Ancestry and Identity

Quilt made by my grandmother

Quilt made by my mother for me

Up until a few years ago, I didn’t pay much attention to my ancestry. Not so far as my Pagan religious practices in any case. Oh, I know my family history, and have copies of the family trees for most of the branches going back to when they first set forth on sailing ships from Europe to move to the New World, and in some cases even earlier. I had no real connection to them on a Spiritual level though.

All this changed when I began studying and doing shamanic healing work. As one exercise during a drumming circle, we did ancestral work. Given that I had emigrated to England from America just over a decade earlier, I didn’t really expect to get much out of it. After all, all of my ancestors had been living in North America for the past 400 years.

I knew that one branch of the family line, a Puritan branch, had lived in the area around Rolvenden, Kent up until the late 1600s. That being when the patriarchal head of the family moved everyone, including his father and mother-in-law and siblings, to the colonies of North America where they settled in the area around New Jersey. I also knew that members of this family had been buried in Hays, Kent. The town where I lived in Kent was a place which would have been known to this family, and chances are very good that they would have visited or traveled through the town where I lived as it is situated near to Hays along the historic roads leading towards Rolvenden.

Still, it had been over 400 years, and the family line had been rather diluted. There was no reason to think these long ago ancestors would recognise me.

Setting the scene then, Sitting in a room, candles and incense lit, sacred space being held, and the intention set to journey to honour our respective ancestors. Only, as the leader for the evening is setting the intention, and discussing the Rune which we will be drawing to walk through before sitting at the centre altar, I feel a nudge at my brain.

Soon after I feel another nudge, and a pressure which generally precedes a Spirit trying to speak to me. I relax to listen and am encircled by hordes of ancestral spirits, all clamouring to speak to me. And all expressing a joy at having found someone from their family line back “on the home soil.”

While ancestor worship or honouring is not a part of my religious or spiritual practice I do think that encounter with my ancient ancestors helped to confirm more than anything that this is my home.


It also perhaps gave me some insight into a activity that many Europeans find a tiny bit perplexing. The seemingly inexhaustable urge of Americans to trace their family tree, and the desire to refer to themselves not as “American” but “Irish-American”, “Scottish-American” etc.

It might also explain the rather annoying habit of some Americans of European descent to try to claim Native American tribal traditions as their own. Or the indiginous traditions of other cultures around the globe.

They are trying to discover that ancestral connection and sense of “you belong here” which I felt in that room, and continue to feel to this day when I focus on my ancestor spirits. A feeling that I didn’t even realise was missing until I felt its presence again.

This post is part of The Pagan Experience 2015. Have a look through some of the other excellent entries by Pagans from around the globe.

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