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From My Ancestors to You

I’m flying home today from Scotland. My solo journey was very quiet except for the rumblings of my own monologue I was susceptible to as I drove through the most gorgeous landscapes in the world. As rivers fell down the very steep and treeless mountains to the sea I imagined my ancestors living in a croft (farm) hacking down the forests for warmth and carving out a living from the bare shale outcroppings. Among the tasks of living in this wet but fair climate (palm trees also grow there!) there are salmon and trout fishing from the abundant waters and hunting stag and boar, but probably not gardening much up here in the Isle of Skye. I imagine foraging for roots, rose hips and berries prevented scurvy.

Eileen Donan castle between the mainland and Isle of Skye.  A more modern version of castle intact from the 1500’s.  Some ancestral connection here.  

A proper tourist visits castles and I was among those purchasing a ticket at each one, doing my part to keep the legacy and dream of the ancient past alive. The castles of my ancestry, the MacKinnons (surname of my great grandfather, whom I knew) were over a thousand years old and looked similar to the ancient roundhouses called brochs of the Iron Age, which they say are only found in Scotland. I also hunted down sacred and ancient ruins called cairns where standing stones and burial tombs were places that the Picts and Celts marked the cycle of life through ritual, honoring the sun, moon and stars in relation to our cycle of life here on earth. I found out that I didn’t carry the joojoo to travel through time. Ha! Well, I tried.

An Iron Age broch—precursor to a castle.

I paid homage to those MacKinnons who died in rebellions against the British and in particular the famous Battle of Culloden of 1745, that ended a way of life for the Scots. They were Jacobites, fighting for the old reign of the Stuarts, and fighting to maintain their tribal clan ways. British rule was the death of a way of living on the land. The outcome of these battles over a hundred year period were the “clearances” of entire highland villages where many of our ancestors died fighting or left poorly to fight again for their lives on crowded ships to America or Australia. No wonder some of us have such resilience—it’s in our bones.

It is said that within two generations we loose the memories of a way of life, like values, culture, village ways, that were known and practiced for hundreds and thousands of years.

I wonder whether these people were actually outlaws as history made them out to be or were they simply people of the land, fighting for their ancient ways, language and tribal customs? The story is not unlike the genocide of Native Americans around the world and particularly in the United States. Here in Scotland there weren’t 30 million bison to eliminate in order to exterminate the people, so instead they cut down all the trees and made ships to haul villages of people away. Those that made it carved and hacked another life out from a land different from what they knew in their own bones. I cannot imagine the grief.

Standing Stone at Balnuaran of Clava and Milton of Clava a Bronze Age (4000 years old) burial and ritual ground in Scotland.

It is said that within two generations we loose the memories of a way of life, like values, culture, village ways, that were known and practiced for hundreds and thousands of years. I know only a few indigenous natives in America who learned from their grandparents the real medicine ways of their people. Most of our Native American people have lost so much of their traditional ways over a few generations. As children, the elders who taught their now living grandchildren, had escaped our own country’s clearances, which moved their people onto reservations and strove to eliminate their languages and placed a restriction on conducting the ancient healing ceremonies and rituals. I’ve learned that the system of honoring the sun, moon and stars, the animals and plants and Mother is not much different than the old Scottish ways. I imagine that chanting in ceremony was similar, too, since song connects the vibration of the pathways to creation and gives humans a way to relate to everything. I’m fortunate to know some of these people.

MacKinnon Stronghold from  900-1300 ad. I climbed to the top and acknowledged my ancestors:

Having traveled on most of the roads of the Isle of Skye, Isle of Mull and Iona and roads between Glasgow, Stirling, Inverness and Fort William’s, I was struck by numerous tourists, I being one of them. Yes, I was struck by my self, too! How I melted into the earth there and became of the land, the emotion of the place and people, and how I felt the oppression that lingers in the mist. The land and people here have transformed to survive, accommodating the hunger of descendants of those who were cleared from the land. Speaking from my experience, I will say that the hunger is to know my roots, where I came from, and how to stand strong in the face of adversity. I experienced people working to cater to this hunger.

For what purpose does a village exist anymore? Without ceremonies honoring the living cycle of all creation I find I’m leaving my motherland with an emptiness that bespoke the hardship and poverty, rebelliousness and great loss of a culture which pits me and all the other tourists against modernity and our individual purpose for living.

My resolve is to bring ceremony more to our starving people. It’s even clearer to me that I’ve been given the gift to help others connect to the cycle of living, to the weather, the sky beings, land, plants and animals and the sea.

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