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Author Topic: Ancestor Worship in Modern Society  (Read 22805 times)
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« Topic Start: January 29, 2010, 10:21:04 am »

The idea of ancestors, disir, alfar, etc. is something I have always somewhat struggled with. I understand that the choices of my ancestors and Ancestors have affected my life today, and that my choices will affect my family in a similar way. I think this is going to turn into a list of questions; feel free to answer as you see fit. Smiley

~ Why do you honor the Ancestors (big A or little a)? If you don't, why not?
~ How do you honor them?
~ Do you think modern, capitalist culture inhibits one's connection to the Ancestors? I kind of get the feeling, living in America, that we are SO individualistic and our country is SUCH a baby that we don't really have any concept of what it means to appreciate the past. Just a thought; curious as to what those on both sides of the pond think. When visiting Northern Ireland, I got the sense that common history was so much more valued there. I really don't feel we have that in America.
~ What about people who are adopted? What Ancestors would they worship and why?

Feel free to add any other digressing thoughts...
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"She who stands on tiptoe / doesn't stand firm. / She who rushes ahead / doesn't go far. / She who tries to shine / dims her own light. / She who defines herself / can't know who she really is. / She who has power over others / can't empower herself. / She who clings to her work / will create nothing that endures. / If you want to accord with the Tao, / just do your job, then let go." ~ Tao Te Ching, chp. 24

"Silent and thoughtful a prince's son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15

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« Reply #1: January 29, 2010, 10:39:49 am »

The idea of ancestors, disir, alfar, etc. is something I have always somewhat struggled with. I understand that the choices of my ancestors and Ancestors have affected my life today, and that my choices will affect my family in a similar way. I think this is going to turn into a list of questions; feel free to answer as you see fit. Smiley

~ Why do you honor the Ancestors (big A or little a)? If you don't, why not?
~ How do you honor them?
~ Do you think modern, capitalist culture inhibits one's connection to the Ancestors? I kind of get the feeling, living in America, that we are SO individualistic and our country is SUCH a baby that we don't really have any concept of what it means to appreciate the past. Just a thought; curious as to what those on both sides of the pond think. When visiting Northern Ireland, I got the sense that common history was so much more valued there. I really don't feel we have that in America.
~ What about people who are adopted? What Ancestors would they worship and why?

Feel free to add any other digressing thoughts...

Thank you for this thread! Already, I feel this will be a tad more interesting than asatru lore   Wink

As far as honoring my ancestors is concerned (I use little a, because I don't know the significance of the difference in meaning), It's a primary factor that has me interested in researching Asatru. Ironically, because of my honoring of my ancestors, I also pay worship to Celtic Gods and Goddesses, so I don't strictly worship the Norse pantheon.

Because of family rifts in my recent past, I've been making it a point through my ancestor worship to re-establish those family bonds. I also try and visit deceased members graves, and sometimes I write to them or talk to them there. I also have a small alter set up with pictures, former possessions, and gifts of family members, and friends I consider family too.

Yes, I believe the capitalist culture inhibits many things, including one's relationship to their own natural being. I won't get worked up here, because I could rant forever about this, but I just don't see how having the choice of buying nine or so different types of bread at a super market makes us united as a nation and people. I come from a family that can trace its roots through the revolution, and have had at least one family member serve in every war except for Korea, so yeah I have thought about my response.

People who are adopted could choose to pay worship to their adopted families, and anyone else who helped influence their life. The concept of family doesn't always have to be through blood. However, they could pay worship to their ancestors that are forgotten, and hopefully with time they may find out who they were.
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« Reply #2: January 29, 2010, 11:55:17 am »


The worship (or even just honoring) of ancestors has never quite jived with me. Part of it is that my identity is completely focused on this body, at this time, in this place. I mean, it's great that I've got Scottish, French, and German in my background, but I'm a European-Canadian mutt who grew up in the Bible Belt and is now going to a Yankee college. I feel no connection to those biologically related to me whom I've never met (hell, I don't even like all my relatives who are still alive). My world is completely different than that of only a few generations ago. Plus, I know so little about my ancestors, especially the farther back in history they lived. I might know more about the most minor deity in a pantheon than a specific great-great-whatever from my genealogy.

