DNA Tests, Spirituality, and Ancestor Worship
DNA Tests Can Be Spiritually Enlightening
Why get your DNA tested? Some people argue that they don't need to know their heritage or that they already know their heritage. The thing is, no one knows exactly their heritage because nearly everyone on this planet has mixed heritage. Unless you live in the middle of the ocean on an island that's never seen visitors, then you might be of pure heritage, which is pretty rare. Otherwise, when you get your DNA tested you might find a few things you didn't know about yourself! Some people even feel a calling to learn more about their ancestral origins, including the religious paths of their ancestors. This will start you on a journey into self improvement and deep connection to yourself and the universe. DNA tests can truly be spiritually enlightening!
Thousands upon thousands of people are getting their DNA tested by companies like ancestry.com, 23andme, myheritage, and more. These companies offer DNA tests that will analyze your DNA against DNA they have in their database and make matches with what they believe is your heritage from various countries and regions all over the world. Depending on the company you choose, some have more DNA to compare your data to. Ancestry claims on their website that they have one hundred fifty regions of DNA to compare your DNA to, while 23andme has only thirty five regions. Do your research before having your DNA done to determine which you feel will be best. A benefit to going through 23andme is that they will do a medical DNA analysis on you which can tell you whether you have certain genes for medical conditions; however, they also give you the ability to opt out of this feature if you only want to know your heritage.
Ancestor Worship All Over the World
When you have your DNA test done, the results come back and will tell you which regions and sometimes which countries your ancestors originated. In spiritually-seeking individuals, this will sometimes spurn a yearning to look into ancestor worship, or at the very least, including their ancestors in their spiritual path. To those in the Western hemisphere, the concept of ancestor worship might sound ridiculous or completely foreign. That's because ancestor worship is foreign to most of us in the United States, unless we grew up in a household of an ethnic cultural religious background. This is rare, as most of the United States is Christian, and in Christianity there is no such thing as ancestor worship.
But what about other places in the world? Ancestor worship isn't so foreign to people in China, Mexico, Korea, Vietnam, and many other countries. In fact, ancestor worship was once a mainstay of spiritual practice and religion nearly everywhere in the ancient world including Europe and the Americas. Veneration of the dead and the departed souls of loved ones penetrated daily life to our ancient ancestors, no matter the culture or region, but was eventually replaced in many places with major religions that sought to focus on one god and wipe out the old "pagan" beliefs and ways of life.
In Mexico, many people celebrate the Day of the Dead annually around November 1st. The Day of the Dead is a holiday in which they honor their departed loved ones and seek to help them on their journey in the afterlife. Offerings of flowers and food are left at graves, feasting with family members is common, as well as the artistic creation of sugar skulls or calaveras to honor the ancestors.
In China, the concept of ancestor worship dates back thousands of years and still exists today. The idea that a person has two souls - one that goes to heaven and one that stays on earth - is a large part of Chinese folk religion and ancestor veneration. The part of the soul that stays on earth is sometimes deified and is honored at ancestor shrines with a special ancestral tablet and offerings of candles, incense, food, and other items. Scholars say these practices are seen echoed in other Chinese religions and schools of thought such as Taosim, Confucianism, and Buddhism. To many of the Chinese, honoring one's ancestors isn't silly, it's part of their culture.
In the ancient world, Egyptians honored the dead with their elaborate mummification and burial rituals. The Celts honored their ancestors on a special holiday called Samhain, now widely known in modern times as Halloween. The original meaning of Samhain had almost been lost, but it has seen a revival thanks to neo-pagans who may still celebrate Samhain and honor their ancestors on this liminal night. In different countries in Scandinavia, the Norse people believed in the sacredness of an ancestral line. This concept can be observed in the Elder Futhark Runes (an ancient alphabet) with the rune Othala. Othala is the rune (or letter) that relates to ancestors and ancestral inheritance of land, self, and spiritual power. Native Americans also honor their ancestors in sacred ways dating back thousands of years.
But what does ancestor worship have to do with DNA? And how do we incorporate our ancestors into a modern spiritual practice?
