Religion is Art

A few weeks ago, I was driving to rehearsal and watching the sun set, and I had a thought. It was a small thought that needed a lot of fleshing out. Here is what I wrote down in my little book of thoughts: “changing roles of religion. Explain the world-given to science. Community building/cohesion—lost. Devotion to deities-check. Religion as artistic expression?”

By all that, I mean that I was thinking about the roles religion plays and has historically played in people’s lives. And that all of that is shifting monumentally these days.

When we’re children and we learn about polytheism in schools, they teach us the myths from the standpoint that the ancients needed the myths to explain the world around them. Like the Greeks needed Arachne to know why there are spiders and Zeus to know why there are thunderbolts. Fast forward a few thousand years, and we have the Jews and the Christians who do this in a different way. Religion becomes historical fact, which is in turn used to explain the world.

Fast forward a few thousand years again, and we have the scientific revolution. We look to reason as the source of truth. We find out about the Big Bang and that we revolve around the sun. We find out about evolution and that lightening is really caused by electric charges. We no longer need religion and myth to explain the world around us, and we have the rise of atheism—those people who see reason as the ultimate source of truth. And many religious groups feel severely threatened by this.

Those groups, most notably in American the fundamentalist Biblical literalists, see religion as science. The two seem to serve the same purpose in many ways. Rather than looking to science textbooks for facts about the universe, they look to the Bible. And that, my friends, is why we have intense, public arguments about whether we should teach evolution or creation in our science classes. Each group holds The Truth that should be science because science is, almost by definition, The Truth (even when scientists recognize that it’s only the truth according to currently known facts). The scientists want religion to remain religion, the biblical literalists want religion to be science, and so they say that science is just a new religion.

And so we heathens creating and reviving a religion for the modern world should think about this. Our religion is not science. We should not fall into this trap. The younger generation looking for a spiritual life, on the whole, looks to science for The Truth about the world and the universe. And if we fall into this and start saying that it is literally true that the world revolves around a giant tree, we will lose everyone. On the other hand, I admit fully here that I haven’t seen that happening. What I have seen happening is people taking the Eddas and Sagas to be the Truth about our gods and what we should believe, but that’s probably better saved for a separate post.

The second major purpose of religion has long been community building. The heathens used to have giant community feasts on the holidays. Christians have Church. We heathens don’t have so much of that in the real world today. Along with the rise of individualism comes the fall of true religious community. And by true, I mean fleshy. The heathen community these days is online. True, there are moots and kindred and meetups. True, we’ll drive pretty far to meet a like-minded heathen or pagan. But our like-minded heathens are few and far between. And that is because in today’s world, religion is becoming increasingly personal. It’s about you and the gods. That’s why there are so many pagans who choose to be solitary even when there’s a coven who is mostly the same not very far away. We don’t want to make compromises in our faith, even if it means flesh-and-blood community. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. No one should have to compromise their beliefs in order to fit in if we’re to have an individualist world. We find community in other places. I find it in the dance world, and with my online heathen and pagan friends. We don’t have ritual together, but we do have intellectual conversations, which are essential. I have flesh-and-blood rituals at dance rehearsals with people who agree with me that reason is not the ultimate arbiter of knowledge. And so community building is largely lost as a purpose of our religion. Where it exists, it is a happy by-product, not a purpose.

The primary purpose of heathenry, then, is left to the mystical. We are heathens because of our devotion. Not just to the gods. Also to our ancestors and our heritage and the beautiful pre-industrialized past where our ancestors lived and died and starved. To the earth who is screaming for our attention. To the land-wights we have forgotten, who are angry with us, and who appreciate it when we treat them kindly. But also to the gods. To their passion and their beauty and their fearsomeness. To their pleasant longevity. To the way that the world goes around and the warmth of the sunlight and the sweat pouring down our backs as we dance. To the feeling of intoxication and the fear of being lost on a cold, snowy winter night. To the terrifying sound of a loud clap of thunder. To our emotions, to love and hate and joy. To all the manifold ways of gathering information and knowledge that are not reason—emotion, personal experience, bodily information, gut feelings.

