Heathen Ethics, Part 8: Your Ancestors, My Ancestors

beautiful-tree-photography20--photographs-of-pleasing-trees-photography-heat---photography-w7gusmcpAn idea struck me earlier today, and ever since that moment it has been struggling to eat it’s way out of my brain.  So, let’s get it out so we can look it!

While those who embrace Folkism and those who reject Folkism disagree on a lot of things, there are a handful of things that both schools of thought agree on.  One of them is the importance of ancestry and one’s own ancestors.  It forms a philosophical backbone for just about every flavor of Heathenry, and even the most pro-synchretic, non-Folkish Norse Polytheist in the world is going to look at a Heathen cross-eyed if they declare ancestor veneration/worship to be optional or (even worse) irrelevant.  It’s one of the most primal conceits of our faith, regardless of denomination, and it’s importance cannot be overstated.

It is not as widely acknowledged, but certainly not thought of as contentious, that all people should learn about, embrace, and venerate their ancestral roots regardless of whether those people are Heathen or not.  Ancestry is sacred, and not just when one is Heathen.  While there are those who feel that a lack of Germanic, Icelandic, Scandinavian, and/or Norwegian ancestry bars one from making a meaningful spiritual connection to the worship practices and Gods of those cultures, only those who truly count themselves as racist would malign the ancestry of another.

And now I get to the original idea that has persisted all day; if the above is true, wouldn’t it follow that racial slurs of any kind are the worst sort of speech that a true Heathen may utter?  This is not simply some permutation of a so-called “political correct agenda”*; this is an idea born of serious consideration and thought

To insult, malign, or demean the ancestry of another is to insult every father and mother within their line.  It is to castigate there ancestry by it’s nature and by no other standard than it’s mere existence.  It is showing contempt for a person’s heritage that to suggest, regardless of ancestral deeds or merit, that it is lesser just for not being your own.  That’s the closest thing to Heathen blasphemy that I can conceive of.

Each person’s ancestry is something sacred.  Which is a pretty amazing thing; each of us have the sacredness of our own family line.  No matter how weak or sickly the most recent branches of our tree may have become, there is a point where it pulls back into a mighty and stout root that reaches back further than recorded history can fathom.  To spread bile towards the the ancestry of another, even in passing, is to stain one’s own sacredness.   Imagine how hard it would be for an outsider, looking upon your words and deeds, to truly believe in the hollowedness you purport to hold ancestry within when another’s can be casually and callously dismissed.  Also, think what it must say of your own assessment of your ancestors if you need to malign those of another person; if you truly think you ancestry is great, you need never speak ill of the roots of another.

Ancestry, if sacred, is always sacred.  When it’s my ancestors.  Your ancestors.  Their ancestors.  Anyone’s ancestors.  Everyone’s ancestors.

In so many mystical traditions, we affirm that words have power.  If so, remember the words you say of another; they reflect more of you than of the other.


*I do have an agenda, mind you.  It’s just that it’s “Drink coffee”, “Don’t Run out of Coffee”, and “Anyone who hurts my family should be missing ribs and/or spleens”.

EDIT 3/25/2014: I have a bad habit of leaving questions in my essays where they don’t really fit most of the time.  At the suggestion of my wife(my better half by far), I’ve polished those sentences so they read more clearly and easily.  The meaning is the same; it just reads and flows a bit easier.

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9 thoughts on “Heathen Ethics, Part 8: Your Ancestors, My Ancestors

  1. Doug Freyburger says:

    You take the Adoptive view that if your ancestry is holy then everyone else’s should be as well. I agree but I have been Adoptive since before we even used the word Progressive. Remember that our ancients understood that the closer you were the more related you were and the farther you were the less related you were. Travelers to distant regions noticed that people looked different in addition to speaking and acting different. Go far enough and the differences got obvious. The more related the more allegiance was owed and the less related to less allegiance was owed. It was okay to raid a distant land hurting the living so why should it not be okay to insult their ancestors? Of course it worked both ways thinking it was okay for people from a distant land raiding us.

    Of course this viewpoint led to all that is still viewed as bad about the raiding of the Viking era and it also led to the disunity that allowed the conversion era to happen. When our ancients were faced with equally disunited Celts and Slavs there was a level playing field. When our ancestors were faced with united Romans and then missionaries that level playing field made us vulnerable to being herded like cattle on a prairie.

    None should be surprised that I, Adoptive from the gate, take the view that we need to learn from these lessons and not insult the ancestry of others as a corollary to those lessons. But it’s not an automatic conclusion.

    As to blood ancestor veneration I’ve always been on the fence. my immediate ancestors were all church going Christians. Some Catholic others protestant but literally all of them going back plenty of generations. Can I respect my ancestors (even the gypsies, drunks and gamblers) while also teasing out the fact that they were of a different faith than I am? Somewhat but it makes that relationship very different from how our heathen ancients.

    I know full well that in the question of “nature or nurture” the answer is both. Orlog AND wyrd. But one of the reasons I have always taken the cultural side as dominant is it does allow me to resolve the conflict of ancestral faith. I can and do look to my parent ur-culture. I can and do look to the ur-faith of ancestors so different people of the raiding era *did* raid them. I can and do take a pan-Germanic view that sufficiently distance ancestors never had an ability to take.

    • Well, then you get into the broader differences in culture. Raiding was just part of how things happened back then; it wasn’t a matter of hatred or begrudgement. It was a matter of “you have stuff I want, you can’t stop me from taking it, I have no reason to not take your stuff, and that’s the way our world works”.

      At least within North America and Europe, raiding is not a part of our economic model anymore. There is no more of the literal “kill or be killed” on a day to day basis. With that, how do our morals change? Our ethics?

