*a note: I am writing from the perspective of a white enculturated settler, holding the intention of unpacking the privileges inherent in these identities, and dismantling the systems of power that allow them to be. I would like to make special mention of Rain Crowe’s work and course The Burning Times Never Ended, from which my perspectives and writing have been deeply influenced.
Dear sweet ones of past and future,
Thank you for my life. It is Samhain, time of the thinning veils, place of in between worlds. I can feel your spirits alive in my field, your memories flowing through the waters of my veins, your stories alive in the rock of my bones. We are walking through shadow in these dark times, blowing dust and cobweb from ancient artifacts that connect us to who we are. Threads of in-tact culture are worn thin and frayed by the machine, and the spell of cultural amnesia leaves us drifting through a haze of displacement, of forgotten roots and severed relationship to home. We are the spiritually orphaned; ghosts of our lost origins haunt the living world in the destruction of the sacred. This is my prayer to you: please help us re-member how to be human, how to walk this earth in good and gentle ways, how to open ourselves to the strength in our lineages, to use these gifts for healing, to liberate ourselves from oppression.
So mote it be.
My name is Alison Josephine, named for my maternal great-grandmothers, Alison Marjorie and Josephine Helen. I am a fifth-generation white settler born on traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Ojibway/Chippewa and Anishinabek territories. Some of my ancestors emigrated to Canada between 1878 and 1895 from Wales, Devonshire, and Somerset, England. This is what I have pieced together from old family albums, faded photos of strangers who share my bone structure, the shape of my eyes, the stories untold passed down through silence. It is my commitment to reclaim what has been lost, forgotten, deliberately silenced; to be accountable to the inherited legacy of white supremacy and settler colonialism.
I was born to a family with dangling roots. Like a clump of ambiguous greenery plucked from the earth and transplanted into shallow soil, we were all but washed away.
I have been socialized into a culture that encourages this dangling root syndrome; proclaiming there is no need for relationship to past, as a genetically engineered, cellophane encased future of blissfully nihilistic detachment beckons. It is a profound struggle to remember who we really are.
As I’ve journeyed through my life, it has became increasingly important to me to understand stories of origin. My confusion around identity and belonging, struggles with self-esteem and anxiety, the encompassing ambivalence- have begun to seem more and more related to this lack of relationship to previous generations, to a sense of place. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to participate in Rain Crowe’s course The Burning Times Never Ended, which provides a context for this disorientation around feeling fully connected to life. Our roots have been burned.
Asking my family of origin questions about where we came from and why we left our home of many generations solicits vague and uninterested responses: “to pursue better opportunities”. The vast and unique tapestry of lineage has been reduced to a generic one liner, designed to end further questioning, to leave well enough alone. We’re here as white settlers, the privileged class, what more do you need to know? There is trauma woven in the silence of these responses; so thick it has disfigured the patterns of our truth.
“White people can‘t heal until they come to terms with the Witch persecutions.” – Starhawk
This is a profound piece of historical trauma that has been denied, minimized, negated and gaslit. I can remember as a child experiencing deep confusion around the validity of my experiences, and how to tell what is “real”. I recently witnessed a friend experiencing activation in her nervous system after a triggering conversation: increased heart rate, shaking, laboured breathing. As we processed the experience, her mind created doubt around the physical reality of what her body had just gone through, of what I had seen with my own eyes. This internalized gaslighting is passed through blood and breath, embedded so deeply that we question whether our experiences of trauma are legitimate, or if we are fabricating the observable responses of a triggered nervous system. The cellular memory of terror, of being hunted and persecuted, is alive in our bodies, in the silence of what didn’t get passed down, in the empty spaces where lips stop speaking abruptly. We are recreating patterns of destruction and trauma from our unacknowledged and thus unhealed wounds. As Rain so eloquently says,
we must stop burning each other.
And to do this, we must align ourselves with the work of understanding shadow, the atrocities we have experienced and committed, the rupture we continue to replicate by remaining complicit with systems of domination. We must believe our magic is real.
This Samhain, I received a gift. Within the cauldron of the burning times course, sitting with the deep ancestral trauma of displacement and estrangement, someone who also shares Welsh ancestry offered me a word. Hiraeth. I wrote it down and made a mental note to google it later. Although the internet says there is no direct english translation, some of the attempts include “homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed” and “a longing to be where your spirit lives”. Hiraeth. One word from my culture of origin that sums up the estrangement of my dangling root settler experience. A thinly veiled whisper, an invitation to honour longing, to create a sense of belonging through grieving displacement, through invoking the ancestors. Hiraeth.
A prayer to coming home.