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The Shieldmaiden Blog

Aug - 13

Whose Ancestors?

EDITED, 9/11/2013: In the days since I originally published the post below on 8/29/2013, there have been a couple of developments I wish to acknowledge.

–This post was also published at my PaganSquare blog, The Spear That Cries Out, hosted by Witches & Pagans online. It was subsequently deleted by the site’s editor, Anne Newkirk Niven, specifically in order to censor its content, because she objected to my calling the AFA a racist organization.

–In discussions in the comments both here and at the PaganSquare site (before it was removed), several people have pointed out that I went too far in over-interpreting the implications of the DNA research referenced in the original post. They’re correct, and I appreciate the feedback. I think that the research still supports the overall point of my post, which is that at a surprisingly recent point in the past, all of us are related, and that there is no biological or anthropological basis for racial separatism in religion.

Here follows the original post, unedited:


Issues of race and Eurocentrism in religion have been increasingly on my mind recently, and the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech seems a good day to write about them.

This came up for me when I found out that a favorite Nordic folk band, Wardruna, would be performing in the US for the first time this fall. I got all excited about this until friends pointed out that the event at which they will be performing, Stella Natura, is sponsored by the unabashedly racist Heathen organization AFA, and is also featuring several performers with strong links to white-supremacist, racist ideologies.

So I ditched my plans of attending. And I feel like talking about this publicly because I think part of the reason racism continues to haunt European polytheism is because we let it. Too many of us take a policy of uneasily gritting our teeth and putting up with our intellectual proximity to racists. It’d have been more convenient and more fun for me to buy the ticket, go to the event and try to ignore the racism so that I could get the chance to enjoy one of my favorite bands. But I’d be supporting the inclusion of these racist elements within the fold of European polytheism, and I can’t stomach it. Instead, I’m refusing to participate. Wardruna, we love you, but if you want me to buy a ticket to your show, don’t sign on with racists as your event sponsors.

It comes to me that practitioners of European polytheist traditions have a duty on us to take a clear stance against racism in our religious communities. Not to do so, I think, inevitably leads us into tacitly condoning racism, because of its ubiquity in the overculture and its history as an undercurrent within European polytheism.

So here’s my stance: Though the form of religious practice I choose to espouse is largely based on Celtic traditions, I reject any ideology that says those traditions belong specially to me because of race. I speak often of ancestors and ancestral tradition, but I affirm that the ancestral root of wisdom belongs to all humanity. I reject all arguments that imply race should be tied to religion in any way or that racial purity is a relevant concept or worthy goal. I challenge my fellow polytheists to also step up and take a stance against racism in our religious communities, as publicly as possible.

Now, here are some facts you can arm yourself with to help put down racist logic when it is presented to you.

Racism in European polytheism is often veiled under language that claims to celebrate cultural and religious diversity. You will need to be aware of this and learn to recognize it for what it is. The argument goes something like this: a) Cultural and religious diversity is good; b) religious traditions arise from and are dependent on the unique ethnic identity of a people; c) therefore to fully realize our spiritual potential we should practice the religious traditions of our ethnic ancestry; d) because of the link between culture and ethnicity, to preserve cultural and religious traditions we also need to preserve the distinct identities of peoples. If you read between the lines (e.g. read “people” as “race”) you can see that by this train of logic, the conclusion arrived at is that races should not intermingle because that will dilute the purity of the European race and its native religious traditions.

This is nothing more than the Separate-But-Equal doctrine of racial politics. “We aren’t denigrating other races and their associated religions, we just don’t want them getting mixed up with ours.” In the name of celebrating cultural diversity, of course. If you think this claim isn’t being made, go look at the AFA website – it’s right there in their statement of purpose:

All native religions spring from the unique collective soul of a particular people. Religions are not arbitrary or accidental; body, mind and spirit are all shaped by the evolutionary history of the group and are thus interrelated. Asatru is not just what we believe, it is what we are. Therefore, the survival and welfare of the Northern European peoples as a cultural and biological group is a religious imperative for the AFA.

The belief that spirituality and ancestral heritage are related has nothing to do with notions of superiority. Asatru is not an excuse to look down on, much less to hate, members of any other race. On the contrary, we recognize the uniqueness and the value of all the different pieces that make up the human mosaic.

Just so long as you keep your non-European uniqueness over there and don’t get any on us.

This isn’t just nasty racial politics, it’s also utter bullshit. Here’s why.

This entire argument is predicated on the idea that race and religion are tied, that traditions are native to and transmitted by ancestral links. The traditions of our ancestors and all that. OK, but whose ancestors?

Guess what: Your ancestors are everyone’s ancestors. We are all related. No really, that’s not a kumbaya hippie truism, it’s a documented mathematical and biological reality.

“The fact that everyone has two parents means that the number of ancestors for each individual doubles every generation… By using basic mathematics, we can calculate that ten generations ago each individual had a thousand ancestors, and 20 generations ago they had a million and so on.”

By the time you count back to 40 generations, the number of ancestors each person has far outstrips the number of people alive at that time. That means between 30 and 40 generations back, all human beings share ancestry. That’s somewhere shy of 800 years ago. This mathematical modeling has now been confirmed by DNA evidence. Here’s a handy graphic that’s been making its way around the web illustrating this new research:


I haven’t verified the specific dates and figures in the graphic, but the principle is clear as an illustration of the research.

Think about what this means: The historical time frame within which the Nordic and Germanic cultural lore on which Asatru is built includes, roughly speaking, the Iron Age up through the Viking era – that is, a few centuries BCE up through about 800-1200 CE. A similar time frame is the basis for much of what now constitutes Celtic polytheism.

In other words, when the Hávamál was created, every single person alive at that time is an ancestor of yours. When the legends of Cú Chulainn and the heroes of the Red Branch were being developed, every single person alive at that time is an ancestor of yours. So was everyone alive in the ancient Somali states. The Etruscans, the Mycenaeans, the Thracians, the Kushites. The people of Catal Huyuk, the ancient steppe tribes of Eurasia, the forefathers and foremothers of the Khans, the people who settled the Polynesian islands, the tribes who crossed the land bridge to the New World. They are all of them, all of them, your personal blood ancestors.

