Like a small boat on the ocean
Sending big waves into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion
From: Fight Song by Rachel Platten
This is how I feel when embarking on this journey, like a small boat on the ocean of space and time. Water and space all around but on my left there I can hear something solid now. The waterside so it sounds and a forest behind it. Echoes of numerous trees come my way. It feels so familiar here and yet I really don’t know where I am. It is said that I will meet nine women here, nine women who will tell me their stories, the stories of our family history and by writing them down and sending them out into the world I will give these women a voice, and their places in history they deserve. There is a soft rumbling in the sky. It sounds like its everywhere around me like thunder in the mountains. My boat easily find its way to the waterside and I step on the land. There, tall and strong, stands an oak like a sentinel guarding the woods. My old friend Oak, always there on important moments of my life. It seems I’ve arrived at another crossroad.
Before I get the chance to greet him the rumbling sound that has become a rolling thunder now suddenly is very near and with a sharp bang Oak is struck by lightning and is split open. I am shocked and amazed for I am not struck by that lightning bolt. How come? Then I hear a clear voice, saying: “Oak has created a passage for you. Step through it and come and sit with me.”
“Who is speaking”, I ask.
“Its me, Elen, Elen of the Ways.”
“Elen of the Ways? The Reindeer Goddess?”
“Are you amazed?”
“Well, I didn’t expect to find you here”, I say.
“why not”, she asks. “aren’t you about to embark on a journey writing about your ancestors?”
“Yes I am and so I did not expect you to be here.”
“Your ancestors were reindeer people, isn’t it?”
“That’s what I’ve recently learned, yes. But still, I have never connected my ancestors with you.”
“With a Goddess, you mean?”
“Well, let’s sit down for a while and I will tell you the story of your earliest ancestors from a long long time ago.”
Elen leads me to a certain place in the woods where we set ourselves on the soft moss. What a quiet place this is. I totally relax.
Then Elen starts to speak.
“It is in a time long long ago when the earth is frozen and covered with snow all over that in the far north it is too cold to live. Reindeer decide to move down to warmer areas and people follow. Reindeer know where to go. They follow the lines in the land, not a straight line, but lines meandering like rivers do. When there is a big storm reindeer will turn their faces towards it and will walk into it instead of walk away from it. When walking against the wind they can smell what comes their way. This reindeer wisdom, do you recognize it in your ancestors and family, to face the storms of life and have the courage and faith to move forward.”
I nod, yes I do recognize this.
“Reindeer will lead people to places where they can find food and so your earliest ancestors arrive in the north of your country, The Netherlands. Although it is cold there too and the land is bare they can live their nomadic lives pretty well, gathering nuts, seeds and fruit, having reindeer meat to eat, their hide for clothing and tents, bones and tendons for tools.
They also make their tools from stone.
Slowly and gradually the wheel is turning. The climate changes and becomes warmer again. No need to wander around that much anymore for a diversity of vegetation and animals start to enrich the land. The variety of the land, hay, pastures, forests and the many water ways create perfect conditions to develop agriculture and so the first farmers will settle down in the period of time we call neolithic era.
Farmers, just like nomads, are very connected with nature for they are very dependant of her.
They will be sure to befriend me and others to help and support them in their way of life. They bring offerings to us to please us and ask our favor, offerings like shoe last axes. I know that these are found in the waters for Nehalennia told me that she was very happy with it.”
“Nehalennia? Her temple is in the southwest of the Netherlands, in the Zeeland province, isn’t it?”
“Yes, thats true but Nehalennia, just like me, has come down from the very north. She is my twin sister. Like I am following the lines of the land, like reindeer do, she is following the ways of water, meandering through landscapes. First her boat brought her to the north of your country. Later she traveled on to the southwest where she is watching over the North Sea and water ways. Her temple is built at the waterside.
Your earliest northern ancestors didn’t build temples of stone. For them forests and woods were sacred. Groves and trees would form their temples. They always performed their simple honoring rituals in nature. For them everything in nature was sacred and alive, trees, water, stones, everything. Natural places were connected with their Gods and Goddesses such as the Wodan’s Oak, the Well of Holda and Orion’s Belt being Frigg’s distaff. She collected the thread of time on a celestial axis. At her home she kept a jewel-studded spinning wheel. The rotation of sparkling gems is reminiscent of the turning stars, and the stars of Orion’s Belt have something to do with spinning thread.”
– I remember how this spinning wheel with sparkling gems had given me clarity about how the turning starry sky may look like. –
“They honored and celebrated the cycle of seasons, the cycle of the moon and sun, life-giving forces they needed so badly for the soil to be fertile, for the crops to grow. Mother Nature, just making the difference between life and death.
Moon and Sun also were connected with recordkeeping and genealogy for they, from the very beginning, have witnessed the entire flow of human history.
Ancestor reverence was seen as very important and genealogy as a sacred task.
– I smile –
They did not have a writing system like people have today. They orally passed on their knowledge and wisdom and by using runes. Runes meaning whispered secrets. These simple looking figures being much more than letters like most people think they are, holding all the knowledge and wisdom I just mentioned, and more.”
Elen pauses for a while and I think of my beautifully carved maple wooden runes at home. Then she continues:
“And the wheel is turning and
we are turning with it. Through the ages, the warming up of the climate, the waters continue to rise. The sea north of the Netherlands comes closer and closer covering the land with clay and the rivers and water ways become broader and wider covering the land with water. Slowly and gradually water and vegetation turn into peat, large areas of peat. On a certain moment the area we are talking about, Westerwolde, the cradle of your family, is surrounded by water, has become an island and it isn’t possible anymore for people there to live. The land has become inaccessible and so people move away.
This situation will last for about a thousand years. Then people start to cultivate these large peat areas and in about 800 ACE the first colonists from Germany come to live there bringing with them the new religion from Rome, the catholic church.
Now we enter a time of conflicts about who will be the boss in this area Westerwolde. For a long time this will be the bishop of the Corvey monastery in Hoexter and the bishop of Osnabrueck, both Germany.
and we’re approaching the time your first known registered ancestors appear on stage.
It is from here that other foremothers will guide you further on your journey.”
And so I journey back in time and my Grandmothers journey forth so we can meet and weave our linen of life.