On Legacy

Legacy, noun, plural legacies.  Law term: gift of property, especially personal property, as money, a bywill; a bequest; anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.

From late 14c., legacie, “body of persons sent on a mission,” from Medieval Latin legatia, from Latin legatus “ambassador, envoy, deputy,” noun use of past participle of legare “send with a commission, appoint as deputy, appoint by a last will” (see legate).  Sense of “property left by will, a gift by will” appeared in Scottish mid-15c.

A few weeks back, my grandmother passed away.  Before you begin with the condolences (which are appreciated and understood but unnecessary), I have to admit that while, yeah, I do have a faint nostalgia-induced sadness, it’s more than countered by a joyous celebration.  I can only mourn her death so much when her life was so long- and well-lived: she lived to the age of 96, only declining in health in the last five years of her life, she married several times, she outlived all her husbands and three of her children, she became a great-great-grandmother, she traveled the world, inherited a small fortune, got a college education, had the opportunity to get involved with the mafia and altruistically turned it down, enjoyed a variety of intoxicants at different stages of her life, and was surrounded by family right up until the end.  In all aspects, she basically won at life.  So, yes, while I am sad to see her go, I can find nothing but joy, luck, and honor at the chance of being her grandson.  Many of her stories and tricks, especially her recipes for her unique coleslaw and spinach stuffing balls, I’ll cherish for the rest of my own days.  I’ll give her a year or so of rest before I start calling on her seriously at my ancestor shrine, but never for a day will I forget her and all that she had done for me.

But, of course, when the day comes, she’ll be called upon like the rest of my ancestors.  Those of my kin, blood, bone, and name; those of my profession, labour, trade, and guild; those of my lineage, religion, practices, and faith; those of my culture, society, myths, and land; those whose names everyone knows, and those whose names are forgotten to time.  It’s because of our ancestors—yours and mine both—that we live today.  We breath the air that they once breathed, we walk the land they once treaded, we say the words they once spoke; their blood flows in our veins, their breath fills our lungs, their hopes fill our hearts, and their plans inspire our own.  Everything we do and know, everything we are able to achieve and learn, is due to them having gone before us and passed on their stories and powers and knowledge, on earth when they lived and across the ether afterwards.  Look around you; all that the world of humanity has been able to achieve is literally built upon the shoulders and backs of our ancestors, directly or indirectly.  Their work and, in a sense, presence is evident in every linear, square, and cubic inch of this world that humanity has affected.

In some sense, not only have they passed their legacy on to us, but we are ourselves their legacy.  This is not just by blood and family lines, of course; just as children carry on the legacy of their parents, so do apprentices their masters, godchildren their godparents, students their teachers, dreamers their role models.  By continuing to live, grow, develop, and become better at whatever it is we do individually, we continue to carry on their legacy in a chain unbroken since the dawn of time.  Two questions, then, arise for us to answer: how exactly can we carry on the legacy passed on to us, and how can we improve it where possible to do so?

For myself, I have been initiated into a lineaged tradition that has, in one form or another, passed on a series of secrets, rituals, practices, wisdom, and knowledge from one generation to the next in an unbroken chain for centuries, across oceans and civilizations and languages.  What has been passed onto me is not some sort of unchanged relic from a bygone era, but a living, breathing, venerable entity that is now my responsibility to learn, keep safe, and pass on.  Me being me, an eternal experimenter, I’d like to see how what I’ve inherited can bend and shift to see what works, whether we’ve lost somethings that are still in living memory or whether such changes have already been done.  Just as the ancient Greek sentiment goes, may I always pass on what I received in at least as good a condition as we received it.  It is enough, but it is better to improve upon it.  I want to see how I can make the living corpus of my inheritance stronger, better, and more beautiful a legacy, to do both my own name honor and to make my spiritual ancestors proud.  The same could be said, of course, for the fields of software engineering, calligraphy, and fine teas and gins, all things that I like and enjoy as well and have thoughts and opinions on.

Consider that, in our time, the world is in upheaval.  While I’m a fan of the philosophy behind the phrase “nothing new under the sun”, we still live in interesting times.  Not to sound all conspiracy-theory-crazy, but from my own first-world perspective (and, likely enough, many of my readers have a similar one), considering that we’re seeing the end of a world empire combined with unprecedented climate change and the rebirth of pandemic diseases, we cannot function under the notion of a status quo for any long period of time that crosses generations.  We will need to deal with the resurgence of plagues, famine, war, turmoil, landmass change, rising sea levels, and the extinction of flora and fauna, all in addition to the usual drama, disputes, and disagreements we have with our fellow humanity even in the best of times.  What I’m saying is that, well…consider everything you learn worthy enough to be passed down as part of your own legacy, whether it’s one you inherited by family, were initiated into by religion, or innovated for the first time.

If you’re a well-experienced, well-traveled magos, how can you pass on what you’re able to onto the next generation of magoi?  If you’re an armchair magician whose expertise lies more in historicity than lived history, how can you pass on your scholarship onto the next generation of researchers?  If you’re a priest initiated into a long line of succession of forebears, how can you pass on your blessings to both your flock and those who study under you?  In all these cases and in every other case, how can you ensure that what needs to survive does, and how can you ensure that you pass on what you received in at least as good a condition as you received it?

Whether it’s for the noble sake of your gods or for the famous remembrance of your own name, how can you carry on the legacy passed on to you?  How can you improve upon what you received?  What will your own legacy be?  Even if you yourself won’t be remembered, how can what you’ve inherited and what you pass on be?

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

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