Mending the tears in a displaced life

As I write this blog post, I’m sitting on a train. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling, this Imbolctide. I spent the weekend with friends in Edinburgh, celebrating the festival with food and crafts and ritual. Now I’m heading south to Birmingham for my grandmother’s funeral.

I never met her, at least, not that I remember. I and my father and step-mother had talked off and on over the past few years about me visiting her in her nursing home, but in the end, it seemed too odd, to introduce a new element into her ill-remembered world after nearly 100 years of life. Now she’s dead, and I will be ‘meeting’ her tomorrow at her funeral.

As Pagans, the role of family in our sense of our place in the world can be a complex  and difficult one.

While many of us seek to honour and connect with our ancestors as part of our spiritual and/or magical practice, those ancestors who are closest to us in time – and, as a friend of mine p0ints out, therefore most likely to be concerned with our personal well-being – are also those most likely to be of a different religion or spirituality than ourselves; they are perhaps even people we had a troubled relationship with while they were alive, or people we know little or nothing about.

Many of us look towards indigenous spiritual traditions, in which spiritual knowledge and tradition is passed down from grandparents to children to grandchildren, with awe and more than a little envy. Some of us even attempt to emulate – or appropriate – those traditions for ourselves. Yet we may find it hard to find or see the wisdom which our own parents or grandparents may hold, because they are part of a religious or philosophical tradition which we find problematic.

As Pagans following more-or-less reconstructed and/or inspired traditions at the beginning of the 21st century, I believe we are a spiritually displaced people. Members of living indigenous traditions not only have continuity of human knowledge over time, but also continuity of relationship with the land on which they live and in which their ancestors bones are buried or over which their ashes are scattered. In contrast, modern (neo)Pagans are lucky to have even one generation of continuity in the passing on of their spiritual and religious tradition, and we do not, for the most part, have the kind of connection to place that tens or hundreds of generations of living in one place or one area gives.

If I recall his argument correctly, in his masterpiece, The Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton proposes that many of the roots of the creation and revival of Pagan movements – not only Wicca, but also Druidry and other traditions – lie in the British Romantic movement, which itself could be argued to have come out of the mass displacement of British people from country to city in the Industrial Revolution, hand in hand with the enclosure of the commons and the Highland clearances. And those in turn led Scots, Irish, English and Welsh people to take their chances in the ‘New World’ of north America and the Antipodes.

Displacement at every turn: from the space of the country to cramped city living, from common land which families had worked for generations, to a ‘New’ world, fought over, killed over and parcelled out.

I am not advocating backward-facing, impotent anger over what was done to our ancestors, nor hair-shirted guilt over what was done by our ancestors. Nor am I advocating focusing on the distant past at the expense of our personal, recent pasts, and our living present. I simply believe we do well to remember and accept our displacement in space, time and relationship, and to do what we can to reconnect ourselves.

I know next to nothing about my father’s mother. There is a tear in the fabric of my relationship with my ancestry of blood and bone, of my relationship with the cosmos. Tomorrow I will begin the task of gathering the knowledge to begin to weave that particular tear whole again.

About Elinor Prędota

Elinor Predota was born in London in 1970, and was raised in England’s second city. Her hippy parents took her on endless, wonderful visits to birdwatching hides, Iron Age hill forts, Medieval Castles and ancient stone circles across Britain, which kindled her longing for green hills. She finally moved to the country in the year 2000, where the land has taught her more magic than any book or human being ever could. She is a priestess, a poet, a scholar, an accidental comedian, and lives in southern Scotland with her partner, a very big dog, and a vast range of more-than-human neighbours. She can also be found online at elinorpredota.com.

  • Jessica

    This post gets to the heart of what is the paradox at the heart of many pagan traditions: We are a backwards looking people with no history. We search fervently through the past for spiritual inspiration, but we have no historical connection to it. We are spiritual orphans.

    I believe the strongest traditions, moving forward, will be those who can embrace this and move their focus forward. We are a modern people, with modern needs. I need modern Gods.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asenseofplace Elinor Predota

      *nods*

      I’m intrigued by your reference to ‘modern Gods’. Would you say more about that?

  • Jeannine

    I’m sorry for your loss, Elinor. I hope that what you learn about your grandmother will be a blessing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asenseofplace Elinor Predota

      Jeannine, thank you so much. I feel not so much that I have lost a grandmother, but that I’ve gained an ancestor.

  • Clementine

    Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for writing about this. I’ve lately been feeling this way a lot myself. I’m Chinese-American, but I feel pretty disconnected from my Chinese family and heritage (which is pretty horrifically sexist, and not meaningful to me spiritually) and I’ve never been fully connected to American culture either, as the child of immigrant parents. It’s hard to claim an unbroken heritage and tradition in our day and age, and I’m so glad that you articulate that, along with our need to go forwards, so eloquently.

    Also, my condolences for your loss.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asenseofplace Elinor Predota

      Clementine, I’m so pleased my writing articulated something so deep and important for you. You’re right: we can’t claim unbroken heritage. But we can weave together our own needs with our personal and cultural heritage – both drawing from it and healing it. ♥

  • moonsmith

    Elinor
    I’m a bit late to this!

    When I think of “The Ancestors” I do not think of my own anticedants particularly but those of my race or maybe my species. You may not have known your grandmother but you didn’t know your great grandmothers either. Your personal view of the entity called “The Ancestors” is slightly changed by the passing of your gran but its place in your life is largely unchanged.

    Jessica,I am in the process of preparing a talk on exactly the point that you make. Those of us who hanker after antiquity are weakening our spiritual framework.Isn’t Christianity discovering this in its loss of relevance. I am a Druid. I cannot possibly relate to whatever the Iron Age Druid might have been. I can revel in and revere what I am NOW. I am not displaced I am HERE NOW.

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      Hi moonsmith.

      For me, my relationship with my ancestors is very much mediated by my relationship with my Beloved Dead – those spirits who have been living, breathing humans (and cats and dogs) during my own lifetime. I agree that in larger perspective, ‘The Ancestors’ are a vastness of past life, going right back to the first moment of time and space if one counts minerals and basic chemical elements, but part of my own spiritual journey has been a movement from the cosmic (which I find easy) to the particular and specific (which I find much, much more difficult).

  • pagansister

    Just read your post and hope that what you learned about your grandmother was helpful in the effort to begin mending the tear in the family fabric. Am sorry for your loss, Elinor.

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      pagansister, thank you. I and my step-mother and aunt are getting together for a ‘family history’ day soon. My grandmother was, by all accounts, quite a character!

  • pagansister

    Enjoy the get together for “family history” day. What a great idea. Make sure you record the stories etc. for future reference. You do write a blog, and I’m giving you advice? Whoa! :-) I wish I had recorded more things when my parents were alive, and now that they are gone, I think of all the questions I should have asked. Fortunately my father did a good family history, but personalities don’t come thru in those.


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