Ancestral Wisdom For The Modern World: Do You Remember?
Re-landing to Place
It can be very challenging, if not impossible, to assume that we can reclaim our Indigeneity as European peoples. The trail is very cold, Empire building has been going on for a very long time, and we may have to reach back in time to find pre-colonial societies. But the good news is, that fragments of paganism and animism have been kept alivethrough the centuries in every European country, and this knowing has been passed down to us today, or we would not have the capacity right now to understand ourselves as earth-connected people. Deep-time knowing continues to live on in our dreams, in our souls, in our creativity, in our hearts, and even in our DNA as ancestral memories. As we revive our traditional practices – the songs, dances, foods, medicines, folk magic, ceremonies, and worldviews of our European ancestors – it is helpful to develop a foundation of pre-colonial animist or Indigenous Mind, that we may embrace as we continue on our path to cultural revival.
When we look back, every culture before colonization was earth-emergent worldwide, which means we took our cues from the natural world, and the land gave rise to our spiritual and cultural practices. Origin stories, the tribal myths, the honoring of the ancestors, the healing practices, the oracles, the rituals, the ceremonies and women’s mysteries were all deeply interconnected with the homelands of a particular group. Also, the day-to-day needs of the collective such as food, clothing and material culture were sourced from centuries of connection to one particular place – what we now call “TEK” or traditional ecological knowledge. The most important stories and cultural keystones of the group were deeply embedded in place, and although migration did happen, the process of becoming deeply rooted would begin again, once the tribe was relocated. Renewing these land-based spiritual and cultural practices are incredibly important today, as we see how the current paradigm is unsustainable, and already in a state of economic and environmental collapse. Indigenous worldviews and lifeways have stood the test of time for thousands of years, and will also be the lifeways that endure, long after this particular civilization is gone.
The first action steps to reviving our ancestral wisdom is to reconnect with the land, and the places we call home, by identifying local geography, landforms, watersheds, wetlands, native plants, trees and animals – and what was there before the Settler Society. Go on a “bioblitz” to discover the unique species, trees, plant, animal and insect life of your region, to gain a deeper understanding of your own environment.
- Who were the original First Nations of the territory where you live? What were the first treaty relationships, and what are the intricacies of those agreements? What would be the nation-to-nation obligations required to honour those treaties today?
- What are the local stories, legends, folklore and myths of the Original Peoples, and of the early Settler Society that connected with the land?
- What wild creatures call this place home? Become familiar with the animals, birds, insects, reptiles, fishes and amphibians, and their shared ecosystems.
- What are the trees and plants that thrive in the area? Learn the names, characteristics and gifts of all the trees within a 30-kilometer radius of your home. What wild plants, grasses, herbs, fruits and flowers bless you with food, medicine and fragrance? Where is the oldest tree? Imagine all the generations that have passed beneath its shade and beauty.
- What are the nearest sacred sites in the natural landscape or the human-built world, and what are the deep meanings inherent for both ancient and contemporary peoples?
- Where is agriculture being practiced and local food produced, and what is your relationship to these crops?
- What elementals, nature spirits, ancestors or other-than-human presences have informed your bliss and allowed the deep mystery, or the “green fuse” that animates all life, to flow through you?
Embracing the move to bioregionalism and ecological civilization is our challenge today, to reject techno-capitalism and the modern nation-state in favor of interconnection with the land and the renewal of sustainable community. Re-landed practices may include intentional communities or eco-villages based on egalitarian governance; local economies revolving around renewable resources such as planting, harvesting and gathering; and ceremonial activities honoring the sacredness of our unique landscape. Taking the first step toward decolonization in both theory and practice is the way forward for all those who call Turtle Island home, and taking good care of ourselves, our localized communities and the land, is a life-long process.
We all benefit from being connected through networks and affiliations! Indigeneity can be linked to our own heritage, and we can join contemporary reconstructionist movements such as Druidry, Irish or Scottish Polytheistic Folk Religion, Gaelic Polytheism, Scottish Paganism, or Nordic Traditions such as Heathenry and Germanic Paganism. Or, if connecting with your own background or ancestors is too difficult, there are earth-emergent paths such as rewilding, animism, deep ecology, ecomysticism and ecopsychology that are not related to a specific ethnoculture.