And because of that, we should look to religion more as art than as science if we want to survive in the increasingly scientific world we live in. Because with art, everything is true. Everything that is possible to be believed, that is impossible to believe can all be true simultaneously. Because with art, truth is not relegated only to The Truth that is rational or written down centuries and centuries ago. The Truth in art is what makes us feel, what makes us think, what makes us act. It is what makes us see a painting and question the way that we live our lives. It is what makes people listen to music and cry. It is how we express our love for the gods and the way that they make us feel and live. But it is also the gods. When our religion is art and the gods are our truth, we are free to believe that the world revolves around a tree instead of the sun without being unreasonable, but while being simultaneously as unreasonable as they come. Because why try to apply reason to religion? To quote Nietzsche, “there is always some madness in love, but there is always some reason in madness.” We love the gods and the land not because it is reasonable, but because they call us with their immense power. That it is reasonable to respect Mother Earth is a side point, the hidden reason in our madness. But the madness of our love is that we respect Her solely because we feel She is worthy of respect.

A few days after my sunset-watching drive to rehearsal, I was reading Joseph Campbell. I alternately find him insufferably irritating and find things in what he write that inspire me to think deeply about what he’s saying. I will close with a brief example of how he makes me think.

There were many Japanese members of the congress, not a few of them Shinto priests, and on the occasion of the lawn party in the precincts of a glorious Japanese garden, our friend approached one of these. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I’ve been now to a good many ceremonies and have seen quite a number of shrines, but I don’t get the ideology; I don’t get your theology.’

“The Japanese (you may know) do not like to disappoint visitors, and this gentleman, polite, apparently respecting the foreign scholar’s profound question, paused as though in deep thought, and then, biting his lips, slowly shook his head. ‘I think we don’t have ideology,’ he said, ‘We don’t have theology. We dance.’

Works Cited:

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell

An ecstatic dance how-to

I’m performing this weekend (yay! I love performing!), so I don’t have time to write a big essay. Instead, I have decided to write a little on how to actually do ecstatic dance.

It’s actually a pretty nerve-wracking thing to try to do, especially at first. And I find that, in general, there are two groups of people who have the hardest time with it–people who have never danced or think of themselves as really bad dancers, and very well-trained dancers.

When I first set out to do ecstatic dance, I fell under the latter category. I had over ten years of dance training. But all that had done was to limit my ideas about dance. I didn’t know how to dance whatever felt good, and only knew how to do choreography. And then when I tried just dancing, I felt lost and intimidated by the open space.

So here are my pointers on how to get over that intimidation and just dance.

1. Put on music that makes you feel like grooving, but that you aren’t too familiar with. I find that it’s harder to get into a trance if it’s music I can hum along to because I stay so focused on the “OMG! I Love this song!” sort of feeling than feeling my body in motion. For starters, I recommend Gabrielle Roth’s work, particularly Endless Wave. It’s sort of like the guided meditation of ecstatic dance. The first time I danced to this cd was the first time I ever really experienced trance. All you have to do is find some space, put it on, listen to the music, and do what she says. It’s about half an hour long, and amazing.

2. If you don’t have something like Endless Wave, then make for yourself some kind of improvisational structure. This can be anything. You could dance what a tree feels like to you. You could set up a pretend playground in your living room with one corner a slide and another a merry-go-round and another swings and a monkey bar. You could dance as slowly as possible. You could dance as if you’re starving, and there’s a giant peach in the room, but it’s too big for your mouth to fit around it. You could dance by pointing in different directions. You could dance on the subject of Laban’s efforts. If you’re feeling heatheny, you could dance how a particular rune feels. It doesn’t matter what the structure is, so long as there is one. Improvising with no structure is extremely difficult, even for the most practiced improviser. I always make myself some kind of structure, no matter how simple. Sometimes I’ll start out with one and then let it go and just move partway through. But it’s important to have something, so that you don’t feel intimidated to just move.

3. If all that isn’t working for you, just do something simple over and over. You could just sway your hips or take forward and back steps. Just so long as you’re moving. Then, you can make simple additions–slowly raise your arms up while you keep the rhythm of your hips. Or roll your head in a circle.

Once you’ve gotten yourself moving, try not to think about whether you’re doing it well or not. That saying “dance like no one is watching” applies here. Don’t worry about what it looks like, worry about what it feels like. Notice how raising your arms causes a different emotional state than lowering them. Feel the weight of your head on your neck and the articulation of your feet on the floor. Even if you’re just swaying, feel your hip joints rocking in their sockets. Just follow the feel of the movement.

