Today is Canada Day, the birthday of a nation that, geographically speaking, is second only to Russia as the largest in the world (and for a while, during the time of the USSR, we were technically the biggest).
I’ve always felt a strong kinship to Canada Day and to the history of the land into which I was born. A history that stretches back substantially farther than 1867, when the Canadian Confederation unified various Eastern parts of the country to create the backbone of a nation that would, in less than a century encompass, the entirety of the landmass that we know today as Canada.
In a few days my own birthday will transpire once again. Another year – a truly unforgettable year in terms of what befell the earth and its people – of experiencing the unparalleled magnificence of existence, with all of its highs, lows, smiles, tears, and magickal happenings will be added to timeline of my existence.
The proximity of the two days – Canada Day and my birthday – has always delighted me. And as I grew up and began to research my genealogy with great vigour and intensity, I found it was a chapter of the year that often brought forth an abundance of thoughts about, and connections to, my ancestors.
For without them, I – like each of us and our respective lineages – would not be here today.
I was born in Canada, as we both of my parents and three of my four grandparents (my maternal grandfather was born in a part of what was then German Russia called Bessarabia; today this area is comprised by areas of Moldova and Ukraine).
If we start digging further back in time, fewer and fewer of my ancestors were born, let alone lived for any portion of their life, in Canada, though some certainly were and did.
The oldest bloodline that I can lay claim to in this country is that of the French Canadian ancestry, which comes by way of my maternal grandmother’s parents and stretches back to at least the 1600s.
Like all non-First Nations Peoples of this country, however, my Canadian lineage is relatively new when viewed through the lens of human history.
Ultimately, if we go far enough back in time, all modern humans share the same ancestor – a Mitochondrial Eve – as she is often referred to in scientific circles.
In the approximately 100,000 – 200,000 years since then, our DNA has branched out further, creating something rather akin to a genetic fingerprint that both differentiates us from, and concurrently connects us to, one other as a global species.
While it is commonly believed that in the 1950s, biologist James Watson and physicist Francis Crick discovered DNA, they were not, in fact, the first to do so. Though their discoveries and advancements in the field of DNA research were ground-breaking and have impacted the world in innumerable ways since then.
This distinction does to Friedrich Miescher, a Swiss chemist, who in 1869 – just two years, incidentally, after Canada officially became a nation – first identified what would later go on to be called deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly called DNA, inside the nuclei of white blood cells.
In the nearly a century between this extraordinary discovery and the Watson and Crick’s 1953 finding that DNA molecules exist in three-dimensional double helix form, a number of other scientists focused on the study of DNA before they even fully knew what it was or to just what extent it shaped life as we know it on this planet.
The discoveries these pioneering genetic scientists and all those who continue to follow in their footsteps has truly revolutionized our world.
From helping to solve crimes to aiding in a better understanding of human evolution to allowing us to test for a litany of different medical conditions, the importance of the discovery and subsequent advancements in the understanding of DNA cannot be overstated.
In today’s post, we’re going to look at ancestral DNA testing in a different light than it is generally viewed.
We’ll explore some of the ways in which DNA testing can help you to better understand yourself and your ancestors and how that knowledge can be applied to your life as a witch, Wiccan and/or Pagan in the 21st century.
What is ancestral DNA testing?
Genetic ancestry testing, ancestral DNA testing, or genetic genealogy, as it is sometimes called, is a scientific way for us to discover more about our ancestors than historical facts and records, photos and family lore (important as these thing all are!) could ever tell us.
When one’s DNA is tested for genetic ancestry, we can usually discover more about where they came from and what population(s) their ancestors belonged to. Generally speaking, the more closely related two people, families or populations are, the more likely they are to share various DNA markers.
There are three type of genetic testing that are commonly used for ancestral and genealogical related purposes. They are as follows:
-Y Chromosome testing: As Y chromosomes are passed down exclusively from fathers to sons, this form of genetic testing is not available to woman (because females do not possess a Y chromosome). If you wish to know more about this type of genetic testing as it pertains to your own family, your best bet is to get a close biological male relative, such as a brother or your father, to take an ancestral DNA test and share his results with you.