A Compilation of IK/EIK Tenets & Lifeways
Indigenous Knowledge (IK) systems found all over the world are irreplaceable members of the global ethnosphere, and need to be rejuvenated and protected. IK embodies the wisdom and understanding that is accumulated over thousands of years, and provides alternative models to Empire and domination. There are no universal laws governing the diverse forms of IK found worldwide, but earth-honoring cultures do share common tenets and lifeways. Alternative definitions or terms for IK may include “animist folk traditions,” “ecological science,” “land-emergent knowledge,” ancestral wisdom, ancestral wisdom teachings, ancestral knowledge, ancestral thinking, ancestral pathways, “folk knowledge” and local wisdom. Informed by my own personal land-based knowledge, here is a collection of IK/EIK Tenets and Lifeways drawn from ancient origins, including those that most certainly were (and still are) found in the wide range of European Indigenous Knowledge (EIK) and pagan traditions of Old Europe, plus Celtic Reconstructionism (CR), Nordic Paganism, Druidry and Matriarchal Studies.
- The Earth is the Sacred Mother of All, the source of all life and joy. We honour our blessed Gaia and support the interconnected web of life that sustains us all.
- The world is a place of sacred mystery, and our relationship with the world is rooted in a profound respect for the land and all life. Humans are not above creation but part of it, and we flourish within the boundaries of the Sacred Circle.
- From the cyclical patterns of the natural world we learn that all things are constantly in motion, shifting and changing, and we embrace these ephemeral conditions of existence, embodying the principles of spontaneity and transformation in our own lives.
- All things in nature are alive and intelligent, with their own purpose and evolution. All life is equal, and the presence of animation, the life spark, implies a degree of consciousness whether it is in human or more-than-human life. We recognize that the patterns in nature, elements, geoforms, plants, animals and humanity are all kindred spirits, and that our common destinies are linked together.
- When we fully recognize the interconnectivity of all creation, we acknowledge that it is the responsibility of human beings to use our agency to enrich and protect the sacred web, especially the life-giving elements of water, earth and air. We have a love and reverence for all life, and a balanced and harmonious relationship with the Earth.
- In IK/EIK societies we embody the definition of biocentrism. “The earth is not just here for human consumption, as all species have a right to exist for their own sake, and we live in balance with the needs of nature instead of trying to mold nature to fit the needs of humans.”
- We consider our actions in relationship to the Seven Generations yet to come and the long-term effects on all life, not just on short-term expediency or the comfort of the human community. This does not mean that we cannot use the elements, species and plants respectfully, but that our use has limitations, and when we respect those boundaries with full care and consideration, our human communities also thrive as a result.
- At the heart of the epistemology of all IK/EIK systems is the recognition that human beings need the water, plants and animals to live, and that the water supply, food forest, and predator/prey relationship is essential to all life. This fundamental sacred dynamic is approached with great propriety, humility, gratitude, respect, protocol, care and ceremony. The ability to stay within natural limits and in a symbiotic relationship with the ecosystems of the planet represents the height of human intelligence and sophistication, and there is absolutely nothing in the belief systems, achievements, or technologies of misguided humancentric western civilization that even comes close to this pre-eminence.
- Collected over time, we communally hold a wealth of information on the appropriate use of plants, animals and elements as food, medicine and material culture, and this IK/EIK is transferred within the community from generation to generation.
- All human culture arises or is informed by the land, from our bond to a particular landscape, and we are connected to the climate, beings, deities and spirits that dwell there. Our very blood and DNA is tied to our ancestral lands, and we are rooted in place, inseparable from our homelands, deeply linked to the sacred places that are the source of our origin stories, folklore and myths. The love of the land and our tribal group is the only true wealth we have – we are part of the Earth and the Earth is part of us.
- Our IK/EIK is an ancient, communal, holistic and spiritual wisdom that encompasses every aspect of human existence. Gathered over many eons, our oral tradition covers a canon of themes rich in mystery and power, in which complex interactions are encouraged between humans, animals, greenery, spirit beings, ancient energies, deities and the elementals in the natural world. Our origin, creation and migration stories are deeply embedded in the land, follow natural law, and hold the keystones to our traditions and cultural meanings. At the heart of our worldviews are narratives of emergence that outline our arising from the weave of nature, our interconnectivity with the sacred elements of earth, water, fire and air, and the beings that populate the more-than-human world.
