by Wintersong Tashlin
Note: This essay only speaks to my personal experiences as a shaman and spirit worker. It is not intended as criticism, or a statement on other people who have or have not chosen to break with their milk religions.
I don’t have any ancestors.
That sentence is difficult to write, and I know the very idea is anathema to many people’s beliefs and practices. Yet for me it is the truth. And a hard truth it is, particularly as a spirit worker and a shaman who works with the honored Dead.
It goes without saying that I have parents, and grandparents, and so on. So the question arises of how can I not have ancestors? To answer that question, I have to tell you a bit about who I am, and more importantly, where I come from.
I was raised in the Jewish religious and spiritual tradition. Even today, my Semitic heritage is obvious to anyone who knows what to look for. There is a saying about Judaism, one that has been used by everyone from learned Rabbis through the ages, to oppressors who sought the eradication of the Jewish people, to a deity I had the honor (and terror) of discussing the matter with: Judiasm is a religion of blood. Blood suffuses Judaic laws and traditions, from their practice of ritual amputation, to dietary restrictions, menstrual taboos, and laws about bloodlines, inheritance, and the very nature of what it is to be a Jew.
Perhaps most of all, shared blood binds the Jewish people into a Tribe, connected through the ages by threads of bloodlines and traditions. Faith, tradition, and race all run together to form a broad concept of what it means to be a Jew. To be born a Jew is to be a Jew for all time, is a foundational idea in Jewry. The concept is so ingrained, that it is not unusual to encounter people who identify as Jews, yet do not go to worship services, or perhaps even believe in the Judaic concept of the divine.
Where all of this becomes relevant is that I was not called the service of the Hebraic god, I serve and worship other deities. The very center of my life violates the most cherished of Jewish commandments. To give you a sense of how monumental this is: of all 613 sacred laws, the prohibition against worshiping a “false” god is one of a tiny handful of commandments that may not be transgressed, even if doing so would save the life of another human being.
In giving myself and my oath to other deities, I betrayed my blood and my Tribe. I committed the most grievous sin imaginable in the eyes of my People, and in doing so, went into an exile of the spirit and soul, if not the flesh. Though my blood may be Semitic, I am not a Jew. I am a broken link in a chain that goes back centuries beyond memory.
If I had to do it all over, I would make the exact same choice every time. It is possible to have regrets without believing yourself to be in the wrong.
All my Ancestors are of the Tribe. As an exile, it has been made clear to me that I have no claim to them, and will not offer insult in the form of praise or worship, particularly in my pagan ways. The best devotion I can show them is to leave them alone.
In living my life as an exile, a broken link, I honor the beliefs and traditions of the bloodlines that came before me. In the end, that is all that I can offer, and all that would be accepted.