The Ancestors Calling
This is the first out of three blog posts in a series. They are my personal thoughts condensed into writing, therefore, it reflects my personal view on some pretty big issues. It is not my intent to admonish or heap blame on anyone here. I acknowledge the ancestral debt I owe through my ancestors, and I seek to fix it. Ideas for settling the debt will be featured in Part 3: Addressing the Legacy. This first part is about coming into contact with our European ancestors.
Why Europeans? Because, for whatever historical reasons, they were the colonizers. Their beliefs and actions led to the death of millions and the subjugation of hundreds of sovereign nations across the Americas. Their continued occupation has led to five hundred years of oppression for the native people of the continent and the African slaves brought in to build our American Empires.
DISCLAIMER: If you continue reading this, you may feel a deep sense of shame and guilt over the actions of your forebears. I recommend you neither accept this nor deny it. Sit with it. If this work is approached sincerely and spiritually, you will establish a connection with your ancestors. Your emotions may be phantom echoes of their regrets. Bear witness with patience and compassion.
We pause along the weary journey of life, mundane concerns crowding in around us, and take a deep breath. The flow of air reminds us we’re alive, not automatons, and we begin questing for a heartbeat of confirmation. There it is, thumping away in our chests: validation. Proof that we emerge from love and, out of whatever love for those around us, we seek some reason to go on. Proof we have chosen to honor those who came before in the mere act of existing, and by existing, to experience this moment of history. Our ancestral blood goes on, spread across the canvas of billions of lives.
From the deeps we hear their call. Where the heartbeat is a drumbeat, where our human heat is life–there! They wait for us around a great bonfire in the land of Lighted Shadows.
We steel ourselves. This is family we didn’t know we had. Obligations we have feared to acknowledge. These are the patient mothers and abused wives, the lovers torn apart, the stoic fathers, the courageous soldiers and ravaging tyrants, the wounded children and the loved ones, too. Every slice of human life crowds around the fire. They call in the wordless summons of the dead, and we must answer for the sake of lessons that need learning, and their sake as well. When we chose to regard those who came before, we give them light.
It isn’t likely you carry the blood gilt of mass murderers, but we all carry some measure of settlers and colonizers. Yes, even those of us who came later, struggling with the immigrant label. Our helices stretch back in time and wind through the Tree of Life. These genetic strands carry the past to us, like ladders, so we can safely speak about them in ourselves. By joining the bonds of these American soils, we fed a machine that ground out the lives of the native people of this land, not because we were heartless, but because we needed to survive. Perhaps some fought on the behalf of the oppressed, and those should be celebrated, but our nations were built around a zero-sum game.
It is not our place now to merely repent for the luck that brought about our lives. Those lessons will be learned later. Guilt and apologies will do little, in any case. What is important is to stand in this place and forge these links of memory and healing.
THE LAND ITSELF
The ancestors call us deeper–how can we understand the recent past if we cannot know what sings in our blood? First, we must discover where we came from, because in the struggle to survive, we have forgotten that. The land whose particles swim in our blood, whose myths quietly animate our lives–that land holds the bone-seeds of the past and must be recognized.
We enter the circle of the Lighted Shadows and walk among the ghostly images of the dead. They part before us. We must begin to define ourselves at the center, and that heartbeat-drumbeat lies in Europe for most Americans alive today. When in Europe will vary for each of us. The ancestors make different paths, some which cross or travel parallel, but all that ultimately hit bedrock separately.
This land will appear mythical, and might as well be, lost in time for so long. The origin of our blood cannot be known in the crystal clarity of an excavation, or even the charted purity of a DNA test. You will do well to accept the ambiguity and take it in for what it represents. If you think you know where your roots dig into the Earth, go further back, stretch beyond. See this network touch lands beyond remembering. Sit in this space with acceptance, but expecting honesty. What images are here will be symbols, and you should hold them as such. By firelight, they shimmer and shift, they speak to you of some idealized Creation your atoms were once part of.
Sink deeper into the experience, find root and soil and bedrock. Where is that you’re anchored? What quality is the soil? Will you find stone monoliths, or the vanished imprints of wooden posts and thatch roofs? Seek out the lives and loves of these most-distant dwellers, welcome them into your consciousness. Greet them as relations.
Find their prehistoric gods, too. The ancient horned ones of the hunt, the fanged and sharp-clawed monsters of the dark, the shining mistress of the crops and protective motherhood. The forgotten syllables that make up their names may be forgotten, but their sense is yours now. They are paths to a different way of being. Across the mists of time they’ve taken note of your remembering and will remember you, in turn.
You’ve forged the first links in a long chain of healing. Carry it with you.
THE FIRST TWO CONQUESTS
The past is overwhelmed eventually, it flows onward and arrives at the time of centurion, gladius and empire. Rome tramples all underfoot; their legacy conquers the memory of what had come before. There is a reason their plundered myths are taught today and we hail them as democratic forebears. The glory of Rome is our first brush against the murky entanglement of our legacy, where our forebears first learned to dismember the bonds of land and blood. It was a long struggle, too. Our ancestors resisted the imperial might for centuries of endless war.
