Ancestors in the land

The presence and nature of ancestors in the land are going to vary a lot depending on where you live. For people of European descent living in formerly colonial countries, ancestors of land raise issues of appropriation, and of awful histories. Having never worked with this, I can only flag up the issue, I can’t really answer it.  I think relating to those who went before us as part of the land may help to make honourable relationships that take nothing, but maybe give something back in terms of respect. It wouldn’t be about visiting their places, but about recognising their continued presence, and knowing the stories of their presence in the land, and knowing what happened to them. As someone who lives in the UK, I’m not well placed to discuss these matters. Working with ancestors of place is certainly easier if there’s been no conflict between them, and your ancestors of blood.

Rather than trying to imagine all possible ancestors for all people in all places, I’m going to talk about my own experiences and hope people can use that as an effective jumping off point.

 

Ancestors in the geology

I live on Jurassic limestone. The internet is your friend when it comes to finding out about the rock where you live. Different rocks come from different eras and have different qualities, so there’s a lot to engage with here. Some of the soil here is thick clay, some is a more sandy loam, and there are areas of good topsoil for growing produce. Where it’s thin, sandy soil over rock, there’s often a history of quarrying, and a current presence of grazing livestock.

The Jurassic limestone is full of fossils – generally small sea shells, and other relics of a long departed shore. I’ve picked up fossilised crab shells, sea urchins, and all kinds of things that were probably plants. That these ancient ancestors of place can appear, so perfect and undamaged by time, is a startling thing. I cannot make any sense of the vast swathes of time between their lives and mine, and yet I can hold them in my hands. A dinosaur skull was found locally, some time ago, and I remain in hope of finding one myself. But then, having grown up on this limestone, I’ve spent much of my life finding fossils and longing for dinosaurs.

 

Ancestors in the archaeology

Prehistoric human life is only available to us as archaeology. I’m lucky – there are four barrows within viable walking distance, and more I have yet to visit. There are three Iron Age forts I can walk to from my home. I’m a short distance from a churchyard that was discovered to have a Roman villa on it, and an incredible mosaic, which is dug up at intervals – I have yet to see it. There’s a site reputed to be a Roman camp site, and stories and histories go forwards from there, becoming more certain as we go. Not so many miles away is the city of Gloucester, known to have been inhabited since people returned to these shores after the last ice age. Ancient ancestors are all around me, and visible. Much of the UK is like this.

There’s a great deal I cannot know about them, but I can walk the paths they used – some of the paths around here are 4,000 years old. I can visit their graves, and I can look at this land and try to imagine their lives in it. Currently, the Severn River is cut off from the Cotswold hills by a motorway, crossable on foot at only a few points. For much of history, there was no barrier to walking between the river and the wooded hills. It’s easy to imagine a mobile population doing just that – shifting out in times of flood, going where the hunting would be good, and coming to the hilltops above the river to bury their most significant dead.

Of course my imaginative engagement with them does not give me certainties about who they were and how they lived. However, I’ve walked from the river to the hills, I have a physical knowing of this place that must, to at least some degree, be held in common.

 

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Ancestors in the land

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I don’t seem to feel any ties to ancestors that I know about at least. But then that is not uncommon in a family that often was anything but close. I am also an introvert so I do not normally form close ties with people as a whole. I am rarely ever lonely. No my close ties seem to be with animals. My cat is my best friend and we understand each other pretty well. I enjoy the wild animals around me, and I notice plants and their changes, including plants new to my land. I have never felt much in common with other humans.

    • Nimue Brown

      Of course ancestors don’t have to be human, anything that was there before us is an ancestor of the land, so I would guess you might find that makes more sense in terms of birds and creatures.

  • Scott Tizzard

    I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of ancestors. I admit I have not yet read your book on the subject, but plan to do so soon. Most people refer to ancestors within the context of genetic lineage. I think the idea can be expanded greatly.

