I have arrived in Switzerland, the first stop on my ancestral pilgrimage. In the practice of reciprocity, asking permission and introducing myself to the spirits of this place, I started my journey with an offering. On my first day in Zurich, I walked to the Old Botanical Gardens, to find a quiet natural place so that I could connect to the land, and say hello, please and thank you.
My sister, Vika, who has been a soul companion and co-founder of the Herstories project which we initiated nearly 20 years ago to honor our ancestral stories through ritual theater, asked me to also put down some prayers for her father’s family who came to Zurich for refuge when escaping the Holocaust.
I brought with me a few medicinal herbs that are common in all of my homelands:
Salt is used in the ancient Slavic traditions to honor ancestors and so that all cultural traditions that honor life may be preserved.
Caraway seeds that help with digestion and memory. In Germany, they are sprinkled on coffins to keep evil spirits away from the dead. It is also used to call in and maintain love.
Marjoram which was planted on graves by the ancients to connect with the spirits of the ancestors and to support the soul’s journey in the beyond. It is also considered a protective plant, spreading joy and good fortune.
Lavender that has been used for centuries in many places, and in Medieval Europe as an emblem for love. It is also an adaptogen that supports us to find balance, which we so deeply need in our world.
I also found some dead leaves, pebbles and a sprig of new growth (asking permission of course: ) to create a tiny altar of gratitude and a prayer for new life on this planet to spring from the depths of rememberance. Once complete, I filled my lungs with breath, and began walking.
I made my second offering in Gächlingen, a small farming village of 700 people near the German border, where my paternal great-grandfather, Ernest Vögeli, is from. I found my way to the small church and cemetery to honor him, along with his brother Paul, and my great-great-grandparents Johann Vögeli and Magdelene Hepp. Ernest was born in 1873 and left in 1891 at the tender age of 19 because people of the village were dying of hunger. His younger brother Paul followed around 10 years later. I was told that these small communities pooled their money to send people to America, because they could no longer feed everyone, and there was a blight that took out the potato crop at that time. Ernest and Paul both left with just $40 in their pockets and the clothes on their backs.
I brought some flowers and laid down the sacred herbs on the community grave, along with some stone hearts and a little note, to let them know I had returned and that I loved them.
I wrote their names and offered a prayer:
I remember you.
I honor you.
In the beauty of the world,
I see your faces and I hear your voices.
I am because you are.
I sat for a spell, holding them in my heart and listening to the wind, the rain and the bird song. A soft mist mingled with the tears on my cheeks as I sang to them the old hymn, “I’ll Fly Away”. The name Vögeli means little bird and I could feel their wings, or perhaps they were my own, spread a little wider through the grey sky.