There is the possibility that you’re one among the true Latins and never lost a fragment of yourself. Rome was a relatively minor group before their expansion by the sword. But where your ancient fathers and mothers imposed a way of life on the rest of the continent, you now own the gilt of their actions. It is inherited in ideas and languages. Empire rarely comes at a comfortable price and around the Great Bonfire there might be those agitated memories of the conquered. And, in the course of things, you may discover tendrils of inheritance between you, or how their rage becomes your angst. All life flows as one.
By that token of truth, we are both conquered and conquerors. What languages were lost and learned, what new rites were exchanged for the new. The tangled threads of what happened are the paths of a labyrinth in time, and the ancestors may reveal this maze for you one day. May you have the courage to travel it in spirit, mind, and heart. May it be healing.
Remember the blood shed across the continent, under the standard of the Eagle, and how that image was burned into our minds, bound to re-emerge triumphant in the West. Remember the game of survival and adaptation, of forgetting, until tribes were erased completely in the Gaulish provinces, and Germania, and Hispania. Remember the scraps of lore soaked into the ground and lost when those charged with knowledge were slain for their influence over hearts and minds, as in the Isle of Anglesey. These things must be remembered.
In time, Rome fell to pieces, but such violence would repeat. Vilified barbarians conquered a people changed and already forgetful, bred their war into the ground and were in turn pacified. Even when the empire crumbled, and the weeds of old ways were given space to grow again, these ancestral lands were soaked in the struggle of identity.
Under the sign of the Cross began a new forgetting: violent, quiet, or kindly. Each of our ancestors remember; those images are fresh for those who reach to the pre-Christian past. Whether a Great Judge deemed it or humans lives are cyclical, it happened because of the centurion, gladius, and empire. Roman roads carried these new colonizers of the spirit and their legions gave them an edge of steel.
It took 1500 years to smother the light of the past in Europe, before the third occurrence of this malady took shape again.
Your hands are slippery with the blood of the past. This is the legacy of our kin now buried somewhere in a distant continent. It forged them. Standing among them, there is nothing to do but to join their lives to ours and suffer the fall of all ourkind. Distant, mythic landscapes joined a tombstone record of bloodshed. Then, as innocence gives way to understanding, offer your heart to them. Your blood is their blood, bone-to-bone; pour out this sorrow. Show these shades how to pour out their guilt, because there is no choice when the alternative is death. Learn forgiveness.
These are the next links in your chain. They’re rusted red and brittle, so be gentle.
COLONIES AND DREAMS
Five hundred years ago, our ancestors stumbled on a New World and to them brought sickness and death, conversion and colonization. They obliterated the map and used Genesis to assert the land was under their dominion, by Almighty God. Five hundred nations and more suffered the same fate as our pre-Roman, pre-Christian ancestors. From across the ocean, another people were shipped chained to a cargo hold tombstone. We learned how to stain our souls with greed and falsehood. In time, the standard of the Eagle emerged and under this sign was proclaimed a Manifest Destiny of Blood and Conquest, sweeping west until we could march no further.
These wounds are recent and the guilt here might be overwhelming. More damning still is to recognize we haven’t washed ourselves clean of this legacy. It echoes today in police brutality, missing girls, and broken treaties.
Or, perhaps your folks immigrated in the centuries that followed, seeking the allure of opportunities that could not be found in the Old World. The Old World whose sickness was being rich on plunder. Leaving empires built on the back of slaves and the blood of the First Americans, our ancestors willingly participated in a corrupt system. There are no innocents when survival is at stake until we each fall equally to Death.
Around the Bonfire, you might even encounter a measure of pride and very good reasons. “We did it to survive!” Or perhaps they say, “We didn’t know any better!” Our aim is not to pass judgment, but these arguments must be witnessed. Here, the ancestral shades around the Great Bonfire may weep, or refuse to listen. They will rationalize their involvement and you may realize their words have come out of your mouth when speaking to others, or lurked in the shadows of consciousness. Surround yourself with them and make a pause. Breathe.
You see them gathered around you, now, the spiritual legacies of injustice. They are your most recent ancestors, garbed with the unequal vestments of a continent divided, unable to admit the sickness of our culture. This is how we obliterated our complicity and forgot we had forgotten the past. We dropped the chain of ancestry and the bitter surcease it offered. We became a people without history, removed from comfort or sobering guilt. We used optimism to mask the terrifying guilt that survival without wisdom cost the lives of millions.
May the past only inform us, for we cannot be immobilized by it. Too many things remain undone.
May those who see themselves as damned guide us to make amends. The scars of the past remain to be healed.
May we remember the ancient sacredness in our blood, stretching back into infinity.
May our newfound roots sip from the buried wisdom spilled by thousands, returned to the soil and forgotten.
May we remember that we are not our wounds, but the promise of justice for tomorrow.