Roots & Branches: Forked Paths

This is my third essay in an ongoing series of essays. In these essays, I reflect upon my familial roots and how they may inform my relationship with the numinous.

Part one of this ongoing series may be found here; part two may be found here.

In searching for some insight into the matter of whether or not one’s spiritual path may be informed by their ancestry, I asked several members of the pagan community to weigh in on the subject.

For some, the answer was a resounding yes. There was no question as to why someone with one specific ancestry or another should follow a path devoted to the spiritual practices of those people. One friend elaborated further when he said that he had to consider the religious practices of his ancestors in Mexico and Spain and even incorporate them into his own personal practice.

The subject of reincarnation was mentioned more than once by those who stated that they found their spiritual home in the traditions of a culture completely different than that of their ancestors. They felt that the gods called them to one particular path or other because that was where they were meant to be or rather, that was where their soul or spirit was meant to be. To them, it felt “right”, it resonated with some deep-seated desire to find their place. A very close friend suggested that known ancestry is a good place to examine one’s possible spiritual path and that Spirit will lead from there if necessary. She further cautioned that concerning one’s self with the last few generations causes one to become short-sighted. We all originate from somewhere else and throwing reincarnation in the mix just makes for an even more interesting experience; perhaps I had found my path because of this very same reason.

For others, the answer was no. Like myself, they also had a varied racial background, so it seemed rather silly to focus on one specific ethnicity. Some even indicated that there was no desire to explore the religious traditions of their ethnic heritage. To wit, I may have Germanic ancestry, and while I find Germanic folk customs and the revival of these pagan practices fascinating, I feel no desire to adopt those practices. Nor have I found a home at the foot of Freyja’s altar, or in worshiping Tyr. Another close friend grimly stated that while he’s mostly Celtic based on recent DNA results, we know almost nothing of ancient Celtic traditional religious practices except that it seemed to involve the collection of human heads. This of course has limited applicability nowadays.

Perhaps the gods do call us to one particular path or another.

I am open to that possibility.

About the Author

Sam Jackson resides in Central Illinois. He is deeply interested in, and a practitioner of, the religious reconstruction movements dedicated to the Ancient Near East, specifically those of the Sumerian and Babylonian people. He is a facilitator for an active pagan group and leads workshops, rituals, and meditations. Receiving his education in the Arts & Humanities, he would later focus on the Social Sciences (psychology and sociology). An ordained minister and Reiki practitioner, he spends his free time researching, writing, painting, and volunteering in his community.

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  1. It seems to me that the gods have almost as many ways to call us as They do directions to send us along our paths. That some find their ancestry relevant and others don’t doesn’t surprise me at all, but the idea that there should be a consistent answer as to whether ancestry even matters baffles me.

    Why do so many thing that there must be a singular answer to that question, that either Ancestry does matter, or it doesn’t?


    1. Thank you for commenting, Ember.

      I agree with you – there are so many ways that the gods can use to call us. To expect one way or another would apply human limits to a non-human entity – especially ones that cannot always be understood and defined in human terms.

      I think so many of us (and I use that word loosely) prefer a singular answer because it makes things easier for us to approach things of a spiritual nature in a way we can understand.

      In my discussions with others about this very topic with others, I find more often than not the response is that many do believe that ethnicity and ancestry should dictate their spiritual path. Most even point to closed religions and spiritual paths such as Vodou or Santeria to illustrate their point. Another acquaintance pointed out however, this only serves to support the belief held by the AFA that Nordic tradition(s) may only be practiced by those of (white) European ancestry.

      In spite of the many premises that I often think about (sometimes in far too complicated detail), the notion that divine call(s) us as they will is not new to me and just makes the most sense. If that notion works for Christianity, it can certainly work for paganism.

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