Faith in Animism

faith

Science is a poor god. Spirituality is for times and places where science reaches its limits. It’s for when we have no answers. When we get there, we don’t need science. It does no good. We need faith.

In life there are plenty of times when we reach the unknown, we have no control, or there is nothing we can do like:

  • Will I make the swim team?
  • Why doesn’t Jimmy love me anymore?
  • Will this surgery cure me?
  • Why did grandpa die?

Faith may not give us the answers, but it can give us a sense of control, and through control, we can gain peace. Faith can help us to believe in things like:

  • It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
  • Everything that happens is what is supposed to happen.
  • Everything that happens is for my highest and best good.
  • My spirit guides are always with me.

Maybe we don’t understand or see how that can be true in this moment, but having that faith helps us to get through. It gives us strength to keep going. Beliefs like this help us to feel connected and that life has meaning.

Living with faith is a way of practicing for the ultimate unknown – death. Nobody knows what is going to happen when we die. If we look at Nature, though, we have clues. We see the trees budding in the springtime. We see the birds return from their migration. All over we see life renewing itself. And many of us have faith that that is what will happen to us, too. Whatever pain or badness befalls us, it will end, and a new beginning will follow.

So we surrender and stop trying to fight or control the outcome, and that results in peace.

Some say faith is foolish. Who can prove whether the faith is well placed or not? Well, on one hand you can go with skepticism, fear, anxiety, and no control. On the other there is peace, surrender, a sense of purpose, control, and connection. Neither is certain, so why not go with the one that gives you more peace?

If life were certain, we’d have no need for faith. If science could explain everything, we wouldn’t need faith. Until then, embrace faith.

Spring Equinox Solo Ritual

spring equinox

Ready for spring? Want to welcome it with a spring equinox solo ritual, but don’t know how to do that yet? Here you go!

Prepare Your Altar

There are many ways to do this. This is not “the” way. I am just giving you some ideas to get you started. Feel free to deviate and make it your own.

You will need:

  • altar cloth in the colors of spring: pastels, yellow, white, green, pink, blue
  • candle(s) – also in the colors of spring
  • symbols of fertility such as bunnies, any god(dess) of fertility, eggs, seedlings or plants that are budding
  • symbols for balance such as scales, yin/yang symbol, sun and moon, something masculine and feminine, black and white
  • things from nature that catch your eye like spring flowers
  • crystals. If you are into crystals, you can add your favorites that resonate with the energy of the season such as peridot, sunstone, azurite, or celestite.
  • an offering of tobacco, corn, water, food, chocolate, flowers, a song, or something else that strikes you as appropriate

While in a mindful headspace and awareness of your intention to welcome spring, cleanse and consecrate your items. Lay your altar cloth on the table. Since the spring equinox is a time of balance, arrange the items in a way that feels balanced and “right.” No need to get too heady or perfectionistic about it. Just feel your way.

Cleanse Your Space

You can do this mentally by creating a bubble around you, defining the space with your finger, or walking the space with incense or a burning plant of some sort, like white sage, palo santo, or cedar. As you are creating your sacred space, you might wish to give gratitude to whomever or whatever you feel is present with you, has helped you in the past, or will see you through the future. You may wish to also let these energies know what you are offering in gratitude.

Meditate

Sit comfortably. Ground yourself with a few deep, cleaning breaths. Set the intention of receiving what you need to know to move into this season with health, love, and abundance.

Open yourself to the energies of spring and allow yourself to receive any support, help, or inspiration that comes through. Inhale the scents. Feel the warmth of the sunshine or candle. Feel the support of Nature. Be fully present and relax.

Many people think that rituals are about manifesting something that they want. Be open to having something asked of you. This is the season of balance. Sometimes it’s not about getting but giving, and through giving we receive. Maybe you will be asked to give up something- like an attitude, belief, job, home, or person. Be open to hearing whatever comes through. The answers aren’t always what we think they should be.

Conclusion

When things feel “done,” thank the energies of spring that supported you through this ritual. Release them by unwinding the circle and touching the ground.