I feel like America does have a connection to the past. It's a much closer past than perhaps someone living in Europe might relate to, but it's still a foundation. I'm from the Bible Belt - the Civil War is a huge part of identity, and learning about one's ancestors is a very important way to place oneself in the context of my town. We're a poor, blue collar town, but where you came from and how you relate to the people around you is very important. It dictates religion, culture, and interaction with neighbors.

In other examples, think of how much weight is given to our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. In some ways I feel like the Revolutionary War has gotten an almost mythical connotation to it. To some people, this is what defines America. This is why we are the way we are. (This is why we drink coffee, not tea!) George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Tommy J. in some cases get somewhat adopted as collective ancestors. I'd definitely love to hang out with these guys over my own blood-related ancestors.
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« Reply #3: January 29, 2010, 02:22:55 pm »

~ Do you think modern, capitalist culture inhibits one's connection to the Ancestors? I kind of get the feeling, living in America, that we are SO individualistic and our country is SUCH a baby that we don't really have any concept of what it means to appreciate the past. Just a thought; curious as to what those on both sides of the pond think. When visiting Northern Ireland, I got the sense that common history was so much more valued there. I really don't feel we have that in America.

Hm, good starter topic, and thank you for taking on the SIG leadership role Smiley

I honor my ancestors, but don't worship them... They've been Christian, and strongly so for generations, so I'm really not sure how that would go over... My closest grandparents who are now deceased were fundi-Christians. I'm afraid they would be offended, though I hope somehow it worked out that they are now in a more enlightened state and not so hidebound *shrugs hopefully*.

However, I honor their memory, and have been meaning to set up a family shrine wall. Beyond that I don't even know how I would approach it.

I agree that in the US we don't have a deep grasp of history, and little interest in nurturing that interest. Do we save old buildings steeped in history? No, we rip 'em down and throw up generic, stylistically bland, cheap architecture (if you can call it that) in their place. Not like being in Europe where the buildings are hundreds of years old, and events from 200 years ago are still half current in some cases. It does make it more difficult to fully understand the ancestor-worship mental (I think).
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« Reply #4: January 29, 2010, 02:42:05 pm »

As far as honoring my ancestors is concerned (I use little a, because I don't know the significance of the difference in meaning), It's a primary factor that has me interested in researching Asatru.
I see ancestors as more recently deceased family members, those you might have a closer relationship with. Then the Ancestors, on the other hand, are more like the cultural forefathers or those from waaay back. Hopefully that makes sense.

Quote
Because of family rifts in my recent past, I've been making it a point through my ancestor worship to re-establish those family bonds. I also try and visit deceased members graves, and sometimes I write to them or talk to them there. I also have a small alter set up with pictures, former possessions, and gifts of family members, and friends I consider family too.
Wonderful. Unfortunately, I don't even know where my great-grandparents' graves are, although now that you say it I do think it would be interesting to go there. Also, I too believe close friends can be just as important as blood family!

Quote
... but I just don't see how having the choice of buying nine or so different types of bread at a super market makes us united as a nation and people.
*proverbial coffee snorted on screen* ahahaha. That's hysterical. And so true!
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"Silent and thoughtful a prince's son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15
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« Reply #5: January 29, 2010, 02:54:53 pm »

The worship (or even just honoring) of ancestors has never quite jived with me. Part of it is that my identity is completely focused on this body, at this time, in this place. I mean, it's great that I've got Scottish, French, and German in my background, but I'm a European-Canadian mutt who grew up in the Bible Belt and is now going to a Yankee college. I feel no connection to those biologically related to me whom I've never met (hell, I don't even like all my relatives who are still alive). My world is completely different than that of only a few generations ago. Plus, I know so little about my ancestors, especially the farther back in history they lived. I might know more about the most minor deity in a pantheon than a specific great-great-whatever from my genealogy.
I tend to agree. Our culture is so different than the nuclear, tribal based model of the past. I feel lucky my family has a rather large picture of a great-something-grandmother from the Civil War era, and a journal from my great-great-grandmother. That's my maternal side. I know zilch about my paternal side. Our culture now is so much more spread out, people move away, people divorce and remarry more often perhaps; that it is hard to grasp the meaning of having a family that tilled the same plot of ground for generations.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't really believe ancestor worship can be the same thing today that it was then.

