From Elder to Ancestor by S. Kelley Harrell

Excerpt from Chapter One of my upcoming book, From Elder to Ancestor – Nature Kinship for All Seasons of Life

Our Cultural Relationship to Animistic Elderhood

Owning Our Personal Role in the Broken Path

The glaring truth behind all of this is once our European ancestors were colonized, they turned that trauma into colonizing other cultures. They set a trauma pattern into motion that not only both denied and compounded their experience of colonization, they also created additional trauma for themselves and others by doing what was done to them. In the same way that early ancestral laws of displacement formed the basis of institutional othering that biases our socioeconomic and political systems today, so did the behavioral responses of our ancestors form the attitudes, fear, and hatred that empowers othering today. This destructive part of our past isn’t separate from our culture of hatred now. It is not separate from our collective and personal breaks from Nature.

It’s a big ask to deal with your shit and not hand it down to your kids, take it out on your co-workers, re-enact it in your community, and pretty much every relationship you ever touch. Have you made that kind of commitment?  Are you ready to walk a path of wisdom and leave a legacy that nourishes generations to come? That’s what I asked myself every day–some days every hour–that I wrote this book.  Some days the answer was no. Some days it was yes, then I’d screw it up within minutes. 

I screwed it up today.

I’ll screw it up tomorrow.

But that’s also why I wrote it all down. Because no matter what I will continue to work on not handing my shit down, I just needed to give some order to what a process to do better might look like. I needed to see the places I needed to work on all in one place, so I could remember how to check myself, to be checked.

That’s what I hope From Elder to Ancestor inspires for y’all. It’s not a book of shaming–yourself or your parents. The reality there is we’ve not had fit animistic elders for several thousand years. It’s also not about aging gracefully; it’s about the messy, devastating, and gorgeous life practice of crafting your own elderhood and becoming a fit Ancestor.

Another question I asked myself a million times in the course of writing this book, from the moment I felt it wanting to be given words to the last revisions, is who do I think I am to write something this provocative, this intimate. But who am I not to? Because like I said, I needed to see the parts I do know to manage all in one place, concise, organized, no excuses, looking back at me–not unlike my kids when I screw up. 

There’s no specific formula in this book for how to become a fit elder, though it does have the capacity to help you:

  • Awaken to your connection to the natural world: to learn how to see the sacredness in every leaf, every whisper of wind. This animistic connection is the foundation of elderhood and a key to becoming a wise ancestor.
  • Heal your shadow selves: not about hide your flaws, but understand and integrate them, confront past traumas and dysfunctional patterns, and pave the way for a whole and healthy elder self.
  • Honor your lineage: Ancestors aren’t just dusty ghosts in the family tree; they’re a living force shaping your present. This book guides you in connecting with your Sacred Parents and Ancestors, healing your family line, and leaving a legacy of love and wisdom.
  • Embrace your inner divinity: you are part of the sacred web of life. From Elder to Ancestor helps you recognize your inherent worth and identify the unique gifts you have to offer your community as an elder.

From Elder to Ancestor is available for pre-order, and comes out 4 June 2024.

From Elder to Ancestor by S. Kelley Harrell
Runes for Change community, Soul Intent Arts, Kelley Harrell

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S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.

I’m an animist, author, deathwalker and death doula. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts I’ve helped others to ethically build thriving spiritual paths as fit, embodied elders, who upon death become wise, capable Ancestors. My work is Nature-based, and focuses soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral healing, and deathwork. I’m author of Runic Book of Days, and I host the podcast, What in the Wyrd. I also write The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Full bio.

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elder well, die well, ancestor well


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The Spirited Path Soul Tending Intensive
Reawakening with the Runes mini class

Elder Well

To bear your unique gift to the world.

Die Well

To leave the planet better than you found it.

Ancestor Well

So that your descendants never elder alone.