The Tangled Hedge

A hedge-hopping awenydd follows the Mother of Life's trackways and brings back what is needed, connecting the village with the numinous wilds.

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Ancient Mothers

I’ve recently had my DNA analyzed through 23andMe (a birthday gift) and the most fascinating thing has turned out to be my maternal haplogroup. The mtDNA is found in the mitochondria, and is not subject to recombination at sexual reproduction, and a copy (which can mutate occasionally, which is how subclades and new haplotypes begin) is passed down from mothers to their children, but only daughters pass that same sequence on to the next generation, so it’s a direct matrilineal lineage back to a common ancestor, who was an ancient woman, and my great-something grandmother. In the case of my haplogroup, she was the woman who started the haplotype “U” fairly soon after humans left Africa, and her lineage goes back to the earliest common female ancestor of all humans, in Africa, (called "Mitochondrial Eve") who started the haplotype “L”.

Y-DNA is a similar thing passed from fathers to sons via the Y chromosome, which daughters don’t get, so I don’t have a paternal haplogroup, but I can find out my dad’s and brothers’ haplogroup, and know that its history is part of my family history.

I’ve even found out my father’s maternal haplogroup, so I consider that part of my history, too.

But my own maternal haplogroup is from my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother… etc.

I’ve been fascinated by history and culture since I was little, and the more ancient, the better. No wonder I ended up in the pre-Abrahamic Pagan/animistic religion of my/our ancient ancestors, eh? So this haplogroup stuff is right in that wheelhouse. We’re talking pre-Celtic Europe. Pre-Indo-European, even. Pre-agriculture. Pre-history. Stone Age Europe. And even back into Africa.

My heritage is a subclade of the U5 haplogroup (since U is so old and widespread, its subclades have become haplotypes of their own). The oldest U5 samples all dated from the Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic (c. 32,000 to 22,000 years before present), which is known for producing most of the Paleolithic venus/woman figurines. U5 is also associated with the Franco-Cantabrian mural cave art. The DNA testing companies of Britain/Ireland/Scotland/Wales have nicknames for the haplogroups, and U5 is called “First Artists”. As an artist from an artistic family, that pleases me greatly!

I’m also pleased to discover that my matrilineal heritage has a direct line to the goddess/venus/woman figurine-making culture! How apropos is that?

“The frequency of hg U5 in modern European populations is on average 7%, but recent studies of ancient mtDNA have shown that U5 haplotypes were common among Mesolithic and Neolithic Europeans, especially of central and eastern parts of Europe. For instance, a high incidence of U5 haplotypes (about 65%) has been detected in European hunter-gatherer individuals.” (from this paper in the journal, PLOSone)

The indigenous European Sámi people of Scandinavia have a U5 subclade (as well as V and some Z and a little bit of U4), though it’s a different subclade than mine (close, though!) It’s probably important to note that there is no such thing as a “pure” ethnicity (nor culture) on earth, so every ethnic group will be made up of various haplogroups, but their mixture can have a unique signature that tells of the migration history of that group (and its neighbors). (See this distribution map.) Even the ancient stone age Gravettians had several maternal haplogroups represented in their archaeological remains.

I’ve ordered a book by Bryan Sykes called, “The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry,” in which he gives names to the seven ancient women who are the ancestors of European peoples, and discusses the migratory patterns and cultures involved. He gives the name “Ursula” to the U haplotype, and so I am in the “clan” of Ursula. I can’t wait to read it!

If you want to find out your haplogroups, I recommend the ancestry test at 23andMe, or FamilyTreeDNA’s mtDNA test (and yDNA test for people who have a y chromosome), which appear to have even more detailed reports about haplogroups. If I inspired you to find out what yours is, do come back here and tell me what clan of the Seven Daughters of Eve you are in (or share your non-European haplogroup, because those interest me, too!) if you'd like to share it.

I’m talking one of my brothers into a test so we can see what the family’s paternal haplogroup is. I already know our deceased father’s maternal haplogroup, since my cousin (son of my dad's sister) shared his results with me, but his dad isn’t related to us, so I have to recruit my brother to find out the yDNA that my dad carried.

I’m glad I’ve found my ancient mothers! (This adventure has also made me investigate my direct maternal line, and add three more grandmothers to the names I know, taking the line into the mid-1700s, where I’m afraid the records end. But that’s more than many people get, in a culture that doesn’t find women’s genealogy as important to keep track of.) So happy Beltane and Mother’s Day from Lia, daughter of Lynn, daughter of Jewel, daughter of Lucy, daughter of Emma, daughter of Eliza, daughter of Sinah, daughter of Chloe… daughter of “Ursula”… daughter of “Mitochondrial Eve” and her foremothers.

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Lia is an awenydd, writer, journal editor (A Beautiful Resistance), copyeditor (Druid Magazine), hedge witch, mother, musician, OBOD Bard, and anthropology major, living in the wild, enchantingly beautiful mountain west (USA). Her spiritual influences tend toward the ancient and indigenous, with a future-focused hope that humanity will return to a spiritually-rich and thriving sustainability.


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