Late at night, I would sneak into our living room, lie on the floor, and put my ear to the ground. I could hear the drumming and catch the tune to the chants that had for years drifted me into dreams. If I really pushed my ear close, I could make out my mom’s voice as she joined with the circle of women monthly sharing song, dreams, and summer vision quests deep in the woods.
My family was deeply Christian. My mom loved incense and the sacraments. But she was also starved for a spirituality that rooted itself on the ground- in the trees and the hawks and the snow. She longed for rituals that connected her body to the waves and the changing moon. She clung to the tension of multiple traditions knowing that she needed them both.
I am grateful. For those cravings of earth, spirit, and biblical tradition have become my own. I love those chants and already Isaac can sing them as he drums on his tambourine. The smell of burning sage and sweet grass can call me into my body and spirit quicker than anything else. I am grateful. But what is the line between honoring and learning from another culture and appropriating it? Cultural appropriation seems to hold both solid and fluid lines often leaving the lines up to discernment, listening, and a willingness to be accountable to a larger community.
As I discern those questions in my own life, one line seems clear. Am I learning another culture’s traditions to honor and hold sacred awe? or am I learning them to fill a hole from a lost and stolen knowledge of my own ancient rituals due to my own whiteness?
Where do I come from? What are my own European indigenous roots? What were the earth based rituals my ancestors practiced before Christianity stripped my family of them?
This is a recovery process. One that I have committed to and at times feels overwhelming. I am lost in my rootless, historyless, bleached out whiteness. So, we begin, slowly. Reaching out to those in our families who have held onto the ancestral names and dates and stories. I hold both gratitude and anxiety imagining beginning to open the many boxes of ancestral work my mom did wishing desperately she could just tell those stories and connect the pieces.
This year, as my family approaches the end of October, we are mindful of the celebration of Samhein. The Celtic festival in late fall, harvest time when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest. It is the festival that was conquered into Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls Day. (All traditions I happen to love.)
Villages would throw a huge harvest bonfire and the community would gather celebrating the changing of the season. At the end of the night, people would use hallowed out turnips or pumpkins and take home a coal from the communal fire to light their fire at home. Hence the beginning of jack-o-lanterns.
So this year, we focus on our roots recovering our lost traditions not just with books and learning and brain, but by remembering the rituals and traditions in our bodies. We come filled with gratitude for those who have kept these traditions alive, grief for our whiteness and the times we have misstepped, and joy as we move slowly move into a deeper understanding of who we are and where we come from. So, our hope is to throw a bonfire, tell stories of the dead, honor the coals from the community fire bringing it into our home and continuing the fire through the dark, cold months.