Your Ancestors Matter!
Stephen A. McNallen
We Asatruar acknowledge our link to the clan, the family line of which we are a part. This article is intended to facilitate just such a remembrance. It is adapted from a new brochure available from the AFA - one of a series designed to make the central elements of Asatru more accessible to ordinary men and women.
There is a widespread belief in the modern Western world that ancestors don't matter very much. This is particularly true of the ancestors of European-Americans; among some writers and academics, "dead White male" is synonymous with irrelevance.
Luckily for us (and for the generations to come), a healthy interest in genealogy and family history defies this rootless, alienated worldview. Why do we care about our ancestors in a world that values self-satisfaction above all else? What does the deeper wisdom of our soul say about this? And just what is our relationship to those who have gone before us? Why does it all matter?
Native cultures in every part of the world revere their forebears. The American Indians, the Australian natives, African tribes, Asian peoples - all give special place to their kin who preceded them. Only in so-called modern societies, those most locked into the pursuit of material things and most distanced from the world of nature, have we forgotten the importance of the ancestral connection.
In Europe before the coming of Christianity, it was different. We saw the ancestors and ourselves as part of a continuity, and this unity was impossible to break into parts based on time or space. Kinship bonds extended over the centuries and across the oceans. The ancestors were still a part of that community, and it was possible to call on them for inspiration, guidance, and strength.
In fact, it was often believed that the individual was eventually reborn into the family or clan line. In a sense, following this logic, we are our own ancestors reborn into the present. (It also implies that it is in our interest to make the world a better place - since we'll be back here again!) This idea of reincarnation within the ancestral line is found almost universally among native cultures; the idea that one might come back among an alien people (a Norwegian returning as a Polynesian princess, for example) is a very recent concept
We can recapture that state of communion with the ancestors. Genealogy is a good place to start. Tracing your family tree, learning about your forebears, and coming to understand what they have contributed to your own appearance and personality can only draw you nearer to them. Contemplating the trials they overcame can inspire you to rise above the challenges in your own life.
By ancient tradition, the barrier between the dead and the living is thinner at certain times of the year: Yule is one of these occasions, and the old Celtic festival of Samhain (popularly known as Halloween) is another. At these times, watch your dreams, and listen with your inner ear for the whispers of those of your line who have gone before.
There is much to be gained from the ancestors, and we have barely touched the possibilities in this short essay. Of course, they gave us the greatest gift of all, life itself - for if that golden chain of generations had been broken at any point, we would not be here! But we have our responsibilities, too. Above all, the family honor must be kept intact and the ancestors themselves must be given the high status they deserve. Obviously, we should do all we can to ensure that we have healthy children to continue the line into the future.
Once we understand the bond extending down the generations, we know that we can never truly be without family. Always there are the unseen ones, affecting events and reminding us that we are a part of a great stream of lives, seeking ever to express who and what we are.
Honoring the ancestors (who are, after all, us as we were before) is one of the three key principles to the European soul. The other ones are, respectively, the living of a life of courage and truth, and the right relationship with the Mighty Powers themselves.
The spiritual wisdom of the bold and free European tribes did not die out. It was suppressed - but it cannot be hidden forever, for it exists within us, the people who share this noble heritage!