- Our stories and storytelling are sacred practices in Indigenous societies, as traditional narratives and songs compiled over time in our own unique language link us to our Ancestors and the sacred ecology of the land. Myths, poetic sagas and folklore are passed from storyteller to storyteller and bard to bard for countless generations, and our most valuable origin stories, histories, memories, beliefs, insights, cultural keystones, prophecies, guiding forces and magical happenings are embedded within our dynamic oral tradition. Sets of stories or story “bundles” serve as valuable teaching aids for understanding different aspects of tribal life such as governance, hunting, harvesting of wild foods, healing, medicine, women’s mysteries, ceremony, pilgrimage, and guidance for our children as they grow.
- The natural energies, animals, creatures, plants, stones, elements of earth/fire/water/air, and the very Earth itself – any or all aspects of the natural world can have deep personal significance and meaning for any person who is attuned to the wonder, magic and mystery of creation. We are in synch with the cycles of the seasons and the rhythm of our days, and are comfortable in non-linear time and space. Our interaction with the plants, animals, elementals, spirits of the land, sacred fire, and other primordial forces can give rise to awe-filled and luminous encounters. We acknowledge the sacred in every activity and emphasize the bonds of the community over the cult of the individual. We have no interest in denying natural law or penetrating the Great Mystery, but are content to know our place within creation.
- Our existence is sustained by expressions of gratitude such as prayer, ceremony, meditation and fasting, as we unconditionally give thanks for all life and the elements that make life possible. We are in a symbiotic relationship with the Earth, as everything we need to live a Good Life comes from the land, and our activities are intertwined with the cycles and seasons of nature. When we embody these principles and have respect for all beings through ceremony and prayer, the cosmic balance is upheld and restored, and the survival of the community ongoing.
- In marked contrast to the competitive “possessive individualism” of western-centric capitalist systems, we as Indigenous or re-indigenized people are not indoctrinated by the selfish goals of material acquisition or ego advancement. Our focus is community-based, and we support the unique strengths of each person to contribute to the whole. We practice kindness and loyalty, cooperate with each other, take pride in our connectivity, work toward common goals, share responsibility to create material and spiritual culture(s), take turns at leadership, gently critique or unconditionally praise in equal share, be good hosts to those from other territories, and realize strength from our disciplined collectivity – all in service to the well-being and unity of the community.
- Certain individuals in earth-emergent societies will be called to seek wisdom, guidance and oracular assistance from the worlds of non-ordinary reality on a regular basis, exploring eternal themes such as living and dying, spiritual connectivity, and healing practices that are accessible through illness, fasting, trance, drumming, chanting, dancing, dreaming, intake of psychotropic plants and other visionary experiences. Bringing back important wisdom from the land of the spirits to guide and inspire the collective, is a sacred calling. Earth is the source of all enchantment and spiritual power, constant change is the magical fabric of life, and potent transformational experiences in conjunction with the elements, forces and spirits in nature are equally available to all people.
- We honour the life-creating power of the Sacred Feminine and the women in our culture as an extension of the miraculous divinity of creation. Women are revered, and their fertility, procreative and nurturing abilities are known to be exactly the same as the Creatrix, chalice, crucible or cosmic womb that exists at the center of the universe. The inviolate nature and wholeness of women allows them to be exempt from tribal methods of spiritual seeking, petitions, initiations such as the “vision quest,” or sweatlodge renewal. In traditional and modern matriarchies or egalitarian societies, our IK/EIK teaches us to embrace the naturalness of physical contact in raising our children, and in expressions of familial, friendly or passionate love. We are well aware that human beings are designed in every way for the enhanced physical, spiritual and emotional wellness that comes from physical contact. We are at one with the mysteries and capabilities of our bodies, with nudity, with touching, with closeness, with intimacy, with sexual expression, with movement, with posture, with exercise, with pain, with illness, with aging, with dying, and all the natural manifestations and expressions of our physical bodies, the ground of our being. Women’s Mysteries are a sacred and respected part of the IK/EIK held communally by the tribe.
