In the steps of the ancestors… how Pope Francis’ trip isn’t all rainbows and blessed babies

One of the tenets for those of us who work in Northern Tradition polytheism, is that not only do we honor the old Gods and Goddesses, and the spirits (vaettir/wights) of land and sea, but that we also honor those who came before us: our ancestors who paved the way. So what makes more sense than to take that road paved on their blood, sweat, tears and bodies, and walk in remembrance?

Have you made your ancestor's proud today?
Have you made your ancestor’s proud today?

Through the years I’ve been asked, well HOW do we honor the ancestors.

There’s the basics: incorporate ancestral items into your altar such as:photos, family heirlooms, bits of rock, or soil, or things that to you symbolically represent your various ancestors. For instance, I personally have a trinket box that inside of it has little slips of paper (each about the size of the paper in a fortune cookie) with the name of one of my ancestors. Every time my genealogy research helps me go back and find another name I add to it. But there are always those who may be orphaned, adopted, or whose family lines are ‘broken’ by anything from slavery, to a lack of records and oral histories that survived through the generations. In this case I recommend including a mirror on the altar, for we are the physical embodiment of our ancestors. Their DNA flows through us. Our hair color, our complexion, the shape of our jaw, our eye color… they are our inheritance from our ancestors who came before us.

But there are other things we can do to honor the ancestors. I know some who have taken pilgrimages to ancestral lands. [Galina Krasskova has been talking about that on some of her blog entries of late.] Others who know that a family member fought or died on a certain battlefield, who survived a certain ordeal… and so they will go to pay homage to the life of that ancestor.

One such example of this is how the descendants of First Nations Peoples decided to walk for their ancestors who suffered horrible abuses in the mission schools, in protest against the Catholic Church’s canonization of Junipero Serra, his sainthood has been part of Pope Francis’ agenda during his 2015 American tour.

Descendants of the Tataviam Tribe: Caroline Ward Holland and her son Kagen Holland are walking the 650 miles of the 21 mission school system that Serra oversaw from Sonoma to San Diego. According to the article running on Indian Country Today, Caroline is walking because:

“I want to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors. They will speak to us. I want my relatives and ancestors to know that we will never forget their suffering and the many atrocities they endured. Wherever their villages were, I want to walk there,” Ward-Holland said.

Read more at Indian Country Today

For those unfamiliar with the Mission School system, the church ran schools determined to beat the non-Christian out of their students which meant horrible mental and physical abuse, resulted in the theft of land and property and did in fact result in the death of untold vast numbers. The mission schools represented the death of a culture: both physically and spiritually and is something the Catholic Church engaged in for about 500 years across the globe. The genocidal tendencies of the church  to the First Nation Peoples of the Americas was just as devastating as the holocaust was to the Jews.

But this isn’t the first time a saint has been canonized in the Catholic Church whose history is soaked in the death of opposing religious views. The church canonized as Saint Olaf, the late King of Norway, Olaf II Haraldsson, who is credited as making Norway completely Christian. In fact if you look at the Heimskringla, aka the Sagas of the Norse Kings, the deeds of pagan killing is essentially bragged about in the annals of history. Famously, one of our martyrs of the Northern Tradition, Olvir of Egg, was executed by him. His story can be found in Óláfs saga helga.

What horrifies me, is in an era when we should KNOW better, we are still continuing to ‘white wash’ our collective pasts. But if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This is one of the most important lessons our ancestors have to teach us.

Ward-Holland goes on to state in the Indian Country Today article:

We want people to know the truth, not the historic myth that surrounds these missions. The walk has also made me realize that historic trauma is still with me today. It never goes away,” Holland explained.

Not only is the walk in counter-protest to Saint Serra a good way of keeping the history alive, but pilgrimages, and remembering the stories of great pain for those in your ancestral lineage is a way to actively take the orlog you’ve inherited and weave wyrd towards something that can make you better, and stronger, that can heal hurts in the ancestral fabric you posses. Recent medical studies point to the existence of an epigenetic inheritance that survives in the DNA of the descendants of those whose ancestors underwent a traumatic ordeal, such as European Jewish ancestors who lived in Europe during the height of the Nazi genocide and holocaust of their culture and race.

If you would like to support Ward-Holland, there’s both a GoFundMe page, as well as a website that details their journey here: If you’re in the California area, there are vigils and gatherings at Mission School sites along the way, so be sure to check out the schedule.

Walk for the Ancestors
Walk for the Ancestors in remembrance for the First Nation Peoples harmed by the Catholic Church’s Mission Schools in California.
P.S. For those who are close to Beacon, New York there's an amazing 2-hour workshop being taught by Jennie Chien this weekend, Saturday September 26, 2015, at RiverWinds Gallery that takes letters to the dead and turns them into sculptural houses. They'll be repeating the workshop October 24th as well. For some more information, check out Galina Krasskova's blog entry or check out RiverWind's Facebook page 

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