What is the purpose of reclaiming ancestral traditions? Why tie flower crowns for the summer solstice or burn mugwort on bonfire? For me, the need for ancestral reclaiming arises from a deep-seated sense that there is much wrong with the world. And by "world" I mean specifically white capitalist culture that has colonized the world. Before our ancestors were white, they were myriads of diverse cultures, people whose traditions varied from village to village and yet shared roots in the deep past. "White" culture was intentionally created to destroy cultural diversity with the aim of uniting white people in support of capitalism and colonialism. Much of what we subconsciously consider "white culture" is capitalist extraction of resources, labor, and knowledge for the purpose of wealth accumulation. A few white people get most of the wealth. Most white people get a little of the wealth and are shielded from state violence... enough to keep them supportive of the system. This marginal advantage motivates white people to support the extraction of wealth from people of color and the earth as part of the project of capitalism.
So why ancestral connection? Why animism? What good are flower crowns and Midsummer bonfires against all this? If we reclaim ancestral traditions only for their aesthetics, then we do nothing to restore the world. The deeper purpose is to reclaim an older ethics. Many of us feel the grief of living in white supremacist colonial capitalism. It is hard on us all--even those is purports to benefit. The capitalist world is rich with plastic crap and poor in magic, rich in entertainment and poor in myth, rich in work and poor in community; rich in violence and poor in connection. As we seek to build a healthy culture to replace this destructive system, we as white people sometimes reach for other peoples' practices and ethics. In doing so, we recreate the harm of colonization by stealing and appropriating. To create a world where diverse, ethical, and equitable cultures can weave together in vibrant multiplicity, we need to revive, heal, and transform our root cultures. We need to learn how to form relationships with the land, how to live in reciprocity, how to make restitution for wrongs, how to make offerings and gifts rather than accumulate and take. Our ancestral cultures were by no means perfect. Many of them contain thick currents of racism, patriarchy, and violence, and we must examine them critically for what must be rooted out and transformed. What remains after this pruning and purging has much to teach us about the sacred essence of the living earth; of our relation to plants, stones, water, and fire; of the value of elders, children, and other-abled folk; of the cyclical nature of time; of non-duality, of both-and; of reciprocity and hospitality; of the importance of paying debts and making restitution; and so much more.
For me, the purpose of ancestral reclaiming is to learn a more holistic ethics that informs how I move through the world. A flower crown is only aesthetics unless it is woven with prayers and offerings for the land and offered to the water as a gift. A bonfire is only aesthetics unless it is used to bring together community in reciprocity and gratitude. Or perhaps in times of pandemic, it is used to kindle the fire of our spirits toward healing and reparations. As we move through ritual and myth, we may begin to form new questions--how do I as a settler honor land that was stolen from its previous stewards? How do I make restitution for wrongs committed by my ancestors? How do I protect the waters and plants that cleanse and purify me in my sacred rituals? Some of these questions are ones our ancestors never considered, and yet by connecting to their earth-honoring, animist ethos, we can begin to find answers rooted in our own ancestral cultures, and in this, we may begin to repair the damage to our Öorlog.