So cultural traditions can’t be inherently dependent on race or ancestry, because race and the purity of ancestral lineage are fictions. You personally are the blood lineage inheritor of every human cultural tradition on the planet.

The truth is, cultural purity also a fiction. People have been traveling all over the globe trading with each other since time began. The ancients were in contact with each other across enormous distances via trade routes and migrations. The skull of a Moroccan Barbary ape was found in an Iron Age royal site at Navan Fort, Ireland. The famous Viking swords were made from steel sourced from Afghanistan. Iron age mummies with red hair and Hallstatt material culture have been found in the deserts of China. I could go on all day with examples like this. And in every case where there is evidence of contact between peoples, there was cultural exchange. Culture is a social disease – it is transmitted on contact. There has always been sharing, borrowing, and synergizing between cultures.

This is an important point, because it proves that distinct cultural traditions do not require racial or cultural separation to preserve them. If the mingling of peoples led to dissolution of all cultural boundaries, we’d long ago have been one big mishmash of culture. Because the mingling has been happening for millenia, as demonstrated above. What the racists claim to be protecting against would have happened long ago if racial purity had anything at all to do with the integrity of cultural traditions. Cultures arise from shared language and shared experience – DNA doesn’t come into it. The varieties of human experience will always tend toward a diversity of cultures regardless of ancestry or cross-cultural contact. Any argument for separatism in the name of cultural diversity is just a cover for racism.

So by all means, celebrate the ancestral traditions that move you and touch your soul. That is what I do. Let us just remember whose ancestors they are: the ancestors of humanity.

78 comments on Whose Ancestors?

  1. Something about this post made me incredibly uncomfortable. I think I finally figured it out.

    Due to the context of white supremacy that we live in, we often encounter phrases, ways of thinking, and bunches of plain old bs that are used to justify
    the way oppression happens. This is especially true of white folks, like myself, who might be well meaning but are unaware of the larger contexts.

    Your original language sounded very much like the language used to justify cultural appropriation and other sorts of structural racism.

    To quote bell hooks, “the notion that we should forsake attachment to race and/or cultural identity and be “just humans” within the framework of white supremacy has usually meant that subordinate groups must surrender their identities, beliefs, values, and assimilate by adopting the values of privileged-class whites, rather than promoting racial harmony”

    While I think its a good start to say “there is no biological or anthropological basis for racial separatism in religion”, I think there’s a great deal more ways to go to actually challenge, undo, and resist structural racism. This is especially true when we often don’t understand or feel the oppression around us that needs to be worked on. Developing a better awareness of the world that we actually find ourselves in, most especially the social world, is key. Plus its especially useful in responding to folks who actively support / promote white supremacy.

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks so much! I’m from Costa Rica andand other part ofnme from I don’t know.
    I completely agree with you! At the end, we all came from Africa :)

  3. luna says:

    I just love how all the people who ‘chose not to attend’ have jumped the bandwagon to form personal opinions about an event they are not even at.It smacks of egotistical self-gratification.I’ve attended all 3 yrs and am a witch.I am not Heathen but have many Heathen friends and incorporate Northern Tradition aspects into my personal works.This event is not a racist one,it is about community/extended family and Nature co-existing.It is beautiful and inspiring.stop trying to smear/taint something you do not understand.

  4. Pegi Eyers says:

    Dear Morpheus ~
    Good for Anne Newkirk Niven!! All the Asatru are talking about in their “statement of purpose” is the reality of promoting and protecting culturally-specific spiritual traditions, which is exactly how all human groups have organized themselves for millennia (unbeknownst to you, it would seem). Looking over your blog one more time, I see that one of the more objectionable statements you make is that “even though you are Celtic, those spiritual traditions do not particularly belong to you.” Like I said before, try promoting this as an idea to the majority of the world’s indigenous peoples!! And may I suggest that you decolonize your WK non-affirmative expression “race should be tied to religion” (both the concepts of “race” and “religion” are Colonial lies). A more authentic substitute for this expression could possibly be “ethnicity is tied to ancestral knowledge/indigenous roots”. (I would think that pagans in the Americas today are trying to move away from Western Knowledge/WK systems??) Also, I am noticing that your outline of what you see to be “racist logic in European polytheism” in points a) through d) is wonderfully true (thanks for that!), except not in your off-base “racist” interpretation, or the misdirection of racial purity that others are claiming. Your points a) through d) describe the hard work of reclaiming one’s authentic cultural, ethnic-based spirituality and indigenous knowledge, which actually does live on in the DNA (again, unbeknownst to you, it would seem). In closing, may I say that all ethnicities should intermingle naturally in peaceful coexistence, but each one remaining strong in their own specific traditions, without claiming mutual ancestors (which is ridiculous) or taking from, or leaning into, the traditions of another. As I said before, it has been determined that all humanity shares a common ancestral root, but so what?

    1. Kayote says:

      Still haven’t had someone explain to me what my “authentic cultural, ethnic-based spirituality and indigenous knowledge” given my ancestors came from at least all over Europe, and quite likely from America and Africa as well. Maybe you come from a direct racial and cultural heritage, but pretty much no one in America does. (And I’d be surprised if it was that common in Europe to not have mixed heritage as well.)

      Also, how can you tell short of a DNA test who someone’s ancestors are? Certainly not by looks! There are much more African-looking people than I who have much more pure European blood. Someone’s visual race does NOT betray their ancestors. If I am more accepted into the European ancestry groups then they are (which for the example above, I expect I would be), then it’s racism.

      1. I agree. The idea that we can base ancestry on looks is ridiculous and ignorant. It is just a cover for racism, and an excuse to discriminate.

  5. What strikes me as something one side of this argument forgets is that it always mentions groups for whom familial/cultural origin is important but leaves out that none of those are broken or in need of reconstruction.

    Native/First Nations trads, as an example? They are *not* open to everyone of those bloodlines (in fact that’s the motivation behind a growing number of lawsuits regarding children illegally adopted out of tribe; those children are sundered from their traditions as they’re not raised in them.)

    That whole line of reasoning falls completely flat when it comes to NEW traditions or “reconstructionist” ideas that are full of converts from other religio-cultural identities. THAT’s why the argument fails, and why those folks seem to only swoop in for a comment or two before dissappearing into a self-righteous cloud of “I just dont have time to get into it.”

