[Starstuff, Contemplating] “Hearing our Ancestors” by Jon Cleland Host

At times, our Ancestors can seem closer or farther away, though they are always within us – in our trillions of copies of our DNA. Though Samhain is half a year away, here is one of many times that I heard my distant Ancestors.

Around Beltane, 2006, I went on a business trip to Copenhagen and made sure to book a few extra free days to explore. Because all of us with European descent have some Viking ancestry1, I was hoping to find sites that were important to my Ancestors and had vague ideas of marking Beltane with a short ritual as well. After asking about Neolithic sites, I was directed to the National Museum, and eventually an archeologist recommended the local museum in Vaerlose. Between her broken English and my broken German, the kind woman there understood that I was interested in Neolithic sites, and gave me a map, pointing out the little circles. Wow – they were all around!

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Barrow

I drove to site #12, and could see it well before getting there. I reverently approached the barrow. It was the first barrow I’d ever visited, and I wondered what it would be like if the people who built it or were buried in it could see their distant son, after many centuries, slowly approaching with them in mind. I wondered if my distant sons or daughters would ever think of me, in any way – not by name of course, but generally, like “my Ancestors who saw the rise of solar power”? So long ago, the lives of my Ancestors were filled with hope, joy, fear, pain, and pleasure, and though those components are in my life as well, our lives are so different, and much more comfortable. I know that rationally, they are as accessible anywhere on the globe as much as here at their likely grave (because I don’t think disembodied spirits are real). However, from an emotional standpoint, they are more real here, and I could feel that. After spending some quiet time with them in spirit, I moved on.

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Found at Site #4

Though I have notes on the many sites visited that day, they would make for an awfully long blog post, so I’ll just relate one more. The experience of visiting site after site, each one unique, gave me a greater awareness of how our human (and, before that, non-human) Ancestors have lived in nearly every place we go to today. Every square inch of our Earth is so sacred.

On getting back to the car after site #8 and planning my way to sites in the Great Hareforrest, I noticed that I had driven right past a site on the way here. That put it right on the way back. The map showed it as being out in the woods, not on a path.

Here I’ll copy down what I had written in my notebook that day:

 After crossing the road, I followed the path, looking North for a mound or stone or some such.  I suddenly noticed several upright stones, at the top of the hill, farther than I had expected.  The ring appearance even from this distance made me gasp out loud. 

As I approached I could see that there was a large center stone.  Getting closer I saw daylight through the underside of the stone – it must resting on rock.  Entering the ring from the SSW, I wondered if this would be a better place for a ritual (than the ring at site #4).  Then I saw the rectangular box partially under the center stone.  I realized that there had probably been a grave at some point.  My first thought was the grave detracted from the allure of this circle as a place for a Beltane ritual (Beltane = life, grave = death).  I stood there looking at the grave while thinking of the many cycles of the year going into the past, and an indescribable feeling overtook me.  It was a mix of connection to the person who, long ago, laid there, a feeling of the depth of time & our short portion of it, a feeling of the cycle of the year, going both forward & back, increasing in speed as I thought of more and more time, until the yearly frequency became a rapid, rising hum, then a thin tone, then fading into silence.  I became aware of the forest floor on my back.  Some areas were warm, some cold, some sharp, some smooth.  This was life – the people, (likely my Ancestors) whose spirituality revolved around this circle, lived lives that also were a mix of hot, cold, comfort, discomfort.  My hands lay splayed, palms up.  I realized that death and life are inseparable – two equally valid parts of existence.  This place was indeed the right place.  I could feel the life coursing thought me, down my arms, out my fingertips, and into the ground, flowing to the roots, up the trees and manifesting itself as the bursting buds above.  The sounds of singing birds were the sound of this rising chorus of life, growing louder around me each moment.  The feeling and vision became more intense, along with a gathering wind, shaking the trees above.  The crescendo increased, with chirping birds, a roar of wind and shaking of trees, then subsided.  I lay there for a while – I don’t know how long, feeling alive, enmeshed, and excited.  

Increasing FrequencyWhen I got up, I left the circle by the SE direction & sat on a small mossy stone to write this down.  I wonder now if I should look into the grave again now.  I seem to have no clear image of it in my memory.  Now there seems to be almost no wind. 

I looked.  It’s just stone. 

Remembering this event and reading the words above are somewhat strange to me.  I mean, I don’t think this was some supernatural vision.  At the same time, I have to admit that I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.

