Whiteness is not an ancestor
My journey with ancestral healing actually started through plants. I was introduced to the idea that lineage was important by my shamanic aromatherapy teachers, Cathy Skipper and Florian Birkmayer. An insight they offered is that people who are called to ancestral work are often brought to this work by plants who hold the energy of lineage strongly in their beings. After their class I went on a mad ancestry.com research binge and tracked nine of my direct lines (mother's mothers, father's mothers, etc) back to being in the US before the revolutionary war. What I found was a pattern of Puritanism, colonization and enslavement... the founding wounds of the country where I reside. My ancestral work comes with this lens of tending the wounds that these lineages hold as well as inflicted. My ancestors were also burned at the stake and fled homelands for religious freedom. They were some of the original hunter gatherers in Europe and saw the change of their land and lives through farming, imperialism and capitalism. I hold the complexity of these histories with great compassion. I also believe that white people need to do some deep level reckoning, grieving, figuring out what their contribution to reconciliation is.
In 2020 I was gifted with the opportunity to participate in writing an essay for the book "Whiteness is Not An Ancestor: Essays on Life and Lineage by white Women". The final draft of this book was released to the 13 co-authors the day that Mr. George Floyd was murdered. This enraging event underlined the work that is needed to be done not only individually for white folks, but on the systems of oppression that we often unconsciously uphold.
To learn more about the book and get an idea of the kind of conversations that are needed in the white community, you can view a talk I participated in on the book: Youtube video can be found here.
The history of white culture’s disconnection with the earth is based in the history of oppression, upheld by the Christian church, enlightenment ideals and imperialism. And even if we are moving away from this on a personal level, we come from ancestry that upheld this and so there is ancestral healing to be done. So if you are (or are descended from) a white Christian or if you are (or are descended from) a white secular materialist whose ideals are wrapped in science, or you live in an imperialist country, there is a reckoning needed.
There is a reckoning that needs to be made by Christians because of the history of the church - the doctrine of discovery, the witch burnings and the demonization of indigenous people, animism and pagans. If there is to be a reclamation of earth honoring ways and it does not not address this in a serious way, then there is a gap in the integrity of this work. Yes, connection to the earth is a birthright that no people, religion or animist practice “owns” but there is a deep and hurtful history here that cannot be ignored and those who held onto these earth honoring ways despite the persecution by the church need to be recognized as the church wakes up and looks to change. If you just try to Christianize earth based spirituality without recognizing the wisdom keepers or the harms done, then you are appropriating, colonizing, a further act of white supremacy.
There is even racism in the very popular and contemporary movement of connecting with “Wisdom traditions” as defined as “the contemplative traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, Vedanta, Daoism, Sufism; and in the history of philosophy, as in the writings of Plato and Aristotle, which were Christianized in the Neo-Platonic schools in the early Church”... indigenous traditions, paganism and animism are not seen as wisdom traditions and yet they are the wisdom keepers of earth based spirituality.
Even the renewal of Celtic spirituality from a Christian perspective is appropriative (as are all of the Christian holy days which are based on pagan traditions). How can we look to these traditions for guidance as we work to reclaim this but do so in a way that honors them rather than just borrows or takes? It comes from first recognizing that these are the wisdom traditions when it comes to earth connection. And to recognize that Christianity burnt these wisdom keepers at the stake or colonized them. If we don’t recognize our participation in the genocide of the earth culture keepers then we are false in our attempts to reclaim this. The indigenous people who never lost this culture must be upheld first as our elders in this and their efforts to retain this culturally and fight against cultural genocide must be supported. This is not to create a fantasy of what it means to be indigenous, but rather a respect of the sovereignty of especially Native people in the Americas where treaties give them an important status a sovereign nations. If we are not supporting truth and reconciliation or actively asking our government to respect treaties and sovereignty of these people, then we are not honoring these wisdom keepers and our earth honoring efforts are self-serving at best. We must not only support their sovereignty or accept them as valid religions (often in religious conventions indigenous people and pagans are not included… not seen as a wisdom tradition), the fact that we come to this not only late but as part of a history of oppression must be reckoned with. Otherwise it is an appropriation just as the Christian church took over pagan holidays. It is essentially whitewashing. It is a further act of colonization and supremacy.
As for the secular scientific society, if you are coming to animism from outside any religious framework, then you too have a history of cultural oppression to reckon with. The enlightenment era defined who was considered to be more of a human and who was less and this became a foundation of racism across the world that said that anything “in the light” (ie white) was more evolved and anything in the dark (or darker skinned) was less evolved. We still see this embedded in systemic oppression and if you are not fighting against the active dismantling of this, you are upholding it. We even still see this in various new age and even enlightenment-oriented traditions where anything "high vibration" or "light" is seen as what one should be evolving towards or ascending to. Anything that is of the earth is meant to be evolved beyond or controlled for our benefit. This bleeds over into how we treat the earth as a resource rather than a living breathing collection of beings. And if you subscribe to a materialist view of the world there is no way to make “kin” of the beings, seen and unseen.
For many people, there isn't a strong identification with the Christian tradition or materialist ways of thinking. For these folks, their reckoning may come in the form of how they are implicitly supporting imperialist policies of the country they live in. The Roman expansion in Europe brought about a change to the earth-centered practices of white ancestors. All of the sudden the earth the people inhabited was changed to a resource to feed an empire. While the initial invasion did not require individuals to convert to a state religion (Christianity came to the Romans later than their first incursions into northern European lands), it did change their relationship to the land in that now it was to be used for Roman hegemony. Deforestation of Europe is cleanly marked by this invasion. Imperialism to this day is a continued tool of oppression of the earth and of people who live close to her. By feeding an economic system that devalues the earth and sees her only as a resource for consumerist desires or large industry, we are not living in kinship. These same engines of eco-destruction are the same systems of racial oppression. Systemic racism has been engrained in our political and economic systems based on legacies of power and control by elites. The same systems that devalue the earth and other-than-human beings are the same systems that devalue certain human beings be it by race or class.
Anti-racism and earth connection work go hand in hand. If this is not part of your practice, you are missing a critical element of culture change.
My thoughts on the path of deep animist relationship