The first thing most people think of when they think of “ancestors” is their immediate familial ancestry, their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and the like. But in Druidry, the concept of who the ancestors are can be expanded, seeing our place in the wider tapestry of life, and our connection to a past richer and more expansive than we may have thought.
Druidry sometimes expands the idea of ancestry into three categories: ancestors of blood, of place and of spirit.
My relationship with my immediate blood ancestors is troubled at best, and there are scars there which, while time may fade, will never truly heal. While I respect certain ancestors for the gift of life, I choose not to honour them in memory. So, for me, to forge any relationship with the ancestors, I have to go beyond the immediate past and look to this broader conception.
My ancestors of blood from long before my immediate family are mostly Irish, descending from a line of local chieftains in Munster, to the south of Ireland. One way I have recently taken to trying to connect more with this ancestry is by learning Irish on Duolingo. A culture’s language is its living essence.
Living in East Anglia, there is a long history of ancestors of place. Vikings, Normans, Saxons, Iceni, and other peoples have all lived here and left their mark in the landscape and the archaeological record. The ancestors of place are those whose lives shaped the land, and whose remains lie beneath our very feet.
Ancestors of spirit include Druids past and present but also anyone whose life and work has influenced your own: authors, artists, musicians, scientists, all can be considered ancestors of spirit.
As well as all of our human ancestors, I like to honour our evolutionary ancestry. We are all related, and we share a common ancestor with all humans, an older one with all animals, and an even older ancestor (the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA) with all life on earth some 4 billion years ago. Looking at the deep roots of evolution’s tree of life, we can honour all our ancestors right back to the origin of life itself, and recognise that we are kin with all that lives today.
In a sense we can even expand the concept of ancestry further, looking forward to the “future ancestors”, those yet to come, who will inherit the world we leave them.
How we live today, the ethical choices we make, can have consequences that will be felt by those ancestors of the future, and keeping them in mind can help orient our decision-making, taking into account long-term effects not merely short-term gains. By doing so, we can craft a relationship which honours our past ancestors and our future ones.
[Prompt from Alison Leigh Lilly’s 30 Days of Druidry]