For one thing, I’m pretty sure that some corner of my mind still held a weak grip on reality throughout the entire experience.  In other words, I think that if I had decided that this was just too much, I probably could have, with a force of will, simply stood up and walked back to the car.  I’m pretty sure that I did not actually hear a steady tone of sound – the feeling it was almost as if the picture stretched out and was something like seeing a “time rewind” scene.

Other aspects do set this experience apart as being something very special.  The closest things I can think of are the morning of my Bachelor party weekend, when I walked down to the stream in the mists, with a feeling like I was in the Pacific Northwest a thousand years ago, or the solstice morning pond kayak experience in ’01, though those don’t have as much of the feeling of being … transported? … I certainly didn’t expect anything like this on visiting any of the sites, no matter how amazing they may be.

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Looking up

I really have a hard time imagining how I ended up on the ground – I mean, if it were a conscious decision, it would have been, well, conscious – including maybe looking down or thinking “should I lay here, or shift to the right a little, or …” – none of which I have any memory of.  Of course, maybe that is exactly what happened, and I just forgot that.  After all, I couldn’t remember what the grave looked like, and I know I was staring at that for a while.  If not, if it had been a complete collapse, then one would think I may have a bruise or a bump on the head from a rock or some such.  In fact, I can’t really remember getting from a standing position to being on the ground.  Odd.  My face and ears were wet from flowing tears, but I don’t clearly remember that happening either. I’m also a little stuck about who I should share this with.  I’ve mentioned it to my wife, Heather, but I’m not sure about mentioning it to others – and descriptions don’t seem able to convey what it was like.

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Center

At any rate, after writing down the italicized section above, I wrote out a short ritual and held it in the circle.  That felt very good.   I did much of it spontaneously, but it followed the general skeleton of closing the circle SWNE, with a lot of the words chosen to honor the local area of Denmark3 in particular, followed by words about allurement and my family.  The ritual included laying again in the same spot, looking up at the branches, envisioning coursing life.  It wasn’t nearly the same as just a few minutes earlier, but it was nice.  Then there was the placement of a small offering on the center stone, and spoken words to draw a link to my family (who weren’t there – a trip to Denmark for everyone was too expensive for our budget).  Opening of the circle was done WNES, again themed to match the local area.

Sketch of Site

A rough plan of the circle

Then I took some time to investigate the circle.  I sketched it, which I’ve copied here.  Going only by the time on my watch and the shadows, I estimated the axis of the circle to be North-South.  If that’s accurate, then there were clear South and West stones.  The stone to the East was actually just a tad South of East, and in the North was a group of stones.  I also noticed candle wax drippings on the center stone – they appeared less than a year old.  Like the bundle found at site 4, I wondered how they got there.

I went on to see three more sites before running out of daylight, and then, soon, returning to my hotel and then my day to day life. Though this experience lasted only (I think) a few minutes, it won’t be soon forgotten.

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End of the day


Notes

  1. Vikings traveled very far, with settlements into both England and Germany, (and even as far as the Mediterranean). So for those of us with at least some European Ancestors, the people (if any) buried in these barrows are probably our great great great … grandparents or their children. It’s easier to see this when we realize how rapidly our number of Ancestors climbs, even after going only a little ways back. And just how many Ancestors do we have? Well, we each have four grandparents, 8 great- grandparents, 16, 32, 64, 128, To thousands a couple centuries ago, millions a few centuries before that, and the numbers quickly climb include most of those alive on Earth, just a few thousand years back. That means that those of us with European ancestry are descended from most of the people alive in Europe in 1300, many of which would have had Viking Ancestors.
  2. The site numbers are just my arbitrary order in which I visited the sites I had time for on that day (May 4th, 2006). Yes, one of those sites gave the stone circle picture on my card – if you were wondering.
  3. The Denmark trip was great for many reasons, and I’d recommend a trip to Denmark for anyone – and especially for those of us who have Ancestors that we can better connect with on such a trip. That goes for many other places too – after all, there are literally hundreds of stone circle monuments in Europe alone, as well as many other places around the world.
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4 Comments on “[Starstuff, Contemplating] “Hearing our Ancestors” by Jon Cleland Host

  1. This is really beautiful.

    We need more of these first-person narratives of experiences from naturalistic perspectives. It might help non-naturalists to get the sense that we can be genuinely spiritual too. 🙂

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