-Mitochondrial DNA testing: Unlike Y chromosomes, mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to child and is present in both males and females, thus providing valuable information about a person’s direct female ancestral line.
-Single nucleotide polymorphism testing: This form of genetic testing looks at a person’s entire genome, commonly comparing it to those who have taken the same types of tests to help provide a clear(er) picture of a person’s ethnic background. While not foolproof in this respect, of course, again, it can help to provide a good deal of information regarding whereabouts in the world a person’s ancestors may have come from.
Whereas mitochondrial and Y chromosome testing can tell us about our direct ancestral lines, they do not paint as broad a picture of one’s full ethnic background, which is where single nucleotide polymorphism testing shines.
It is important to keep in mind that throughout human history, countless populations have migrated, mingled, and mated.
This often means that genetic DNA testing can lead to some surprising results – or, conversely, that it may confirm things that were either stated as gospel loudly and proudly or said in hushed whispers within families or communities for many a year.
Where can I get ancestral DNA testing?
Other consumer genetic testing services exist, some catering to specific areas such as medical data, and chances are more will emerge as time goes on and further advances and discoveries are made in the fascinating field of genetics.
The cost varies from ancestral genetic testing service to service, as does the data reports that you’re presented with.
Several years ago now, when it was relatively new to the world, my husband and I availed of a sale 23andMe.com was holding so as to test our respective DNA.
As an avid hobbyist genealogist (and someone for whom science, health and history are all immense passions as well), I couldn’t jump at the chance to do so quickly enough!
While some of the medical aspects that the testing indicated I may or may be prone to developing/having hit the mark and others were way off base, the more concrete ancestral data was of little surprise to me and helped to further confirm many years of my own genealogical research.
The fact that 23andMe continues to provide users with additional data as time goes on and additional tests are included in their offerings has only further helped to make the cost of this service more than worth it for me personally. (This post is not sponsored by 23andMe or any other website or company.)
If you’re looking to avail of genetic ancestral testing yourself and want to score a good deal, too, I suggest waiting for sales. Many of these reputable testing websites hold sales each year, especially around (very logically) Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as well as Christmastime.
However, prices have, generally speaking, either dropped or stayed fairly stable over the years and most online ancestral DNA testing services are not inordinately pricey.
I would be remiss if I did not address the fact that, obviously, in order to receive this kind of testing, you must submit your own DNA (usually in the form of saliva).
As such, technically, your DNA is housed in a database and while there is (and I cannot stress this point highly enough) no reason to believe that any of these companies are using that information for unethical or otherwise nefarious purposes, at the end of the day, we have a right to know who has access to our DNA and what it could, no matter how hypothetically, be used for.
For a wide range of highly understandable reasons, not all individuals or group of people are comfortable with scientists having their genetic material – a point that the Atlantic highlighted in a piece regarding Genetic Testing and Tribal Identity, for example.
If you’re down with genetic DNA testing, as many of us are, then you’re likely in for a delightful world of information that has been encoded in your cells your whole life, but which you might never have known about were it not for this astonishing branch of science.
5 Reasons why ancestral DNA testing can benefit your witchcraft
There is almost no limit to why genetic testing appeals to various people, what it can tell us about ourselves and our ancestors, and why it matters for the collective whole of humanity.
If you identify as a witch, Wiccan and/or Pagan of any sort, have you ever stopped to ask yourself how genetic testing might be able to deepen, enhance and even better your spiritual journey?
What about, if applicable, your witchcraft? How about the patron deities or the pantheon that you may work with? The types of foods you leave as offerings or utilize when holding a dumb supper? What you place on your altar in relation to your ancestors?
Could it come into play for you in regards to things like hedgeriding, visualizations, shadow work, healing generational trauma, strengthening your psychic abilities, kitchen or green witchery, or the divination methods you use?
Yes to all of the above and plenty, more including the five different ways that genealogical testing can help your witchery that we’ll explore in greater detail below.
1. It may be able to help you find the witchy path that is best for you: While there are more ways to witch than there will ever be witches themselves, for those who feel the need to belong follow a specific type of witchy/Wiccan path or who wish to do so in the ways that are truest to their generic ancestry, DNA testing can help point you in the right direction.
