This post was inspired by a prompt at The Pagan Experience suggesting writing for the letters “E” or “F”.
Like many modern Americans, I have a complex relationship with the concept of family that was so deeply important to our Pagan forebears. Yet it is important not to overlook this area of practice, because it creates a basis for understanding and forming right relationship to the Gods, Ancestors, and other Spirits.
For most of human history, the family, not the individual, has been the least divisible unit of community and worship. In systems of law, family members shared equal blame for each others’ crimes, but crimes committed within a family could only be resolved by that family, and not touched by any external legal force. The oldest forms of worship were Ancestor based, because that string of relationships was so very clearly tied to where we came from. Ultimately, the Gods Themselves are our oldest Ancestors, and thus part of our family. This is what gives Them an interest in us and our well-being, and what gives us a reason to love and honor Them.
But fast forward a couple thousand years, and there are some complications to this story. For most of us here in modern American society, our Ancestors have been Christian for many centuries. Our family histories may be fragmented by distance, abuse, divorce and remarrying, family feuds, and plain old not getting along. Many people have lost knowledge of their genealogy, and some are lucky even to know the names of their grandparents. Some of us have been raised in religious traditions that were harmful to our well-being, or are at odds with the religion we’ve chosen now. It’s still very rare to have actually been raised in Heathenry, although we’re starting to see the next generation of Heathens grow up!
I’ve had my share of challenges connecting to my Ancestors, especially because some of them were opposed to my religious choices in life. I’ve found though, that no matter how fractured your current family tree, if you reach back far enough in your line, you will find Ancestors who care about you and want to work with you. You can reach all the way back to ancient Pagan times if necessary, until you find the support you need. There’s also the possibility of adoptive Ancestors–those who are not related to you by blood, but instead by friendship, shared areas of interest, identifying with the same culture, or by being a personal role model. I’ve also found that sometimes (but not always) Ancestors will have a change of perspective once They pass out of this world, and will be more willing to work with you out of a desire to be remembered and honored.
There are also the people, related by blood or not, who form our family in this world. In Heathenry in general, there is a lot of emphasis on community and practicing with others, and I think that’s important, especially if you’re coming to Heathenry from a solitary background. In a community, you learn how to weave frith, how to get along with others, and how to work together for shared goals. In Urglaawe in particular, since the overall reason we’re here in Mannheem (Midgard or Earth) is to work together against the forces of chaos to preserve the Lewesbaam (world tree) and better humanity as a whole, learning to work together in this way is important. In my experience, it has also helped to reinforce my values and Virtues while living in a broader culture that is generally hostile to them. Personally, since I place a high emphasis on personal relationships with the Gods and Spirits, I see it as an opportunity to learn skills that will help me to have better relationships with my spiritual family as well.
My family history is an important part of why I came to Deitsch practices and Urglaawe in particular. Although I’m quite the mutt when it comes to physical heritage–I refer to myself as a “Heinz 57 blend”–the culture my family really embodies is Deitsch. I was raised with many Deitsch traditions, especially in foods, games, and how we celebrate the holidays. Even my non-Deitsch branches of the family often joined in. Knowing about this part of my heritage really sparked my interest in Braucherei, the folk magic practice of the Deitsch people, even before Urglaawe was founded. It is in Braucherei that many of the Heathen practices from the Old World survived on American soil. To me it was wonderful discovering that the customs I had been raised with actually belonged to a larger culture, even though to me as a child, they were just peculiarities of our individual family, or things that I thought “everybody” did. I came home to my Tribe. In broader Heathenry, which is primarily Icelandic, the whole Viking theme had never really resonated with me, even though I knew for sure that this was my family of Gods. It wasn’t until I uncovered Urglaawe that I finally understood why–right Gods, but wrong culture! Oh, and just to avert any potential misunderstandings, I will restate: I wholeheartedly believe that anyone can practice any branch of Heathenry they feel called to regardless of physical heritage, and that’s the official position of Urglaawe too. I just personally feel at home in Deitsch culture because of being raised in it, which gives it a layer of special meaning for me, and strongly influenced my choice to practice Urglaawe.
Ultimately to me, the significance of the concept of family is knowing that I am never truly alone. When I am in trouble, when I am sad, even when I feel isolated, there are living people, animals (yes, pets are part of my family!), Gods, Ancestors, and other Spirits who have my back and care for me. Thanks to my Spirit family, even when I am physically alone, I am never actually alone, even if sometimes I am too upset to remember that fact, or too resistant to reach out and ask for that help.