    They choose not to talk about how their newly invented notions of culture exclude based on their own prejudices, while using faulty examples of other exclusionary practice/practices relegated to genetic “in group” lineage. Those that still exist have *always* been like that and have no need for cultural reinvention. New groups saying it’s about authenticity are lying to themselves.

    1. You missed some crucial information that makes your comments about natives inaccurate. You approach it like it is one rule, one expectation. The tribes all have different criteria. Some require a certain percentage, while others require direct connection. There is nothing that says prominent lineage to belong to the native community. That is one distinguishing factor you missed. Someone could be bi-racial and still be a member of the tribe. If you are raised by the tribe, you are entitled to their customs. If we were using those principles, almost all of those in the US couldn’t claim European ancestry and customs either.

      Also, the adoption thing is also missing facts. There is a law in place called ICWA… Indian Child Welfare Act, mandated that a child is placed within the tribe or another tribe prior to outside adoption. Why? Well according to the site, “The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families. Congress passed ICWA in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C. § 1902). ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.”

      The decimation of the native populations have but their people and cultures in danger. It is a response to the mass killing and washing away of Indian culture done by the US, the removal of children from their homes to make them “american”. This is a long history of information missing in your perception. It is a response to a heavily oppressed group that continues to have systemic laws in place that do not protect the culture of this indigenous people. Can you say that about “European” people?

      They attempt first to place within the tribe. And it is not true that raised outside means that they don’t teach customs, that is a tribe by tribe decision based on their tribal laws.

      1. ” If you are raised by the tribe, you are entitled to their customs.”

        Thank you for making my point. ;) While I wrote only from the most broad perspective, I agree with your specificity 100%. (regarding the lawsuits I mentioned, you may also wish to look to Canada, where similar laws are also really not doing the job they’re supposed to.)

        You mention my very reasons for having a problem with new traditions claiming ancient (but still recreated) European heritages… their statements imply that they have a right to First Nation’s privileges while not even seeing the privilege card they’re playing by using those words.

        Its shameful.

        To answer your question though, no; I cannot say that about people of predominantly European descent… and that IS my point. It seems you and I are on the same page.

        1. Let me clarity that statement about being raised by the tribe…. I am saying regardless of ethnicity. If you are mixed culture, etc.

          1. Right; it’s the being raised in the cultural context that’s the key (something the folkish asatruuar may have *eventually*, but they dont have right now. They’re just trying to pretend that they do. There is no current cultural environment of reconstructed Norse paganism in the way the First Nations/Native American groups have tribal identity to transmit through childrearing)

            What these folks are missing by disrespecting a person’s belief structure over perceived differences in skin tone is a very great deal… who knows if a person with non-white skin may still possess ancestry through which those deities/spirits may speak? Who knows if such a determination is even remotely based on ancestry? Just too many artificial lines in the sand, frankly.)

        2. Another issue is that, since Asatru is a reconstructed faith, Folkist choices to include racism are just that – CHOICES. There is no historical evidence suggesting that ancient Germanic practice barred non-Germanic worship. By insisting on this racism anyway, the Folkist prove only that they have included this “Germanic-only” element to fulfill their own racist agendas, rather than any honest interest in reconstruction.

          — Mr. M.

  6. Your post reinforces what I have known since I was initiated Seax Wiccan in 1985. My HP at the time, a rune master and Priest of Odin, was clear about some of the attitudes prevalent amongst the heathen community.

    I find it interesting for another reason besides common ancestry, though the conclusion is the same on both threads. Not being once born, I remember being a black male warrior in a lifetime, an East Indian woman, Egyptian woman, Chinese woman and a Celtic male. So I come by being a mutt in this lifetime honestly, either way you look at it.

    Since the Gods themselves do not exclude based on race or ancestry, the only reason I can see for us to do so is fear or insecurity. Diversity sweetens the mix; like-minded goes way beyond any cultural demarcations, fortunately for us all.

  7. By the time you count back to 40 generations, the number of ancestors each person has far outstrips the number of people alive at that time. That means between 30 and 40 generations back, all human beings share ancestry. That’s somewhere shy of 800 years ago. This mathematical modeling has now been confirmed by DNA evidence.

    No, no, no. Read the article:

    “Our research confirmed what Chang suspected—that everybody who was alive in Europe a thousand years ago and who had children, is an ancestor of everyone alive today who has some European ancestry,” Ralph said.

    This lends support to Chang’s calculation that by expanding his model from living Europeans to everyone alive on Earth, an all-ancestor generation would have occurred some 3,400 years ago.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sacralising one’s own blood ancestry, if that’s what one wants to do. After all, our genetics make us who we are, or perhaps what we are, in a very physical biological sense. If my body is sacred, perhaps it is sacred in its particularity, and not just in its commonality with other humans. So then my genome is sacred, and the inheritance of my genome from my ancestors is sacred, and the “blood” connection I share with my ancestors is sacred, and ultimately the mutations that make me different from you are also sacred.

    Though the form of religious practice I choose to espouse is largely based on Celtic traditions, I reject any ideology that says those traditions belong specially to me because of race.

    Right, traditions are passed through culture rather than through blood. One can call oneself Celtic (or whatever) if one was raised in a Celtic culture regardless of one’s race, and one then inherits those particular Celtic traditions.

    I speak often of ancestors and ancestral tradition, but I affirm that the ancestral root of wisdom belongs to all humanity.

    No, this is at best misleading, as we don’t know of any pan-human wisdom. Wisdom is transmitted through culture and cannot be found except in a particular culture, and cannot be understood except in the context of some culture. There is no single human wisdom, it’s unavoidably plural, and dissent, disagreement and difference are vital and valuable.

  8. Thank you for writing about this. Many people do not have the guts to do so. The reality is that these conversations are hurtful for people like me. My family carries the blood of Europeans in our veins, by force, and in turn I am a light skinned Black woman who knows the names of those who raped my great great grandmother, but not the “ancestry”. We carry an English name on my father’s side (Nettles) but never can claim the ancestry of some of my own people (EUROPEAN) without being faced with racism disguised by “ancestry”.

