Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Those Who Walk Behind You

I do a lot of work with my ancestors, those known and unknown to me. Knowing genealogy is not a requirement to Ancestor work but it’s helpful as it allows you to go deeper. But there are numerical facts that will aid your perspective of where you stand in the ancestral tide. I like the water metaphor, of being an ocean that thousands of thousands of rivers flood into. Each one of those rivers branches backwards like a web, like neurons in your brain, like tree branches.
            The most comforting part of the work I do is that I am never alone. The blood of all of those people lives within me. There are untold number of Those Who Came Before me and if a single one of them was removed from the equation, I would not be here. Every life matters, remarkable or not.
Everyone has two parents. It’s science. It’s biology. Every generation you walk backwards, that number doubles. Actually writing the numbers out was staggering to conceive. So here’s how I see it. Even if you don’t know names and dates, you can know that, at the very least you have:
  • 2 parents. I am still blessed to have both of mine.
  • 4 grandparents. In life I knew three of my biological ones, of whom one is still living. I was also blessed to have three step-grandparents, one of whom is still living.
  • 8 great-grandparents 1x. I knew one of mine for seventeen years and miss her still. I have all 8 names of these ancestors.
  • 16 great-grandparents 2x. I know all 16 names.
  • 32 great-grandparents 3x. I know 31 names.
  • 64 great-grandparents 4x. I know 32 names.
  • 128 great-grandparents 5x. I know 39 names.
  • 256 great-grandparents 6x. I know 55 names.
  • 512 great-grandparents 7x. I know 82 names.
  • 1,024 great-grandparents 8x. I know 120 names. I have discovered that one of my fantastic New England friends and I share ancestors in Thomas Whittier (1620-1696) and Ruth Green (1626-1710) at this tier [Ruston line].
  • 2,048 great-grandparents 9x. I know 143 names.
  • 4,096 great-grandparents 10x. I know 153 names. I recently discovered that another friend and I share ancestors in Thomas Canfield (1623-1689) and Phoebe Crane (1626-1690) [Riddle line].
  • 8,192 great-grandparents 11x. I know 153 names of my ancestors. My Mayflower ancestors are in this generation.
  • 16,384 great-grandparents 12x. I know 105 names.
  • 32,768 great-grandparents 13x. I know 69 names.
  • 65,536 great-grandparents 14x. I know 39 ancestral names.
  • 131,072 great-grandparents 15x. I know 35 ancestral names, including Frideswide Lovel, another favorite ancestress name.
  • 262,144 great-grandparents 16x. I know 27 names. This generation was born in the early to mid 1400s.
In case you can’t add that fast, in eighteen generations, at this point, there are a total of 521,586 people walking behind you. Amazing, right? Now I’m going to blow your mind.

  • 524,288 great-grandparents 17x. I know 23 names.
  • 1,048,576 great-grandparents 18x. I know 25 names.
  • 2,097,152 great-grandparents 19x. I know 30 names.
  • 4,194,304 great-grandparents 20x. I know 33 names, including one of my favorites, Millicent Ravenscroft.
  • 8,388,608 great-grandparents 21x. I know 32 ancestral names.
  • 16,777,216 great-grandparents 22x. I know 30 ancestral names.
  • 33,554,432 great-grandparents 23x. I know 27 ancestral names, including King Edward I “Longshanks”.
  • 67,108,864 great-grandparents 24x. I know 26 ancestral names.
  • 134,217,728 great-grandparents 25x. I know 27 ancestral names.
  • 268,435,456 great-grandparents 26x. I know 28 ancestral names.
  • 536,870,912 great-grandparents 27x. I know 30 ancestral names. It’s 1100 C.E.
  • 1,073,741,824 great-grandparents 28x. I know 36 ancestral names, including King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos, King Henry I, and Otes the Goldsmith.
            Just thirty generations back, the fact that I have one billion ancestors means that there are so many people walking this planet right now that I am related to, that you are related to. There are strangers on this earth who exist because some couple married and had children centuries ago. The patterns of life are amazing.
            At a total of 30 generations back from you, there are 2,147,480,946 ancestors behind you. That’s 2.1 billion. That’s approximate, as in my own research I have found the same ancestors showing up between multiple family lines, at differing generations. That’s two billion names, with many of them repeating. It’s impossible to think that wouldn’t happen, the further back you go.
I even have names that stretch back further, even to my 51x great-grandparent, Arnoaldus, a Bishop of Metz and a Roman Senator, who died in 611 CE. To which I include my disclaimer of, I can’t prove any of it is true but all of us amateur genealogists rely on what has been documented and what other people decided was true until we can prove it’s wrong.  In theory, at some point, things have to change direction, funneling down to the original ancestors, where the streams merge into fewer and fewer of those who spawned the first children we are all descended from, but I don't know where that tipping point is.  
All of these people were necessary to the creation of you. All of those people, lived their lives as we do, wondering what it was for, questioning what would become of the choices they made and the lives they were living. But in doing this work, the answer becomes clear.