For me, I guess, honoring the ancestors includes simply telling stories about them at holiday times when everyone gets together. And having pictures up is great. And I do feel I connect with the idea that the Ancestors are worthy of some recognition as well. The way we live today is built on the work of those who came before, in the technology or arts they created. And if that one person didn't decide to leave Germany for Pennsylvania so many years ago, "I" wouldn't exist.

Quote
I feel like America does have a connection to the past. It's a much closer past than perhaps someone living in Europe might relate to, but it's still a foundation. I'm from the Bible Belt - the Civil War is a huge part of identity, and learning about one's ancestors is a very important way to place oneself in the context of my town. We're a poor, blue collar town, but where you came from and how you relate to the people around you is very important. It dictates religion, culture, and interaction with neighbors.
See, that's completely not true here. Maybe the other part of this is that the US is just so damn big! lol. This might be interesting: http://www.seattlepi.com/jamieson/353021_robert28.html

Quote
In other examples, think of how much weight is given to our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. In some ways I feel like the Revolutionary War has gotten an almost mythical connotation to it. To some people, this is what defines America. This is why we are the way we are. (This is why we drink coffee, not tea!) George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Tommy J. in some cases get somewhat adopted as collective ancestors. I'd definitely love to hang out with these guys over my own blood-related ancestors.
I agree; we do have our own mythology about that sort of stuff. But not that anyone (myself included, for some things!) know what all of that really means or what those people actually did. Do we need to know? Is learning history a sort of Ancestor worship?
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"Silent and thoughtful a prince's son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15
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« Reply #6: January 29, 2010, 02:58:18 pm »

I honor my ancestors, but don't worship them...
What do you find is the difference? I mean, I see there would be a difference, but I'm curious as to what exactly that might be.

Quote
I agree that in the US we don't have a deep grasp of history, and little interest in nurturing that interest. Do we save old buildings steeped in history? No, we rip 'em down and throw up generic, stylistically bland, cheap architecture (if you can call it that) in their place. Not like being in Europe where the buildings are hundreds of years old, and events from 200 years ago are still half current in some cases. It does make it more difficult to fully understand the ancestor-worship mental (I think).
Exactly.
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"Silent and thoughtful a prince's son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15
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« Reply #7: January 29, 2010, 03:04:17 pm »

The idea of ancestors, disir, alfar, etc. is something I have always somewhat struggled with. I understand that the choices of my ancestors and Ancestors have affected my life today, and that my choices will affect my family in a similar way. I think this is going to turn into a list of questions; feel free to answer as you see fit. Smiley

~ Why do you honor the Ancestors (big A or little a)? If you don't, why not?
~ How do you honor them?
~ Do you think modern, capitalist culture inhibits one's connection to the Ancestors? I kind of get the feeling, living in America, that we are SO individualistic and our country is SUCH a baby that we don't really have any concept of what it means to appreciate the past. Just a thought; curious as to what those on both sides of the pond think. When visiting Northern Ireland, I got the sense that common history was so much more valued there. I really don't feel we have that in America.
~ What about people who are adopted? What Ancestors would they worship and why?

Feel free to add any other digressing thoughts...

I think for starters, on a methodological level, ancestor worship is something attested to in historic texts and monographs derived from those historic texts, so from a reconstructionist perspective, because it was done then, it ought to be done now. I understand that many in the Asatru and Heathen community do adhere to some degree to reconstructionist methodology, but not all.