- We revere and honour our Ancestors, the trustees of the Earth, and our offerings and altars enable us to feel their presence, connect us to our original culture and place of origin, and preserve our heritage. Those who have gone before have established the traditions that guide us, and their bloodlines and genetic material have created us. There is no greater continuity to our IK/EIK memory and oral tradition, both individually and collectively, than communing with the ancient wisdom of our Ancestral Spirits. With gratitude we call upon them to teach us and show us the way, and we understand that in the greater continuum of time we are the Ancestors of the future.
The Relevance of Indigenous Values to our Lives Today
Values are timeless principles that relate to our basic experience as human beings. For example, in Anishnaabe tradition the Seven Grandfather Teachings of humility, bravery, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect and love are basic principles that anyone can follow. Indigenous values are not the same thing as Indigenous cultural or spiritual property. Learning what we can from First Nations gives us a good foundation for effective allyship, and can open the door to reviving our own ethnoculture, and the pre-colonial values in our own lives. As we are building a new world based on sustainable ethics, the old order seems to be falling away. Who knows what the future will hold? The system of Settler Colonialism in the Americas has been a failure, and collapse seems imminent. Can we still believe in the myth of scientific progress? So many atrocities have been committed to serve capitalism, technology and the war economy. Some say the notion of a “binary” is wrong – but truly there is very little in common between modern industrial civilization, and Indigenous societies that live within the carrying capacity of the land.
For the past 500 years on Turtle Island, the European builders of Empire have been abysmal stewards of the land, and as their descendants today we need to re-learn earth literacy, recover our obedience to natural law, and reinhabit the places we call home. A new paradigm of co-existence as connected to the web of life is extremely important, and honoring the Earth aligns us with what is truly sacred. Earth literacy can be described as having an intimate bond with the natural world that perceives the Earth as “me” instead of “mine,” and enables us to contemplate the world and our place within it.
Western Mind – Ancestral Mind
It may be difficult for us to reclaim an earth-rooted identity after centuries of being told that western civilization is the only way to live, or that we cannot exist without the cultural treasures, benefits and amenities of the western world. And it may be a daunting task to know ourselves as earth-emergent beings dwelling in an animistic universe once again. But the outcome is clear, that by uncolonizing in principle and deed, we reaffirm our deep love and respect for nature at the heart of our lives. Challenging the entitlement of western mind means shifting to a renewed focus on all that is compassionate, intuitive, empathic and grounded, both in our physical bodies and the land. The emergence of holistic thinking in our time is an essential re-indigenization process, and the necessary rebalancing that is needed after centuries of fractured, separatist western empiricism.
In our quest to reclaim and co-create ecological civilization today, rejecting western thinking and embracing ancestral mind is an important part of the journey. The beauty and timelessness of ancestral wisdom is an unstoppable force, as returning to right relationship with creation becomes our goal. And even though we have ancient models to follow, with the shift to eco-mind we are entering new ground, and it is simplistic to suggest that we can renounce ourselves completely as modern people. It may be more helpful to identify the foremost components of western mind, and then set out to reclaim the opposite in whatever shape and form that takes, keeping in mind that our critical thinking and analytical skills continue to be powerful gifts we can apply as informed and empowered human beings. The following “Western Mind – Ancestral Mind” visual aid is not comprehensive as a universal human study, but sets out certain aspects of Western Mind that we may want to revise or discard, and elements of Ancestral, or Indigenous Mind that we may want to encourage or embrace.
By reviving our own ethnoculture(s) we can locate our own pre-colonial wisdom as people of European descent, and many are doing this work successfully today. My book Ancient Spirit Rising is a guideline to this process, and weaves contemporary social justice with genealogy and the ancestral arts, decolonization, nature spiritualities, rewilding, the European Old Ways, peaceful coexistence and the principles of holistic living. Unpacking the truth about our ancestor’s lives and the challenges they faced with gratitude and healing, is part of reclaiming our own authenticity. We can be comforted by the fact that going back in time, our ancestral line would have existed and enjoyed their lives long before the rise of Empire, when we depended on our tribal group and our interconnectivity with Gaia for our happiness, health and well-being. We have flourished without the oppression, amenities and toxicity of civilization, and by co-existing peacefully with our kindred spirits and the Earth, we can thrive again.
Do you remember?
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