This week for the Ancestor Remembrance Project, I had fully intended to write about my paternal grandmother, who, like my maternal great-grandmother, was another Mary Elizabeth. However, my meditations and journaling led me in a different direction, and instead of forcing it, I decided to see where my wandering would take me. That’s been a common thread of my conversations with Jamie as we work through this project together; letting the stories and the spirits lead us where they will, rather than spending the month on what we think we “should” be doing to connect with our dead. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me; I’m such a type A that I rarely sit back and suspend my expectations and perfection, but I’m trying to open myself more to chance and flow, especially in a ritual context.
Although the contemporary branches of my family tree are sparse, I’ve always been drawn to family history and traditions. Maybe it’s because I grew up without cousins around, or maybe it’s part of the role of the oldest to look to the past and find common ground, but I’ve always been interested in where we came from. My direct knowledge of family history, however, stops in my lifetime; I do not know the names of my maternal great-grandmother’s predecessors, nor do I know the names of those who came before my paternal grandparents. There has been extensive genealogy research into my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, but even as a child, I recognized that this was only part of the puzzle.
Growing up, I clung to whatever scraps of family ancestry I could find; when my grandfather told me we had Cherokee blood from his side of the family, I forged an emotional connection with the tragedy of the Trail of Tears and Native American relocation. Later, when my mom affirmed that both she and my father had a lot of Irish blood in their respective lines, I fixated on the Celtic aspect of our family, dreaming a romanticized, magic-drenched tale of our Irish ancestors. In fact, the first time I slipped into a trance state was when I heard a Celtic band perform live in an ancient brewery during college, and the music touched a chord in my heart that, at the time, I thought reinforced my direct Irish roots, but now I wonder if it was my spiritual ancestry the music appealed to, rather than my blood.
Over the years, I’ve remained interested in the tangible questions of where my family came from, but I’ve also developed an understanding and appreciation of the spiritual heritage which may or may not have trickled down to me through my blood ancestors. If the past four generations are any example, my family has a tradition of strong women, and perhaps for that reason, I have found my spiritual home in a practice shaped by the concept of the divine as feminine. In seeking a deeper connection with my matrilineal roots, in my early twenties, I walked the initiate’s path in the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic organization that at least four generations of the women in my family have been affiliated with. Although I am no longer a member of OES, the experience of initiation is one I’ll never forget; in that night, I felt the bonds reaching beyond my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and I felt a unity with the women who may not share my blood, but share this piece of my spiritual self: a love for ritual and the telling of stories of women.
Family and ancestry are not limited by blood; the choices we make link us to traditions and generations, in spirit and in action. Although my direct knowledge of my bloodline is confined to those family members I’ve known in my lifetime, I’ve embraced the idea that my connections run as deep as time. This week, as we approach Halloween, I’m taking time to honor both my direct and spiritual ancestors; blood calls to blood, but heart and spirit form lasting bonds, too. I honor those who came before: I name them family.
photo courtesy of shutterstock: shutterstock.com
This post is part of the Patheos Pagan Ancestor Remembrance Project.