Now take a few minutes to journal any ideas or insights that you received. This is important because communication that comes from liminal space isn’t quite “here” yet and can disappear if you don’t bring it into the material world in a solid way. You may wish to transition back to the apparent world in an easy, gentle way with a cup of hot tea. Great choices for spring are white tea, chrysanthemum, mint, milk thistle, and chamomile.

 

How to Pray

how to pray

When things get uncertain and you don’t know what to do, or maybe there is nothing you can do, there is always prayer. Yet some people didn’t grow up with a spiritual practice and may not know how to pray. Here’s a quick tutorial to get you started.

To Whom Are You Appealing?

Prayer is generally used to appeal for help. Before you begin, you have to have a focus so that you know to whom you will appeal. If you are a monotheist, “God” works. If you are an agnostic, appealing to the Universe or your own higher power might seem more appropriate. If you are a pantheist, you might reach out to the Universe. If you are a polytheist, the world is wide open!

If you are anything but a polytheist, the energy that you are appealing to will probably be the same each time. Polytheists have a multitude of gods to choose from. It generally works best if the deity has some relationship to the purpose. For example, if you are praying because you are worried about the coronavirus, you could appeal to one of the plague gods (Aplu, Artemis, Erra, Goddess I, Kope Tiatie Cac, Nergal, Resheph, Sopona, Vejovis, Wen Shen, or Xipe Totec).

Or perhaps it makes more sense to you to appeal to a god of healing like Aesclepius, (since Aesclepius is a demi-god born of Apollo, a god of healing, and the moral Coronis, this looks like a good choice), Aja, Apollo, Babalu Aye, Bona Dea, Brigid, Eir, Isis, Panacea, or Dhanvantari. You could also simply appeal to the Great Mother or Father.

Prayers work best when you have a relationship with the deity. You want to know their personalities. Make sure they are in alignment with your request or you could anger them. In most cases, a virgin goddess probably isn’t the one to ask for parenting or fertility help.

How Do You Greet Them?

Once you know whom you are addressing, you need to call out to them. Say something like:

  • Oh, great Goddess
  • Dear God
  • Great Spirit
  • Great Mystery
  • Heavenly Mother
  • Lord and Lady
  • Shining Apollo

There isn’t a right or wrong way to begin. The best way is personal, meaningful, and authentic to you.

What Do You Want?

Next you speak from the heart. Tell him, her, or it why you are reaching out. What do you want? Are you asking for help? Do you need healing? Understanding? Resources? Peace? Compassion? Be sincere and specific. Some gods will give you what you ask for. If you aren’t clear, your results may not be clear either.

Speak Your Closing

Many prayers end in the same way. It’s a way to signal, “I’m done. I’m back in apparent space vs. sacred space.” Some ways of doing this are with a gesture like a bow or touching the heart or earth. You could also use words like “Amen.” “So be it” is another option. It’s a way to affirm that your wishes have already been granted.

Modern animism is a relational spiritual path. It’s normal for you to speak to your spirit helpers. They want to help you. You don’t have to bow your head, get on your knees, put your hands together, or do it in any particular way. Just come with sincerity and an open heart. They will hear you.

Prayer has power, but it only works if you use it. If you are shy because you don’t know how to pray, try it. It’s easy to learn. Maybe you find that it’s a great way to connect to the spirit world.

 

Altar Etiquette

altar etiquette

With more people being attracted to paganism and animism, there may be a lot of new people who aren’t aware of altar etiquette. Lots of people don’t know an animist altar when they see one. While guidelines vary from person to person and group to group, here are some general things to look out for so that you don’t step on anyone’s toes.

What’s an Altar Look Like?

First, let’s talk about what an altar looks like so that you can recognize one when you see it. If you’re in a church, the altar is pretty recognizable. It’s the big table or flat topped block that occupies a place of prominence up front. It is often wooden, marble, or covered in a cloth. Sometimes there are candles, icons, statues, or flowers on top of it.

