This is my fifth and final essay in which I reflect upon my familial roots and how they may inform my relationship with the numinous.
I often jokingly refer to myself as being “Whasian” (White Asian) instead of biracial.
I didn’t know the full extent of my “Asian-ness” until I received my DNA results. I had always considered my mother to have been of Pakistani and Indian origin. Little did I know that her people, my people, were so diverse.
A great percentage of my ancestry covers a great deal of central, eastern, and southern Asia, as well as the Pacific Islands. If my imagination is left to its own devices, I would envision some great diaspora that pushed my ancestors from Iran to the east, until they reached the edge of the Asian continent and migrated to the islands of the Pacific. That noble vision however, is no different than the tale of Timothy Brown’s trek from the Carolinas to the American Midwest before the Indian Removal Act was enforced by the United States Military.
I think that I was expecting some great revelatory moment when I received my DNA results. I was sure that there would be some sort of Eureka moment when I poured over each tidbit of information. Perhaps I was expecting to find that I, like others I know, would have some definitive link to their gods by way of their ancestors. That was not to be case. There was no moment when the voice of the gods said “this is what binds you to us”. If anything came of this, it was the confirmation of what I was not and only what I was: an amalgamation of countless people, unknown people, forgotten people.
I am one small twig of this tree trying my best to find my roots beyond the branch that bears me.
I know my grandparents, but apart from them, I do not know my great-grandparents. I do not know of their story. Or the story of those who came before them. Those tales were never told, only those of a man whose story borders on myth.
Sometimes, when I think about the afterlife in the context of my own religion, I think of thirsty shades, wearing feathers, who point accusatory fingers. They speak in hoarse voices that seem to say who will pour drink offerings in our honor? Who will slake our thirst in the underworld? Who will provide us with comfort until we fade away into dust?
Last year, at Samhain, I participated in a Dumb Supper. Several in attendance prepared an invocation to welcome the dead into our presence and provide them with a place of honor and remembrance. My piece was dedicated to the forgotten dead:
“We call to you: the nameless dead, the faceless dead.
You, who have faded from memory;
You, who have been forgotten by kith and kin;
You, who roam the world as wandering stars and lonely shades.
We call to you spirits, who lie hidden within the earth;
You, who have been consumed by fire;
You, who slumber beneath the waves;
You, who have hung from the gallows.
We call to you, spirits who have died for love and for love’s labor’s lost;
You, who have died for king and country;
You, whose blood still cries out for justice.
We call to you: the nameless dead, the faceless dead.
We call to you,
We welcome you,
We honor you.”
I often think of those words, and am reminded of the weight of them. I may not know my ancestors, but I can honor them nonetheless.