For the past several months, I have been researching my ancestry and have even undergone the genetic “spit test.” The results: I am 78 percent eastern European, 14 percent central European and 8 percent god-knows-what. (The term they use is “uncertain.”) This is no big surprise; a full three quarters of my grandparents came from the area once known as Austria-Hungary. The remaining one-quarter came, on one hand, from Norway and Denmark and, on the other, from Barbados, England, the Normans and, oddly enough, the Angevins and Plantagenets, with some undocumented but likely African blood mixed in courtesy of the Caribbean.
In an odd twist of fate, I have more documented ancestors from the “god knows what” side of my ancestry than of the Hungarians and Slovaks that make up the bulk of my family line.
But there is one element notoriously absent from both my genetic and documented lineage: Celtic, particularly Irish. Seeing that this is a Druid-themed blog, that may seem like an odd omission. You could make the argument that central and eastern Europe were once part of the original Celtic homeland, that the Normans and Franks had wed or just plain fornicated with the native Gauls, that some speck of Irish blood may be hidden there somewhere. But all that’s just an excuse: I’m not Irish, not a documented or genetic drop.
So, one might ask, why the heck am I a member of an Irish-focused Druidic order? Why not just honor the Gods of my ancestors?
Thankfully, Druidry seems to lack some of the sentiment found in, say, folkish Asatru, in which practitioners must have the same ethnic/genetic identity as that of the pantheon. Certainly, many Druids are proud of their Celtic forebears, but bloodline is not a prerequisite. I’m not sure precisely why Druidry lacks the racial/ethnic identification element, although I suspect it has something to do with the nature and beliefs of the original founders.
Certainly, in ancient times, you would have sworn by the gods of your tribe and the spirits of the land in which you dwelt. As a North American, the latter is out of the question for me; the Haudenosaunee and the Lenape, the original inhabitants of the land in which I currently dwell and the one in which I grew up, don’t appreciate outsiders honoring their gods. I can understand that. They lost, in the Haudenosaunee’s case, most of their land and culture; the Lenape lost literally everything, having been driven from their land and forced to combine with the Cherokee. The gods of this land are their gods, and they can never be mine.
And I no longer dwell in the land of my ancestors, although I have visited Hungary and Slovakia in my younger years as well as England (the likely home of some of the “god-knows-what” ancestors). I know very little of Slavic and Hungarian gods due to a lack of sources published in English. Interestingly, Wicca is found in Hungary, and Slavic reconstructionism in a number of Eastern European countries — the latter linked, sadly, to nationalism. In English-speaking North America, practices based on traditional Slavic and Hungarian Paganism just aren’t accessible. The closest approximation is the Slavic path formulated by some members of ADF.
And frankly, I just don’t feel connected with those cultures. I am genetically Hungarian and Slovak, but culturally American and, thus, spiritually rootless. I could conceivably follow the thread of my mother tongue and follow a Saxon version of Paganism, or that of my until-recently-unknown Scandinavian forebears. But when it comes to ancestry and religion, how much is enough to qualify? Does one drop of Danish blood make me a Viking? Does a dash of France nine hundred years ago make me a Gaul?
So, what’s the answer? The answer is: I don’t mix ancestry and faith practice. In short, I follow the path I am called to. Brighid extended her hand to me years ago, and I accepted it. She is the first Goddess who called to me, rather than the other way around. I’ve had deities of other pantheons — the Greek Hera, to name one — do the same. After dabbling with Greek and Hindu paths, I have since politely declined those other divine offers; I’ve tried, but I can’t travel two roads at once.
Rather than continue to dig a series of shallow wells, I chose one spot where I could drill and then drink deeply. And that spot is Keltria, genetics be damned. If my ancestors are affronted, they aren’t saying.