Pagan altars look a bit different. They may be just a patch of incense, items from nature that look like they were placed together, or statues, crystals, with bowls containing food or water. Some are permanent and some are temporary. If you frequent Asian restaurants or nail salons, you’ve probably walked right past them and didn’t know what they were.

Altar Etiquette for Your Altar

If you have an altar, you probably already know these things, but I am going to address some things for people who are new and maybe don’t yet know.

  • Tend it. Altars are focal points for energy. They need tending. It should be clutter and dirt free. If you are making offerings, make sure they are freshened regularly. Visit your spirits regularly.
  • Keep it sacred. This is not where you eat, watch tv, or go about your daily life. It’s sacred space.
  • Make sure that whatever is on the altar is purposefully chosen. Don’t place random things there that do not support your work. Be careful to choose items that compliment each other rather than work against each other. An altar is a focal point for spiritual work, not just a decoration.
  • Come to this space in a clear, loving state of mind. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but as much as possible, you want to cultivate this space as loving, gentle, and calming.
  • If you are placing your altar on public land, leave no trace. Either create it with something that will degrade quickly and naturally or take your tools with you when you go.

Altar Etiquette For Someone Else’s Altar

If you come across someone else’s altar, whether it’s in a public place or private, keep these things in mind.

  • DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING! You may be looking at something ancestral. Ritual tools are often consecrated. Even if they are not, this is not your space. Admire from afar.
  • Do not move anything or add anything there without permission. This is not your space. Respect the boundary.
  • If you are invited to make an offering, the offering stays there when you leave. An offering is a gift. It’s a sign of respect, gratitude, and reciprocity.
  • If you are making a sacrifice to a deity or helping spirit, that stays there when you leave. You haven’t given up anything if you take it with you.
  • If you are putting something on a public altar to help hold space for your intention, cleanse it first. Make sure that your intention is in alignment with the intention of the group. Take it with you when you go.

Nature is the animist “church.” An altar may be anywhere. They can be made of anything. If you come across something that doesn’t quite look nature made, leave it alone. It could be an altar.

 

Animism Won’t Give You A Purpose

animism won't give you a purpose

I think lots of people are drawn to non-mainstream spiritual paths because they feel it gives them a purpose. Animism won’t give you a purpose. You have to look within and find that for yourself. It can, however, give you a path to go about living on purpose.

So What’s a Purpose?

I think a lot of people want to know why they are suffering. They want their suffering to have meaning. So when a psychic or mystic tells them that it’s because they are a healer, it feels good. It feels like they are special, and who doesn’t like that? Some pursue the healer path for a while and some stay on it forever, but it’s often a diversion from their own healing.

Some feel that they are meant to do something big, so they go about building something or becoming something. Maybe they accomplish this and maybe they don’t. I think what most find out, though, as I did, is that there is always another mountain to climb. We’re not ever “done.” Someone is always on our tail threatening to outdo us. What we’ve built is always in danger of crumbling. After all, everything dies. It’s a natural cycle.

When the purpose is something to do, become, or acquire, it’s elusive. We can’t hold on to it because it’s always changing. It’s always in front of us. So we can end up feeling like we’ve failed.

How Do I Live on Purpose?

Your purpose is just to be here. To choose. To live consciously and enjoy the experience. You don’t have to be or do anything. You can live on purpose regardless of what you do, achieve, or become.

When you live on purpose, you live mindfully. You engage in the dance of life. Sometimes you do that with joy, sometimes it’s with fear. Sometimes you do it with grace and other times it’s with profound awkwardness. It’s all a wonderful experience if you let it be.

All you have to do is surrender control. Accept life as it is. Choose based on the options, resources, and knowledge that you have in this moment. That’s the sovereignty part.

Now, if you also consider all the plants, animals, minerals, spirits, and people who share this adventure with you and engage with them, that’s connection. How do your choices impact others? How can you include others in a way that honors them? Do you live with Nature and within the big picture of life? See, it’s not all about you. It’s about us.

What’s In It For Me?

