Friday, May 18, 2007

The Cult Of The Ancestor

I’ve recently had a very interesting experience. My mum has had to move into an aged care facility due to crippling arthritis and unfortunately, in order to afford it, we’ve had to sell up and divide the spoils of our collective childhood and take what mum said we had to take. Being a bit of a history nut, I scored all the old photos.

Personally, I didn’t think that cameras had been around that long, but on further investigation, I proved myself wrong. It seems that the first permanent image was created by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. The first wet plates were invented in 1850 and dry plates not until 1855, but it was the gelatine dry plate in 1871 that did the trick. No more tricky emulsions, just grab one off the shelf. Marvellous.

Anyway, I digress. The folk who’s piccies I found myself hanging were mostly born between 1840 and 1875, which means I now have a photographical record going all the way back to my great-great grandparents and to the very beginnings of photography itself. I’ve even got one that’s a framed glass plate negative. Brilliant! My kids share a sense of history, if not an active interest in it and were seriously impressed when I told them that “those two on the end there are some of your great-great-great grandparents - paternal.” Wide eyes indeed…:)

Anyway, as I began to hang the lads and lasses on my beautiful wall, I noticed a couple of things. Firstly, great-great ma-ma (paternal), Elizabeth Kay, was an absolute stunner! Secondly, I began to feel some sort of affinity with these people and that was a bit strange to me. I’d seen these guys on the wall every time I’d visited mum over the years and it had never happened before. I’d felt an affinity with certain bits of history before, but not the actual people themselves. Strange…

By the time I’d finished, I had an amazing sense of pride. Not in the job I’d done hanging them (that was crap and needs to be revisited), but simply in the fact that they were there, presiding over my entry way. I almost felt that these guys should somehow be revered. The idea of putting them high on the wall where they can peer down with their stern authority on those passing beneath seemed, all of a sudden, to be the right one. All this made me wonder a little, as you can probably imagine. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my little theory on why.

My ancestry is entirely British. No, I don’t mean just English. My father’s history is entirely Scottish (Pictish if you want to be pedantic), whilst my mothers is a mixture of Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Gaelic. That means that somewhere in the deep distant past in my family, there is a very rich history of pagan belief.

One thing among many that all the pagan religions of the isles had in common, was “The Cult Of The Ancestor”, or Ancestor Worship. Another thing they all have in common is that they are unimaginably old. We’ll never know exactly how old places like the various henges we find about the place are, or how far back the religions go, all the records were destroyed or lost when Christianity came, but that’s a different story. It’s presumed however, that the cult of the ancestor was in practice thousands of years prior to the advent of Christianity, which at a mere 2000 years is just an upstart by comparison. My theory revolves around the age of the older pagan religions however, and the length of time that they were practiced.

Could it be that the want to revere, or at least afford my antecedents a respected place in my house may be a genetic thing? How long does that take and was ancestor worship practiced long enough for it to happen? I don’t know, but if you read my blog regularly you’d have recently read about a genetically programmed belief in supernatural beings, so why not?

Well, probably because they are my great (+) grandparents and it’s just that I have an exaggerated sense of history where these guys are concerned, simply because of the various legacies they’ve left me.

I caught my son gazing at them earlier too. All of a sudden it seems, they’re not just photos anymore. He had to know who fit in where and who begat whom and he kept me at it until he’d memorised them all, all the way down to himself. Now, if only we can get him to apply that sort of dedication to his school work...:)


Larro said...

On history of most Celtic and Gaelic traditions. Correct me if I'm wrong, but most of the history was passed down orally.

Probably why there is no documented history. Short of Ogham snippets found here and there. And I don't think those were meant more as messages as they were mostly carved on trees and such.

Larro said...

Sorry to hear about your mom. And pictures like that are a great way to keep memories alive and wonder in place of where we came from.

Plonka said...

larro: Thanks...:)

Yeah, the majority of it was passed down orally, but there was a rich history in art that was pretty much destroyed because it didn't fit the christian ideal. But they did that just about everywhere they went...

Mum's doing ok now and is happier than I've seen her in quite some time, so "all's well that ends well", as she'd say.

And the photos are brilliant.
My mum has even taken the time to write each person's history on the back. They really are fantastic.

Anyway, I'm off to Canberra for a couple of days...

tina said...

Can you take photo's of them and post a few? I love old photo's.

beepbeepitsme said...

That was the thing my mum impressed upon me as well - how important it is to write info about the photos on the back as she had done this herself with her family photos.

Nevertheless, it is a job I haven't completed myself. At leats if it has the info on the back, it is also of some interest to other people historically, without that, they just become old pictures.

Maybe there is a strong linkage with paganism and the brits as I am also of british descent and (cough - german descent), which is pretty well the same thing.

I have to go a long way back to find any other cultural influences and then what do I find but french!

Oh dear - english, german and french. What a mixture..

Plonka said...

Tina: No worries...:) Take a look about half way down. That's Elizabeth Kay, 1850 - 1895, my paternal great grandmother. I doubt she'd be more than about 25 in that shot.

Beep: It's a great idea and one I need to do as well. Luckily, I have a wonderful wife who is very diligent when it comes to the piccies...:)

Oh dear - english, german and french. What a mixture..

It's a wonder you can get along with yourself...;)

tina said...

English, German and French...that's me! Plonka, your great grandmother was beautiful!

Dikkii said...

Glad to hear that your mum is doing better.

I'm about half English and Scottish on my Dad's side, and half English and Welsh on my Mum's side.

When March comes, I always wish that I had some Irish in me, cause I love celebrating St Patrick's Day with a few mates at the pub, but not having any Irish doesn't seem to stop me.

You've given me some incentive to get together with my missus and catalog our photos, now. I'm giong to have to give Flickr a serious workout.

beepbeepitsme said...


I have to go back about 3 hundred years to find the "froggy influence" - so I tend to ignore it. ;)

Plonka said...

Tina: Thanks...:) She had flaming red hair and bright, piercing blue eyes and by all accounts, a temper to match.

Thanks Dikkii. Her only complaint seems to be the food. But coming from a pom that's been happy with a piece of boiled fish all her life, I told her that was a bit rich. It's true what they say you know: The British don't have a cuisine, they have a brown sauce...:)

I love celebrating St Patrick's Day with a few mates at the pub

I could never understand this one. He almost single-handedly destroyed their culture. Still, it's a great party...:)

Beep: That's a fair way back, so you're probably safe...:)

I'm lucky enough to descend from a "true blood" clan. That means it can be traced back to a single founding father.

But stay tuned, gazing at my antecedents has inspired me. I might just do a short one on clan history...:)

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