When we are children, we’re taught about the five senses–sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. When they taught you that, they were lying to you. And it was something that always bothered me–if those are the senses, how do I know if my knee is bent or not without looking? Is that touch? But my knee isn’t touching anything.

There are many other senses, including my favorites–proprioception (the awareness of where your body is in space) and kinesthesia (the sensation of movement). While trying out ecstatic dance, make friends with these senses. Remember that they exist and that they are helpful to you in your life–they are why you can walk. Close your eyes and use those senses we so often ignore and take for granted. These senses are your awareness of your body. They are how we find embodiment. Dancing is like the sound of music or the taste of chocolate. It is the bliss of proprioception and kinesthesia.

Valentine’s Day/ Vanadis Day

Happy Valentine’s/Vanadis’ Day everyone!

In my house, Valentine’s day is one of the most sacred holidays. It’s up there with Walpurgisnacht/May Day, Yule, and the Summer Solstice.

I don’t celebrate Imbolc. It doesn’t do anything for me. To me, February 2 is Groundhog Day, which is a very minor holiday that marks the fact that winter is halfway over. But there has been a whole lot more winter since then than there was before–we (and pretty much everyone on this coast) had record-breaking snowfall in the past week, so it does not feel like winter is wrapping up.

Here, in the doldrums of winter, I would much rather celebrate love and joy and sex. I know that Valentine’s Day was basically invented by the greeting card companies, and I hate how commercialized and gross it is. But what it celebrates is something that I WANT to celebrate, deep down at the core of my being. The thing that I care so much about that I worship two goddesses who rule over it. Love. Relationships. Those people who make the fight of life worth living, who make it worth it to get through winter until spring comes back again. The people who can make being stuck inside for days because there are four feet of snow falling outside into a joyous celebration of existence. Love and pink and flowers and joy. And Freyja and Sjofn.

And so, in my house, Valentine’s Day is the midwinter holiday of choice. And I call it Vanadis’ Day. I dedicate it to Freyja and Sjofn–the goddesses who have given me my loved ones.

We didn’t buy anything except food. For everything else, we did what love does–we made do with what we had, and we loved what was around us.

Here are some pictures:

My sister made us a candy heart wreath.

My boyfriend and I got dressed up. Here we are in between the paper heart garlands I made to decorate the kitchen. You may notice I am barefoot. This is because I hate shoes and love to feel the earth (even when it’s carpet) beneath my feet.

See look! We love each other! Thanks, Freyja and Sjofn!

We went on a walk through the snowy woods and discovered a meditating cave that I will use when it gets warmer out:

We made a dinner of aphrodisiacs in honor of Freyja and Sjofn. I gave a speech dedicating the food to them, and then we enjoyed it thoroughly. It was the first time my (Christian) boyfriend ever saw me make a formal dedication speech, and he was quite impressed. I cried tears of joy.

It was a very joyous meal. Afterward, we had danced and sang to the goddesses, and then had a private sex ritual together. Then we ate delicious chocolate cake and watched a chick flick.

It was our first Vanadis day together (we’ve been in a long-distance relationship for five years, and this is only the second year I’ve celebrated Valentine’s in honor of Freyja and Sjofn), and it was a truly wonderful experience. I have been working on getting my boyfriend more involved in my religion. He’s been wonderfully supportive, and he’s beginning to truly understand what it is that heathenry does for me, the joy that I get out of my goddesses and gods. It was my first time really celebrating with someone else, and I am very excited to do more. I was a bit nervous about making him uncomfortable, but there was nothing beyond love and joy here. I feel so very blessed to have him. I was a (bad) Christian when we started dating six and a half years ago. He’s been there with me all along, through three (or four, depending how you count) religions. And except for the first few weeks after I converted to paganism, he hasn’t been anything but supportive. He sees that heathenry is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me, and tells me that he wouldn’t change my religion for anything.  He is so open to my religion and knows now that my gods are real. He’s wonderful.

Hail Freyja! Hail Sjofn! Thank you for the love that you’ve given and the joy that you are! May we never fail to see you before us!

The Case for a Dancing Heathenry, Part 2

The Historical Case for Heathen Dancing

Despite dance being so prevalent of a religious activity for paleo- and meso- pagans, as I discussed in my last post, modern reconstructionists seem to have ignored it.

