Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ancestral Religion

My husband Sven, as I've said many times before, is Danish-American and grew up practicing many traditional customs and listening to his grandpa tell him lore, in between puffs of his Salem and shots of his akvavit.  When he turned to Asatru, he had come home, and I've never seen him happier or more grounded.

I, on the other hand, am the classic all-American, Old Yeller mutt.  I'm a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada on top of everything else.  My mom is from Puerto Rico and her birth certificate reads "mulatto" because she was born during World War II and things were like that then.  My dad is half Italian and half Mexican.

I did a DNA analysis on my mitochondrial DNA and found out that my maternal DNA does not lead back to Africa, which I expected, but to the Americas.  So my mom is more properly a mestiza and her maternal ancestors the Taino people who have now vanished into the genes of their descendants.

My mother's father's people were originally from Burgos in Spain, Celts not Basques.  On my dad's side we know nothing about his father's family, because they were illiterate orphans, and on his mother's side we still have relatives in Puebla, Mexico.  However, they were of French descent, so it starts going back to central Europe again.

So no ancestral religion for me.  I do feel some pull to the Celtic/Gallic gods--the image of Cernunnos on the Gundestrup cauldron is one that I love.  I could (and did) gaze on the fearsome statue of Coatlicue Teteoinanzin in Mexico City for hours.  I was raised with no Italian customs at all; my Italian-American grandfather adapted to Mexican culture instead.

The common denominator is that everybody was strictly Catholic.  So while Stregheria is amazing, powerful stuff, I wasn't raised with anything resembling it.  I didn't find out about Santeria until I was well into my adult years and when I did discover it I described it as a beautiful motorcycle that is way too big and powerful for me.

When Sven reverted into Asatru I was pleased and envious.  The religion began working for me immediately in 2007, when I began studying and working with the runes.  The only thing was, I felt I was betraying my own ancestors.  I can't help not believing in Christianity anymore; my ability to maintain that cognitive dissonance broke down utterly.  I don't want to turn to Mexican polytheism; those gods demand blood, a lot of it.

So when Sannion of "The House of Vines" posted this article by Tess Dawson, it spoke to me perfectly:

 If you are in the same situation, give these techniques a try: honor your own ancestors in deeds and skills, and honor the ancestors of your religion through learning how they honored their own and applying that information in their veneration. I would guess that the steps in this dance are familiar to many in similar situations and to others in mixed families who have ancestors that would have been at war with one another. Only time and practice will tell how suitable both sets of ancestors will find this arrangement.

So I'll continue doing Dia de los Muertos every November, as I have for years.  We have our Asatru altar, which also commemorates Sven's ancestors, over our fireplace in the living room while I have an ancestral altar in our bedroom.  I have my grandma's wooden spoon on it, and I only use it on November 2.  I have her statue of St. Anthony of Padua there, and my grandpa's woolen hat.  I can only hope that they and the other ancestors don't mind my going heathen on them.

The Aesir are pleased by those who venerate their physical ancestors, which reminds me; I need to call my mom.


  1. A couple of thoughts come to mind. The first is Celtic v. Germanic. The religious framework for both has had strong similarities for a very long time, and only when the Indo-European languages showed up comparatively recently did we start making the regional distinctions. 5000 years ago, we had Stonehenge, the Aamesbury archer, Otzi the iceman, etc. but the Indo-European languages hadn't arrived yet, so they were presumably speaking some ancestral version of Basque, and migration wasn't that big a deal (e.g. the archer).

    Honoring your ancestors and continuing existing traditions makes sense as they are a part of you, and they matter to you. And I can't help but think of all the historical intermarriages that happened where Celtic and Germanic tribes met, where both partners have things they do in common, and the 'migrating' spouse still has some customs from the past that are enjoyed.

  2. One of these days they'll do some DNA analysis on the inhabitants of Nooristan in Afghanistan, where they've only been Muslim for 100 years and Islam is fading back again fast. They worship a thunder god.