Discovering the Ancestors through Craft

Beginnings – Connecting with the Ancestors using craft as a meditation and ritual experience.

Memory is a strange thing.  It comes in snapshots.  It was 1983.   I don’t remember the weather,  I only remember rainy days when I was confined to playing indoors, but it must have been hot. I can tell because of the way my family looked in the photographs, red-faced Anglos, enjoying a summer holiday on the French coast. I remember pieces of flint as large as my head, scattered along the shoreline.  Like many five year old boys, I always had a stick in my hand, and my mother found some green polyester twine, washed up on the shore.

“Let’s make an axe.  Like a caveman would have used” she said.

Together we split the stick and wedged a good heavy piece of flint into it.  She helped to guide my hand as I crisscrossed the twine over and over it.  It was heavy, but it felt like a good axe.  My next memory is that a Tyrannosaurus Rex had poked its head over the treeline and it was a good thing for cavemen to run away and find easier prey…well, I did mention I was five, at the time I didn’t have a good fix on the timeline of human existence.



Handaxe, Happisburgh, England. Dating back 700,000 years.

Now as I approach middle age, I find myself looking back to those ancestral origins. To the Ur-Ancestors who  fought the mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger.   As science evolves and gives us greater knowledge of the ‘What’ and ‘How’ of Paleolithic and Mesolithic hunters, gatherers and shamans. It still has the hardest time explaining the ‘Why’.  Why did Neanderthals bury their dead with grave goods? Why did the coastal dwellers at Starr Carr make antler headdresses?  Of course, science may think it knows, or give conjecture (science believes itself a fixed point), but we rustics know better, that science is only the fad subscribed to by the most ‘intellectuals’ at any given point. The longer the science is held, the easier it is to hang a hat on.  I don’t think any reasonable person would deny the existence of gravity or the roundness of the earth.  Yet, those questions which science can not answer can only be reasoned by communication directly with our ancestors, by our own touches of the divine, shamanic journey.

I believe that our ancestors lived in a manner more conducive to divinity, when the lines of the natural and supernatural are blurry, and the noise constantly generated in our modern world was no factor.  We don’t know the exact form of their rituals, and only some of the ingredients, but by application of our own ritual, meditation and study of the ancients, we can find our way back to the old Gods.  I believe wholeheartedly in ancestral memory, that whispers through the ages, and lets us know through a medium too strong to be coincidence, when we are are walking rightly and on occasion, grasps us from doom when we are walking wrongly.

The Neolithic Man of Spiennes, Belgium. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The Neolithic Man of Spiennes, Belgium.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

For me, one of the most visceral connections I can have with my ancestors is to grasp their tools and perform their actions. It becomes a ritual of its own, a quiet moment of connection, of absolute focus and respect for tool, material and ancestor.  I consider myself a jack-of-all-ancient-trades.  I have spent many hours at the forge and anvil, and I am somewhat skilled with mallet and chisel.  I have hand-sewn hemp sails and roped grommets, hardened my leather jacks in boiling pitch, knotted ditty bags with my marlinspike, kept my powder dry in my hand-crafted horn,  stitched my own britches and have even made a decent Beef Wellington.  Of all these crafts, let me tell you, none compares in complexity to the work of the flint knapper.

I have decided to learn to make that axe. I need to return to those beginnings.  Master the Ur-Craft.  As a child I was happy enough to allow my imagination to work for me, but now I am interested in the skill, the ability to strike the stone and fracture it in such a way, that I can make a tool that my Ur-Father would see as perfectly serviceable.  Not that I should ever face a mammoth, or need an arrowhead, but when I look at the pile of debitage at my feet, smell the stone dust in the air,  feel the crack of the antler billet against the stone, I am sitting there with them, and I hear them in their strange language say…


“Keep trying…”










  1. Mr Completely

    Obviously a very talented writer with a message.

  2. Clan McLaren

    Great writing…. keep this up.

    Two Powerful words struck me to the core and help shape my current mid life shift…. “we Rustics”… So accurate relative to us few scattered amongst this modern existance… “we Rustics…. this phrase echoes forwards as well as backwards…

    Honored to have met Brad & the original Bilge Rats during the fine years of the Tabern de Gallo…..

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