While it’s true that if we’re trying to accurately reconstruct the religious practices of our ancestors, we are extremely unlikely to be able to dance like them. It might be possible to take modern folk dances, like Morris Dancing or Saami dances, and try to extrapolate backward to recreate sword dances written about by Tacitus. Dance does not survive well in archeology. Almost every kind of art leaves evidence behind—music can leave instruments, paintings and statues remain if they are lucky. But dance (and singing) do not survive because they do not have obvious tools. Dance is ephemeral by nature and never survives beyond a moment.

Despite all that, there is evidence to clearly show that our heathen ancestors are not an exception to the intimate pairing of dance and polytheism.

If we cannot accurately reconstruct the dances of our ancestors, why do we not create our own anew? Why are our religious rituals so solemn rather than ecstatic? We drink mead and cheer, make oaths, blot, give offerings, say prayers. Sometimes, but rarely, we sing. Why do we not dance? We praise the gods for giving us food, homes, sexual pleasure, lives. But we do not thank them for our bodies which are our lives. And what better way to do that than to dance? I can think of no activity more joyous, more able to build community, that brings us closer to our living, breathing nature. Many neo-pagan groups seem to have found the joy in dance, and, as far as I can tell, neopagan festivals seem to be filled with fires and drum circles and dancing. But heathen rituals are drinking and oathing.

If we are attempting to build a religion based on the past (which I am only half doing, admittedly. I believe the past is an important part of our faith, but that we should be looking to it for inspiration to create modern forms of worship rather than trying to recreate based on the scant evidence that survives for over a thousand years), then we can look to the evidence left for little hints that dance was important.

Tacitus provides us with one such example. Apparently, heathen men would “dance naked amidst drawn swords and presented spears. Practice…conferred skill at this exercise, and skill [gave] grace; but they [did] not exhibit for hire or gain: the only reward of his pastime, though a hazardous one, [was] the pleasure of the spectators” (Tacitus Germania, Oxford Translation). So heathen men, at least, danced. And it seems to me truly fitting that the heathens’ main dancing style of Tacitus’ period would be a highly dangerous one. The heathen men do like to do crazy things for honor. But this wasn’t only a crazy stunt of the kind modern teenage boys do. It took them practice, it made them graceful and agile. I would imagine that this dance would have been very helpful in battle to avoid being hit by the enemies’ swords and spears.

There is something here, also, of the presentational aspect of dance. I would love to say that I dance only for myself, that I do it because I love it and it makes me feel whole. But on the other hand, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it largely because I enjoy having people watch me. I enjoy impressing my audience by doing things that they themselves are incapable of. It’s like a boast of the variety encouraged in sumble. It’s my way of saying, “Look how strong and persistent and graceful I am!” I don’t much like to say how strong and persistent and graceful I am because that seems like the wrong kind of boasting. It is better to boast of specific deeds. And to boast by dancing, to show how dedicated I truly am in an undeniable way seems to be the best to me. It’s the only way for my boast to be true. And this, I think, is the purpose of the sword dance. To boast by dancing, to prove through grace and agility one’s strength and power.

Tacitus isn’t the only evidence of dance, though. For the other main evidence from the time of the heathens, we must look back to the Bronze Age, to the Egtved Girl and the string skirted bronze statues.

The Egtved Girl is a mummy buried in a wooden coffin around 1400 B.C. She wore a string skirt and a belt with a large disc on it. The disc probably represented the sun. And many believe that she was a dancing priestess. We know this because there have also been discovered fairly contemporaneous small bronze statues of women wearing string skirts. One is doing extremely acrobatic movements that indicate a dance. Both are from Bronze Age Denmark.

I believe that the string skirt was the ritual wear of dancing priestesses of the time. I like that they’re sort of see-through. It’s sexy, which is a reminder of the embodied, physical, sexual nature of dance. And being a priestess. I would want to be a dancing priestess, and indeed, I think of myself as one in many ways. They worshipped the sun, wearing sun disks. I imagine them dancing on hilltops and basking in the warm, golden rays.

Here is a very good little video from the National Museum of Denmark discussing the Egtved girl, mentioning the acrobatic figurine, and discussing how she was a dancer.

I would like us to have more dancing priestesses. I should hope I am not the only one. To dance is to celebrate, and what is worshipping and honoring gods besides celebrating the their aweful power?

