PBP: Ancestors and me

As part of my practice, I don’t venerate my ancestors.  I know its a popular thing to do in various Pagan communities, but I’ve never felt compelled to do so myself.

Specifically, I do not “regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference” or “to honor (as an icon or a relic) with a ritual act of devotion” (source) the “person(s) from whom one is descended, especially if more remote than a grandparent; a forebear” (source).  I have a number of reasons for this, which I’ve found can be somewhat controversial, as people often take someone else’s rejection of something they find important to be personal (If you, fabulous reader, don’t agree with me, that is A-ok in my book!):

  • I know diddly-squat about most of them. I have a big family.  When it comes to my more recent ancestors, there’s quite a few I’ve never even met and my family isn’t the type that sits around and tells stories about “back in the day”.  And then there’s the fact  that two World Wars and two more wars to follow them up can do a lot to scatter family, leading to permanent loss of contact.  I consider this to be perfectly fine, considering the next point.
  • Some of them are assholes.   I personally know that some of my ancestors have been complete and total jerks.  I see no reason to celebrate their life.  I’m not alone in this either
  • Some of them would be offended by reverence. Lets face it, for at least the past millennium my ancestors have been Christian.  Statistically speaking, just by looking at the countries that my ancestors have come from, not only were they Christian, but they were pretty darn strict Christians.  I already know for sure that some of them, though they might be worthy of honoring, would be offended (if not downright horrified) by the practice…and I’d be willing to bet that’s the case for most of my ancestors over the past 1,000-1500 years.
  • Some of them aren’t dead yet.  Hubby and I have some long-lived kin.  Really long lived.  8 decade minimum.  Until my great-grandmother passed away last summer, we had five generations of women in our family.
  • They are just people.  Its a bit idealistic to think that one’s ancestors were all healers and bards and white knights…most of them were ordinary people, and some of them are likely all-around assholes.
  • Who the heck are my ancestors anyhow?  I’m an ethnic mutt.  Between myself and the hubby, our family can count in their ancestry Irish, Scottish, English, German, Scandinavian, Native American and (according to some rumors) African.  I can’t even revere my ancestors in a general, cultural sort of way. Its also fairly common to in Pagan communities to see people who are drawn to the traditions of their ancestors…I see this as highly problematic as a mutt, and…well, as a student of biology, humans are all related anyhow.
  • Genetics are only genotype-deep.  I think my biggest reservation about ancestor veneration is the idea of placing that much emphasis on a chemical.  DNA is just a portion of what makes us who we are, biologically-speaking, as a whole person, they are even less.

So, here is what I think about ancestry.  I don’t really care who contributed to my personal DNA or what they have done in the past.  Sure, I find it interesting (I like history, after all), but I don’t ordinarily find it spiritually significant.  Instead, I choose to honor those people that have meaningfully impacted my life, related or not.  Not everyday, or as a regular part of my worship, but at times like Samhain, or Memorial Day.

What matters is what I am doing with my life right now.  Humanity isn’t a chain, one generation linking to the next, it is a river, flowing and overlapping.  What matters is remembering the lessons of history and human kind that have impacted our lives in a general sense, and in a more specific and personal sense.  Sometimes those people are our relations.  Sometimes those people are friends.  Sometimes those are people that we’ve never even met.  Sometimes, they might even be fictional.

Yup, I’m going to try this again and see if I can actually make the end of the alphabet this time! I’m only doing one post per letter though…


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About thalassa

Occasionally doting wife, damn proud momma of two adorable children, veteran of the United States Navy, semi-steampunk bohemian beach addict from middle America, Civil War reenactor and Victorian natural history aficionado, canoeing and kayaking and paddleboarding fanatic, Unitarian Universalist and pantheistic Pagan, devotee of various aquatic deities, and practitioner of bioregional witchery View all posts by thalassa

11 responses to “PBP: Ancestors and me

  • eurekasprings

    May I reblog this? Because for me, this completely is the reason why I don’t do ancestor worship.

    • thalassa

      Sure! Glad you enjoyed it…sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one that thinks this way, but then I think that I can’t be, lol.

