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Domestic Arts and Ancestral Reclaiming

A man in a dark vest and pants with a hat stands near a woman in a blouse and kerchief with three small children in front of a heavily built house in Ukraine.
My paternal great-great grandparents in front of their home. They were part of a Czech community living in Ukraine.

The word domestic is only about 500 years old and means “of the home.” The newness of the word speaks to its origins, for the separation of the so-called “domestic”—the home--from everything else is also novel. Archaeology, myth and oral history teaches us that the home and hearth were historically at the center of importance, and that to our ancestors the work of the everyday was the work of life. Political structures and systems rise and fall, but care and tending are still essential. Reclaiming the domestic arts and strengthening connection to their value has been a huge part of my healing work. Disability taught me quickly in a way nothing else could that the work of the home is WORK. And the work of the home is ancestral connection: Care. Of child, of elder, of self, of community. Tending. The fire, the plants, the animals, home, hearth, and in spirit the hills, land, place, waterways, trees, mountains, forests, sun, moon, stars. Rhythms. Food, shelter, planting, harvest, making, mending, day, year, heart, whole song. Weaving. Clothing, nets, webs of support, baskets, fences, cradles, byres, linens, relationship.

With the skills of care and tending we develop the necessary web weaving knowledge to craft and strengthen our relationships. These skills build interdependence and self-sufficiency both.

What can you do that your ancestors did? What skills or abilities connect you to lived humanity, the earth and all of time?

My skills are small but they are real and improving with practice:

Today I cooked squash, kale and almond butter cookies.

I visited my garden and spoke with the greens peeking through the snow.

With the help of my elders I have learned to bake bread, cook many things, clean with baking soda, do laundry in a wringer washer, dry clothes outside, remove stains, mend seams and buttonholes by hand, build a fire, play a bit of guitar, sing to the plants, make medicine from dandelion, lemon balm and mugwort, compost food scraps, sheet mulch and plant wild gardens.

This year I am learning the art of food forests, canning fruits, weaving and natural building.

All of these tasks take a tremendous amount of time and energy, but what I’ve noticed is how energized I become in the service of these tasks—especially when engaged with others in the working—and how if I am balanced and don’t over work, they literally feed me.

There are many ways to foster deep connections where domestic arts become simply, arts, lived practices making life ceremonial and the rhythms of the days sacred.

Here is one I love:

I draw water in prayer and set it out under the light of the moon. I add whatever plants are in abundance in my yard, asking and listening for their response, including the ones that say yes. In the morning I wash my face in the icy water, also in prayer, clearing away old stories, infusing the day with magic. The water is returned to earth in blessing and prayer for the balance, for home.

In this day of equinox I honor my ancestors, the universal power of their ways. The same ways that nourish me now, the same ways that bring us all home.

By this and every effort may the balance be regained.


A ceramic bowl with dandelion, pink primrose, feverfew and dead nettle floating in sun lit water.
Moon water with early spring flowers.

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