I think that children are born dancing, and we “grow up” beyond the joy that children have. Children dance spontaneously, when they are happy, when they are barefoot in the grass, when they are with their friends. Dancing is embodied joy, expressing the beauty of the world through our worldly selves. Let us look to the Egtved girl as our example. Let us love the Sun and the gifts of the gods—joy, friendship, sex, bodies, flowers, warm sunlight, green grass—and let us dance.

Dance is the art of the body, and nothing else. It is the activity in which we create from the only thing that can ever truly be our own. If we want to remember, to worship, to find the sacred in the worldly, why do we not dance until we are gasping for air, sweating, and celebrating Life?

Works Cited:

Germania by Tacitus

National Museum of Denmark’s website

The Viking Answer Lady on String Skirts

The Case for a Dancing Heathenry, Part 1

I, and many other modern Heathens share a dream of returning the sacred to the worldly, of creating a religion of the earth—a religion of imminent gods and land spirits and ghosts rather than the religion of a single transcendent God. And so I, in my quest to find my religion in the world,  have outdoor ritual, meditation and grounding, an acceptance of sexual activity as a sacred rather than shameful act, a ritual cycle tied to the seasons. I worship Freyja and thank her for the joy to be found in embodiedness.

It’s true that I look to land spirits for guidance, and trust my own thoughts and experiences more than the average monotheist or scientific rationalist. But there is one extremely important and historical method of grounding ourselves in the body and the Earth that is often ignored by modern heathens. Nearly all paleo- and meso- pagan groups have dance as a major ritual form. And yet, heathens do not.

Most websites and books introducing new heathens and interested parties to our religion focus on historical data. This is important as our religion is primarily reconstructed. These texts almost invariably describe the ritual forms of Heathenry as the Blot, the Sumble, and perhaps the Faining if they are being accurate about the necessity for blood in a Blot, or seidh, if the author is mystically inclined. These rituals are all quite serious and solemn. But I aim to have a religion that accurately describes the world around me as I see it. I see the gods in our world. And that world is not only solemn, and neither should our rituals be. Our world has joy and silliness and fear and hope and love and hate and apathy. And so should our rituals.

I propose that all of our secular acts and art forms should have sacred corollaries, and nowhere do I see this as more notably absent in Heathenry than with dance. We eat, and we have sacred feasts. We speak, and we have sacred words in the form of prayer (assuming you are a heathen who doesn’t dismiss prayer, of which I am one). We sing, and we have sacred songs. We promise, and we have sacred oaths. Our modern world has secular dancing—mostly done in nightclubs and bars. But where, these days, is the sacred dance? Some Christian sects have liturgical dancing, but most groups reject dance as too worldly. The Sufis have their dance. Some New Age and Neopagan groups dance. Why not us? Why do we not have an important sacred representation of our embodiedness, a reflection in ourselves of the dancing of the universe, of the dance of the seasons, of the land spirits, of the cycles of life and death, of the butterflies and the wind through the grass and the weaving patterns of Wyrd?

This post will be the first in a series that will state my case for an infusion of dance into Heathenry. This first one will be evidence for dance by looking at other polytheistic traditions. Other topics will include how the West lost sacred dance, the historical case for heathen dancing, and the need for dance as an expression of our embodied, earthly selves. I may add more if I am so inspired.

African Diasporic Religions, such as Santeria and Voudou have regular dancing rituals that lead to both spiritual possession and political action. Elizabeth McAlister discusses a particular Voudou festival, Rara, in her book Rara! Vodou, Power and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora. She says that “it is possible to conceive of a distinct continuum in Haitian dance ranging from purely social, secular dance, whose purpose is to amuse, all the way to specific, sacred dances that are considered an integral and serious part of the work of serving the spirits” (McAllister 48, emphasis mine). You cannot worship the lwa without the dance. And yet we heathens, who worship and serve our own spirits, seem to have no place for dance in our worship, our festivals, our holidays. Why do we expect our gods to dismiss the dance as we do?

a documentary that further explores dance as a sacred act in Vodou. The first half is more relevant than the second, but the second is equally interesting.

