My Ancestor Veneration Has No Ancestors

AKA No Wire Hangers in my Ørlog, EVER.


I have never really felt fortunate about the idea that I inherit the deeds of my familial ancestors. We have some truly terrible people in my family tree. I am not honored, flattered or proud to be tied to them by blood. It’s a millstone on my neck.

Perhaps in more of a Juniper Tree sense than a New Testament sense.

And the obsession with genetics in a Heathen context is…creepy. The dog whistles are shrill.

Family is of little value to me in terms of metaphorical inheritance. Frankly, I’m more interested in what I’ve inherited culturally. The objects and tools (both concrete and abstract) that people create say so much more about us than our family names. Our languages, our habits, our codes of conduct, our specific ways of relating to one another and the world that we’re thrust into, are all vastly more important to me.

That is what I choose to honor.

In the skills realm, I’m a knitter, a crocheter, a naalbinder and a tablet-weaver–continuing a variety of utilitarian skills that ensured our survival and became vehicles of culture. My dad made sure I knew how to use tools, some of which were antiques. I picked up whittling on a whim (actually, to avoid spending money on hair forks), and it’s becoming an important lesson in slowing down and trusting the process of unleashing the potential of wood.

My lofty goal is to take up spinning, because it’s the foundation of all of the fiber arts I use–something that woodworking will help with, too, so I can make my own spindles. If I could sew worth a darn (sorry), I’d probably be quilting as well. My grandmom is a big deal in the quilting niche, but while I’m the spitting image of her, I didn’t quite inherit her grasp of how shapes interlock, or her confidence with a machine. Majoring in math or calmly removing yourself after getting trapped in the machine (which happened to her!) are not, as it turns out, heritable traits.

Nor did I get her ability to casually brush off injuries. Grandma slipped and smacked her head on a metal-reinforced corner in her kitchen, and then calmly walked to get stitches. You should have seen the wall.

Anyway.

If you do any handicraft, you’ll know that you begin to relate differently to objects related to your skillset. I used to think wool was an awful, scratchy material. Knowing how deeply important wool has always been to people in cold and wet climates, and how much variety is available depending on sheep breed and treatment has changed that. Wool–especially fresh, greasy wool–absorbs very little water compared to most natural fibers and stays warm when wet. Now I never wear a plastic layer in the rain, and am still perfectly comfortable from neck to knees even when it’s pouring.

I’ll see sweaters that I used to think were just ugly or tacky, and now take a few minutes to appreciate the prominent stitch pattern, the texture of garter versus seed stitch versus stockinette and ribbing, the elaborate intarsia or stranding, and try to guess at what size needles they would have been made on. I think about whether, for handmade sweaters, the knitter was a continental-style picker, or an English-style thrower like me. Or maybe they knitted with their yarn tensioned over the back of their neck, or their working needle clamped against their ribs.

I’m starting to notice this tendency with wood working, too. You’d be surprised how many spoons there are in a tree. Or bowls. Or miniature viking ships, if I am ever ambitious enough to try and hack it. Any given stump looks like a promising drum frame. God poles and runes lurk in widowmakers. A collapsing mulberry tree looks like it has a secret spindle waiting to be liberated–and some rune sets for my Urglaawische friends, to boot.

My ancestors are not my family. Genetics and family names are happenstance. My ancestors are the wool- and wood-workers who kept us alive and created objects that made life more enjoyable. Being born a certain way is not an achievement. Nobody chooses to be born, let alone how. Using our gifts as human beings to bring comfort and comprehension into our existence–that is something to celebrate.