The answer was you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Entering Twilight: A Place for Personal Growth

I have always been studious and curious by nature. When I found my footing in an earth-centered spirituality, I immediately wanted to immerse myself in it and find the Path to Being a Good Pagan. But where would I find my Yoda? My Gandalf? My Miyagi, Dumbledore and McGonagall? Where would I find my Aughra? I firmly believe in tailoring your spiritual practice to best suit your personal beliefs but I didn’t know where to start. For me, that meant taking a leap of faith and jumping in.
Eleven years ago, I attended an earth-centered gathering in the hopes of growing beyond books and simple meditation. That gathering was Twilight Covening, organized by the EarthSpirit Community in the mountains of Massachusetts. I don’t want to tell you about the experience itself. It’s personal. It’s bigger than me. It’s hard to put into words.
The first year I went, I didn’t know anyone. I barely knew what to expect and it pushed all of my buttons. I was a woman recovering from a physical disability, full of fear of the unknown. But I stepped into that fear. It was easy to be there. It wasn’t easy to stay present when my walls were pushed. But I learned to push back gently, to push back and force my own shape to shift, my own edges to grow larger. I learned there was space to grow within those new boundaries.
Twilight Covening was a safe place where I discovered that I could be whole again. I could walk freely again. I could walk in the unknown dark without fear, because I was the light. And within that light was enlightenment.
Every year, when the leaves turn, I return to Twilight, to the wilds of nature and sit under clear and starry skies, doing deep earth-centered magic with friends I have made over the years, as well as strangers and newcomers. At the end of the weekend, we are bonded by the shared experience of the journey we have travelled together.
I believe there are doors that we can only open for ourselves, but good teachers can lead us to those doorways and hold space as we journey through them. I have found such teachers at Twilight. I carry home tools and exercises to use and practice through the winter months, as well as the memory of a weekend in the woods with others of a like mind seeking to deepen their connection to the natural world below and around us.
There is, of course, magic in the land we live on every day. But the world moves so quickly across it that we seldom notice. We don’t get a lot of experiences that allow and encourage us to explore and listen to our intuitive selves. Twilight gifts me an escape from the everyday fast-paced world so that I can stop and listen. No cell phones. No computers. No traffic. No electrical hum of various appliances and technology. There is just the sound of the water, the wind in the trees and the birds and other wildlife around you.
The magical work is broken up into small groups, called clans, each with focused exercises and intention. You spend the weekend with your clan. You eat with your clan. You do deep work with your clan. It’s a space for those who want to go deeper, whatever that means for you. And you are not alone.
The only question you have to answer, at the threshold, is can you open yourself to the magic that is offered you, that is happening around you? For me, every year, the answer is yes. Some years it is harder for me to let go and dive in. But I always find my way.
We all have walls of resistance. I used to think that when I hit them, that was my safety bumper telling me to stop and not to go any further. But that was me hitting the barriers I had constructed. By not pushing at them, I wasn’t growing. Every day was the same and my spirituality felt stagnant. I assumed it was my spirituality that was wanting. But it was me.
My first year, I walked in the woods with my feet on fire, the longest I had been on them since I lost the use of my left leg and had to retrain my muscles to walk. My nerves were still regenerating and with every step it felt like I was walking on knives. I was sure when I took my shoe off my foot would be hamburger. Every time I wanted to stop, I took a deep breath and told myself it was a nerve misfiring and we had to be near the end. I didn’t give up. I pushed through the pain and at the other end, I discovered my healing was further along than I had thought; it was just fear holding me back.
Another time I sat on a dock over the water, doing my first solo gloaming at sunset. I wasn’t sure I could find the stillness needed to reach a state of trance, but I had spent so much time believing I wasn’t capable of doing some things, I needed to try. I softened my gaze as I was taught, and as the grey light fell, the living breathing things began to glow faintly to me. Filaments of light began to fall from the sky at a diagonal and as they hit the ground, a shuttle slid quickly across the horizon line like a loom. The natural world was weaving and I didn’t ask how. I just watched. It was beautiful. When I came out of it forty minutes later, I realized the filaments of light were raindrops falling. It was pouring and I was soaking wet. But the joy I felt was priceless.
And it was in a meditation on the top of the mountain, that I first heard the voices of my deep ancestors speaking to me. With all of the tools I have brought home from this gathering, I learned to control my spirit sensitivity so that I was no longer afraid. I learned to open and close the door to spirit world. I became comfortable walking between both worlds.

