Your Ancestors May Not Be What You Think They Were

Bartolomew Stanhope (or was it “Stanhope Bartholomew”?) Clifton, 1828–1884. Update his clothes, buy him a Ford F-250, and drop him right back into Perry County, Mo. — he would fit in.

A lot of us contemporary Pagans have a problem with our ancestors. We feel like there is a huge chasm of separation between them and us. I mean, look at Stan (as I think he was known) Clifton here. He was one of my great-great-grandfathers

Born in North Carolina, he lived mostly in rural Perry Co., Missouri, in or near Crosstown. Like a lot of my relatives on that side, he is buried in the Plesant Grove Cemetery in Crosstown, which is just a dot on the map.

Pleasant Grove is a Baptist cemetery — I have been there — so what could be more different? A 19-century Baptist rural Missouri farmer((Maybe he had another trade too, I don’t know, but it was common.)) versus . . .  me, the Pagan (now) rural Colorado journalist-professor-writer/editor.

I am not picking on Stan, may he rest in peace. He has not turned up in my dreams or anything like that. Our connection seems pretty distant, but, nevertheless, he is part of me — even though he seems so spiritually distant.

It’s easy to focus on the things that separate him and me though. But there is one fundamenal flaw in thinking that way.

Recently I listtened to an episode of the podcast What Magic Is This? called “Ancestors with Chiron Armand.” (His personal website is Impact Shamanism.) There is a lot of good stuff there, but this part stayed with me: Our ancestors are not frozen in amber, so to speak. Whever Great-great-grandfather is, he is not necessarily the same man who died in 1884 — that is the point.

If you want to complicate things, figure in reincarnation. You not only honored Great-Grandmother, you gave birth to . . . him.

While most people who accept the idea of reincarnation tend to think of lives as beads on a necklace, there are those esotericists who say, “No, it’s all happening at once, kind of sort of, if we could only see.”

Which loops back to the idea that we can “heal” our ancestors of their faults and traumas. Assuming we know what those are.

Your thoughts are welcome.

4 thoughts on “Your Ancestors May Not Be What You Think They Were

  1. Pitch313

    Ancestors. We all have them, and more in number back generation by generation (2,4,8…)
    Family lore may tell of some but not others, and may also be more lore than history. Events may disrupt the smooth recollection of who was whom, where. But substitute tall tales to uphold secrets or matters of convenience. (One of my grandfathers, for example, in the decade between one census and the next changed from English to Norwegian. I put my money on 23 and Me and English).

    What’s more, genetics works in odd percentages, so each of us might be more of ancestor X and not so much at all of ancestor Y.

    So, sure, they may well not be who we imagined or believed or learned they were. Familiar strangers, even.

    In practice, ancestor work–for me–is always kind of shifty, nebulous, uncertain, awkward to make an acquaintance. Could I heal them? I’m not sure. Could they infect me? Again, not sure. My ancestors and I seem to be more different than the same, no matter common humanity and lines of descent.

  2. Kalinysta.

    “While most people who accept the idea of reincarnation tend to think of lives as beads on a necklace, there are those esotericists who say, “No, it’s all happening at once, kind of sort of, if we could only see.”
    Very Sethian, also very quantum physics. I think it’s only because we have a physical body that we “see” things in a linear fashion. Perhaps that’s why in dreams, things seem so weird. Lately I’ve been having very strange dreams wherein I’m somewhere else doing what, to me, seems to be strange things. Maybe I’m really visiting alternate timelines or visiting versions of myself that branched off when I made certain choices.

  3. Dave H.

    When I was a much younger Heathen I went on a genealogy kick, tracing ancestors as far as possible. A huge resource was the LDS, where I not only discovered a bevy of ancestors, I discovered that more than a few had been baptized as Mormons! Apparently, baptizing the dead was quite a thing back in the day, although I understand they eventually stopped the practice for Holocaust victims. But anyway, one of my more esoteric threads of ancestory lead to Old One Eye, aka Odin aka Wotan.
    Who was dutifully recorded in Salt Lake City as having been baptized in the 1890’s…

  4. My mother’s ancestors were slave owners. My father’s ancestors participated in the Underground Railroad. Ancestor veneration is very problematic for me.

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