The Importance of Ancestry

In my last blog post, I discussed ancestor veneration. It can’t be denied that for heathens, our ancestors are a very important aspect of our spirituality. So you’d think that ancestry is very important to us, wouldn’t you?

Let me be very clear. Ancestors are very important to heathenry. Ancestry, on the other hand, is not.

Whether you are full blooded Anglo-Saxon, or full blooded Asian, I welcome you to heathenry if you feel drawn to it. I want to take this opportunity to discuss racism within heathenry, and to condemn the racism that can found within my beloved religion.

It is true that (modern) heathen history has had it’s fair share of racism, but that can be said of almost any religion. Judaism had it’s genocide of the locals when taking their “promised Land”, Christianity had it’s crusades, Islam had it’s jihads. Even in modern history, there are still violent minorities within these religions. The extremist Zionists who want to wipe out the Palestinians, the Christians who bomb clinics, the Muslims who have resorted to suicide bombings. But you can’t blame an entire religion based upon the hatred of some.

Heathenry is still young, we are still fighting our elements based upon hate. The older religions have had a chance to condemn the hatred of those who would use religion as an excuse to hate. Now it is our turn.

One popular argument used by the racialist heathen seems to be that those adopting heathenry who don’t have Northern European blood are misappropriating our culture. They point to indigenous cultures such as Native Americans who exclude outsiders from practicing their faith and say, “They can exclude others, so we can too.”

There’s a few problems with that argument. Most importantly, these religions are inseparable from their respective cultures. They usually don’t go by ancestry to determine who can practice, but those who are a part of that culture. To understand the religion, you have to more than understand the culture, you have to grok the culture (understand it with every fiber of your being), and the only way to do that is to have been raised in that culture. A white man adopted by Native Americans at birth and raised on a reservation would be welcome, whereas a Native American raised in Detroit probably would not without having some kind of cultural conditioning.

Heathenry, on the other hand, does not have a culture that anyone was raised in without influence of outside religions. Heathen cultures were all destroyed with conversion to Christianity between 1000 to 1500 years ago. Every single heathen alive today is a result of reviving the religion of the ancient heathens. So there is no unbroken culture stretching back to the ancient heathens to be able to say who can and who cannot join heathenry.

The majority of my ancestors (with the exception of a few Irish and French ancestors) are from countries that were heathen before conversion. Does this give me any special link to heathenry or any special understanding of heathenry? No. The ancient heathen cultures were just as alien to me wheni started as they would be to an Asian who is just starting in heathenry.

I think it’s important to ask why these racialist heathens would want to exclude others. Having the power (in their own eyes, anyways) to exclude others makes them feel superior to them. And in their view, the white race is superior to others. They brought “culture” and “civilization” to the “savages”. And now the descendants of those “savages” are being ungrateful by demanding equality to the White race.

That’s the narrative they tell themselves, anyways. It boils down to racism. Pure and simple. And I thoroughly condemn all forms of racism.

Regardless of your ancestry, welcome to heathenry if you feel drawn to it. Honor your ancestors in your practice, both your biological ancestors and your spiritual heathen ancestors. Ancestors are important in heathenry, but ancestry is not.

Ancestor Veneration

One of my favorite Disney songs is Honor To Us All from Mulan, because of these lyrics (sang by Mulan):

Ancestors

Hear my plea:

Help me not to make a fool of me

And to not uproot my family tree.

Keep my father standing tall.

This reveals a little about Chinese folk religion. First the importance of family, not wanting to dishonor her family or her father. As an extension of this family honor, that the Chinese practiced ancestor veneration.

So why am I talking about Chinese folk religion on an Anglo-Saxon Heathenry blog? Many ancient cultures practiced ancestor veneration, the ancient heathens (pagans from ancient Germanic peoples) included.

In ancient times, your survival depended upon your family. Not just the nuclear family, but those in your community. Chances are, most (if not all) of these people would be extended family (cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well as your parents and siblings). A community’s survival depended upon everyone working together and doing their fair share. And this responsibility did not end with death. Archaeological evidence shows that the ancient heathens believed in a soul that had multiple parts. So while one part of the soul would go to Valhalla (if a warrior) or to hell (the Old English term, the Norse called it Hel or Helheim), another part of the soul would remain where the body rested (the mound), and another part would remain with the family, continuing to contribute in any way it could to ensure the family’s survival (I plan to do a future post about the heathen afterlife). Like many other cultures, offerings would be made to the ancestors as well as the gods and other spirits.

I see many heathen websites talk about ancestor veneration, but very few tell you how to do it. The truth is, it’s done the same way as worship of the gods or veneration of the home and land wights (spirits). But I’ll share with you how it generally works in my hearth cult (home worship).

First, let’s define what an ancestor is. In the context of ancestor veneration, an ancestor is any deceased family. In modern times, an ancestor isn’t necessarily just blood relatives. It’s can be any deceased person who has influenced you. The ancient heathens are spiritual ancestors to any modern day heathen, regardless of that person’s ancestry. I consider King Penda of Mercia (the last pagan King in the British Isles) to be an ancestor of mine, even though I have no idea if he’s actually related to me by blood or not.

Another ancestor of mine is my mother. She died 21 years ago. But I believe that when we die, a part of us becomes a sort of guardian angel effort their family (again, not necessarily just blood relatives). So I have no doubt she is still around, watching over me.

