Knowing Who We Are: Tracing my Roots.
The second post in this series on privilege, ancestry, decolonising, forgiveness and responsibility!!
Read the first post here: https://emsararose.medium.com/who-the-f-k-am-i-to-take-up-space-bfdef89d5033
Over my 40 years on this Earth I’ve often been uprooted. I moved around England a fair few times in my 23 formative years there, from my birth county of Lancashire to Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Bristol and London. I then spent time in France before moving over to Melbourne in 2006. After 10 years there I settled in regional Victoria, where I am now in Wandiligong.
My parents were the first in our family to move away from their place of birth for generations, yet, despite spending 11 awesome years in Cheshire where I did lay down some deeper roots I still find it hard to know where to call ‘home’.
And, now I find myself living in a colonised country, in an area where the Indigenous population were almost completely devastated by massacres and mass depopulation.
Layer on top of this my journey to making a living as a Yoga and Meditation teacher, and as I started to delve more into cultural appropriation and decolonisation I realised that despite absolutely seeing the benefits of the practices, I was quite clearly sharing and personally gaining from these teachings from India, from a culture and heritage that is not my own.
Growing up disconnected from any kind of organised religion (thank you!) I had always found my way on the spiritual path by picking and choosing from the various Eastern or Native philosophies and ceremonies that resonated for me when I needed them.
But this no longer felt like an authentic way forward.
I had started to feel pretty untethered.
My bones were calling for something that I could really settle into as my own culture and spirituality. I was grieving the brokenness of White Western Imperialism and the disconnection from nature and from wonder and from daily ritual and ceremony.
Yet, as I learned from Australian Aboriginal wisdom keepers, as I sat in Women’s Circles and as I learned about the Drummers, the Storytellers, the Shamans and the Tarot, I could still see where the dots would connect back to a shared way of being.
I was getting more and more interested in mythology, starting with the Indian pantheon found in Yoga (including both the Gods and the Goddesses in all of the aspects of their characters) and moving into the Greek stories, the Norse and Celtic myths. I was starting to see there also the similarities across these ancient traditions in the ways the seasons and elements were honoured, the way the sacred masculine and feminine were viewed, the importance of movement and rhythm and song, how stories were used as teaching tools and how mindfulness was integrated into these ceremonies, rituals and practices.
I saw the rich depth of these cultures and the pride and respect that many peoples of these traditions held.
I was in awe of the unbroken connection to Country found in the First Peoples of Australia. I could not understand how others could see that as being lesser than our broken, disconnected one, infiltrated by hatred, greed and fear on so many levels.
This was also about a yearning for initiation into something. To feel like I belonged somewhere. While becoming an Australian citizen came with its own pomp and ceremony, it felt shallow and of course layered with complexity (being welcomed to a country by those that stole it….)
Quanita Roberson talks about our cultures (from a US perspective but relatable) being stuck in the adolescent phase. We have lost those rites of passage and ceremonies that really, truly initiate us into wise adults, courageous adults, adults that feel that they belong and therefore hold responsibility for something.
I was grieving the loss of my own culture’s spirituality (if you can find that in Christianity I applaud you) and searching for meaning and answers. I was deeply searching for something to settle my roots into that felt like my own. I feel like this search is not just my own.
Luckily, for my personal journey, my uncle in the UK had already traced our family tree on the Rose side and knew from records that our family expanded back to the late 1600s almost exclusively in Lancashire in England’s North. For my Mum’s 70th I took it on myself to trace her side too, and found a similar trend! So for 350 years my ancestors were deeply settled in that countryside. These were rural and industrial times and they were farmers, mill workers, miners and labourers. They were English, life was probably hard and they would have been by default Christian.
My interest in my ancestry went beyond this period though. Indigenous Australians can trace their culture back thousands of years through story and song. Yoga has its roots 2000 years ago. I wanted to know who shared my blood lines in older times.
So, I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test in 2020. After submitting my DNA report to an ancient genome testing site, I found that my DNA was almost all shared with those of Norse heritage (a 70+% combo of Norwegian Viking, Longobard, Vandal and Anglo-Saxon). So most likely, the majority of my ancestors came over to England around the turn of century (1000AD) as Vikings (Norse raiders) and Norse, Danish or Norman settlers. I guess this would explain the blond hair, blue eyes (and love of hats with horns… )
Even though I had a hunch that this was my history, knowing it through science felt important. I felt whole in some way. [And I feel like I need to acknowledge here the lived experiences of so many people that have mixed heritage — whether that is mixed race or even the mixture settler heritage in White Australia and America- these are very complex conversations about identity and culture… ooof].
With my own new knowledge, I researched more about the Norse and Old-English stories and ceremonies and found such parallels in the Gods and Goddesses, the seasonal festivals, the rituals. I learned about Freya and the role of women as Shamans. I learned about the medicine drum (coincidentally, or not, I had recently made one for myself). I learned about the culture that was labelled “Heathen” by the Roman and English Christians. I connected strongly to this identity and felt proud to be Norse-English in my bones, in my roots….. Exhale….
Yet, nestled in amongst these feelings of homecoming was confusion about what this meant for my role as an activist in the decolonisation space, for my work unpacking my white privilege.
What right does a White, British woman of Viking origin have to be proud?
Alongside my inner conflict around teaching Indian spiritual practices springs up another little battle around accepting and acknowledging my own colonising heritage.
On one level I could see the ways in which my own Pagan ancestors were oppressed by Christianity… but sh*t, that was a little while back and since then White folks have been known to violently invade, under-develop and continue to impose power and authority over other countries and cultures through economic and cultural imperialism.
It feels like I have hit an impasse.
This is the “Arjuna on the battlefield” moment. If you are familiar with the Bhagavad Gita story you’ll know that Arjuna reaches a point in the Mahabharata epic story where he is unable to act, navigating so much doubt and confusion.
He knows it is his duty to go into battle yet he realises that he is fighting against his own family.
Is this the story for our time? As white folks we now have the duty and responsibility to break down the systems of oppression that have sustained us. I personally am battling my own family ancestry, acknowledging that this is who I am, but those roots have also created ‘evil’ in the world.
At this point of impasse there are lessons to learn. In the Gita, this is where Arjuna sits in deep inquiry with Krishna to gain knowledge and self awareness. Opening up as a student and uncovering the teachings.
So the next piece will pick up on this thread — the ongoing process of unlearning and learning — a decolonising of our own minds…