    It continues along the lines of systemic oppression that people of color continue to face in this country and everywhere. We are never accepted, and have to prove we have a place. I shouldn’t have to prove my ancestry….. “white” people don’t have to prove theirs.

    I think your correlation with the ultimate ancestry… back beyond all of this is a subject that many people cannot face. The idea of the mitochondrial eve or the idea that we all are connected back to Africa, really messes with people’s sense of identity. And yet… we as Black people have had our identity stripped for hundreds of years and are blocked from claiming all parts of ourselves.

    It is the cognitive dissonance that is created by years of privilege. It is sad, and really hard to watch within the Pagan community… one place that everyone should be safe from this bullshit.

    In respect,
    Crystal Blanton

  9. As part of an ongoing effort to thwart the expansion of bigotry in the Heathen community, The Troth and Distelfink Sippschaft have established In-Reach Heathen Prison Services, the purpose of which is to bring literature and materials with positive Heathen messages — without the racist tinge — to Heathen inmates. When possible, we also provide visitation services.

    Part of our effort is also to engage prison Chaplains and administrators, in order to aid them in providing Heathens with access to religious materials while recognizing the destructive racist elements that are often present in their facilities already.

    Heathenry is life-affirming and world-affirming. Bigotry is neither.

  10. Pegi Eyers says:

    Dear Morpheus, with all due respect, you also miss the point about human cultural exchange as well. Yes, we have certainly traded and adapted commodities, symbols, technologies and stories from one another for millennia, but having the pride and ownership in one’s own cultural and ancestral traditions (that were built up over long centuries), those embedded in a specific cultural tradition have the moral code NOT to appropriate the sacred ancestral traditions or keystones of other cultures and ancestral traditions. If you look at it more closely, cultures share superficial things like materials, new innovations and stories, not worldviews. Also, it is not about “forced separatism” (which I’m sure the white supremacists use for their own ideology), it’s about acknowledging and respecting difference, tolerating diversity, owning your authenticity, and embodying a necessary loyalty to self and tribe. This is as far from racism as it gets.

  11. Pegi Eyers says:

    Dear Morpheus, I really object to quite a lot of content in this blog. Your claim of one-size-fits-all ancestry means that you have bought into one of the worst aspects of colonization in the Americas, which is homogeneity, or the taking away of specific ethnicity and replacing it with some kind of polyglot multicultural melting-pot, one of the great lies of modernity. We all have specific ethnicity and ancestral traditions, but fail to recognize this anymore, since it was stripped away from us in our Euro-diaspora to the Americas in the frenzy of Empire-building. That’s why our generation has had to re-create ourselves as Wiccans, Pagans, Druids, Heathens and so on, as we had no spirituality to begin with!! If we look to natural law, which humans are not exempt from, we see that a diversity of species or tribal groups has been essential to a healthy ecosystem for millennia, and that diversity has been the keystone to healthy, thriving human populations. Also, if you follow the baseline model of indigenous culture, which is the way human beings are supposed to organize themselves and live in symbiotic relationship with each other, nature, and the other-than-human world, we are supposed to follow our own ethnic-based wisdom traditions from generation to generation (not racially-based, since “race” is a lie invented by white Euro-supremacist scientists in the 1700’s). Why should modern times be any different?

    1. Jonathan Corvid says:

      Pegi, I think you might want to re-read Morpheus’ post. She does not make a ‘claim of one-size-fits-all ancestry’ as you say. Instead, what Morpheus argues here, at least in my understanding, is that when it comes down to it we are all connected genetically and otherwise and that the argument of race or ethnicity as a limiting factor for who works within which religion lacks sound reasoning. And if you take a moment to acknowledge the particular spiritual path that Morpheus acknowledges for herself in this post you can see that she values cultural specificity and thus has not ‘ bought into one of the worst aspects of colonization in the Americas, which is homogeneity.’ Clearly Morpheus values culture and I think by taking an inclusive stance as she does she is also valuing diversity. So if you truly ‘object’ to the content of Morpheus’ post on the grounds that she values homogeneity and is not supportive of diversity then you are not paying attention to what she is saying here.

      1. Pegi Eyers says:

        I’m talking about the fact that for millennia, until about a century ago and the rise of Euro-Empire and industrial civilization, human beings organized themselves in cultures that were based on common ethnicity, each having a worldview substantiated by centuries of specific common ancestors and specific ancestral traditions. This kind of diversity of human cultures is in alignment with natural law and fits comfortably within the perimeters of what the planet can sustain, and probably what we should be returning to, in the final days of Empire. It is the doomed experiment of industrial civilization that has thrown this all off the rails. Picking any ancestor or ancestral tradition you feel like is not diversity, it is a superficial fantasy. It is also an act of knowledge domination and cultural appropriation, and does nothing to align you with the keystones of your own spirituality, which is rooted in your ethnicity and DNA. Morpheus’ whole argument that “your ancestors are everyone’s ancestors” is just more “We Are All One” New Age claptrap that would horrify any self-respecting indigenous or neo-indigenous person. Of course, it has been determined that all humanity shares a common ancestral root but so what? The healthy diversity of cultures throughout time (until the present era of Euro-colonization and globalization) proves that cultures ARE tied to specific locations, tribal groupings and shared DNA, as it is supposed to be. The way that the concept of “We Are All One” continues to be touted by the spiritual community as a philosophic solution allows spiritual seekers to disassociate themselves from any type of serious effort to reclaim their own ancestral traditions (too much hard work!), giving them free rein to jump around to any culture they feel like, and appropriating from and oppressing the true indigenous holders of those cultures as they do so. What the white supremacists believe is that their culture is superior to all others, and racial purity is a requirement to maintain this psychosis. What I humbly suggest as a student of history is that humans flourish best when aligned with their own ethnic group, sharing common ancestors, common worldviews and keystones that have been in place for generations, and we need to get back to this.

        1. Dafydd says:

          Pegi, that was one of the most articulate
          universalist rebuttals I’ve ever read.
          Great Job!!

        2. Kayote says:

          It’s not “too much work” it’s flat impossible the way you describe it.

          I don’t have AN ancestral tradition. That would imply my lineage is a lot more coherent than it is.

