Our lands were once rich in customs and rites that were bound up with the changing seasons of the year and the rhythm of life itself. Isolated tribes sprung forth from the camp fires and eventually formed close knit communities that shared the same values, traditions and outlook on life. Their art, literature, music and heritage was something they held dear and protecting these was paramount to their 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 memories of our heritage and traditions with it. It was the church as well, in its attempt to stamp out pagan customs, that was also responsible for the decline in ancient 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 ancient knowledge to the next generation.
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 line between us and our ancestors. Once we lose our rich traditions and customs we become lost. We lose sight of our north star and can no longer see the path that our ancestors were walking. 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 are 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, to only have historians and other academics enjoy them.
There are many customs and traditions that we can effortlessly incorporate into our daily lives and we don’t even have to look too far into the past to find them. If you have young children, for example, you can sing them nursery rhymes or read them classic children’s literature such as Aesop’s Fables, Grimms Fairy Tales or Asbjornssen and Moe’s Norwegian Folktales. Your local library is the best place to find books on local myths, legends, customs and folklore. At the moment I am reading British Calendar Customs by A.R Wright from my library and I am saddened to see how many traditions have actually been lost to us.
You can research traditional recipes and crafts that you might want to try. How many people do you know who knit or make their own clothes, who can work with wood or play an instrument? These are small yet significant things that can all become a part of your own traditions and by sharing them with family and friends you will bring generations closer together as well. The older members of our community have much to teach us too.
If you have trouble finding information about your ancestors’ traditions, then please don’t worry. You can actually start creating new ones that can become a part of your own family traditions. Think about what kinds of rights of passage, holidays and milestones you can celebrate together as well as perhaps smaller daily, weekly and monthly traditions and rituals as well. But the easiest way of all is to get yourself outside, in nature and in the fresh air, no matter what the weather. Just get away from electronics and go out and explore your local landscape and its history. This will then lead you to meeting other people in your community and in time perhaps revive local customs together.
The key to tradition is repetition; day in and day out; year in and year out. By practising traditions and customs you are doing something that is expected and familiar. If you keep doing something different then it won’t. Seek out your own heritage and be curious; your ancestors are waiting.
Now I have only just given a few suggestions on how you can breathe new life into our ancient traditions. If you have any ideas too then please share as I would love to hear them.