Becca Piastrelli’s Root & Ritual explores ways for you to connect with your ancestors, the land, your community, and your Self through rituals, recipes, and ancestral wisdom.
Becca Piastrelli has a yearning for all people to feel deep down in their bones that they belong. Where can you start on your path to belonging? Ancestral connection. Ancestral connection is much more than just genealogy says Piastrelli, a writer, land steward, women’s coach, and ancestral folk medicine keeper.
In her book Root and Ritual: Timeless Ways to Connect to Land, Lineage, Community, and the Self (on sale 11/16/21), Piastrelli urges you to connect to your nameless ancestors, land, community, and self through rituals, recipes, and ancestral wisdom.
S&H: Not everyone feels connected, or the desire to be connected, to their ancestors, whether from trauma, estrangement, or other reasons. How do you think women can best find connection if they do not want to feel connected to their ancestors?
Becca Piastrelli: Ancestral connection can mean so much more than learning about and establishing connection with your genealogical relatives. There are very legitimate reasons why folks wouldn’t want to do that. The way I see it, no matter the story of how you got to be here, you are alive because your ancestors lived (and you have a lot of them). I have guided folks in connecting to the nameless, faceless ones that came before them which often feels more exciting and safer. I also expand the definition of ancestors in the book to include all the elements—mushrooms, trees, stones, and stars.
What do you think of the word “woke” and how do you see your work as engaging in dialogue with this?
I am aware that language has power and the cultural context around certain language can shift its meaning. That feels true about the term “woke” right now. I don’t really use it because I think it diverts attention and energy from what I believe to be the vital work of this time. I think so many of us arrive at a place of consciousness and repair from different avenues and mine is through the lens of belonging and loneliness.
It also stems from my own story of feeling like a cultureless white girl living on land my ancestors did not originate from and feeling a desperate yearning for ritual and spiritual connection. So I did what many of my fellow white seekers did: I looked to the rituals and practices of historically marginalized cultures who had preserved them as a means of survival. In that way, I was appropriating something that wasn’t mine in the first place and without a real understanding of its sacredness to the teachers of it and their ancestors. So I’ve been on a journey to connect with my own indigeneity and the practice of decolonization as a pathway to a sense of belonging. That feels like important work for this time.
Your book and your work rely on embracing rituals and practices found in many world cultures, particularly from indigenous ones. How do you reconcile cultural appropriation with cultural appreciation?
With the cultural context of language that I mentioned before, this can feel tricky. There is also a great deal of nuance present in our culture right now—there is no one single rulebook. That is why I encourage the readers of the book to tune into their own inner compass as it relates to ritual and spiritual practices (beginning with connecting to the rituals and practices of their own ancestral heritage first, if possible).
I was appropriating something that wasn’t mine in the first place and without a real understanding of its sacredness to the teachers of it and their ancestors.
I personally feel like there is a way to be in integrity when engaging in spiritual practices from historically marginalized cultures. Do you have the blessing of a teacher in that lineage? Are you giving honor to that lineage? Have you learned enough about it to speak to it so that you are in a reciprocal relationship with it? These are the important questions for us all to consider.
Your voice is beautifully inclusive and warm. You write in the first-person plural, “we.” This voice unites reader and author, but it also invites the question: Have “we” all suffered, become disenchanted, felt disconnected together in the same way? How do you connect with readers with diverse backgrounds and experiences without becoming too generic?
I do believe that yes, all of us have experienced some version of disenchantment and disconnection in these times. That comes from having thousands of conversations, sharing my story, and the natural byproduct of living under oppressive systems that are counterintuitive to our thriving. My intention with this book is to tell my story without applying it to everyone. Instead, I invite the reader to reflect on their cultural, ancestral story as well as the ways they feel disconnected—however that may look. It is in the sharing of those stories that we can develop a deeper sense of empathy for each other and form resilience in these times.
I am moved to tears by Irish bodhran and fiddle, but nowhere in my near genetic lineage is a drop of the Celtic or Gaelic. (Believe me, I have probed past-life regression and meditation to plumb this.) Must I coach myself to be moved by French-Canadian folk songs instead? Why?
No, you don’t need to coach yourself to like music that doesn’t resonate with you. I, myself, often weep at the first few strums of Spanish guitar but don’t have a genetic connection to that culture. What I don’t do is apply such a binary connection to that which resonates within me. I don’t question it, I explore it. Just like the Irish bodhran, the Spanish guitar is giving me a clue about what moves me and that helps me uncover the deeper connection.
A strong undercurrent of the book is one of longing and loneliness (which is not the same as solitude). How has alleviating loneliness become a theme in your work?
Loneliness has been a close companion of mine throughout my life. And this is coming from an extrovert who can easily strike up a conversation with most anybody. My research into the history of loneliness (which is a relatively new chronic human experience) revealed to me just how much our individualist culture has negatively impacted the human species.
The nuclear family, meritocratic model has us forgetting our communal nature. And that creates disconnection, disenchantment, and loneliness—a sense that we are doing it wrong so we must struggle to figure it out on our own, and then we’ll be rewarded with a sense of belonging once more. I know it because I’ve lived it. My life path is an exploration of and sharing this process, which has helped me realize I am not alone in it.
Another theme that resonated with me is one of recovering what we have forgotten (culturally and personally). What is the most potent practice you recommend for someone who longs to reconnect to the past?
Start with food! What has survived the immigrant assimilation and colonial experience has been the folkways (aka the ways of the people), and that starts with food, music, clothing, and dance. So many of us have a visceral, emotional reaction to food. My favorite activity is to organize an ancestral potluck—where you invite your community together and each person brings a food that represents who they come from. There are always wide interpretations of what that means and you end up with incredible stories and delicious food.
The archetype of the spiritual seeker is ageless, and the current state of the world is rife with events to feel spiritually shaken by. What is one thing you think any spiritual seeker can benefit from, right now?
Oof, I’m right there with all the beings feeling spiritually shaken in these times. I think that is a perfectly appropriate response to the times we are in. I think it’s possible to be a deeply rooted tree while the storms blow through and bend your branches—some may even snap. I believe we must remember to root ourselves back into the earth. Sit on the ground with our backs to a tree, get our hands in the dirt as we garden, go on walks without any technology, and compost our anxiety and fear back into the earth. These have always been the way our ancestors—no matter where they come from. And, even with technology at our reach, we can reincorporate these ways back into our lives.
Want to know more? Read Becca Piastrelli’s Root and Ritual: Timeless Ways to Connect to Land, Lineage, Community, and the Self.