In the everyday world, it is sometimes hard to find those times and moments of stillness and quiet to do the work you need to do, to allow yourself to go deep into trance, into song, into rhythm, into transformation, into divination. Twilight Covening offers a container, snugly built to house deep work, to peer into a world you may not have connected with yet, and to be seen, in return, by that world. And the best gift of the gathering is the magic you take home with you, the new eyes with which to peer into old corners of your known world, with which to watch it shift and change. You cannot return unaltered.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wearing Hattie’s Wedding Shawl

I have this wedding portrait of my 2x Great-grandparents Royal Levant Eaton and Hattie Eva Smith. In it, Hattie is wearing a lace wedding shawl, a piece of our family history I have recently held in my hands. With the exception of one small spot of water damage or rust, it is in perfect condition. There is no wearing of the lace, no pulling of the design. It’s exquisite.
Items we use become imbued with our energy. It’s why antiques are such a draw for people. They’re full of history and memory. I believe our pull to certain items comes not from its aesthetic beauty, but from how it makes us feel, whether or not its energy resonates with ours.
I draped the shawl over my shoulders to better catch a photo of it. I wondered how many people had worn it. What was its history? I knew that my great-great-grandma wore it on her wedding day. Was she the only one? Was it new to her? Was it a gift passed down from another family member?
Closing my eyes, I thought back to August 5, 1903, the day she wore it one hundred and eleven years ago. My great-great grandparents married in Eagle Harbor, Orleans County, NY, a small village along the Erie Canal. How did she feel when the wedding shawl clasp closed?
Her young life was shadowed with death. Her mother died a month after she was born, from anemia, a complication due to childbirth. Hattie Eva Smith was named for her mother, Hattie Eva Dutcher. Then when she was fourteen, her father died. Hattie and her older sister Sophia (a spitting image of their mother, by the way) went to live with their grandparents Reuben Feagles Dutcher and Eliza Marsh Bird.
Hattie on the left, Sophia on the right
By all accounts, the elderly couple doted on their granddaughters. I have a letter from Reuben’s sister Elizabeth to their brother Merritt, where she talks about the girls visiting- that Sophia was a teacher two miles away and Hattie was away at school in Albion. “It seems to me there never was a more faithful man to the good of his family than Reuben has been. His children and his childrens children are so much to him. The two little grandchildren are certainly beautiful in looks and manner.”
I also knew what Hattie Eva couldn’t know that day in Eagle Harbor. I knew that five years later her beloved grandfather would die, and only twenty-three years after that, her husband would succumb to wounds he sustained in a prison riot, due to his occupation as a guard.

All of these thoughts swirled in my head as I stood in my childhood home, wearing her shawl. Whether I could feel it or not, an echo of her was attached to the lacework. I know this is true. Due to my ancestral meditations, I was able to reach back in time and share in a moment I couldn’t otherwise know.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Saying Farewell to Childhood Friends

Twenty years have gone by and I cannot comprehend the volume of time that has past. Some days it feels like a mere blink, and I am unchanged. And then the moments come where I feel as if I have burned to the ground and rebuilt myself many times since the girl I was then. The way time feels is not constant.
And yet, twenty years later, my graduating class found ourselves together again. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in that stretch of time and yet it did not stand between us. None of us were the same, but we were familiar. We’ve all had life happen. We’ve all taken uncertain paths in the search of knowledge, success, happiness. We’ve struggled through dark days. We’ve felt more complex emotions than we could have imagined when we were last together, both sorrow and joy, and all of the shades in between. It alters.
            It was a good weekend with old friends. I wanted to know if everyone was happy. I wanted to see that everyone was well.
Then there came the point in the evening where we took a moment to acknowledge our classmates who are no longer with us. It was a longer list than I expected. Some died through illness, some through choice, others through horrible accident. I didn’t know them all very well but I remembered them from our hallways. A few of them I had known about, but two names in particular were a shock to me.
One was my neighbor and childhood friend, Tracy Lee Flint, Jr. We called him T.J. growing up and he begrudgingly permitted me to call him that during high school. We weren’t terribly close as teens, having grown up and out in different directions. But neither of us forgot those days of our childhood together, playing summer-long games of mock war and re-enacting Star Wars. With his dark hair he was always Han Solo.
Another was my friend, Christina Adkins, who we called Tina. She moved away, but before then she was one of my five closest girlfriends. We were a tight bunch, all dealing with our own personal turmoils together, spending most of our time outside of school together. I hoped that someday we would all find happiness, but especially her. And I hope she did before tragedy found her. Her ending broke my heart.
I excused myself. I splashed cold water on my face to shake it off, so that I could be there with those still living, and celebrate the times we shared. I was grateful to discover that the many of the bonds we made then were still strong.
A week later, I sat on the shores of Lake Ontario, a sadness sitting in my chest, with the desire to transform that emotion into something else. We create rituals every day. They’re about intention. That’s where the magic lives. So I conjured some to let the spirit world know that I remembered those who were lost.
I used what was available around me, my voice, the water before me, and what was washed ashore at my feet. I collected pieces of driftwood, one for each of my fallen classmates, and walked out to the end of the pier, the land falling away behind me. I waited until the tides turned outward.
I repeated the names of the dead out loud, including those of my childhood friends. I wished them peace. I wished them freedom from pain. I wished their families a balm for their grief, and a return to joy.
I sang a song to the water and the wind. I wished my living classmates safe travels, health, and happiness to their last breath. I know we will lose more as the years pass. It’s a part of life, this living and dying business.  

I watched the waves carry the water-polished wood away. I watched the waves carry my prayers away, my heart brighter. I remember.
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