by Geneen Marie Haugen
May 16, 2019
published in Parabola
“Go forth onto the land”—and reanimate the world
Descended from the indigenous hunter-gathers of the European arctic, I am an uprooted – or unrooted, or partially rooted – human being, currently re-homed in the American Southwest. Part of my family’s story was deliberately misplaced. Like the colonized indigenous people of North America and other continents, my Sami ancestors ingested profound shame for their “uncivilized” ways. Decades ago, when I started to wonder if there was something unspoken in my family story, I asked my mother if our Finnish ancestry might actually be Sami. She vehemently denied that we could be related to “those people.” Her brother hedged and told me it was possible, since it was thought that the family had “come from the north.” Neither of them could have imagined that DNA analysis and genealogical databases would break open the family secret. Before she died, my last surviving aunt told me quite matter-of-factly, “We are Laplanders. We’ve always known that.” She knew, but her children and the children of her siblings did not know. Almost all of those children, some already grandparents themselves, enact seasonal, generational rituals of hunting, fishing, and/or gathering – rituals that extend, through our grandmother’s line, back to (at least) the last ice age.
I do not know if my Sami ancestors were easily Christianized, or if they vigorously resisted the obliteration of their animistic, Earth-based spiritual tradition. I do not know how many generations have passed since my ancestors engaged in ceremonial drumming to commune with spirits or to enter an altered state of consciousness – or go through the portal to an otherworld for purposes of healing or vision. I do not know how far back they were enacting ceremonies at sites of sacred rocks or mystical lakes. My great-grandmother was a Sami midwife and healer before she and her husband and many children crossed the Atlantic, migrating to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My sister inherited a blood-letting horn that belonged to our great-grandmother. The blood of our mother’s lineage suffuses our bodies. I believe we also carry something like psycho-spiritual DNA, a kind of cellular ancestral memory. I have no “proof” of this, only a low-pitched, bodily intuition arising from my own affinity with the wilder Ones, with the living, many-voiced Earth, and with the mysteries of the world-behind-the-world.
Somewhere in mists of ancestral times, all of us are connected with people who once lived close to Earth, entwined with their places, entwined with the Others – people who participated and communed directly with plants and animals, dependent on Sun and rain, at the effect of storms and geological events. Many, if not most or all, of our distant ancestors once inhabited an animate world, infused with intelligences and souls. Clouds and stone spoke. Seas opened. Birds and snakes delivered messages. For some, eating bear opened the way to bear-mind. Perhaps honey was known as sacred elixir. Plants revealed themselves as characters with talents for healing or for inducing ecstasy. Dreams offered direction.
For modern people, an animate worldview might seem a superstitious, primitive perspective, or an artifact from an “over-active imagination” – a dismissive designation that was frequently directed toward me as a young person. Meanwhile, the common (and perhaps unconscious) dead-universe worldview allows for, and maybe even insists upon, a cannibalistic relationship with unfeeling forests, mountaintops, rivers, creatures, cultures.
Anguish over the diminishment of our world, the destruction of Earth’s life support systems, and the extinction of species is deep in our shared human psyche, though largely unexpressed. So many of us can only dimly imagine our way through the psychic and physical debris to a regenerated, thriving, Earth community. Yet the mysterious human imagination itself may be our best resource for experiential recovery of a vibrant, participatory, and wildly sacred Earth.