      Think on an American soldier on the front lines; true, he could insult the heritage of those he is fighting…but chances are strong that he would, in the same moment, insult the heritage of one of the men and women protecting his life! It’s murky territory at best, in my opinion.

      As for ancestry, I respect my Catholic ancestors all the same; I’m not sure they agree with my choices, but I wouldn’t be around to make them without them.

      Always a pleasure talking with you. :)

      • Doug Freyburger says:

        Hurling insults across battle lines has long been a strategy to infuriate the opposition and cause them to act rashly. Insults are often about family. “Your Mama wears Army boots”. “I’m your Father Luke”. Oops, wrong mythos. ;^)

        In ancient times I wonder if the common peasant family honored their ancestors as much as the lore suggests. The lore is mostly about the jarl class so they would have told tales about how their ancestors earned their way into the jarl class. I don’t think ancestor veneration is as well agreed upon among us moderns as you suggest and I wonder how wide it was in ancient times as well. Forebears aren’t always ancestors – Both moderns and ancients know this in theory at least.

        So we know that ancestor veneration was a part of ancient practice, that Snorri the Christian monk claimed ancestors gradually morphed into deities, that founders are not automatically genetic ancestors. It’s the Adoptive versus Folkish debate of the 1990s all melted together to form a cloudy amber or agate or pearl.

  2. Katherine says:

    Thank you for posting this; I’ve shared it with my own followers and hope that they find as much knowledge in it as I have.

  3. Reblogged this on facingthefireswithin and commented:
    The deeper meanings of ancestry. A rather excellent take on the philosophy of ancestry and why almost any form of heathenry should reject racism categorically.

  4. Firstly I drink to this entry on general principle!

    I kind of think of it like this: We all have worth, to some small basic degree, or at least the potential of worth (depending on who you talk to) and part of that worth or potential of worth comes from your ancestors and their ancestors and so on and so forth.

    So in a way, at least how I see it anyways, when you insult a person’s ancestors you potentially insult the worth, the might, of each person that made up the great chain that leads back to the person you are dealing with.

    I remember once that I used to have a school enemy that became bitter to the point it was sheer hatred both sides and many a times I had insulted their ancestors. The joke was on me when years later, while doing a broad ancestrial record taking and working on the family tree, I discovered that I was related to my enemy a few generations back and in insulting his ancestors, specifically those of his surname, I had insulted a branch of my own.

  5. Reblogged this on Storming Home and commented:
    A very wonderful entry about ancestry, Folkish Heathens, Heathenry in general, and Racism that every Heathen should read and think about.

  6. EmberVoices says:

    Perhaps even more to the point – if you go back far enough, our ancestors are necessarily shared, and if you go back there, and then come forward again, that’s all of humanity we’re interconnected with.

    It has never made sense to me that people who can revere trees and animals and call lands beyond our sight and physical reach sacred and divine and even kin would consider the beings even more like us, sharing the same world we physically live in with us, somehow beneath respect.

    -E-

  7. I personally would like to synthesize the main argument posited by this wonderful article about ancestry as well as the poignant observation made by the first commenter that
    “Remember that our ancients understood that the closer you were the more related you were and the farther you were the less related you were. Travelers to distant regions noticed that people looked different in addition to speaking and acting different. Go far enough and the differences got obvious. The more related the more allegiance was owed and the less related to less allegiance was owed.”
    The thing is, I am a Vedic Polytheist, the most ancient layer of the larger Hindu tradition I was born into. As an Indian, born into a hereditary priestly class, I was very conscious of my distinct Indo-European roots. If you would visit my blog, you would realize that the so-called “Arya” identity of the Hindu texts was initially very fragmented, very tribal-oriented. But, the constant series of threats from outside helped these disparate tribes and clans band together to form a shared Arya identity. Eventually, by means of Southward migrations, this “Arya” group would mix genetically with the Proto-Dravidians (A Darker-Skinned People) and this mixing took place over a hundred or so generations and eventually gave rise to the distinct “Indian” identity. When religions like Buddhism and Jainism arose to disrupt the traditional religion, that is when this ethno-linguistically heterogenous people became conscious of their cultural unity.
    So why am I saying all this here? Because I believe it could set an useful precedent for modern Caucasian Polytheists. Yes, our most distant forefathers might have thought along very tribal or even narrower family lines. They might have found it acceptable to insult others’ ancestors. In ancient Europe, despite all of them being Caucasian, the Norse might not have liked the Celts or the Romans might have fought the Gauls.
    But let us remember. Today, we live in a world that predominantly belongs to people who insult their own ancestors. Arab Muslims who think their ancestors were ignorant for worshipping their many gods. They call this entire Pre-Islamic history of Arabia Jaliliyah (Ignorance). How terrible is that? Meanwhile, there are Chinese Christians in Singapore and Malaysia who think that their own Ancestors (Without whom they would be non-existent) are in eternal hell. Or the English Anglicans who would swear the same horrible destiny for their own forebears?
    There are changes slowly creeping in. We have people reviving these old, great pantheons. I read about some Israelite soldiers of Jewish birth, secretly worshipping Anat, a Canaanite Goddess their ancestors had revered. A few Africans are returning to the venerations of their own gods and ancestors. So as Polytheists, we have to stand together with these rebels and help promote the ancient ways of these respective peoples.
    Back in the days of our ancestors, reverence for one’s own blood lineage was something everyone was expected to do. Naturally,there was nothing special about that and we did not unite on those lines. But today, we live among people who decry their own heritage and this gives us a cause to band together as Polytheists. One can be rooted in one’s own ethnic identity and not be a racist.

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