Ancestors

A couple of days ago I finished reading Tom Holland’s Millennium. I had many reactions to his book. Although I read Mediaeval History and Literature at university, I was not as familiar with the timeframe he was dealing with, having spent most of my time in the 12th century, and Millennium deals with the end of the 10th through most of the 11th centuries.

What struck me most, besides the appalling behaviour of both Christians and Muslims in the time covered by Holland’s book was the fact that I am here at all.

As a Druid, I look to the ancestors for inspiration and guidance, and honour them in ritual and meditation. What hit me as I read about the battles, and sieges, and the battles, and more battles, is how amazing it is that I am alive. It meant that none of my ancestors, in a direct genetic line to me, was killed in any of the serious bloodletting that swept across Europe. I meant that none of my ancestors, in direct genetic line to me, retreated to a monastery. Neither of these at least until they had passed on their genes to another generation.

Looking beyond the turbulent century around the first millennium of the Common Era, it also meant that none of my ancestors died of plague, disease, or in childbirth, and if the latter only after my next ancestor was born. Similarly, none died from making pilgrimages. They did not die by drowning or fire, from being on the wrong side in the burning frenzies that marked the actions of and reactions to Inquisition or the Protestant Reformation several centuries later.

I am here because none of my direct ancestors died in the War of American Independence, or Civil Wars in either England or America before they had fathered or mothered the child who stands behind me. Nor did they die in the killing fields of France in WWI, though it was a close-run thing in WWII. My father being spared the horror of the Battle of the Bulge because his CO faked his papers, saying he had a fever. He did this because he felt my father was more valuable to the war effort designing recreation rooms from Quonset huts, which helped morale, than as a fighter on the front line.

That any of us are here is because, though we may have had ancestors who succumbed to TB in the slums of English cities in the Industrial Revolution or died in the mines or mills, they did so after the next generation of our ancestors was already alive. Ditto the Black Death and its numerous recurrences over the centuries.

Realising this, all of this, makes me more respectful of those whose genes I carry, though I have not passed them on to another generation. I am not an ancestor of the future, except tangentially, but since I am not in contact with my cousins I will join the generic gathering of ancestors who belong to everyone and no one in particular.

That does not make me sad or feel any regret, for it was a conscious choice. What it does make me more aware of the burden those who came before me carried for millennia upon millennia, and whose lives and genes make me, were never aware of. In that awareness then is a special kind of honouring. Honouring by awareness is just as valuable as honouring by action, action in this case being the physical passing on of genetic information.

I am humbled with gratitude. I am humbled by the amazing quirks of fate and faith that brought me to the place I am, to the knowing I have of who came before me. I do not know many of the names, but I know about the world they lived in and the dangers the faced from reading history; I know the sorrows they endured from love and loss because I have read literature. I thank them each. I thank them all.

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Motherline

I broke the line.

From your fragile genes,
Wilma Darlene
transfigured
into
Judith McGraine
there will be
no more daughters.

Your motherline is dead.

I broke the line.

From your history
of loss and misery,
of anger and surrender,
there will be no more
women carrying
your burdened story
into tomorrow.

Your motherline is dead.
It dies with us.

I broke the line.

Never wanting to carry it forth,
even at five years old
I knew I’d be no nurse,
or teacher or mommy,
and though I have nurtured
others’ souls and selves,
they were the souls and selves
of other motherlines,
and those of fathers too.

Your motherline is dead.
It dies with us.
No daughters follow me in procession.

I broke the line.

A Day History is Being Made

My alarm went off at 0700 this morning, as the polling stations in Scotland were opening. It is a day history is being made.

I live in the southwest of England. I have lived in Orkney, on one of the outer islands. I have travelled though Scotland many times and spent time there. I have my own opinions about the referendum, but that is not what I have been reflecting on, nor what I woke up this morning keenly aware of looking out at the low clouds through my bedroom window.

This morning I feel the weight of history. Trained as an historian I have read a lot of the patterns of change and the alternations in the fates and trajectory of nations. What I am most aware of is the burden of change facing all of us who call at this moment the United Kingdom home. No matter what happens by this time tomorrow, or soon after, we will all know in what way the difference in all our futures will be shaping.

All of us are living through what our grandchildren and our future descendants will be reading about in their history books. I know this is true of many things happening in the world right now, the actions of Russia and its agents in the Ukraine, the Ebola epidemic in the west of Africa, the ongoing and terrifying deeds of IS in Iraq and Syria . . . all these are making tears and ripping huge gaps in the tapestry of stability as we have come to perceive, or misperceive it in the geopolitical, cultural and social maps of our world as we have tried to come to terms with it in recent times.

But the Scottish referendum is here. It is now. It is happening in our own country. What it will mean, let us be honest, neither side really knows. There are projections and modelling from both sides of the issue. What is undeniable is that it means uncertainty and dis-ease for many months and years to come. Perhaps because this vote and the journey to it have happened in such a public way, in such a disciplined and carefully argued and negotiated way that it seems unlike the chaotic and disorder way such events have occurred in the past. But there is the anxiety of chaos and disorder underneath it, there are the currents of passion and footfalls of fear sounding not far below the surface.

History is being made today. Yes or No, it is history shaping into the future very close to home. We may have been aware of it vaguely or acutely with other actions or votes or treaties before, that our movement onward would be altered, but somehow this feels different.  Perhaps it is just me and the way I perceive and sense and feel the shiftings of energies. But there is a weight today pushing down all around and even so far away from where the choice is being made it feels like there is a collective holding of breath. A sense of worry. A presence of deep unease. The palpable feeling of hope and the testing of trust.

Whatever way the vote goes, some of this feeling will be around for a very long time.

Right now I am going to get dressed and go for a walk. I am going to visit Rev’d Mother, an old oak tree of my acquaintance who has lived through much history, who is wise and insightful. I seek her out today for a sense of deep continuity to balance the disrupted energy all around me. I seek her out and the gods and ancestors for their wisdom and perspective that is far deep and broader than mine.

The world is not ending because of the referendum in Scotland. But something may do. And with such an ending at stake it is important that I seek and spend time with a being who has endured as we all shall do. We shall endure and carry on because it is what we have done. Even in the face of change, to whatever degree, it is how we have survived. It is how we have lived through the ravages of history and it is how we shall live into the future being shaped today. Each and every day we wake up to and with the potential to make what happens in all our tomorrow different. It is something that is so easy to forget, but that is one thing that the Scottish referendum has given all of us, a reminder that we have choices to make and courses to set for ourselves, doors we can open and those we may close as we write our own personal histories minute by minute, day by day.

Ah, the mist is lifting and the sun is beginning to shine.