Ancestor Worship Across the WorldClick thumbnail to view full-size
Your DNA and Your Spiritual Practice
You might be wondering how a person's DNA relates to his or her spirituality. Your DNA is what makes up your very being here on this planet. And you acquired your DNA from your ancestors. In fact, millions of people before you have contributed to the making of you. You are a culmination of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of years of human DNA on this planet. Your DNA is the essence of who you are, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is your physical road-map and your link to your ancestral roots - to your universal roots. The symbol of the Hindu concept of Kundalini (a snake-like coil of energy that rests at the base of the spine) looks an awful lot like the DNA helix. This is because DNA is the source of life energy, as is the Kundalini. And where does your DNA come from? Your ancestors. As I write this article, I've made a realization that the rune Othala (as mentioned above) also looks eerily similar to the Kundalini and DNA helix (see photo below for Othala rune). The rune Othala means ancestral inheritance. What do you inherit from your ancestors? DNA!
Often people predict they are of one ethnic background or another, and often they are right. But even more often, people are shocked by some of the DNA they didn't know they had! For example, in a video funded by Ancestry, one British man stated that he hoped he wasn't German because he hated the Germans. Guess what? His DNA test revealed German DNA. DNA tests can break down barriers and old prejudices.
How does a person go about analyzing and applying their DNA results to their spirituality? You will have a mixture of DNA from various places, and you might not know what to do with this information. One way to implement your ancestry into your spiritual practice is to first study the history and culture of your ancestors. This means if you find out your DNA is mostly from Eastern Europe, study the different countries there, the cultures, the ancient and more modern history, the religious practices, etc. If you find out you have mostly Iberian DNA, study the Spanish and Portugese history, culture, ancient religions, etc. Essentially, you'll want to get to know your ancestors in this way. Start with majority DNA, then make your way through the smaller amounts of DNA down into the "trace regions".
First, study your ancestors' origins and the history that goes along with it. Ancient history is very helpful with European ancestry because most of the continent was converted into Christianity in the Dark Ages (as you will know if you listened in history class). Other areas of the world are like this too, so be sure to look into the ancient history of your ancestors as well as the more modern history. You might find yourself drawn to ancient practices of your ancestors. But if not, you can always set up an ancestor altar in your house and tend to it with candles, incense, and offerings. If this is too much work or out of your element of spirituality, why not dedicating a wall in your house to honor your ancestors? You can add old photographs of your ancestors whether that's your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. When you do your DNA on ancestry.com, often you are granted access to develop a family tree. Sometimes you'll get lucky enough to find photographs that other people have uploaded of your ancestors! Download, print, and hang these on your ancestor wall.
Another way to incorporate your ancestry into your spiritual practice is to honor them through travel. The next time you want to go out of the country (or maybe in the country), find places that your ancestors originated from and go there on an ancestry pilgrimage. Make a list of the places of your ancestors and mark them off as you travel to each. Keep an album or scrapbook of your travels and clippings of things you've learned about your ancestors. These things seem trivial or mundane, but feed your soul and in that you are honoring your DNA and forging your own spirituality in a unique way.
If you are of a specific background where your ancestors honored their ancestors on special days during the year, consider carrying on this tradition in your home. For example, maybe you are of Celtic descent. You can honor your ancestors on Samhain (Halloween) by setting an extra plate for them at the table or by performing something called a "dumb supper". This is where you eat dinner in silence to honor your ancestors and allow them space in your home. There are many more traditions and holidays that honor ancestry (see ancestor worship above).
Kundalini and OthalaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Don't Stop Learning and Seeking
There is so much to learn about yourself and the world through a simple DNA test. You can build on this by starting or adding to your family tree. Don't forget to incorporate some of these spiritual practices that honor ancestry into your daily or weekly routine. Honor your ancestors in your own special way. Do what feels natural and what makes you feel connected to yourself and your ancestors.
Never stop learning about your ancestors. There is so much to learn. When you think you've found the base of the iceberg, you've only found the tip. Keep seeking more knowledge about your ancient origins and applying this knowledge to your daily life. Write these things down. Record them to pass on to your children and then grandchildren, as much of our history has been lost in time. It is up to us to pass on what we learn about our ancestors so that our descendants in years to come will be thankful for us, their ancestors, the people who took the time to pass on ancestral memory in writing as well as in DNA.
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© 2018 Nicole Canfield