I do not personally believe that one must only work, as some are quick to state, with the systems of Paganism, gods and goddesses or cultural traditions of their own direct ancestors and/or culture.
That said, for a lot of us, the desire to do comes naturally or develops as we continue along our journey through life as witches/Pagans.
The clearer and more accurate a picture we have of where our ancestors stemmed from, the better able we are to research, engage with and build a spiritual practice that involves elements of the cultures and peoples that comprise our genetic makeup.
It is worth pointing out that, true as this can be, there are definitely some cultures for whom we presently know much more about their earlier beliefs, customs and traditions than others.
Simply knowing what area(s) of the world we have genetic ties to, however, can be a stepping stone to connecting with the culture – both past and present – of those locations and in turn finding ways to incorporate these important things into our daily spiritual walk.
2. Knowing where your ancestors originated from can lead to incredible travel experiences: If one feels so inclined, and has both the means and health required to do so, visiting one or more countries (if they differ from where you currently live) that you have ancestral ties to can be a profoundly poignant, potentially even life-changing, experience.
You could choose, for example, research and try to visit specific parts of the country, including graveyards or other burial sites, where your ancestors may have lived, worshiped, or been laid to rest.
Or you might opt to visit spiritually significant locations, sample national cuisines, perhaps, walk in locations that your ancestors may have trod with their very own feet, watch the sun set on the same horizon that they once gazed upon, connect with the Elements as they exist in that area (likewise for the genius loci), study traditional clothing and jewelry, and otherwise connect with the lands that helped in their own way to propel your ancestral line ever forward to the eventuality of your own existence.
There is no shortage of ways that travel can help to foster and bolster your spiritual path, your connection with your ancestors, and your understanding of human history – both that of your own family tree and the world at large.
3. It helps you to better know and understand who your ancestors were: Genetic DNA testing might not be able to give you precise names or put faces to those names, but it can very effectively paint a detailed picture of what ethnic groups we may have ancestral ties to.
This is important for a wide wealth of reasons and may, at least in part, help to explain why you’re instinctively drawn to certain cultures and/or the belief systems of such.
Many witches and Pagans honour, celebrate, and work with our ancestors in a myriad of different, highly personal ways. The more we know about the people we were descended from, the more specifically we can venerate and communicate – and/or feel a close bond with – those whose existences ultimately lead to our own.
As well, and this is a point whose importance cannot be overstated, ancestral DNA testing is not dependant on who our parents were. This means that if a person was adopted or little is known about who their parents were for whatever reason, genetic DNA testing helps to part some of the dark clouds of mystery surrounding your ancestors. Giving you a better and more accurate picture of whereabouts in the world your relatives called home.
Knowing this can be of great comfort and support (including offering a sense of kinship with others from the same areas of the world) to each of us, but potentially all the more so for who were adopted or had direct relatives who were adopted or whose family histories are largely unknown.
4. Provides more information about your ancestral female line: While some of us feel a stronger connection to male or female energy and/or deities, and some prefer not to assign or identify with gendered energy or aspects of the divine (or ourselves), here on earth we are all the product of countless generations of males and females engaging in the reproductive act.
Unfortunately, historically, less information was, in some times and places at least, recorded for our female ancestors. Names, birth and death dates, specifics about their lives and interests, and much more has frequently been lost to history. And the same is certainly true for many males, too, of course.
Ancestral DNA testing alone won’t likely be able to say what your great-great-great-great grandma’s favourite colour or dessert was. Nor can it, in and of itself, tell you her name. What it can do, however, is to help paint a better and broader picture of the female ancestral line from which you are both descended.
Everyone, regardless of gender, can benefit from honouring and connecting with the females in their family tree, some of whom, I’d be willing to bet, you both look like and may have much in common with.
In short, genetic DNA testing can help to give women a stronger presence in history, even if the particulars of their lives have sadly been lost.
It reminds us that they were just about everywhere that males populated the world for any length of time, while also reinforcing the goddess-like quality inherent to the act of giving life.
5. No one can take your ancestry away from you. Despite the atrocious, heartbreaking attempts to annihilate various populations or smaller communities of people (to say nothing of specific individuals) throughout the course of our collective history, those of us who are alive today carry in our very DNA proof of all those who came before us.
