I know very little about my ancestry. I know some families keep records of their family histories going back generations, but my family is just not that kind of family. More often, my family is the kind that doesn’t like to talk about (or to) other family members, living or dead, keeping secrets from each other and keeping those skeletons firmly in the closet. Otherwise that means we’d have to talk about the abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness that lurks in there, and we don’t want to talk about that.
But I think this is one of the reasons I was attracted to Heathenry. My lack of knowledge about my family history gives me a feeling of rootlessness, while Heathenry is all about connections through the Web of Wyrd to your ancestors, the land, the gods, and everything else.
When I was a kid I once asked my mom what nationality I was, and she told me I was half German, at least a quarter English, and the rest maybe some Scottish and French. I think this was based on the surnames of my ancestors going back only a couple of generations. My mom was born in Germany and moved to the United States as a small child. My dad was born in Oklahoma, but had an English surname, so he must have been of English descent. That’s all I knew. So getting into Heathenry I assumed I was mostly German and English and prioritized what scant information I could get on Anglo-Saxon and Continental German practices.
Most Heathens I know are very focused on Scandinavia and I have some friends who practice Irish paganism. That’s all great, but my mom was born in Germany, so I’m a German-American, right? So that’s the traditions I should focus on if I want to revive the spiritual practices of my ancestors.
Yet I was still curious about my ancestry, so when I heard DNA tests were now commercially available at an affordable price, I knew I wanted to do that. Since I only know the names of my grandparents and no further back than that, who knows what else could be lurking back there? My dad was from Oklahoma. There are a lot of Native Americans in Oklahoma. My dad had dark hair and difficulty growing much of a beard. Sometimes there was speculation there was Native American lurking back in his ancestry somewhere, which would have been really funny given how his parents were pretty racist. But who knows?
So I got a DNA test from Ancestry.com. All I had to do was spit in a vial, seal it in a special bag, send it in, and then wait a few weeks for them to do my tests and email me the results.
Here are my results:
Great Britain 23%
Europe West 16%
Iberian Peninsula 6%
Europe East 4%
Finland/Northwest Russia 2%
European Jewish <1%
Well, I’m all European, unless you count the Caucasus as Asian, even though “Caucasian” is used as a synonym for “white”. That region includes Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc., which I think a lot of Americans would not consider to be white. That just goes to show how the whole American concept of whiteness is dubious.
As a scientist, I appreciate that Ancestry.com had a long explanation on their website about what these numbers actually mean and how many salt grains they should be taken with, though I’m sure most people taking this test will have no idea what it means, if they even bother to read that stuff at all. I just gave you the averages on my list above, but each of these ethnicities came with a range and error bars. Interestingly, of my four “dominant” regions, only Scandinavia and Ireland had error bars that didn’t include zero, which I guess means I definitely have at least a little DNA from those places, right? Great Britain and Europe West, the places I thought the majority of my ancestry was from, hand ranges of 0% – 51% and 0% – 43%, respectively (Scandinavia had 1% – 49% and Ireland had 1% – 28%).
Interestingly, by modern American standards, I’m “pure white”, but by the standards of my pre-Christian ancestors, I’m of mixed race. Until very recently, Irish people were considered a different race from English or Nordic people. I really wasn’t expecting to have Irish ancestry. Scandinavian wasn’t as surprising, just because those guys really got around, but I didn’t expect it to be at the top of my list. That’s where Western Europe was supposed to be.
After my main four regions, there’s Iberian and Italy/Greece. Perhaps I can blame the Romans for that. They really got around too. And then last I may have a few people from a little further East apparently, but that’s about it.
As for its implications for spiritual work, I guess it’s not so bad I’ve been borrowing from the Scandinavians after all, even though I feel like I have no cultural ties to Scandinavia. When I think of Scandinavian culture, if I want to get away from the Heathens who like to play Viking, all I’m really left with is Ikea and delicious meatballs and Abba. Not like there’s anything wrong with that. Abba had some catchy tunes.
Then there’s Ireland. That’s a very interesting place. I have several friends who are really into Ireland. They’re the sorts who really can trace their ancestry all the way back to whatever Irish clan they came from. Celts in general seem to be a very proud people, maybe because they have been historically oppressed. Ireland has some very interesting folklore and traditions, and then Irish-Americans continued with some very interesting traditions of their own. Maybe I need to take another look at Ireland.
But should I do what this guy in this commercial did, and “give up my lederhosen for a kilt?”
No, I still have fuzzy yet fond memories of my German immigrant grandmother, even though she died when I was only 4 years old. She was my only real tie to any sort of “old country,” with her thick accent and how she’d eat liverwurst straight out of the casing with a spoon. You have to be REALLY German to do that! She got me eating it, which now I realize is a really weird thing for a small child to eat, but I would always spread it on German rye bread from the German bakery to make a sandwich. I always liked bratwurst and sauerkraut when I was a kid too. Comfort food!
That kind of stuff matters. Nurture matters at least as much as nature, if not more. That’s why I think it’s OK for dark skinned people to be Heathens, especially if those dark-skinned people grew up in a country founded by European colonialism, which covers quite a lot of dark-skinned people, because like I said, my ancestors really got around.
So I’m going to keep being a German-American, if y’all don’t mind,
For the most part I don’t have anything cultural transmitted down to me by my European ancestors. No traditions or recipes or folklore or anything like that. I haven’t tried Ancestry.com’s family tree thing yet. I might go ahead and try it out it sometime, but with the scant knowledge I have of even people’s names or birth dates, I probably won’t get very far. Maybe it would have been different if my German grandmother hadn’t died so young, or my maternal grandfather hadn’t been such an abusive asshole, or I had a better relationship with my dad or his side of the family when he was alive. Those are the kinds of things that cut people off from their ancestors.
I just have my DNA to show that most of my ancestors even existed at all.