If that doesn’t sound sexy or meaningful, try it. How liberating would it be if you felt “okay” with having a 9 to 5 that doesn’t save the world, yet it allows you enough money to live? You could have dinner at night with your family. Maybe you plant a garden. If you like hiking, you could do that on the weekends, or maybe go fishing. And you could love people, provide for them, and laugh with them.

It might sound like a modest dream, but how many of us have that? How many of us grab take out on the way to or from work or eat standing up? How many exercise in a gym? Do you know anyone who puts their hands in the soil? Do you smile at people you love and actually talk to them? That’s not a small thing. That’s everything.

Every day I conduct past life regressions where people see themselves living lives of quiet desperation. Then they die without having lived or loved.

Connection is everything, folks. If you don’t feel safe with people, connect with animals or plants. Let yourself see the wonder that is life. Let others see you. It’s all that matters. Not your luxury car, your six pack abs, or your travel photos. Try going small and quiet. See how your life changes. Or use Thoreau’s eyes:

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal,—that is your success.”

Modern animism won’t give you a purpose, but we will give you that framework to achieve it. Our path is sovereignty, connection, and Oneness. Won’t you join us?

Bet You Didn’t Know Groundhog Day is Pagan

ground hog day

February 2 is Groundhog day. Here in the United States, it doesn’t seem particularly spiritual, but the tradition actually has earth base spirituality roots. In ancient times, agricultural cultures had to pay attention to the natural cycles. The sun and moon told them when it was time to do things they needed to do to survive. Paying attention to the signs foretold how long it would be before the animals awoke from hibernation and when to begin planting.

The pagan Celt’s story about how to foretell the length of winter focuses on Cailleach, the Winter goddess who controls the weather. On Feb 2 she goes to gather firewood. If she wants winter to linger, the day will be bright and sunny so that she can stay out longer and get more wood. If it’s gray, winter will be shorter.

After the coming of Christianity, the story changed. There was only one true God, and so Cailleach went away. The need to foretell winter’s length was still there though. People changed the story so that the sun was still the deciding factor. Only the sun didn’t shine because Cailleach wanted more firewood for the long cold ahead anymore. A sunny day just meant a longer winter.

In Germany the story morphed into the hedgehog being the prognosticator. If the day was sunny, the hedgehog would see his shadow and winter would be longer. When Germans emigrated to Pennsylvania, they adopted the story to the local animals. The hedgehog became the groundhog. That’s how we got Groundhog Day and why it happens in Punxsutawney, PA.

In the mainstream culture, it’s not a day off or a day for celebration. But perhaps now that you know that Groundhog Day is pagan, and you know the story behind the story, you can look at it a bit differently.

How to Keep the Holy Days Sacred

holy days

The winter holiday season is over, and the holiday horror stories are rolling out. If you have some of your own, read on. See how to keep the holy days sacred so that this will be the last year of disasters.

My holy days are always fabulous. I look forward to them every year and have a great time. As long as you remember “sovereignty, connection, and Oneness” and these four guidelines, yours can be fantastic every time too.

Don’t Make It About Gifts

The quickest way to spoil a good time is to make it about gifts.

What are you going to get me? Is my present better than hers? Is my present better than last year? Did you put enough thought into it?

Ack! It’s enough to drive someone crazy.

Lots of people understand that consumerism is a mood killer. You could establish different rules that work for you like: no gifts. Only handmade gifts. Or maybe you only give gifts when you feel like it throughout the year. This way it’s always heartfelt, there is no obligation, and no pressure.

Gifts are a great way to show appreciation. However, when they become the center of attention or obligatory, they can be a way to keep score. And that’s not really what holy days are all about, are they?

Don’t Make It About Food

Depending upon when your holiday season starts, you could be looking at up to 6 weeks of feasting. That’s a lot of food to pack in. And if you are like most people, it’s carb heavy, sugar heavy, holiday foods that you don’t normally eat throughout the year. This can make you sluggish and moody, not to mention less healthy.

Food is love. Trust me. I know. So by all means indulge. Just maybe keep the feast days to the actual days and not the whole season.