          I know my ancestors come from Germany, France, England, Ireland, Scotland. We are as certain as possible given existing records that there is Native American. It is strongly suspected that there is African blood in my line. That’s just on my paternal side that I can think of right now. None of them have passed down any religious tradition to me other than Christian or nothing.

          So…what’s my “ancestral tradition”? Which one of the above? Any one I feel like? Where is the line between appropriation and ancestry? Does it matter which one I look more like? Because that’s what you are saying the moment you use race.

          People moved. Across the ocean, willingly or not, to cities, to the next country over. Their cultures moved with them. They had mixed-culture children (sometimes intermarry, sometimes not by choice of both). Christianity spread across Europe and the “old ways” were squished. That’s what happened. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea, but it’s well beyond being undone at this point. Which leaves a lot of people as mutts, and not mutts that you can identify on sight.

          Someone’s race does NOT tell you what ancestry they have.

          There were, for example, a lot of dark-skinned children born with white fathers in the US during the slavery years. Why could their descendants not be able to claim the European ancestral traditions of that white ancestor with the same legitimacy as the African one of the black ancestor of the same generation? They have equal blood inheritance from both. A black may well have more “Northern European” blood than a random Caucasian.

          If you make your in/out determinations based on a visual queue, it’s racism not ancestry. Because someone’s appearance may give hints to their ancestry, but it’s hardly reliable.

          1. Morgan Lefay says:

            I totally agree with you, Kayote, and I´m glad to hear it. I have ever wondered why some afro-americans only indetify themselves as blacks, when they can be as whites as they are blacks. As a Western European, wich ancestral tradition could I identify with without lying or denying any forgotten ancestor?

        3. Jonathan Corvid says:

          Pegi, if you want to engage with what is written specifically in either Morpheus’ post or in what I wrote in response to yours, then I welcome discussion. However, so far you have conflated what has been written with an argument that has not been made and have demonstrated a tendency for redundancy. You seem more interested in having a venue to rant. I do not want to engage here in that way. If you read what Morpheus wrote there is a nuanced argument with specific points made worth discussion. The discussion here is about the racism inherent in the argument that one’s bloodline determines which religion or spiritual tradition one is eligible to participate in. When you bring in ideas about ‘a baseline indigenous model’ or ‘natural law’ you need to explain what those things are and not assume that those concepts are acceptable as a basis for argumentation. The way you have been using them here its as if they were tools/weapons for beating me or supposed ‘universalists’ into submission.

          1. Pegi Eyers says:

            Gosh Jonathan, I didn’t think my tone was that bombastic! Please don’t take it personally, it’s just that there is so much off-base about this blog that I can scarcely contain myself. I think it is easy to make assumptions and have miscommunications in this kind of forum. I would like to say that the word “religion” is not part of my vocabulary unless I am referring to the big three monotheistic ones – Christianity, Islam and Judaism. I call all others “belief systems”, “spiritual traditions”, “ancestral traditions” and the like. To Morpheus’ main point , that she does not believe that “bloodline or ancestors determine which spiritual tradition one should participate in”, I would like to see her announce that to the world’s indigenous peoples, and see what their response would be!! For that is exactly what millions of tribal and cultural groups adhere to, and what those of us in western knowledge systems have lost. The problem is that the white supremacists have twisted authentic ethnic spiritual traditions into a separationist and racial purity thing for their own sick objectives. Fight them we must, and deconstructing their ideology is an important part of the process, but Morpheus is off-base on this one.

        4. Amy Hale says:

          Pegi, I am afraid that none of what you have written is in any way true, not does it conform to how anthropologists and other cultural professionals understand the nature of cultural diversity or the development of ethnicity.

          1. Amy Hale says:

            It also does not reflect the ways in which many indigenous peoples understand their own cultures and requirements and models for cultural transmission.

          2. Pegi Eyers says:

            Hi Amy – I fail to see any specific references in your comment, please refute something in particular that I have said. I don’t subscribe to western knowledge systems like anthropology any longer. In my own decolonization process I can’t honestly see the value in anthropology, with its emphasis on European superiority, western hegemony, white perspectivism and ethnocentric bias. And the “cultural professionals” you speak of are products of WK (western knowledge) as well, so ditto. Also, I would really like to know which of my statements “does not reflect the ways in which many indigenous peoples understand their own cultures and requirements and models for cultural transmission.” Explain please, as my comments reflect many years of experience and Indigenous Studies at the university level. If you are speaking about the taboos on mating within one’s own clan, expanding the gene pool by bringing in spouses from neighbouring indigenous groups or afar, or organization along lines of kinship, not bloodlines, I am well aware. However, social membership and identity in indigenous societies is still based on cultural integrity and allegiance to a common epistomology.

    2. Jonathan Corvid says:

      Secondly, your comment about following ‘the baseline model of indigenous culture’ does not support your argument for cultural diversity. What you are suggesting here is that there is only one way to live as a people. This way of thinking does not value many of the world’s cultures that exist today and are not indigenous (i.e. the majority of Americans) and also creates a static, romanticized view of indigenous cultures. You are limiting the range of human potential by dictating that ‘human beings are supposed to organize themselves [in the baseline model of indigenous culture] and live in symbiotic relationship with each other, nature, and the other-than-human world.’ This assumes that there is a right way to live and does not allow for exploration and the resulting mistakes and discoveries to be made by any given people.

      1. Pegi Eyers says:

        Come on Jonathan! Industrial civilization is a doomed experiment that has run it’s course, and all semantics aside, we had better be examining the baseline of indigenous knowledge systems and cultures! Decolonize now or decolonize later, but luckily everything we need is already in place in the diverse models of earth-rooted, indigenous culture(s). This isn’t romanticization, this is knowing in your heart and soul that all human beings are supposed to live in symbiotic relationship with each other, nature, and the other-than-human world. Can you remember…..

