Ancestor Veneration, Northern Tradition Paganism, Witch Life

The Question of Local Versus Ancestral

Recently, I’ve seen the topic of focusing witchcraft and spirituality either locally or ancestrally in many forums. Sadly this has turned into a matter of Local Versus Ancestral for some posts. Some witches say the focus should be on where you are now while others focus on the practices and beliefs of their ancestors. This never really made me think until today when I saw a few witches bitching about other groups being “too European focused” in their practices while omitting of being grateful for the spirituality of the place they stand on. Meanwhile other witches look down on substituting traditional spell ingredients for something available locally because “that’s just not how it’s done.”

Food for Thought

Witchcraft and spirituality isn’t the only place where I’ve experienced the argument of Local Versus Ancestral.

I was once told that where we are born has all the medicine we need. The location of our birth contains all the plants, stones, animals, etc we need to thrive in life – body, mind, and spirit. That to look to exotic medicine was folly.
Granted, the person who told me this was born in the Appalachian mountain region, like me, and also swore by coconut oil and practiced various forms of Tibetan Buddhism.

I’ve also been told that, for our dietary health, we should look at what our ancestors ate. If they ate a diet primarily made up of certain domestic animal products and particular vegetables and grains – then we should do the same since we, as humans, have not evolved at the same pace as industrialization. This makes sense in regards to not eating processed food but I’ve also had people suggest that I should eat according to my blood type as the evolved with humans and mine, O-, is the oldest which means I should eat what hunter-gatherer’s ate pre-domesticating animals and farming.

Looking to the Past for Answers

With all of this in mind, its hard to hold the two topics in my head when the question of immigration over generations also comes into play. Do I focus on local or on my indigenous ancestry when it comes to health, practices, and spirituality?

This is not new and anyone who struggles between balancing Old World traditions with the New World access would do well to look to our ancestors.

Ancient Pagans were not sedentary. For example, the Norse people traveled far and honored both their own Gods, ancestors, and ways while paying homage to the Gods and traditions of the people and places they encountered. This didn’t counter with their beliefs. Instead, it was part of a very basic but important concept of Hospitality.
It is only when we see through the filter of mono-theism that we encounter the idea of honoring the Gods of others as blasphemous.

Those in America who have family that have been here for generations can also look to our more recent ancestors for guidance as for what to do about compromising our traditions with what we have access to. They not only brought their practices and tools (herbs, foods, etc) to the Americas, they learned how to use what was here.

“Our ancestors from the Old World brought healing knowledge, herbs, and health practices from their countries of origin to the New World, using those practices alongside the ones learned from Native Americans. Not all practices developed in the Old World were useful in the New. The practices that proved useful were kept, and the ones that didn’t work were let go. Survival was more important than modality.”
~ Phyllis D. Light, Southern Folk Medicine

While the above quote is about medicine, the idea could easily be about Southern Folk Magick or any magickal practice that has come over and evolved.

Walking the Local and Ancestral Path

I, like many witches, walk a path that honors my indigenous practices as well as the local land. I was born in the “New World,” a descendant of Irish and Scandinavian people. My family, for the most part, lived in the Appalachian region, mostly in Kentucky. I practice a blend of Northern Tradition Paganism (also called Norse Paganism or Heathenry) and Folk Magick from both the Appalachain region and Scandinavian region (aka Trolldom).

For me, this looks like

  • Leaving small offerings on my ancestor altar and for the house spirit and land spirit.
  • Making several kinds of cookies/biscuits during the Winter holidays to honor my recent ancestors as well as my distant ones.
  • I offer my ancestors kugelhopf as well as coffee and tobacco.
  • I don’t honor the Wheel of the Year so much as I do my more local seasons – it’s hard to honor the snowy holy days when its still 75-80 degrees out just as when I lived in Alaska and had no interest in honoring the warmer holy days when it was freezing and snowy out.
  • Using local varieties of mugwort, juniper, ginseng, and even chamomile when I can instead of ordering or growing imports. It means when I was in Alaska I used quite a bit of Spruce and Birch but in Tennessee I’m more drawn to Oak and Magnolia.
  • Honoring the Tomte and Norse Gods traditionally when I can but that I also work with what I’ve got so they get mead my husband makes but might also get Instant Oats porridge.
  • When a traditional spell says blood from 9 animals, I go to my local butcher or superstore meat section since I don’t have a farm like my ancestors did.
  • Calling Datura, Jimson Weed and when a spell calls for poison ink I’m more likely to use Poke berries than belladonna.

Local Versus Ancestral – Room on the Path for Both

My point in this blog post is just to share that there is room in your witchcraft to both honor ancestral ways (or ways you have been initiated into if that is your path) as well as honor local traditions and spirits. In my opinion, to focus on one and leave out the other is like focusing entirely on one part of your health, like focusing entirely on your physical well being and not your mental. You need it all for a balance and wholistic witch living.