      • eurekasprings

        Think of people rejected by their family, gay, suffered abuse by family members (not me on any of these) and the reality of “worshiping” ancestors just doesn’t appeal. For me personally, I know who my ancestors were – brave and strong but violent. Women worn old before their time (my grandfather was from a family of 13, including two sets of twins). It’s hard to feel the love.

      • thalassa

        I agree that this, particularly is problematic. I think too, with my training in biology (even though I work in a different field of science), I find it hard to put that much stock in DNA as what matters (certainly it is contributory, but so is developmental biology and epigenetics and the society one is born into, and the environment (physical and emotional and economic) in that society that one is born into, and the people that person is exposed to, the ideas they encounter…

        As someone’s parent *and* someone’s child, upbringing only contributes so much also. As different as my kids are, from each other and from myself and their father, their experiences are encountered on their own terms, and it makes them (and us) our own persons, not some reflection of our parents. Heritage only contributes a small portion of who we are…and while I find it interesting, I don’t find it defining.

  • eurekasprings

    Reblogged this on Owl and Rabbit and commented:
    My feelings exactly, and written so much better.

  • eurekasprings

    Yes I agree somewhat but I am also amazed of how much biology has come through on both of my kids. Son’s ADHD, I now recognize as most likely some of the LD issues both my brothers had in high school. I have also seen a huge path of violence on my fathers’ side that has been documented since the Civil War (relatives he didn’t know of or had contact with obviously).

    While we do have ancestors and gain the building blocks from them, how we stack them is our gift as being intelligent, thinking, human beings. I don’t have to slug my 9 month pregnant daughter across the room as my uncle did, and neither do I have to drink myself silly and beat up my spouse like my other uncle. Nor do I need to drag my teenager son up the stairs and beat him with a belt.

    So for me… ancestors… hm yeah don’t see a need to worship you or ask for your assistance in my life as I think your advice would be pretty crappy.

  • eurekasprings

    One thing though, I think we would both agree, is that it IS a path that is important and meaningful to some. Especially for those that need a sense of community, acceptance or being a part of something larger. I can see where it could mean something, it’s just not for me. And thankfully, there is room enough in our beliefs to accept both versions.

    • thalassa

      Yes! I totally agree here…I know plenty of people that generate their ancestors because they do find it meaningful, and its a beautiful practice. Its just not me…and I don’t see many people actually stepping out there and saying that. Sadly, the couple of times I have, they’ve been jumped all over too. I think the beauty of pluralism is that there is room for both!

      Also I agree with your other comment too. I mean, I have hubby, son, & half brother with ADHD as well, and I have the same set of allergies as my mom, my grandma, etc. Genetics plays a big role in the challenges that are inherent to us, but not so much in the choices we have to deal with them, thanks to modern science, from medicine to psychology.

      Lol…I was looking back, and realized how black and white Scroogey I sound on the subject. Not entirely my intention, and I do acknowledge there is room for quite a bit of nuance. Its more that I’ve seen the nuance, evaluated it, and still find it unnecessary for me and my path. It will be more of a challenge, I think to present the concept to the kids in a way that is unbiased, so that they can make their own choices. Maybe I’ll leave that subject to Daddy!

      • eurekasprings

        Aside, have you noticed how having a strong opinion seems to offend people? I mean an opinion that doesn’t affect them at all but the fact you make a personal statement that disagrees with their view of the universe? (BTW I am not talking about opinions that are actually attacking others, just personal ones about wanting to live your life.)

      • thalassa

        Good gods yes! I have a blog post that I’m working on now that I expect will land me in the mommy wars, tentatively titled called “I don’t care how you feed your baby”… But you see it everywhere. For some reason so many of us see a person’s different choice as if it were an personal indictment and condemnation upon our own choices and ideals and it creates an Othering that is often bordering on fanaticism.

  • eurekasprings

    rofl! Well I am so glad I am no longer the mom of preschool kids. The intolerance among the mothers of that group should be packaged into a warhead. Now I just have college and high school “kids” whose moms are just living in a state of bewilderment and hope that they can survive.

    I find the intolerance among pagans (or whatever alternate mainstream religion people want to self-identify with) interesting academically. Golly, if I wanted to be told how to worship and be spiritual I would join the Catholic church. Yet, the intolerance so commonly found among fundamentalist Christians seems to have seed and root among those who are walk a different path. Interesting. Academically.

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