slow percolation of water into interstices. I pay more attention to emotional patterns now, to what I call tenderness tears. Those tears direct me. I’m fostering something. I’m cultivating relationships with the old ones; with my dead, my unknown ancestors; with the indigenousness of my Scots, Irish, English, and Bohemian people. I’m nurturing an identity incorporating my personal deep past. I’m aiming to assimilate the trials and the gifts of my lineage into my daily life. I’m in their debt. I seek their blessings and offer my gratitude. They bore me. I carry them.