In terms of the why, outside of tradition, I think the veneration of our ancestors is a method of connecting the past with the present, hopefully into the future. You mentioned the causal reasoning a little, but if I may expand upon it, our lives are built on the dead, on those who came before us, who laid down the foundations for our own literal existence, and I think that counts for something and reflecting upon those causal links is a way to keep the "chain" going so to speak. Think of a couple of the secular days for remembrance or reflection on cultural history; in Canada we have Remembrance day to honour those who have fought and died (and continue to do so, a little more temporally aware since there is currently a war going on) on our behalf, that we may continue to live as we do. We have Victoria Day, which is a celebration of the Queen who signed our country into dominion hood and greater autonomy. We have Canada day, the national day of jubilation in celebration of the simple fact that our country exists. All of these days are about the importance of history, of the exploits of our forebears, and that we maintain the memory of those exploits. We are the inheritors and keepers of the past, the dead can not pass on their wisdom or their stories (well perhaps to an archeologist Wink) so it falls to us to keep their memories and their traditions alive.

I think this is a central aspect when considering why some of us choose to honour our ancestors.

I certainly think that the individualist element which permeates much of American (and Canadian) culture is to a certain degree at odds with more traditional cultures, but this just means one needs to try harder to find out as much as one can about the past, especially within our own families.
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« Reply #8: January 29, 2010, 03:09:05 pm »

See, that's completely not true here. Maybe the other part of this is that the US is just so damn big! lol. This might be interesting: http://www.seattlepi.com/jamieson/353021_robert28.html

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact my town is so small, and also pretty homogeneous. A lot of historical identity isn't taught in schools, but something that gets passed down either from families, or sought out later in life. Our high school was small and crappy, but our history teacher was great and never tried to pass off any of that "War of Northern Aggression" bs you hear about in stereotypes about the south. However, the school system in general sucks (no money!), so I'd have to agree that a general factual history of America was pretty much lost on my peers. Even I only know a little bit here and there, like a bare skeleton.


Quote
I agree; we do have our own mythology about that sort of stuff. But not that anyone (myself included, for some things!) know what all of that really means or what those people actually did. Do we need to know? Is learning history a sort of Ancestor worship?

If you ever get a chance to see Colonial Williamsburg or any other sort of historical reenactment site, I'd definitely recommend going. While I'm not about to suggest that the people involved with CW or other sites consider themselves involved with "worship," I do think there's a strong respect and connection to the past. If anything, if one approaches learning as a sacred task, I'd definitely say that brushing up on history could be considered a form of ancestor worship. Maybe not in a strictly Heathen/whatever context, though.
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« Reply #9: January 29, 2010, 03:42:17 pm »

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact my town is so small, and also pretty homogeneous. A lot of historical identity isn't taught in schools, but something that gets passed down either from families, or sought out later in life. Our high school was small and crappy, but our history teacher was great and never tried to pass off any of that "War of Northern Aggression" bs you hear about in stereotypes about the south. However, the school system in general sucks (no money!), so I'd have to agree that a general factual history of America was pretty much lost on my peers. Even I only know a little bit here and there, like a bare skeleton.

Popping in for a moment here to respond to this.  I think the main problem here is that our society tends to place more emphasis on subjects that are practical in day to day life/careers (ie: maths, hard sciences and grammer) and it's those subjects that get all the funding.  Social sciences and the arts are more-or-less ignored and education in these areas are lackluster or (in the case of the arts) cut entirely in some cases.  Sorry, just a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

Quote
If you ever get a chance to see Colonial Williamsburg or any other sort of historical reenactment site, I'd definitely recommend going. While I'm not about to suggest that the people involved with CW or other sites consider themselves involved with "worship," I do think there's a strong respect and connection to the past. If anything, if one approaches learning as a sacred task, I'd definitely say that brushing up on history could be considered a form of ancestor worship. Maybe not in a strictly Heathen/whatever context, though.

