Where is our family’s home?

I’ve been doing a great deal of work on my family tree- tracing my ancestors and learning their names. They appreciate the recognition and I want to ensure my name and the names of my blood are repeated and acknowledged by my descendants.

I’ve spent a great deal of time imagining these descendants, these children I don’t have. Imagining what I’ll teach them and the stories I’ll whisper to them as they fall asleep about their grandparents and great-grandparents. The recipes and tricks I’ll pass down and the traditions I’ll forge new with help from their tiny hands.

I don’t have any children yet. I am young. I have time.

It’s a strange thing to have children, stranger still is to raise them in a foreign land. My family is a product of immigration. I am second generation born in the United States from Germany and third generation born in the United States from Italy- this is  not the land of my ancestors. Even my parents, raised in New York and southern California, come from a different land than I.

My mother’s home is the ocean, warm sandy beaches and cool surf.

My father’s home is the city with towering skyscrapers that obscure the sky.

I am from none of these places. I am a creature of mountains. A daughter of grey rains and dark skies. I am a child of the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest.

But my children will not share this with me, my children will be of yet another land. They will grow up knowing the mightiness of the sun and blue skies that are unending. They will be creatures of open plains and unyielding heat. When I talk of rain that never stops and a grey chill that permeates your skin and soaks into your bones, when I talk of the dense forests of my childhood they won’t understand.

I wonder, is this a taste of what my grandmother felt raising the first of her family not born born in Germany, not born in Berlin? Is this what my great-grandparents felt raising their children so far from their ancestral shores of southern Italy?

What is the price of this familial disconnection from the land? What is the benefit?

Blood and Bones and Ancestors

I was raised with aunts and cousins and grandparents living together under one roof. I was raised to be my brother and sister’s keeper. I was raised with a fierce knowledge that there is no bond more relentless than the bond of blood.

At holidays we would gather on chairs and couches and retell the same stories of hardship and hilarity, of the living and of the dead. We would remember their names, looking at photographs and home movies. At the time I didn’t realize it, but now I know that by remembering and celebrating we were venerating. We were keeping alive an ancient tradition that this new world has forgotten.

But I will not forget.

Modernity has forced us into isolation; many of us live without family in our homes. We’ve replaced the familial and ancestral bonds with technological conveniences, the wisdom of our elders has been usurped by the collective humming of the internet. In the past your family meant your survival or your destruction and the bonds you forged with them and the work of those who came before you were fundamental to your success.

In times of old we could turn to the wax masks of the ancients hung in our homes, we could look to their graves and tombs. Now we must seek them out on our own, devising both new and forgotten paths to the dead through bones, and blood, and shadow. Chanting, singing, dancing, screaming into darkness, beyond hedges, and through veils, I reach out to my ancestors, to my family, to the dead. I beat at my chest and stomp my feet not in mourning, but in celebration, for the dead speak and they have many secrets to tell.

When I die, burn my body and release my spirit so that I may fly across worlds on shadowy wings. Mix my ashes with the dirt and mud. When my children’s children dig through the earth and call for me, I will hear them and I will whisper to them. I will sing them twisted songs of curses and cures and I will not be forgotten.

Heritage

My father tells me stories from his childhood, of my grandfather tending to his father’s grave, of my great-grandmother who prayed over my father to make him grow, of black clad ancient women who drank spirits and whispered in Italian for him to visit them. My father is a product of immigrants and tradition and I am a product of his stories.

A-Young dadcropped

Italians are a deeply spiritual, deeply superstitious people. When my great-grandfather lay dying in his bed of tuberculosis, he prayed out to the Virgin Mary begging for his life and he was healed. Every summer to honor her, my great-grandfather took his three children to swim in the polluted waters surrounding Brooklyn because the Virgin would protect them; his unwavering faith and devotion to the Virgin would keep his children safe from the sewage and pollution.

With this in mind, I found my transition to witchcraft only natural. Spiritual forces are all around us, listening and waiting.  They’re rooted in tradition and cloaked in various names spanning eons and languages, far more ancient than we can grasp.