Third in my little tiki tour into the world of culture, spirituality, and genetics. That you can take a genetic test, and it shows you, with out a doubt, what your ancestral journey has been.
As we have seen from my last two blogs on the idea that DNA tells you, that you of a certain ancestry, and that race is a social construct, DNA tests are not absolute, no matter what a testing company tells you. We have even seen that different companies will tell you different things, based on the same data.
But lets quickly recap.
I had my DNA tested by Ancestry.com. Which said I was 51% Irish and Scottish, 48% North Western European (excluding Irish and Scottish), which they take to mean England, Cymru (Wales), and France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, though they tend to make that out to be from Northern England, the Scottish Lowlands, and Northern Ireland. IF I was to take this at face value, the best I could say I was, was British in ancestry. Ignoring the 1% statistical noise (as we saw from that blog that could be from a number of places).
I then took my DNA data file, and had different companies give me a free analysis, and saw that answers varied form 90% – 98% North Western European (and some other bits) to a mixture of almost 50:50 Hunter gatherer and Anatolian Farmer, to some tests showing a real hodge podge of groups. I lean to the hodge podge. None of the tests I’ve shown have measure my Neanderthal or Denisovan admixture. This is because my data set was not looking for that. One day I will do those tests, for fun.
The message from that blog was, don’t see the results you get as 100% set in stone. The percentage certainty is usually 60 to 70% at best. Because its bloody complicated.
In the second blog, we saw, or at least I hope you did, that race is a social construct, and that there is no such thing as a genetic propensity towards a specific spiritual practice. The gods did not leave a path in our DNA to them. Not in the way some people claim they have.
Your language, spirituality, etc are cultural, and learned, and you can add to them, and abandon them over time. Its not hard wired.
So I’ve sat online since the late 1980s, and seen an increase (with the increase in DNA testing) recently of “I’m a Celt/Viking/Hellinic and my DNA has led me to my Gods). They are certain, its in their DNA.
Lets go over a few things. I will use “Celt” as the example, as that is how I identify spiritually. I will explain a little about that (See Appendix 1 for my Pagan journey).
Think to yourself, what physically makes a “Celt” a “Celt”. I’ve seen “red hair” and pale skin. While about 46% of the Irish (and 36% Highland Scots (who are related to the Irish) carry genes for red hair, that if they have children with another child, will give a red head), its not exclusive to them. Which is a problem as there are several mutations of the MC1R gene that cause red hair, including one in Neanderthals (not as far as we know to be seen in modern humans), Asians, First Nations Americans, Oceania, and yes Sub Saharan Africa. While Northern Europe has a higher percentage, its not unique.
Similarly, pale skin? No. The confusion over “red hair” might come from Greek and Roman reports of Gaul’s (who usually can be considered Celts, except when a Lazy Roman calls any barbaric group a Gaul, or Germanic or whatever). They said that the Warriors spiked their hair with lime, which would have bleached darker hair, to a reddish blonde. Before rendering the warrior bald over time.
People of “Celtic” ancestry are more likely to Haemochromatosis (an overload of iron in the blood stream that can cause problems). Again its not specific to the “Celts”. English, and Scandinavian folk have it too.
In all these examples “Celt” refers to the modern Celtic Speaking peoples of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, Breton etc ancestry.
Which leads us to the modern DNA based ancestry testing. If you look at the y Chromosome haplogroup R1b-L21, it is somewhat likely to indicate that your male ancestor is descended from a group that was culturally “Celtic” (Figure 1). (1), (2) As always just because you have this marker, it does not mean you are a “Celt” (for example). More on this later.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups are less informative, if you are seeking to prove you are from somewhere. This is due in many ways to migrations involving men, more than women. However, the most common mtDNA haplogroup in the Celtic Nations is from th H family (H3). That is common all through Europe. While its not set in stone, it may have entered Europe during the spread of agriculture. We saw that the Hunter-Gatherer peoples died out or were breed out.
I will say it again. What is generally measured in these Haplogroups are measuring generally noncoding parts of DNA. Its not physical traits, but, measurable parts of the DNA that are being analysed for.
Ancestry companies, also analyse a range of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are more common (but not unique) in certain groups. This is how they assign your ancestry.
So one last time with feeling. Those tests do not prove you are something. But why?
Because I will say it a gain, your ancestors culture, is not genetic. Its learned by growing up in it. Their spiritual practices, their language, their culinary habits, etc, are not part of their DNA.
