"Our wild apple is wild only like myself, perchance, who belong not to the aboriginal race here, but have strayed into the woods from cultivated stock." -- Henry David ThoreauMy people aren't from here.
But my bones are.
My biological ancestors come from places where the invaders began clearing the forests and outlawing traditional religions 500 years before that same genocide reached the shores of this continent.
My great-grandfather came from "beyond the Pale" -- the line that separated the "civilized" English speaking parts of Ireland from the "wild" Gaeltacht. He was a Captain in the IRA who left at the age of 21 with a price on his head. The last person in my line to be born in his ancestral homeland.
So when I invoke the magic of my blood ancestors, I am invoking the magic of places I have never known.
But I have lived all my life in New England. The water I drink, the air I breathe, the food I eat are of this place -- every cell of my body comes from this land.
I've known these forests and fields and swamps and this seashore since I was born. The bullfrogs and spring peepers sang me to sleep throughout my childhood.
It was in the forests of Maine that my adult self first realized that the trees and lichens were speaking to me. And it was in the swamp behind my parents' house in North Andover, MA that I realized Skunk Cabbage had been singing to me in my dreams since before I could speak.
So as a pagan who believes that the world is alive where do I look for the ceremonies and rituals and magic that shape my practice? And as an herbalist what traditions do I look to guide me in connecting with the wild medicines around me?
The gods of my ancestors come when I call them, they recognize something in my blood. But their traditional rituals are connected with the stones and water and forests of another time and place -- forests that were burned or cut over a thousand years ago.
Their healing traditions teach ways of approaching and understanding plants, but the plants that I find when I am out wildcrafting are a hodge-podge of European and North American species.
The traditions that do come from this place belong to people who have survived genocide and are living under occupation (much as my great-grandfather did) and understandably don't want descendants of Europeans appropriating and claiming their medicine and ceremony as their own.
And yet, as someone who has devoted my life to serving the wild and feral plants that are themselves ancestors of mine from a time before humans knew such divisions, it behooves me to pay attention to the healing and ritual technologies of the people who have lived on this land the longest.
Its a fine line to walk -- honoring the traditions of my blood ancestors while understanding that to be true to their spirit I need to find new forms that fit this time and place. Looking to the knowledge of those who best understand the physical and spiritual geology and ecology of the place where I live without claiming their traditions as my own.
Like my great-grandfather's people, I've put myself beyond the Pale, outside the wall that defines the border of the civilization that dominates the world around me. But unlike them I am an interloper on this land.
My body, and my spiritual, magical, and herbal practices are very much like a Crab-Apple tree -- ancestral seeds from Europe planted in North America, their DNA changed by the place where they take root.
I trust the wind and water and soil to guide me in that process of becoming something new.