Respect for native wisdom and spirituality is long overdue, but those of European descent need to also know their own forgotten indigenous heritage.
While many people are actively trying to honor indigenous ways and heal historical wounds leftover from colonialism, many who have European roots are completely oblivious of their own pre-colonial history. In Europe after the Roman Empire decimated most of the tribal communities, France, Britain, and Spain began colonial practices that spread oppressive policies around the world as well as at home. The modern concept of the elite 1% was alive and well during the middle ages and going back far into antiquity. White indigenous people living in tribal ways long ago were oppressed and ripped from their traditional connection to the land just as Native Americans were. In order to have healing across cultures and peace in this world, it is important to know your own past and heal the wounds of your own lineage.
““Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors.” –Vine Deloria, Jr.
I was very lucky to be initiated and taught rune songs as well as migration stories as a young adult. I learned them first in the oral tradition while sitting with my auntie making beadwork and crafts. It was a revelation to realize that some wisdom is better spoken than written, and I have struggled ever since to strike a balance between what is appropriate to write about and what is not. I have found that knowing my own cultural history has opened many doors for me in connecting with diverse people whose cultures I respect and admire.
Recognizing how subjugation and colonial practices continue to hurt people of all ethnic backgrounds is part of the much needed healing. Irish slaves, indentured servants, serfs, and witch-burnings were common traumas for the newcomers to America. Having escaped many of the horrors of the old world, these settlers armed with guns were quite savage in their treatment of Native Americans. Identifying these historical traumas does not justify them, but it helps to inform some of the attitudes that came with the early settlers. It is understood in the field of psychology that children who are treated violently or with abuse have a greater propensity to enact that behavior as adults.
(Pictured above: Bind-Rune with all 24 runes in 1 mark)
The English Language which came from the old world has sadly been forced by oppressive military and exploitative business practices. However it is evolved from an ancient tribal language that was once etched on stones, and told through songs and stories around the council fires. The Runic Language (Alphabet), the Elder Futhark is the root of many of the characters that are now the letters of the English Alphabet.
It is true that we are “sentenced” to perceive the world through stories. That words are “spells” made from spelling. The invention of the printing press allowed for oppression and suppression in ways that never existed before it (notice “press” right in the middle of words like “impress”, “suppress”, “repress”). Books were bound (like people), and covered (like much of our indigenous history). Authority was given to the authors of these stories whether through the laws of the kingdom, or Biblical Law. The keepers of the peoples stories, whether the church, or the kingdom became the ruler of the people.
In the olden days people knew their stories through the oral tradition, through a dance, or a song from a bard. These stories, and our understanding of our place in the world, was not owned or privatized. It was commonly shared and understood. That’s why the Runes were primarily an oral tradition with corresponding written marks. The passing of stories and wisdom through trusted personal networks kept them sacred.
The rune marks are said to be derived from the natural patterns in nature. You can see them in the veins of a trees leaves, in the cracks in dirt. Though they were carved onto stones, traditionally it was unacceptable to kill a tree to make paper to write words on. It is believed that the words and the characters (letters) are alive and they live in the vibrations of our human voices. An understanding of these concepts allowed a person to “read” messages into nature, and the 24 original characters are said to represent our 24 vertebrae. In this sense it is also believed that the runes represent our own internal genetic wisdom, giving us a way to see deeper into our own selves.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have an auntie or uncle to teach them rune songs but if you are interested in deepening your understanding of the mystical, indigenous heritage of the English Language, I highly recommend The Leaves of Yggdrasil by Freya Aswynn. Unlike most New Age interpretations of the runes which are relatively shallow, Freya is initiated in the oral tradition and was ordained to share some of these teachings in writing. It is a beautiful way to gain a deep cultural perspective on the indigenous world-view of Europeans that preceded religious, imperial conquest, and colonialism.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson
The current interest in indigenous wisdom by non-natives is a high form of flattery though it is sometimes insensitive and comes across in unflattering ways. There is a yearning to connect with a forgotten past that is universal to all humans. When each of us connects with our own ancestral lineage we will see that we all share an inherent wisdom and memory of what it is to belong in the larger community of life that surrounds us. It is time to rewrite the stories that separate us and understand that we don’t live in a hierarchy of species, we live within a sacred circle.