So lets for the moment agree I’m mostly a ‘Celt’ (I don’t make that claim) in ancestry. We will use the test that agrees the most, and say some where between 80 and 90% of my ancestors had ancestors who had ancestors, who were Celts. I’m not a Celt. See Appendix 2 for a definition of Celtic.
I do not fluently speak a Celtic language, I don’t live in a culture where the caste system of Druids, Warriors, and producers (plus the slaves) exists. I don’t take the heads of my greatest enemies and preserve them in cedar oil to show my honoured guests. I don’t do any of that. No I live in New Zealand. With massive Maori influences, to go with my British influences, and a growing Asian influence.
Nor are you. If you live in a modern Celtic nation. Then you live as a modern Celt (probably), which is not the same as a Pre-Christian Celt. Even them, which sort of Celt? The Irish kingdoms? Which one? Gaul? Pre of post Roman occupation, Pre-roman? Cis or Trans alpine?
Its that simple. We as modern pagans. Are not, I repeat NOT, doing as our ancestors did. We are hopefully showing that respect, though I don’t always see that either.
So no, I am not a Celt. I am not a Druid. Claiming to be so, is dishonest, and disrespectful. Thus any group that says you must be a person of a particular ancestral group to take part. Is full of shit. they are not doing as their ancestors did. Oh and those ancestors tended not to be that picky either. This modern racism, is well modern.
Appendix 1: My Pagan journey (one retelling. I have told versions of this over the years, the details remain mostly consistent, I just happen to mistakenly or wilfully not include pieces)
As a teen, I was staunchly atheist, but going to a Scottish Presbyterian school. I kept my ideas to myself, as I did not like idea of going to detention, because I was not fearing their god. At about 14 I travelled to the UK with my maternal Grandmother, and then maternal Uncle (now transitioned to Aunt). In store, I bought myself a pewter Mjolnir pendant. I liked how it looked. I also got given a copy of the Edda written by Snorri Sturluson. I had a small epiphany. I saw in England a bunch of Anglo-Saxon sites, as well as pre Celtic ones, in Scotland I saw more, Wales? Well it was mostly Castles. But I felt inspired that you could be a polytheistic individual, and still vaguely rational (after all, how the fuck did they build all those monuments?). In my senior year I had turned down the role of prefect, because I had no interest in reading from the bible in chapel, and they did not allow me to substitute other secular texts. To their sorrow, I firmly said no. I also refused to go to chapel as they had never noticed me missing in the past. I also discovered the Irish Myths. They spoke to me more than the Northern Germanic ones. So I hunted down more books. That is when I discovered a section in the University Bookstore, that held “alternative spirituality”. This was 1990, and it was quite small, varied, and sadly full of rubbish. But I spent my awards for academic excellence on Myths, legends, and in one case a book on pagan practice. They never knew what they awarded me. I am very proud of that bit of resistance on my part.
Over my time at university, I discovered the idea of neopagan Druidism/Druidry. I thought I followed that path. In late 1999 I sent money to join The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), the Henge of Keltria, and Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF). I stuck with that last one for 17 years (even though it took them 6 bloody months to get me joined). By 2006 while I was living in the USA I had discovered the idea of Celtic Reconstructionist faith. Here were are in 2019, around 33 years later, and I call myself a Senistrognata (“Ancestral Customs” in reconstructed Old Celtic), because I follow the Gods of my Irish ancestors (according to the records my family kept, not my DNA tests) and the Gaulish ones, because I feel called to them.
Appendix 2: Whats a Celt
The term Celt, is almost as dangerous as Race. If you talk to an archalogist they will tell you one thing, ask an ethnologist, they will tell you another. It’s a very broud term. However we shall use the following definition from the Celtic Reconstructionist FAQ. (1)
“Celtic” applies to a group of related languages in the Indo-European language group and the cultures that developed in the communities that speak these languages. Celtic identity is not based on genetics or “blood” but on being part of this linguistic and cultural grouping.”
- Haplogroup R1b-L21. Wikipedia. [Online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_R1b-L21.
- Haplogroup R1b (YDNA). Europedia. [Online] https://www.eupedia.com/europe/Haplogroup_R1b_Y-DNA.shtml#L21.
- What do you mean by “Celtic” . CR FAQ. [Online] http://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html#whatisceltic.
- Translation (biology). Wikipedia. [Online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation_(biology).
- RNA and Transcription. . Slide player . [Online] https://slideplayer.com/slide/7962625/.
- Witherspoon, D. J., et al. Genetic Similarities Within and Between Human Populations. Genetics. 2007, Vol. 176, 1, pp. 351-359.
- Non-coding DNA. Wikipedia. [Online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-coding_DNA.