If you’re like my family, you make enough food to feed the neighborhood for a week. If you dropped it down a notch or two, you can still have a great meal and enjoy it fully.

Don’t Make It About Money

Once we start asking for big ticket items or putting a price tag on the value of gifts, things can get really stressful. With that comes judgment that someone didn’t spend enough or family get togethers are too expensive to attend. Or maybe one family has all the financial burden of hosting.

Zoom out. Consider the big picture. We can’t know what someone’s financial resources are. So the best way to deal with that is to offer to help, commit only to what you can afford, and don’t judge.

Holy days are about connection. It costs nothing to do that. There are a million ways to do it in a way that works for all sides. All it takes is a little creativity.

Don’t Make It About Obligation

Holy days are a time when everyone is celebrating. There are lots of options for gatherings, and yet life still must go on. We still have to work. We still have to pay attention to our friends, family, and partners. Self care does not go out the window. It can be tough juggling it all.

This is when sovereignty works best. Trust that everyone is doing the best that they can. It’s not a reflection of their love or care if that means they aren’t spending time with you. The best gatherings are those where everyone present wants to be there, too. So enjoy it for what it is.

It’s easy to get lost in the madness that is the holy days. It can be a really stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be. With healthier boundaries, less judgment, and clear communication, dysfunctional holidays can be a thing of the past. If you start planning now, by next Thanksgiving, it will  flow effortlessly.

Am I Having a Shamanic Initiation?- (Where Mental Illness Meets Spirituality)

shamanic initiation

According to the Journal of American College Health, a quarter of the American population suffers from mental illness. One in six Americans are on psychiatric drugs reports Scientific American. Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the USA, and treatment begins as early as age 14. In short, mental illness is a huge problem.

People are searching for answers, and they are not finding it in the mental health community. In fact, the problem is growing!

Lots of people are flocking to “shamanism” for the answer. They are reading that mental illness is not really something bad, it’s a sign of shamanic initiation. It’s an awakening to your true self. That’s really uplifting, isn’t it?

I’m a mental health professional who was born into an animist culture. I’d like to shed some light on this because I think this is a case of coming to conclusions with too few pieces of a puzzle. I see people hurt by this thinking. If I can lend some balance to the issue, I’d like to.

We’re Not Viewing “Shamanism” From Its Native Lens

The first problem is that lots of people confuse shamanism with animism. “Shamanism” is the mystical path of Tungus speaking people of Siberia. It’s not a generic word. The mystical traditions of indigenous people varies widely and cannot be reduced to the common elements.

That’s a very western way of thinking that got us cardiology and oncology vs. the eastern way of holistic medicine. When you take a concept out of its environment, you change it. So, it’s not particularly useful or accurate when applied elsewhere. Or perhaps it is useful, but when used in isolation, you could get unintended consequences because of overlooking all the systems that are in play. I think this is one reason why we have so much mental illness today – we see things as separate compartments rather than viewing them as a whole. So, we treat one symptom and create ten more.

We’re Confusing Shamanism With Animism

Lots of “experts” are suggesting that mental illness is a shamanic call. The “sick” person is being summoned to serve others as a healer. They say that becoming a shaman is not only the way to heal themselves, but it’s a way to heal the world.

I am an optimist who puts a positive spin on everything. I think everything is happening for our highest and best selves, and we become stronger by meeting adversity with courage. That said, I think it’s really irresponsible to tell someone who is struggling that they have to serve when they don’t have the foundation or skills to do so.

Shamanism isn’t just about working with spirits. It’s holistic and rooted animist culture. It’s about knowing how to hear the voices in the wind, feel the energies of the plants, and speak to the animals and ancestors. Animist mystics get their power from the Spirit. They go into very dark places that can shatter the psyche. How can someone who doesn’t have any of that foundation serve well?

Perhaps mental illness is not so much about being called to be a shaman. Perhaps it is a call to be more natural. That’s what animism is. It’s living in tune with Nature. It’s providing that foundation to understand what it is to be a shaman. A holistic life is deeper than ideas and rituals. It’s rooted in the past, present, and future; the ancestors, family, and descendants; Earth and Sky. It is a way to regain connection to all our being. Not just as a personality, but as a whole person.

