Discovering our path forward starts with knowing who we are and where we come from. It starts with knowing our personal history and life experiences that have shaped us, but it also involves a knowing of who our people are, and who they were. All over the world, in all cultures, the “Old Ways” are being lost and elders are dying off without passing on their wisdom. We are challenged at this time to reweave our connection to the Old Ways, to know again our unique place/role.
For those of us with European ancestry we are especially challenged to do this reclaiming work in a way that is considerate of our complicated ancestral legacy of systematic eradication of animist, pagan, or indigenous consciousness, this often included and continues to include among many other things, the genocidal colonization of indigenous peoples.
How do we reclaim our own indigenous whole selves, while challenging and atoning for past hurts?
The two practices are inextricably linked. We cannot win the fight to reclaim our indigenous whole selves without also fighting to end colonial exploitation, white supremacy, and genocide. And we cannot win our fight against white supremacy and genocide without also fighting to reclaim our own people’s Old Ways of knowing.
In fact, when we lean on other cultures and rely on them and their ways of knowing, healing, connecting with the divine, etc. we are perpetuating colonial exploitation, depleting the ecosystem of indigenous knowing, and feeding the soil of white supremacy. This is because we are feeding the myth of scarcity. We are exacerbating the trauma of being separated from our land and our people by feeding the story that the only way to be safe and secure is to take what we need at others expense. Instead, we need to heal the wound of separation. We need to know that we are connected still to our own ancestral knowing of how to be good, and whole, and safe in the world, and that we can rely on our kin and kith, Tivar (Gods and Goddesses), Altmag (ancestors), and Wights (land spirits) to guide us through. Only then will we be secure and resourced enough to start to act differently towards those we and our ancestors have harmed.
The dominate culture is at war with the Old Ways all over the planet. It needs us to be stripped of our true power and purpose to be good workers and consumers. The dominate culture needs us to believe that the Old Ways are already lost, that the stories are forgotten, the books and witches all burnt, and magic and mystery successfully relegated only to entertainment and fantasy. But this is a lie. It is The Lie that keeps us (white folks especially) hungry and seeking. Not only perpetually leaving our kin (family) and kith (friends) behind for more money, a better job, education, etc. But also, for healing, for knowledge, for something that will help us feel alive, connected, and whole again. And all the while imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy wins. They can’t have us knowing that the answer is right in front of us and has always been.
My ancestors were forced to give up their old ways for Christianity. They were forced off their land in Germany and Ireland to escape religious persecution and genocide. My grandparents and parents gave up Christianity and like many (especially white people in the United States) I grew up essentially culturally void. There was little to no emphasis on history or identity. I was expected to find my own way and because I was a white, middle class, straight male in America, I had power and privilege to do so. I traveled, I got my education, I lived in various places, and I practiced various healing modalities and engaged with various spiritual paths. I never got to attached to anyone, or anything or anywhere. It is freedom in many ways, but it’s soulless, empty.
The past and the future are inextricable. One of the consequences of not being connected to a people rooted in Old Ways of knowing, is it then becomes impossible to vision into the future. Our whole view becomes obscured and narrowed. We lose our creativity, our intelligence, and our vitality. We lose our strength and our courage. We lose our Will to become ancestors ourselves someday. The point is and has always been to become an Ancestor. Becoming an Ancestor requires that the culture we are creating values and honors Old Ways of knowing and being..
In the year 1000, in Iceland, one of the last vestiges of European Old Ways (indigenous) knowing, Thorgier, a mystical scald, lawspeaker, and profit, after sitting Utsetta for three days and three nights under a bulls hide that he had sacrificed, declared that; “All folk should be ‘publicly’ Christian but ‘privately’ Heathen (if they so choose)…. For only in this way could the ancient customs of Land, Sea, and Sky, of Heathen folk – of kin and kith back to the Beginning – be preserved, even if subdued, into modern times.”
The work of reclaiming the Old Ways and our core indigenous spirit starts with the land that we live on, and whomever happens to be closest to us in this moment. This is where we have true power. This is where there is potential to leverage resource to make change, to become whole again, and start to thrive again together. It’s so simple, but so complicated because these are the places and people who are hardest for us. Who require the most energy, determination, courage, and perseverance. These the people that often seem to bring out the worst in us. We want to avoid them because we want to avoid those parts of ourselves. But confronting those parts of ourselves is the only way we get better. The only way we will live to become the Ancestor we were meant to be.