The importance of claiming and celebrating our ancestral autonomy, of knowing where we come from, and being able to connect (be it literally or in spirit) with various populations around the globe is a highly meaningful act. And to my mind, it is also a basic human right.
No matter how long you live, what you do in your life, the relationships you engage in, your job, your beliefs, or anything else, your DNA is your DNA and your ancestry is your ancestry. It cannot be stripped from you, for your DNA is quite literally what you are made of on a cellular level.
There is such an uplifting sense of strength, positive power, and inspiration to be found in this fact. Which you can apply to your witchery in a multitude of different ways, from having greater inner confidence to learning more about the peoples you are descended from to actively making elements of their cultures a part of your spiritual path.
Ancestral DNA testing is its own form of modern-day magic
Is ancestral DNA necessary in order to live your witchiest life? Definitely not. But that doesn’t mean that availing of an ancestral genetic testing service can’t be of meaningful, perhaps even substantial, benefit to you as a witch and/or Pagan.
It is important to note that if you wish to research if you’re descended from an accused witch or if you come from a family lineage that included people who practiced witchcraft (or were cunning folk, shamans, etc), genealogical research usually will need to be employed as well.
And even then, scant to little direct evidence may be found in many instances. For a multitude of understandable reasons, it wasn’t always the safest thing to flaunt one’s witchiness far and wide in various times and places past.
Though, conversely, sometimes it was the fact that someone was a healer, cunning woman, local witch, etc that helped the stories of their lives and abilities carry forth through the generations to the present day (this may be especially true in families with a long history of hereditary witchcraft).
While some of us, myself included, are firm believers in past lives, at the end of the day, we are each currently living our life in the here and now.
The physical body that our soul/spirit presently resides in is connected to the entirety of humanity as it has existed from the days of our collective mitochondrial mama.
Genetic DNA testing is a miracle of scientific discovery and understanding. Imagine, even just a few short generations ago, having the ability to look back in time across the span of human history care of a wee vile of our salvia?
It’s remarkable that we’re able to know and learn so much about ourselves and our ancestors via this incredible technology.
If you have the chance to use a genetic testing service, I highly recommend doing so. And if you’ve already availed of this kind of service, consider reflecting further on how the results you received about your ancestry can be of benefit to you from a spiritual standpoint.
While my ancestry composition tells me that I’m 99.7% European, that number is further broken down in the report I received and its results both back up and expand on where my genelogical research informs me that my ancestors hailed from.
The fact that I’m comprised of fair number of different European ancestries, most of which stem from Northern and Central Europe, helps me to feel that my natural inclination to associate with the Pagan traditions of these areas is exactly the spiritual path I’m meant to be on.
They echo down through the ages and are a part of both my genetic memory and my literal genetic sequencing. As it’s pretty safe to assume that if we go far enough back in time, plenty of my German, Scandinavian, Russian, French, Irish, British, etc ancestors would have been straight up Pagans.
I like to think that it might also be part of the reason why, at the end of the day, I’m an eclectic witch who cannot spend enough time in the woods, feels instinctively at home around people who speak certain European language that I know scarcely a word of, and why my heart is called to so fiercely by various parts of the world.
The connections you develop, already have and may deepen, or what surprises come your way via genetic DNA testing and how it corresponds to your own witchery will vary from mine. They will help to strengthen your life’s story along with the voices of your ancestors, whoever they were and wherever in the world they called home.
We grow as people the more we learn about ourselves and our ancestors. Doing so reminds us of the fact the entirety of humanity is interconnected and that for all of our differences – be they real or perceived – at the end of the day, we have far more in common with one another than points that set us apart.
Yet true as that is, we each have our own wonderfully unique origin stories as well. Ancestral DNA testing allows us to explore branches in our families trees that might never have been accessible to us were it not for this extraordinary technology.
If that is scientific magic in action, I don’t know what is! 😊
Have you used an ancestral DNA testing service before? If so, how did what you discovered (or had confirmed) influence your witchery or Pagan practice?
PS: Happiest Canada Day wishes to all of my fellow Canadians who are toasting our nation’s birthday today. 🍁