    In my case, for example, I am a Newfoundlander, and a Canadian. My ancestors or Irish (Mother: Co Waterford) and English (Father:Poole, Dorset). But the ancestors who came to Newfoundland arrived in the 1790s (Ireland) and the1680s (England). This neither makes me Irish nor English. I am now a Canadian (technically I am 1st generation Canadian as Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1949 and both my parents were born prior to 1949). That being said, am I a new chapter in an old story? Or, am I a whole new story?

    If one expands the idea of ancestor back through time, the direct lineage we have in our recorded history is rather shallow and rather selective. How, for example, do we incorporate our prehuman ancestors? So, I think the idea of ancestry is, in fact, the passage of information and wisdom from one generation to the next. It is far more than just a few generations. It is quite literally, all living things on the earth that are, will be or have been.

    Quantum physics states that time is a reference point. It is a point of view. In our present physical manifestation we perceive time in a forward linear fashion. This is a result of entropy or what is called the “arrow of time”. But, in fact, the true nature of time is not very well understood and how we perceive time, is not it’s full nature. There are proofs that we can perceive non-linear time and there is nothing in quantum physics that states we cannot perceive time in a non-linear fashion.

    So, if we expand our idea of ancestors within the context of non-linear time, I think the idea of liminal spaces/edges and the interconnections of all minded things becomes the world of our ancestors. It is from this place that we can gain knowledge and wisdom equally valid as the spoken and written word.

    Perhaps our Druid ancestors would give us a wink and a nod on this idea of ancestors.

    • Nimue Brown

      Scott, you’ll find Caitlin Matthews has a very similar view, and I go in the same sorts of directions as well. In Druidry there are often three ancestral groups identified – blood, tradition and landscape. I like it because blood ancestry can be so uneasy for many people, we will all be ancestors of the land to future generations, so its less focused on personal reproduction, and when it comes to tradition, we finally get to choose our own!

  • lornasmithers

    Wow fossilised crabs, sea urchins and a dinosaur – these are ancient ancestors indeed 🙂 The oldest ancestor I know of here in Lancs is the Thornton Wolf who is 20,000 years old although must be fossils in the limestone up at Silverdale.

    • Nimue Brown

      We’re a bit short on the mammal side – or possibly I am too dinosaur orientated and have not looked for them properly, which is something i should check on. There’s an ancient piece of timber in Gloucester museum, which can be touched – I get very excited about these thing. I would think your limestone must have something in it. Fossils tend to come in patches, if you find one in a place, the odds are there will be many more.

  • locksley2010

    I like how you handle this objectively and try to make any grand claims. Very good!

    • Nimue Brown

      I know its the grand claims that sell books and whatnot, but authority makes me nervous, and I’ve seen to much of what the desire to be important does to people, and I don’t want to go there.

  • Andrew.

    Regarding appropriation and issues of colonialism. I am in Australia. I have heard Aboriginal elders say if you have ancestors buried here you are part of here, you belong. I have heard one say if you live and breathe here and partake of food here you are part of here. A welcome balm from that sense of loss and disconnectedness. Here also there is a large hate and desire to wipe out introduced foxes and rabbits and so on. Foxes because they eat endangered “native” animals. They obviously have many generations in the land now too. At some point you have to accept that regardless of those who would keep saying you don’t belong, you do. None of us are truly alien, only by our behaviour. My blood will one day feed the land too.

    • Nimue Brown

      Many thanks for this. It’s a topic I’m wary about – because I just don’t know enough. I love what you’ve shared here.

    • Ooh Chiara

      I think the best thing that we Australians can do is continue to give honour to those of the land who have come before us, regardless to whether they are of our bloodlines or not. I know my practice deepened when I moved interstate (Melbourne to Sydney) to where none of my direct ancestors lie, so I began to really make an effort to acknowledge and honour Spirits and Ancestors of Place, acknowledging the original land owners and those who were brought here, free will or not.

      The land, in turn, has made me feel incredibly welcomed. Following to Andrew’s point, it makes the isolation from our ancestral lands (that I have never visited) easier to a point.

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