  12. Dafydd says:

    I’am proudly Folkish Heathen and a member of the AFA.
    I’ve tried many, many times to debate this issue with universalists and have learned the hard way that it gets me nowhere.
    However, with respect, I’d like to point out an inconsistency in your argument that I feel points to a fairly typical anti-white bias.
    You seem to have no problem with Native American and African people
    choosing to maintain some cohesion of tribal blood in their practices.
    That’s good. I support their feelings on this wholeheartedly.
    However, you base your attitude on a typical liberal idea of “white privilege”.
    I agree that the Native American culture was decimated under christian domination, but if I remember correctly….so were the tribes of Europe.
    If you’re willing to reach back 100,000 years to “prove” that we’re all the same, why does the Native American oppression rank as more important and more worthy of acceptance than the millions butchered during the Christian expansion through Europe a mere 1500 years ago?
    The tribes of Europe didn’t oppress Native Americans or Africans.
    The universalist doctrine of the semetic god of israel is responsible for
    destroying all of our native folk ways. As such, why wouldn’t you encourage pan-europeans to rediscover their pre-subjegation past in the same way as the others?

    1. Al says:

      What is the name of your tribe, Dafydd? “White” isn’t a tribe. It is a vague (at best) description of skin color. “European” is just a person from Europe and I know a lot of black Europeans.

      Like many AFA folks, historically, you try to literally “whitewash” things.

      1. Dafydd says:

        Isn’t it interesting that only pan-European “white” people seem to have difficulty identifying themselves.
        I notice that no other people on earth struggle to understand who they are.
        Leave it to white guilt to confuse such a basic issue.
        However, I won’t waste the effort arguing. The facts of life are quickly making the case for me so I’ll allow time to overcome your naive philosophy.

        1. This response shows profound ignorance on your part to the actual struggle of oppression. European people are the LAST people on this earth who do struggle to know of who they are.

          As one example, lets take African Americans…. we don’t even know where we came from in Africa. We don’t know tribes, or who raped who, or how our lineage intersects with others. The fact that you can trace yourself to an ancestry is a privilege. Don’t misunderstand the effects of oppression in it’s truest form.

          Your assumption that others are not European is a joke. Many of those with African American labels have just as much right to claim European ancestry and you do. And until you or any other “white” person is able to prove a lack of European ancestry in Black people, or an abundance of it in your DNA, then it is a mute point. It is racism.

          1. Dafydd says:

            “As one example, lets take African Americans…. we don’t even know where we came from in Africa”

            You came from Africa.

            It would be helpful if you got over your own racism when dealing with white people.
            Africans weren’t the first people in history or the last to be sold into slavery.
            We’ve all been victim and oppressor.
            In fact, the first slaves in America were not African…they were Irish.

            Look, all I’m trying to suggest is that Europe has an indigenous population.
            The only difference between someone of African descent and someone of European descent is that the African can proudly claim his/her African homeland while the European is considered racist for doing the same.
            This is a useless argument.
            Believe what you want….I really don’t care.

          2. Morpheus says:

            Dafydd, I’m going to step in here as the moderator of this conversation thread. This most recent comment of yours is rude and insulting. It is dismissive of Crystal’s points regarding her ancestry (“You came from Africa.”) Whereas she made clear that she was referring to the inability to learn anything more detailed than “Africa” as to tribe or region due to the circumstances of her ancestors vis a vis slavery and oppression. “You came from Africa”, when it was clearly stated that she has both European and African ancestry, is a statement that reflects racist notions about purity of ancestry. This is completely unwarranted and unacceptable in my space.

            I would have thought, given that you’d read my original post, that you might be able to anticipate that I will not tolerate racism in a forum which I control.

            “Look, all I’m trying to suggest is that Europe has an indigenous population.”

            That’s very clearly NOT all you’re trying to suggest. This also marks your comment as very disingenuous.

            Further discussion with you here is welcome IF you can converse human-to-human without resorting to racist insults toward other participants here. I will be moderating your comments before allowing them to post.

          3. In direct response to Dafydd…. your response to my previous post shows your complete disrespect and ignorance of race relations. If you had a clue, you might know that I am mixed European ancestry. Mine just came through rape from the slave master. If I am from Africa because of my Black roots… then I am just as much from Europe with my European roots. Do you have more claim to the land and heritage than I?

            That is history, not racism. My husband is White and my children are also mixed. Check your assumptions, because obviously you do not know what you are talking about. That is apparent.

  13. Kayote says:

    I’m having problems with how they equate race and cultural traditions. I think that’s what makes it so clearly racist to me.

    Even if I ceded the premise that cultures need to be protected and made to survive…it doesn’t then follow they need to respect “other races”. Others of their own race wouldn’t be part of that heritage, so it’s much more narrow. “Northern European” isn’t a race, and they’d have to do geneology to decide if someone “belonged”.

    Irish and Germanic and Vikings are all the same race (broadly speaking, I know that’s not entirely true), but they don’t have the same religious history or culture.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kayote. As you say, the logic behind the racism just does not add up. There are any number of ways one can discredit it. Another point that has been made elsewhere is how the Vikings and Germanic peoples freely interbred with whoever they ran across, shared their religion with people from many cultures, etc. There is actually no historic or theological basis within the Germanic and Nordic cultures for the racial separatism.

      1. Further more such a practise of “Racial Separatism” would make the raping part of raping and pillaging religious heresy…

        the further issue of “we need to be racist to protect the culture” is it Prevents Converts from adapting it and taking it into ones heart.

        see Blood standard policy’s in the first nations community’s and how they really are leading to the decline of many tribes.

  14. M says:

    Point well made.

  15. Fawn says:

    This is one of those topics that needs to be discussed openly and without personal emotions tied to it. This is an excellent piece and something I wrote about recently as well. Although I am not really agreeing with you, I think the fact we are trying to get this dialog out there says more than I can leave in this comment.
    Blessings on your work and sharing.

  16. It’s an interesting thing isn’t it? Some people get wound very tight about what should be shared and what shouldn’t. Sometimes cultural spirituality gets mixed up with cultural appropriation, I understand why Native Americans get very angry when a white person sets up shop as a Shaman and has a sweat lodge and whatnot and that vein of cultural appropriation is wrong. If it shared and learned in the correct way with the permission of those who have practiced it for the entirety of their tribal history – then that is fine.

    That being said, I do agree with almost everything else you wrote. There is nothing wrong with identifying with, and practicing another spiritual tradition, especially if you feel very connected to it. Although my spiritual tradition is that of the Green Arts, I strongly identify with my British/Irish ancestry – which is both far back and very near in my family tree (several immigrants to Australia across different generations). I’m as white as they come, red haired and fry in summer. What would surprise people who look at me is that 5 & 6 generations back, I had two African American slaves in my family tree who, as far as I understand it, left with England during the Civil War, somehow ended up convicts and were sent to Australia, on the other side 5 generations back is Spanish so those who point and cry about people practicing traditions that somehow, on the surface, don’t appear to have anything to do with the perceived ‘cultural identity’, can never know what is in some one’s family line.