We’re Engaging in Spiritual Bypass

I have helped people who explored the shaman path in one way or another, then crashed. They went searching for someone to help put the pieces back together and get their feet back on the ground. They see that the whole time, they were engaging in spiritual bypass.

It felt good to feel special and to be with people who “got” them. It was exhilarating to have unique experiences. And at the end of the day, their problems were still there. They still had to learn how to pay their own bills, manage their own emotions, relate in a healthy way with other people, and think for themselves.

There’s no get out of jail free card, folks. If you want a shaman to take away all your pain, it’s the same mentality of taking a pill or asking a therapist to “fix” you. That’s not how life works. We all have to do our own work.

I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer. I’m trying to save you some heartache. That said, if that’s your path, enjoy it. Sometimes we have to learn for ourselves. And sometimes you are the outlier who has a completely different outcome. It can happen.

Am I Having a Shamanic Initiation?

So, after saying all that, it does happen that people are called to serve the mystical path through a break down. It could be physical or emotional. It’s as if your old life is leaving and a new one begins.

If you are enduring this and asking that question, know that nobody can really answer that for you. Here are somethings you can do to help you figure it out.

  • accept your present state of being. Don’t pathologize or glorify it. Enjoy it. Observe it. Be curious and open minded about it. In other words, stay grounded.
  • investigate animism and see if this is something that can give you a foundation to live in the holistic, complementary duality framework where animist mystics originate. This will give your experience context.
  • acquire the skills you need to live as a well human. Be self supporting. Manage your emotions. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit. Have healthy relationships. Create a healthy relationship with the material world. Nurture and be nurtured by your family.
  • cultivate a healthy relationship with the spirit world. Have boundaries.
  • connect with other people who have otherworldly experiences. Give your experiences perspective. Learn to understand them. When they are no longer scary or novel, you may view them very differently.

If you do all these things, I think you will become very clear whether or not you’re having a shamanic initiation or not.

Non-Animists are From Mars, Animists Are From Venus

animists are from venus

John Gray’s book, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, instantly connected with people. Gray made it obvious why men and women can sometimes have such a hard time connecting and understanding each other. In my world, the same thing can happen with animists and non-animists. It can feel like non-animists are from Mars, animists are from Venus.

It’s that whole antagonistic duality thing. Mars is the Roman god of war. In astrology, he’s associated with passion, anger, war, assertion, and separation. Those are all the qualities of antagonistic duality. It’s the battle between good and evil. It’s the habit of seeing things as in or out.

Animism is a spiritual path of inclusion, love, beauty, sentiments, values, and the relationship between people and the material world. These are all the attributes of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. It’s expressed in complimentary duality where light and dark, male and female, life and death are partners. They exist because of each other.

When one person is coming from an animist point of view, and the other is coming from an antagonistic duality point of view, disconnection happens.

For example, I might say something about the way the leaves look in the fall. The person I am speaking with might think, “I thought we were going to talk about spirituality.” Meanwhile I think, “I was talking about spirituality.”

Or perhaps we are talking about vegetarians vs. omnivores. I might agree that I am against animal cruelty, but still eat meat. And this confounds the other person.

It makes communication very wordy, intellectual, and distancing.

So, how can these two world co-exist happily?

If you find yourself clashing, here are some things to try.

  • Acceptance – being of different minds doesn’t mean that one side is right and the other is wrong. Adopting a stance of nonjudgmental acceptance can help both sides feel valued and connected.
  • Curiosity – asking questions can be a way of finding common ground. Stay open and curious. Remember light and dark are friends. Something can be learned from each other if we stay open and curious.
  • Exploration – thoughts are only one way to learn. Why not explore the stories, histories, culture, festivals, music, and traditions that reflect the emotions of what is new? Music, dance, laughter, and art go places where the mind can’t. Don’t limit yourself.
  • Open mindedness. When we think we already know, new information can’t get in.
  • Check for inclusion. Like it or not, we all live in the antagonistic world and can get tripped up by it. When this happens, check to see if you are engaging in exclusion. If so, you may be closing the door to understanding. You may be choosing self preservation over relationship.