This last year, on her birthday, I went for a really informal offering to her. I grabbed a beer (she was a party animal, so she definitely loved her beer), went outside, and I just spoke to her from my heart. I wished her a happy birthday, told her that she was missed by everyone in the family, and they she had been the glue that held our family together (as we have really fractured as a family since she died). I thanked her for continuing to watch over us. I drank some of the beer, and poured the rest out onto the ground. Of course, most of my offerings are not this informal but it felt appropriate for the occasion.

What about for the thousands upon thousands of ancestors for whom we only have names (knowing nothing else about them), or those for whom we don’t even have names? I often address them collectively as “my ancestors”. This is always a part of a more formal ritual, which also includes the gods and other wights. The prayer usually goes something like this:

Hail my ancestors, those people for whom I would not be where I am today, those who keep diligent watch over my family. I thank you for the protection you provide, and everything that you have done for me. I offer you this [beer/incense/food/offering] in thanksgiving for all that you have done, all that you do, and all that you will do. A gift for a gift!

If you make frequent offerings to your ancestors (I encourage you too!) and you have the space in your home, you can create a special ancestral altar for them. This is by no means necessary, though. If you do, you can put on it pictures of ancestors that you feel close to, ethnic items from the nationalities from which your family originated, and/or items that remind you of certain ancestors. As long as you remain respectful towards them, there really isn’t a way to do it wrong.

Another way to honor your ancestors is to visit their graves, and leave offerings there.

So why would you want to include your ancestors in your practice? As I said earlier, I believe that our ancestors remain with us after death and become guardians of the family. Living descendants are the only representatives that they have among the living. They have a vested interest in seeing us succeed, as our success is their success. The gods may or may not care about the small details of our lives (there is much debate about this), but they are not omnipresent. They cannot be with every heathen all the time. Our ancestors, however, have a much smaller charge than the gods. Just their family as opposed to an entire religion. So if you call upon an ancestor for help, one of them is much more likely to be available to help than if you call upon say Thunor (Thor) who may have a hundred other people calling upon him at the same time.

I’m not saying here that the gods do not care, or that they do not aid their worshippers. But a god’s duties include much more than catering to their worshippers’s whims. They may not always be available when you call upon them. After all, you don’t run to Congress every time you have a need, if you have family who is able and willing to help!

There has been a recent trend in heathenry to downplay the ancestors. The reason is that the ‘folkish’/racialist (racist) factions of heathenry tend to over-emphasise ancestry, and inclusive heathens do not want to be lumped together with racist forms of heathenry. I even saw one heathen equate ancestor veneration with racism! Let me be clear: all are welcome to heathenry regardless of race. For those who are not of Germanic ancestry who are heathen, I even encourage you to include your ancestors in your heathen practice. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!

It is my firm conviction that if you do not include your ancestors in your practice, you are missing out on a lot!

For some more information about how some other heathens incorporate their ancestors into their practice, see this post on Reddit that I started.

Wyrd- the Heathen Concept of Fate

Fate. The word often conjures up the image of some deity on high, planning out your life for you in advance. I blame this on the Christian theology of predestination, a Christian doctrine of the time. I do not think this is how it works in Paganism though. And it’s definitely not how it works in Heathenry.

Wyrd is an Old English (the language of the Anglo-Saxons) word meaning literally, “that which comes.” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It is often described as a tapestry, weaved together by the Wyrdæ, a trio of divine sisters who are known in the Norse mythology as the Norns. Each thread is an action that either you make or that someone else makes which involves you, and it is weaved into your wyrd as it happens. Your fate, then, is created mainly by your actions. Each action you take has consequences (positive and negative) which limits what you can do in the future. The Wyrdæ do not decree your fate, your actions do.

Of course, we do not start out with completely blank slates. The Wyrdæ do have something that they start out with when they start to weave our wyrd. This is our orlæg, those things which were decided for us and which we had no control over.

Orlæg (also spelled orlaeg) is an Old English word. It comes from or-, meaning “original or fundamental” and læg, “that which is laid, law”. (Wiktionary) It means “that which was originally laid”. This refers to things like your race, family, birth religion, etc. It may also refer to things that happened in your childhood, like what school you attended, and even some of the actions of your ancestors long before you were born, such as leaving their homeland and immigrating. Orlæg is anything that has an influence on your life that was beyond your control. If you had any say in it whatsoever, it’s not orlæg. For example, doing something that your boss forced you to do is not orlæg because you chose to work at that job.

As noted above, your wyrd is not solely created by your own actions, though this is the largest part of your wyrd. Any action taken by any other being that affects you also becomes part of your wyrd. This includes gods, other people, and even non-sentient beings like animals. It is wise to avoid interactions with humans and even deities that are known to be destructive or have other negative attributes, as any action taken by them that affect you becomes part of your wyrd. Choose your associations wisely.

After the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity, the meaning of wyrd began to change. It was believed that God (the Christian God, that is) ordained everything that happened, that everything happened according to his Will. So wyrd, that which is to come, came to mean whatever God wanted, and thus there was no way to escape or change your fate. But this is not what it meant to ancient Anglo-Saxon heathens.

So how can knowing about wyrd help you? There is a power in knowledge. If you don’t like how your life has turned out, examine what actions have led to it being a part of your wyrd. If those threads are due to someone else, try limiting how much you are around those people. If it’s due to your own actions, change the things that you do in order to change the situation. Most likely, it will be a combination of these things.

Remember, your fate is not decreed by some deity on high. It is created by your actions and your associations. Your fate is in your hands.

Sources

Online Etymology Dictionary, “Weird”

Wiktionary, “orlæg”

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