This is adapted from a post I made in a group in Facebook. I have adapted that significantly to contain more information
Full disclosure, I have anyone talking about DNA and spirituality at a disadvantage. I have a postgraduate qualification in Bioinformatics (using statistics, computer science and Biological science to understand genetics, and other complex things in nature). I am a full on geek on Genetics. Hit me with a rolled-up news paper or squirt bottle if I go too far into geeking.
At the end of this, are some words explained.
There are a number of organizations out there in the Pagan and occult world that will talk about how culture, and our Gods are coded into our DNA. This includes Steven McNallen founder of the AFA (he has a pseudo-scientific idea called Metagenetics (like metaphysics, get it?)), most forms of Folkish Heathenry (Folkish from the German Völkisch, meaning its in the blood). It also appears in Greek, and Slavic paganism. Increasingly I see talk of “Witch genes”.
The racial and ethnic groups we think of are actually not genetic entities. I will avoid the long argument. But basically race is not a genetic thing, and culture is a memetic. When you get a genetic test that says you are 50% Cone head, its based off non-coding parts of your DNA, thus it is not expressed in anything physical. Further what they measure are what is known as SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms), which are single nucleic acids (the building blocks of DNA) different what is expected.
Simply put there are no genes for culture. Which is a good thing, as one could theoretically remove someone’s “celticness” by silencing some genes. Or make someone Nordic through adding a gene mutation in. That sounds like bullshit right? Because it is.
Any group that insists you need to be genetically part of a cultural group, is full of shit. When I see First nations talk about you need to be part of the culture, they mean they don’t want outsiders stealing more of their heritage. They do not care what your genes say. If they had adopted someone not of First nation ancestry, brought them up in it…. They would consider them of that culture. Similarly they are not going to accept someone who is 1/100th ancestry in.
The lesson from this is, a living culture decides who can and can not partake in cultural spiritual practices. Those who reconstruct or revive a practice (as all neo-pagan practices are, there were no survivals), can introduce a lot of stuff in. But if they decide something in your DNA is important. They are at least racialist.
Now let us look at an example of what genetic ancestry testing actually give you. These are all of the same data set I received from Ancestry.com. It shows that I am (according to how they interpret their data) mostly Irish and Scottish, then Northwestern European, and a vestigial bit of Bantu people. That last one could be interpreted due to some slaves of the Romans or a later admixture. At 1% its meaningless to guess. (Figure 1)
The same date in myHeritage is similar (though percentages different). What was Bantu is now likely Greek or Southern Italian. That implies the Legions of Rome more strongly, but no proof. (Figure 2)
DNA Land again with the same data is much less precise, but more descriptive. I am 90% North Western European. (Figure 3)
All right, so clear? Well don’t get excited. These companies have tailored these results to give what people expect !I use another site, that is full of various academic models for this data. The Eurogenes project only tries to tell where in Europe your ancestors may have come from (not the entire population). As you can see its a shot gun result. It does not look like the previous examples. (Figure 4)
Whats even more interesting, is technically the geneticists see 7 populations in the world which are different enough to differentiate. These do not really compare to races. So don’t think there are seven races. again this is from non coding data. No physical differences are being measured. The above K7 data shows I am mostly European Hunter Gatherer, then Near Eastern. This sort of agrees with the idea that agrarian culture came into Europe and pushed the hunter gatherer civilization to extinction (not the people, but the life style). But according to THIS data I should be hunting mammoth. (Figure 5)
The K8 test adds in an 8th option for population (the thoughtfully named “other”) Now however I am Still mostly Hunter gatherer (51.6%) 29.2% Llinearbandkeramik (aka the first farmers, from the near east) and 16.6% Oceanian. Wait what? Where did that come from? Yes I live in Oceania, but all the other tests hint at European ancestry. My family history has no indication of this either. I know very little about my Fathers side, but my recently discovered half sister (thanks to Ancestry.com) has no hint of this either. What this probably is, is some poorly defined information in that K8 test. During my training in bioinformatics my DNA showed 1-2% Polynesian, which is basically impossible to have, due to the number of generations of Europeans have been in New Zealand. Its noise. Or a SNP that is more common in Polynesians than others. Either way, I’d have no problem being Oceanian or Polynesian. (Figure 6)
Last one I promise.
The MDLPK33 test has defined 33 groups (again not races), I’ve cut the image a bit badly but that 83.4% is “Western European”, I am low in British (whatever that means, I suspect Anglo-Saxon admixture with Brythionic Celtic Britons, not a shock The Irish and those north of Hadrian’s wall avoided mixing). there are two pages of results for me. So I’ve included the same graph showing both. (Figure 7)
It is a little unclear what the little rats and mice bits of that ancestry is, so to clear up what my ancestry according to the MDLPK33 test is, I’ve included the Bar graph . This test has 33 different “groups” (not races) defined. (Figure 8)
What do all these pretty pictures tell us? Well firstly the idea of race is not really what we think. Secondly that DNA tests should not be trusted 100% for ancestry as you can cook the results. Lastly, I am a big nerd with this sort of thing.
If you’d like to read more about the ideas, I recommend the book Skin Deep: Journeys in the Divisive Science of Race by Gavin Evans (Figure 9)
Some words to be aware of.
Genetic. Is something passed on by DNA, and is heritable. Also subject to mutation (its how species evolved).
Memetic. Is something that is passed on by cultures. Dawkins invented the term meme (to mirror gene) and we are not talking cat photos here (well we could be). Your Religion, Language, and cultural identity is purely memetic. Note Memetics also mutate. Its how cultures evolve.
Revived Religion. Is a religion that has been reborn, and adheres to what people thought the past owners did, as opposed to what can be proven. An example is all the “Druid” groups who gather at stone circles on solar occasions (solstices and equinoxes) to worship. That is not Celtic, or Druid. But people still associate this as such.
Reconstructed Religion. Is likewise a religion reborn, but trys in at least part to reconstruct the socially acceptable practices of the people we are mimicking. This means, as much as I want too, I can’t head hunt my foes, and keep the best ones preserved in cedar oil to show honoured guests. That was a celtic practice. Its not socially acceptable. So we don’t do it.
Racialist. IS the idea that there are genetically different races. It may or may not included the belief any are superior or inferior if it does, it is Racism.
Racism. The idea that a race is superior to others.