Has this happened to you? How did you handle it? Write us a comment and share what worked and what didn’t.

 

I Am That

I am that

Have you ever had your DNA analyzed? If so, you know that it can be a great way to realize “I am that.” “That”, of course, is everything. So, it can help you realize the Oneness that you already are. How?

Recent Ancestral Story

The first thing it does is illuminate your recent ancestral story. If you get your DNA run by ancestry sites, they really focus on the last two to three hundred years. The accuracy depends on the amount of data that scientists have to compare your DNA to. For example, if you are light skinned, they are going to have lots more data to compare than if you have more melanin. Still, many people can only go back two generations, so this provides a lot of new illuminating information.

For example, a friend’s mother told her that her father was Middle Eastern. Her DNA revealed that her recent ancestors were 100% from the British Isles. Another friend’s family lore said that they were Native American. Nope! She actually got her tawny huge from the Middle East. Many white supremacists are surprised to find that they actually have pigment in their family tree.

Nobody is “ethnically pure.” There is no such thing. In fact, the last two hundred years of our family history is often very different from what our oral history and imagination tells us. Knowing the facts can help to erase misconceptions, broaden your view of identity, and anchor you in your bones.

Get the Stories

Once you have some hard facts, you can research the stories. If your ancestors were a part of literate empires (versus pre-literate tribal cultures), there are often great records that can be uncovered.

I am fortunate that my father has uncovered thousands of family connections stretching back a thousand years in one line. If you are lucky, you can connect to someone who has done the same and save yourself a ton of work. Check out ancestry.com or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

As I look at my family tree, I see criminals, incest, philanthrope, genius, slaves, slave owners, people who successfully resisted colonialism, soldiers, generals, poverty, wealth, business owners, unwed parents, alcoholics, musicians, and religious zealots. I see strength, beauty, and challenges. The rainbow of stories that suggests I am everything. I am that.

Archaic DNA

If you pop your raw DNA results into Gedmatch, you can analyze your archaic DNA. This story goes where the paper trail dies. It can provide a fascinating look at human migration as well as your ancestral story. For example, as I look at my archaic DNA, I see that I have Denisovan ancestry. Denisovan people lived in a cave in Siberia between 55,000 and 287,000 years ago! That’s a long way from where their descendant’s footsteps lead.

I also share DNA with the Kennewick man! Kennewick man is the remains of the oldest Native American DNA in North America. He lived in what is now Washington state 8,500 years ago. That goes back way before oral family history or recorded records. This type of data can give you such a broader picture of who your people were and who you are.

For me, it’s humbling. Although I deeply connect to my culture and recent dead, this stretches my roots much deeper into the soil, my bones, and eternity. It brings to mind a quote from Caligula.

I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night.

Wow! I am that. …and you are too.

If you look at your family tree and all you can see is nuts, look beyond that. There is much more to you than your recent dead. There are apples, oaks, cedars, yews, mimosas, redwoods, pines, hawthorns, cherries, and everything imaginable.

The next time you have a bad moment, remember that within you is the DNA of people who traveled widely, escaped misery, loved, died, and conquered fear. Within you is the love of thousands who came together to create you. Before that, we were all stardust. So imagine what adventures lie ahead!

For me, remembering my ancestors is about remembering who I am. Staying connected to who I am keeps me grounded, humble, and compassionate towards those who are suffering with ignorance, want, greed, and fear. I am that. Sometimes I forget and live there too. Many generations within me did too. All it takes for me to change things up is to remember that I am light and dark. I can then choose where I want to stand today.

Note: Scientists took DNA from Havasupai tribal members for a diabetes study, then used it for other purposes. FamilyTreeDNA secretly used information in its database to catch criminals. Be sure that you are fully aware of how your DNA can be used before signing consent for any DNA test.