In Hinduism, even the world is created and destroyed by the dancing god Shiva. Like dances in Vodou and “many other indigenous dances, the traditional Hindu dance Bharata Natayam is an expression of spirituality united with a deep commitment and respect for the environment…The dance is an offering of oneself to the divine” (Stichbury). And can there be any sacrifice more deeply felt, more selflessly given, more honest than a gift of the self? Shouldn’t all practitioners of Earth-based religions dance to feel that deep commitment? Shouldn’t all devotees turn themselves over completely to the gods they so love, to the ecstasy of dance, the breath that enters and exits the lungs, the mouth, the belly at an ever-increasing speed?

Evans-Pritchard makes extraordinary insights into dance and religion in his book Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande. He talks about the village shaman answering oracular questions by dancing. He does not suggest that after the question is asked, the shaman dances around while he thinks of an answer, but rather that the shaman “dances the question,” as if the act of dancing is the act of pondering and finding an answer. He is here suggesting that to dance is to think, that thought does not exist solely in the mind but also in the body. He is suggesting that to meso-pagans, there is no Cartesian body/mind disconnect, but rather that there is an intimate understanding that the body is the mind.

Think of yourself. Your mind is doing the thinking, and your conception of yourself includes a self-image. When you think of yourself, can you help imagining a body also? We, as modern people who have grown in a society that believes completely in the body/mind disconnect, forget that above all else, the mind is a function of the body. We think that our minds are separate from our bodies. But the brain, the theoretical house of the mind, is a bodily organ. And our minds are so strongly influenced by our bodies. As an example, extreme pain tends to remove in us the ability to philosophize. We are reminded through the pain that we are a body, and we experience our lives from that place.

Just as with pain, when you truly dance, you cannot think in the way you do in your daily life. You can only think through your body. DeCartes said, “I think, therefore, I am.” But if we break down his body/mind dualism, we find that to be embodied is to be, and there is no way to more fully express embodiedness than to dance. To think is to be just as to dance is to be. But these aren’t even separate. The body thinks and dances, the mind thinks and dreams and dances. We can dream through our bodies, we can experience our gods through our bodies. We can find, just like these polytheists in a living tradition did, that to dance is to think.

It is clear that dance is important in so many religious traditions, and it’s time that we heathens break out of the Eddas and Sagas and begin to construct a living tradition—one that lives and breathes in a way writing and toasting and researching and pouring mead into the ground never can. Dance is the art that is our bodies and, through them, our lives.

Works Cited and Further Reading:

Hindu Dance Celebrates the Earth and Spirit

Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora by Elizabeth McAlister

Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande by E.E. Evans Pritchard

Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes (yes, I have read this and I am not just quoting it because it’s a famous quote. And I believe that this work has been extremely detrimental because it reduces our bodies to carriers for our minds, which has led to the Enlightenment and the belief that reason is the most important faculty of Man, which has led to the destruction of our planet. And yes, I did just make that argument fully aware of the fact that many people will most rabidly disagree with me. Oh well, it is what it is.)

We are our ancestors

I wasn’t really planning on making this post, but I was inspired.

I was just watching a documentary that really made me think about the ancestors.

We’ve always known that we come from their bodies and, from a heathen perspective, perhaps even their spirits. And that became ever so much clearer since the understanding of genetics and how inheritance works.

But now there is new work in science on how inheritance works in ways we haven’t even dreamed–that everything they said about how parents’ experiences never influence their children might not be true at all. It seems that there is mounting evidence to suggest that various environmental factors from stress to pollutants to famine to things as small as putting an embryo on a culture dish can change the patterns of on and off switches in genes that affect the health of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and on down the line. A single hugely stressful event can affect the health of people whose parents have not yet been conceived, or the grandchildren of a woman who is still herself a fetus.

I feel an incredible connection to my ancestors right at this moment. I fear that their terrible experiences may play out in my health as I age. I feel sorrow for the fact that their difficulties may not rest with them, but may affect the children and grandchildren they would want to protect from those experiences. I hope that their joys might somehow also play a part in me, that their joys might turn on epigenetic switches of joy or immunity or health.

But now, on a level far greater and deeper than conception, we can see that we are our ancestors. We are affected by more than just their birth and existence. We are affected by their lives, their loves, their fears, their struggles. Their life dramas play out in our bodies. And we will live on in the bodies and health of our children and our children’s children.

And so I hope even more fervently than before that I may lead a good life, so that my grandchildren might.