I'm lucky enough to have grown up less than an hour away from CW (although I've never been).  Have been to Jamestown and Yorktown many times, though.  I agree that learning about history can be a way of honoring one's ancestors as the history of locations often affects the history of a family.
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« Reply #10: January 29, 2010, 04:25:23 pm »


~ Why do you honor the Ancestors (big A or little a)? If you don't, why not?
I honour my ancestors because they deserve it. Not in any big, grandiose ways but they're my family and there is a connection there. I'm not sure I can describe it properly. They give me what I am (at least in part) but also they teach me what it is to be human. They made cock-ups, they weren't perfect (I haven't gone far back yet but I'm sure a few of them will be distinctly...imperfect) but that's part of being human and if you can learn a lesson from what Uncle Bob did, rather than learning the painful lesson yourself, that's a good thing. I'm quite close to my living family and that probably informs my attitude to my ancestors.

~ How do you honor them?
I make offerings to them weekly (as I said in the other thread, the fact it's weekly has no lore or historical basis - it just feels about the right regularity, though whether the Christian cultural influence has anything to do with that I'm not sure). I usually offer alcohol. I need to get in some gin and tonic for a good offering to my paternal grandmother! Other than that the honoring happens in my head. I think of the war dead on Remembrance Day and my female ancestors when I knit and sew... stuff like that.


~ Do you think modern, capitalist culture inhibits one's connection to the Ancestors? I kind of get the feeling, living in America, that we are SO individualistic and our country is SUCH a baby that we don't really have any concept of what it means to appreciate the past. Just a thought; curious as to what those on both sides of the pond think. When visiting Northern Ireland, I got the sense that common history was so much more valued there. I really don't feel we have that in America.

Speaking as one from across the pond I've been positively steeped in the past. My parents are history lovers (and nature lovers... and they wonder why I'm pagan Tongue ) In this country our problem is almost the reverse - if it's more recent than Tudor it's modern trash not worth a damn. Well, almost.

I think modern culture DOES inhibit connection to the ancestors. In fact, it inhibits connection with anyone but oneself, it's so ME ME ME! MY needs, MY wants, MY whims. The idea that someone's central concern might be their community rather than themselves is alien. Look at that godawful Beowulf movie and it's portrayal of Wealtheow as some whiny self-obsessed princess (ye gods that movie was dire). And I'm not excluding myself from this... it's hard to extricate oneself from it.

~ What about people who are adopted? What Ancestors would they worship and why?

I think they could well honour their physical ancestors, aswell as what you might call 'spiritual ancestors' (don't have a good term for it). Why shouldn't they worship the people they spring from? Ok clearly their actual parents had some reason for not looking after them, but even if their direct parents were horrible drugged up abusers, that doesn't mean their whole line should be abandoned as worthless. Fostering is well in evidence in the lore, and I wouldn't be surprised if some element of the family luck isn't passed down to its foster children aswell as it's biological children. I think our obsession with the biological element is partly due to our modern understanding of genetics and is not necessarily relevant to the descent of the familial luck. I'm talking (writing?) speculatively now though so don't ask for supporting lore!  Tongue
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« Reply #11: January 29, 2010, 04:34:10 pm »

I'm lucky enough to have grown up less than an hour away from CW (although I've never been).  Have been to Jamestown and Yorktown many times, though.  I agree that learning about history can be a way of honoring one's ancestors as the history of locations often affects the history of a family.

I live about 3 hours away from Colonial Williamsburg/Jamestown and have been there many times (although not in the past several years).  In fact, my husband and I took our honeymoon there.

I love it -- even though I do understand some of its shortcomings and a bit of Disneyfication.  Nevertheless, that's one of the few places where I've actually felt a strong connection to my history as an American.  It's a very visceral reaction, which I think is brought out by being immersed in the re-enactment.

I live outside of Washington, DC, and I sometimes get the same kind of feeling when I'm in the Capitol building or one of the Smithsonians.

All that said, while I do have respect for the past, I can't say I even come close to worshipping anscestors (big or little "a").  I understand that's a value in both Heathenry and in Celtic spirituality, but it doens't really resonate with me.  Probably because my individual family doesn't know much about its past.   Undecided
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« Reply #12: January 29, 2010, 04:41:03 pm »

I live outside of Washington, DC, and I sometimes get the same kind of feeling when I'm in the Capitol building or one of the Smithsonians.

