The British Isles were once overflowing with customs and rites that could be found weaved into the landscape and the rhythm of life itself. Isolated tribes sprung forth from camp fires and eventually formed close knit communities that shared the same values, traditions and worldview. Their art, story telling, music and ancestry were things they held dear and protecting them was paramount to the tribe’s legacy. By doing this they created a never ending line of ancestors that rooted them to a place of origin. They all knew who they were and where they came from and they were extremely proud of that.
The quickening tempo of progress, however, brought with it industrialisation and little by little the roots of each community began to erode and all the folk memories of our heritage and traditions with it. It was the church as well, in an attempt to stamp out pagan customs, that was also responsible for the decline of ancestral traditions. Christian churches were built over pagan temples, altars replaced pagan idols and Christian feast days were celebrated at around the same time as earlier pagan festivals. Gradually, although never entirely, the old gods were overthrown and an underground resistance appeared. The old ways were practised behind closed doors and our pagan ancestors did the best they could to pass on their folkways to the next generation until they too faded away.
Today we live in a society that encourages individualism and rejects collectivism. Many people listlessly roam from one thing to another, searching for something meaningful and familiar to feed their souls. They don’t know exactly what this is so they buy themselves useless gadgets and fashions, they over indulge and spend hours on social media, regurgitating other people’s opinions so they feel like they fit in. But those feelings of emptiness and yearning never truly go away and they ignore the truth that they are in fact homesick. They are actually missing their ancestral home. By separating themselves from their past and their heritage they have now become uprooted.
Marcus Garvey once said,” A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
In this day and age it is more important than ever to look back and reconnect the broken thread between ourselves and our ancestors. Once we lose our rich cultural heritage we become lost. We lose sight of our north star and can no longer see the path that our ancestors were guiding us along. If we don’t know where we come from then how can we know where we are headed and if our customs and folklore all die out then we lose the colourful diversity that makes up our heritage.
Psychologists have proven that having an intimate knowledge of our family roots and the history of our people is extremely important if we are to be well adjusted and self confident individuals. Understanding our past and knowing that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves fills us with pride and purpose. Traditions and rituals are part of our human story and provide us with an identity and a sense of place in the world. By sharing and experiencing these with others who have the same values and goals, we create a collective identity which in turn shapes our work ethic, our sense of community, our personal responsibility, our morals, empathy and how we respect one another. They also create strong role models and instil in us a sense of belonging. Traditions therefore have an extremely powerful way of replacing unhealthy and unnatural habits and mindsets that many young people possess today.
Thankfully, there are still many of us who hold our heritage dear and have a desire to preserve the practices of our ancestors and in doing so we stop them from disappearing altogether. By coaxing these ancestral memories back to life we are giving them a new sense of purpose so we can safe guard them for future generations. It is such a beautiful thing to be able to live and breathe our traditions and not have them stuffed behind glass cabinets in museums or hidden among the pages of musty books.
Appreciate your ancestral traditions and embrace them, for they are the accumulation of all of your ancestors’ knowledge and understanding of the world. Our traditions rise up out of our culture and if we don’t practise them then we lose them which in turn has us losing an integral part of ourselves forever.
Seek out your own heritage and be curious because your ancestors have so much to show you.
The painting depicts a traditional Morris dance and is called ‘The Thames at Richmond with the old Royal Palace’. It was painted in the early 17th century by an unknown artist.