    If a person chooses to practice something that appears not related, in their DNA it could very well be so, and if not, who cares? Spirituality is a very personal thing, there is not one person alive who can tell you what is right, or what you should practice because each person resonates differently to the next.

  17. Jon says:

    Awesome article!! Though as others have pointed out, the shared Ancestry requires more generations in some areas due to overlap (such as more generations to include, say, Native Australians), the basic point of the article is undeniably true – that we are all descended from the same Ancestors, if you go not-too-far-back. Ancestors are so important to me too, see my interview about them here: Thanks for the great article!!

    1. Morpheus says:

      Yes, and it may be that I’ve overstated the conclusions that can be drawn from that research; all the same, I think the broader point is still supported by it, even if you have to go a little further back before common ancestry is found in some cases.

      1. Jon says:


        I’ve expressed some of these ideas in a youtube video, explaining why our common Ancestry, not that far back, linking us all, is emotionally important to me.

  18. Lumen says:


    I’m not sure about the math and biology involved in this post even though I also like Wardruna but would not go to Stella Natura.

    If you trace generations of ancestors back you rapidly get to a numerical situation where you have more ‘ancestors’ than there were people alive on the planet, true. However, those ancestors overlap extensively and are not all distinct individuals. Your great-great-great grandma on one side might be the same greatx3 grandma on the the other side. Like the article linked below says there is still a lot of 30th cousin marriage today under conditions where we live far more mobile lives and have more options.

    The link leads to an article that focuses solely on European DNA””Our research confirmed what Chang suspected—that everybody who was alive in Europe a thousand years ago and who had children, is an ancestor of everyone alive today who has some European ancestry,” Ralph said.
    Read more at:

    Again, I deeply support anti-racist work. I just also think an anti-racist position does not need misleading science to back it up. While humans do not share common ancestors 1000 years ago, we do around 100,000 years ago and that still makes us very closely related.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Yes, a few people have pointed out that I’ve overstated the conclusions that can be drawn from the research. Still, even if one has to count back further before one reaches the common ancestry, we’d still be looking at finding that within the historic period. And I think that it still supports the point that race and religion can’t be tied together. Thanks for your comment!

  19. Grant Guindon says:

    Great post, it hits home to many of my core beliefs about where we stand as a species. The primal mothers hold us all in their cup and at the very core of humanity it really is just one vessel, one tribe.

  20. Rhyd says:

    Took the liberty of reposting this about 7 different places. Thank you endlessly for writing this.

  21. Sam Webster says:

    Excellent thoughts, Morpheus!
    Thanks for putting this together, it is going to be a tough row to hoe.

    I find it interesting, and wonder if you can illuminate why you used the term “European polytheist” instead of Pagan?

    1. Morpheus says:

      I used that term mainly because I know many Heathen, Asatru and Celtic polytheist folks who don’t consider themselves Pagan and don’t use that terminology. I just wanted to be clear to include them, since these are the groups in which I have seen religion racialized under the rubric of “ancestral heritage”. (Asatru more so than the others, but there’s an undercurrent present in all of them to some degree).

      For myself, I consider myself a Pagan and a Celtic polytheist, but that question of language feels tangential to the point of this post, so I didn’t address it here.

      Thanks for your comments! Indeed, the conversations everywhere the post has been linked are getting “interesting.” :)

  22. SLS says:

    There are certain African Americans who believe that hoodoo and rootwork should not be taught to whites. Are they racist too? Some within the various Native American tribes believe that only tribal members should be able to participate in their ceremonies. Are they racist too?

    1. Morpheus says:

      See my other responses to comments here – I personally think that race is not a defensible basis for exclusion, but I also think we have to acknowledge that members of oppressed groups may have a naturally defensive stance with regard to survival and integrity of their cultural traditions, and that exclusion by them means something different than exclusion by privileged white European/Euro-Americans. It’s not necessarily coming from racism. I have no problem with anyone who says that you have to have lived through their experience (e.g. grown up in their culture) in order to have the right to practice their traditions; and that’s not actually about race.

  23. Chirous says:

    I like this piece, but I’m going to play a little bit of Devil’s Advocate.

    You seem to be making several arguments here, and they flow together a bit.

    You’re arguing that racism is bad: I support that.

    You’re arguing that race and culture are two different things: I support that.

    You’re arguing that race and religion are two different things: I support that.

    But I’m not sure if you’re arguing that culture and religion are two different things: I think I might start splitting hairs a bit there.

    If you’re arguing that a long distant genetic heritage allows us to claim access to any religious and cultural traditions, I’ll take issue with that.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1) I know plenty of Heathens who could care less about race. But they want their cultural traditions upheld. If your ethnicity isn’t European, they don’t care, but if you want to join them in worshiping their gods, you had best assimilate to their traditions.

    And I think you were implying that to a degree, though I could have read you wrong.

    2) The notion that we have access to other religious traditions because of common human heritage is one that is used to justify cultural appropriation. I don’t think that’s what you were suggesting or implying, but it’s important to consider. We don’t think twice about the Lakota refusing to share their religion with an outsider. Should the Asatru have different expectations?

    And obviously, issues of power and oppression come into play when considering these things. But if we acknowledge that one group has the right to limit access to their religious and cultural traditions, do we not have to afford all other groups that right?

    3) How is this impacted by continuity of tradition? Is it okay for anyone to join a reconstructionist movement because the original culture and traditions have fallen out of modern practice and are being revived? Would it be different if those traditions had survived among a small ethnic group?

    4) I think to a very large degree all of these considerations come down to whether the group in question chooses to accept you. There are some groups that will refuse you without a directly traceable lineage to their culture. Those people are small-minded. There are other groups who will accept you if you abide by their traditions. Hooray for them. And there are other groups that don’t care one way or another who does what with their religious information. They are a Chaos Magician’s dream. But I don’t know if any group can be compelled to accept anyone they don’t want to, not matter how primitive their reasoning.