One of the reasons DC is one of my favorite vacation spots Smiley

Quote
All that said, while I do have respect for the past, I can't say I even come close to worshipping anscestors (big or little "a").  I understand that's a value in both Heathenry and in Celtic spirituality, but it doens't really resonate with me.  Probably because my individual family doesn't know much about its past.   Undecided

What I meant was less "deceased relatives" and more of "cultural ancestors who played a huge role in shaping the world we live in today."  I don't do ancestor worship either for various reasons, but I do have a great deal of respect for history and those that formed it.
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« Reply #13: January 29, 2010, 06:38:18 pm »

~ Why do you honor the Ancestors (big A or little a)? If you don't, why not?
~ How do you honor them?
~ Do you think modern, capitalist culture inhibits one's connection to the Ancestors? I kind of get the feeling, living in America, that we are SO individualistic and our country is SUCH a baby that we don't really have any concept of what it means to appreciate the past. Just a thought; curious as to what those on both sides of the pond think. When visiting Northern Ireland, I got the sense that common history was so much more valued there. I really don't feel we have that in America.
~ What about people who are adopted? What Ancestors would they worship and why?

I'm glad this thread was made, because ancestor worship is a topic I've been struggling with lately. I was adopted and my mother was a drug abuser. My adopted parents tried to keep  in touch with her, but lost contact sometime in my toddler years. I've got absolutely no information on my father, so any sort of lineage is almost impossible for me to make. That being said, all of my siblings were adopted, and as far as I know, none of us have been interested in finding our birth parents. Aside from a passing curiosity, it seems almost pointless (3/4 of us had drug abusing parents).

When it comes to ancestor worshipping, I don't know who I would worship. My parents moved to Alaska from Philadelphia, so we are extremely removed from all of the relatives, who themselves have scattered across the states. When I think of my family, I think only of the nucleus that is my parents and siblings. Tbh, talking to any of my relatives is like talking to strangers, there's no connection. I think it would be very difficult for me to make a relationship, beyond a shallow one.

In a more abstract view, I think history is very important, especially since it's so disregarded in America. Knowing who we are as a country, (and as a state) what's made us that way, and what we're doing now is more important to me than knowing who my blood family was. Though my personal studying of history is still very new.

Unless learning history is a form of ancestor worship, I don't practice it. When my mother (who's really into genealogy) talks about her ancestors, or when I look at the family tree in the living room, I think I have no connection to this at all. By law, I do. But emotionally, I don't feel anything. It's actually hard enough to keep my immediate family relationships going, let alone consider others. For my existence and the opportunities I've received which surely wouldn't have happened elsewise, I'm very grateful. Other than that, I don't know.

I guess without the kind of culture we have now, which emphasizes individuality and blazing your own path, perhaps my father would have moved back to Philadelphia after his tour was over. He openly expresses his dislike for big cities though and how lucky he feels to be able to live up here. That is, perhaps he'd have stayed closer to his family, and maybe life would be more centralized on family (but then where would I be?). People came to Alaska and still come to Alaska for industry (oil), for money (pfd), not so much for family. It helps that it's gorgeous up here, providing you can deal with the snow and darkness. (Not including Alaska Natives, which itself is an intense issue).

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« Reply #14: January 29, 2010, 06:50:18 pm »

In a more abstract view, I think history is very important, especially since it's so disregarded in America. Knowing who we are as a country, (and as a state) what's made us that way, and what we're doing now is more important to me than knowing who my blood family was. Though my personal studying of history is still very new.

Unless learning history is a form of ancestor worship, I don't practice it.
I'm glad you posted; the reason I asked about those who are adopted originally is because my boyfriend was adopted and in a situation similar to yours. I was hoping someone would be able to comment from that perspective!

I think learning and valuing history can be viewed as a sort of cultural ancestor worship; we are here and live the way we do because of the choices and action of people. Flesh and blood, who breathed the same air as all of us. The founding fathers (how ancestral does *that* sound!?! lol) may actually have more impact on my life today than than any of my blood relatives, excepting those family members that decided to come here.
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