Honouring our Ancestors

Barbed and tanged arrowhead

After my last blog where I opened up about my journey to become an instructor and the way I try and live my life on this planet I was overwhelmed with comments, messages and reactions – read “Oh for a simple life” if you missed it.  It has been a bit of a head-scratching time since then as I wasn’t sure how I could possibly write anything that was close to being ‘better’ or ‘more’.  And that was when it struck me – why do we always want ‘better’, ‘more’, ‘faster’, ‘bigger’…?

Since I last wrote my life fundamentally hasn’t changed but I’ve seen a few things, read a few things and had some experiences that have made me even more confident of my choices. It has also got me thinking about our ancestors and how we’ve all got to where we are… and not exactly unscathed if we stop, think and are honest with ourselves.

“For me, one of the main reasons why I believe it’s beneficial for us to find ways of honouring our ancestors, is that people in the West today are suffering from a collective crisis of belonging. Many of us feel that we don’t belong to a dysfunctional culture which is damaging us and the planet – but we’re not quite sure what to belong to instead. We have no sense of lineage, of belonging to something that is valuable and rich.”

Sharon Blackie – The Enchanted Life

This was one of the things I read that kick-started this blog.  It is, however, important to clarify that the quote does not refer to your family lineage but instead a connection to our wider ancestors as a species.  Even in those terms though people want to belong; to feel connected to each other, to a place, to a passion, to a belief, but have we lost our way a little?  And how can bushcraft help?

Human history has shown us various forms of belonging; some good, some bad, some puzzling, and some that continue to this day.  It doesn’t matter whether it is taste in music, TV programmes, brand loyalty, lifestyle choices, religion, diet, fashion, etc. we desperately want to belong to something.  You only need look at social media to know that there’s a group or hashtag for just about anything you can imagine – and we are ‘followers’.  The bushcraft community is no different and is made up of a wonderful Venn diagram of overlapping groups of differing backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles all with a common interest.

The quote from Sharon went on to discuss how exploring our ancestral heritage could perhaps restore our sense of belonging and stated…

“It’s a recognition that all of us, if we go back far enough, will find ancestors who lived in balance and harmony with the Earth. Our native stories tell us so. Our ancestors had knowledge and wisdom that we have lost. And one of the ways to reconnect with that wisdom and knowledge, and to feel that it really belongs to us, and we to it, is to travel down our ancestral line. All the way down…. Back to simpler times.”

To me that almost describes exactly how I feel about bushcraft; as a topic, way of life and as a group to belong.  It’s acknowledging the skills of our ancestors, how we should work in harmony with nature, how we rediscover lost skills and learn forgotten knowledge.  However, bushcraft is not without its perils and a recent flint knapping course I hosted was another catalyst for this blog – I like to call it the human ‘Magpie effect’ or ‘Ooooo it’s shiny’.

When you watch a master flint knapper at work the skill is just mesmerising.  The way they can see a tool hidden inside a gnarled lump of flint is nothing short of magic in my eyes.  When you see how easy, with years of practice, it becomes to make the exact tool you need for the job at hand I personally question how the Bronze Age even gained traction.  And that’s where the ‘Magpie effect’ comes in and my original thought of ‘better’ and ‘more’.  Human advancement is a complex thing but status and belonging run as a constant once we got past the stages of history where imminent demise wasn’t lurking round every corner with claws and pointy teeth.  A bronze dagger is no more effective than a flint dagger at cutting, in fact I’d argue less so, but it is shinier, more precious looking, and raw materials harder to come by to give status of ownership… until of course it became so mainstream we wanted something else to help set us apart – jump forwards a few millennia, iPhone 12 anyone?

So that’s the quandary of human existence in a nutshell really – a life spent wanting to belong, being pitted against a desire to be different and have status with, or over, others.  It’s an uncomfortable thought isn’t it?  Is it any wonder mental health issues are on the rise when at our core we’re in the fight of our lives… with ourselves – who will win? Me, myself or I?  I don’t know is the simple answer but the one that is losing at the moment is the planet.

Bushcraft is often associated with, now clichéd, sayings like “leave no trace”, “the more you know, the less you carry”, and “take only pictures, leave only footprints”.  However, it is still affected by my self-titled ‘Magpie effect’ – as fast as we research our ancestors we’re also pushing forwards with shiny things to solve problems that have already been solved or didn’t previously exist.  So could bushcraft be one of the groups that makes the world a better, more connected place; to nature, to each other and to our ancestors?  I like to think so but it takes a conscious decision to do so – will you be connecting your life back to our ancestors on a more daily basis rather than those fleeting escapes to the woods?

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