    And for every group that rejects you for stupid reasons, you will likely find two groups of the same tradition that are willing to accept you.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Hi Chirous,
      I’m not sure where I said that culture and religion are different things. Religious culture is a subset of culture, is how I would put that.

      I do think you may have misunderstood part of my point.

      “If you’re arguing that a long distant genetic heritage allows us to claim access to any religious and cultural traditions, I’ll take issue with that.”

      Not what I’m arguing. My point about genetic links is that it disproves the connection between genetic heritage and cultural heritage. I’m not saying that because we’re all related, I have a right to call myself a Siberian shaman. I’m saying that because we’re all related, and at a surprisingly recent point in history, it’s absurd to claim that genetic heritage (e.g. race) has any bearing on what cultural traditions we ‘should’ be practicing.

      This doesn’t mean I can read one book on someone else’s cultural tradition or religion and call myself a legitimate inheritor of it. We have a duty to deal with all cultural traditions in a way that respects their integrity. In the case of any tradition that has a living body of practitioners who are its cultural inheritors (whether that’s an Indigenous tradition people are born into, or a modern initiatory tradition people are trained into), those members have a right to exert some control over who has access, who can claim to be representative of the tradition, and how people are brought in. None of that needs to hinge on race, skin color, genetic ancestry or anything of the like.

      Absolutely this whole question is profoundly shaped by the context of hegemony and oppression. The playing field isn’t level, and therefore to some extent exclusionary, defensive stances with regard to sharing of traditions makes more sense and is more natural for members of an oppressed cultural group who really have to be concerned with cultural survival, than it does for members of the oppressor culture. I still wouldn’t agree with exclusion based on race, but I support peoples in practicing self-determination with regard to the integrity of their traditions.

      Thanks for your thought-provoking comments!

    2. Amy Hale says:

      There is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural borrowing. Appropriation occurs in the context of domination and exploitation. Borrowing happens all the time and mostly flies under the radar.

      I also have to cheekily wonder how many of these folks who are so big on using their “Germanic” or “Scandinavian” heritage as a barrier to entry would in any way be accepted or recognized as kin by modern Germans or Swedes, or Finns, many of whom are people of color and also Christian. Modern peoples have their contexts as well which don’t always mesh with the fantasy worlds of the past that we create for them.

      1. Kauko says:

        I have to point out that Finns, as an cultural-linguistic group, are neither Germanic nor Scandinavian.

      2. K says:

        I’m English born and bred. I’ve come across American Heathens that call themselves ‘English’, as far as I’m concerned, they’re not. They didn’t grow up on the land, they are culturally different. I’ve upset some in these discussions by telling them that English isn’t an ethnicity, and that regardless of colour, if someone is born and bred in England, I consider them English. I’ve heard similar sentiments from German and Danish friends. This isn’t a bad thing. Americans should be proud of being Americans, your ancestors fought to survive, to make lives on what was a very strange land, some fought for freedom and that is a very proud heritage. There’s no need to anyone to go play ‘gatekeeper’ to cultures that aren’t their own. Sure, take inspiration from them, just accept that although the ‘roots’ might be older, what you create will be a new culture.

  24. Thanks for this! I, however, wish you had linked your words on ancestors and cultural traditions to our modern context of cultural appropriation (eg I’m white and I don’t have any culture so let me borrow these people who have been conquered), colonialism, and supremacy ideology. The folks that want purity also work to maintain a social order status quo. Doing work without addressing the very real contexts of your work also helps to feed into the “purity” system of thought.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Those are important points as well. There are many threads that feed into this subject, far more than I can include in one blog post. Thanks for your feedback.

      1. Very welcome! What do you think about links to further reading tho? Maybe blog posts that cover this subject more or examples of contexts (like gentrification and the pricing out of cultural heritages: an especially good one* on this 8 year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina) ? You can embed them in a post or add them as one or two lines. They won’t take up much space and can be of great help fostering good dialogue.

  25. Sarah says:

    Wow, as a syncretist, animist and ancestor worshipper, I have to say AMEN to all of this. Good job Morpheus!

    1. Morpheus says:

      Thank you so much, Sarah!

  26. Rain Webster says:

    I found this article very interesting, as I have been thinking a lot about the fact that I am an American “mutt” and do not feel connected to any particular ancestral Path. I recently published an essay on this on WitchVox that has received a lot of attention (or at least a lot more attention than I expected it to receive!) At any rate, it seems like the time is right for these types of conversations to take place. Here’s a link to my essay if you’re interested:

    I do, however, question the logic behind the idea that we only have to go back 40 generations to find all of our common ancestors. I think this argument ignores the fact that humans have married their cousins throughout the history of the world. While it is true that 40 generations ago, I would have had more ancestors than there were people in the world, it is also highly likely that a number of those ancestors would appear on my family tree several times. This is especially true in geographic locations where there was not a lot of contact with other parts in the world.

    I suppose it is possible that a lot of people would only have to trace their lineage back 40 generations to find common ancestors. I’m a mutt, so it’s probably highly likely for me. However, I doubt that is true for everyone on the Earth.

    Be that as it may, I do believe that we are all of one race: the human race. If we want to keep our race pure, which we should, then we should mix only with other humans.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Thanks for sharing your essay. I think it speaks to the point that we are free to practice what we’re called to, and what speaks to us – not tied to the practice of a perceived racial heritage.

      Regarding the ancestry research; for the purpose of making a point, I obviously simplified matters a bit. Sure, there will be groups who don’t marry often outside their tribal boundaries. But the point is that if you keep going back, those boundaries become more and more diluted. So in the case of an ethnic group with an endogamous practice, maybe it takes 50 or 60 generations. Maybe more. But the principle is the same. Ethnicities are not fixed in time – peoples coalesce and develop an identity at a particular historic time and context, and they come from somewhere – that is, they are formed out of lines of ancestry from other peoples around them. The point is that this research shows evidence of how all ethnicities are genetically linked to all other ethnicities at some point in history. Where that point falls will vary with a lot of factors, but it still supports the point that all ancestors are human ancestors.

  27. Just shared this at Facebook. Bless you for this bolt of clarity.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Thanks, Ivo! Blessings to you, too.

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