Thoughts on the ‘mystical grandparent’ and other things associated with it

Recently, my Grandma died.  As I reflected on her a memory came to me about her that got onto some important things:

– I was in my late teens.  I was alone in the front of her house.  I may of been mowing the lawn, trimming her trees, or some other chore.  A relative happened to came over and asked me “Is Martha home?”  I said, “Who’s Martha?”  She replied, “Isn’t that the name of your Grandma?”  Stunned, I replied, “Grandma has a name?” –

I never knew Grandma had a name!  To me she was “Gramma”.  That was the name I knew her as . . . I knew of no other name.  This bewildered me.  You must remember that I was in my late teens when this happened.

Some years later I was even struck by the word “Grandma” which I had seen written down somewhere.  I realized that it wasn’t just a word or, rather, name.  I always saw it as “Gramma”.  I saw that I actually it consisted of two words:  “Grand” and “Ma”.  This stunned me yet again.

These interesting alterations of name made me realize that there was something more about the idea of a Grandparent than what I thought.  I began to find that I tended to view grandparent in a specific way.  I saw a Grandparent as more than a Grandparent.  To put it another way, the image of the Grandparent transcended the individual person.  This made it so that there were actually two “Grandparents”:

  1. The ‘actual Grandparent’.  This, of course, is them as an individual person.
  2. The ‘mystical Grandparent’.  This is a more profound sense of the Grandparent that transcends their person.

The best way to describe the sense of the ‘mystical Grandparent’, I think, is to describe how I often felt it.  When I was around my Grandparents I often had this ‘sense’.  There seemed to be ‘something’ that hovered over them and surrounded them like a cloak.  I could ‘feel’ it.  When I focused my mind on it I often had these images that came to me.  I as if saw other people.  I as if saw other times.  I as if saw other places.  There were even times that I could swear I could even hear horses and carts!  I knew this was a reference to my ancestors, the people who came before me.  I could as if “feel” them through my Grandparents.  In this way, it made the Grandparent sort of like a “doorway” to my ancestors.  In short, the Grandparent was not a Grandparent but all my Grandparents put together.  This is the ‘mystical Grandparent’.

Its interesting that I often remarked that it seemed as if my Grandparents have always been there there since the beginning of time.  That is to say, I felt as if my Grandparents were always existing, that they were always there like the sky and the earth.  No doubt this is because, in my life, they were always existing . . . they were always there since my earliest memories.  I’ve never known life without them.  The Grandparent seemed timeless and beyond time.  This, I found, gives the image of the Grandparent some of their greatest power.

I often liked to be around my Grandparents because I loved the sense the ‘mystical Grandparent’ gave me.  Now, as I look at it, I can see that it had great influence on me.  I feel that it was instrumental in my interest in history, culture, and the idea of being part of a people.  This sense gave me a sense of who I am and placed me in the world.  This made the Grandparent as more than just a person.  It made them ‘mystical’ and powerful and influential with a sense of who I am in the world.   This made the Grandparent have many special qualities, traits, and ‘senses’ such as:

  • A sense of ancestors – it placed me as being part of a family.
  • A sense of belonging to a people – it gave me belonging to a group of people and culture.
  • A connection with life – it connected me with reality.
  • A sense of continuance – it made me feel that I was a part of all creation.
  • A sense of eternity – it connected me with timelessness.

So we see that the actual Grandparent and ‘mystical Grandparent’ created like a spectrum:

the individual person—family—ancestors—creation—life—eternity

This makes it so that the sense of the image of the Grandparent ranged from a person to a deep religious sense making the Grandparent more than a Grandparent.  This sense varied.  Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference between the actual Grandparent and the ‘mystical’ Grandparent and sometimes I could. 


Because of the ‘mystical Grandparent’ I began to feel that the image of the Grandparent is very much associated with religion.  Its probably no surprise that, in some cultures, they speak of ancestors as Grandparents with similar religious senses I described.  These are usually older smaller societies which is where it seems the most common. 

It seems that, as societies grow, the sense of the ‘mystical Grandparent’ starts to wain and finally disappears.  We no longer speak of Grandparents but of Father and Mother, which is more immediate and authoritative.  When this happens it seems that the sense of ancestors and eternity also fades.  This shows that the ‘mystical Grandparent’ is very much related with a form of world awareness particularly found in smaller primitive-like societies.  In this way, the ‘mystical Grandparent’ seems a basis for many religions in these types of societies.  One could even speak of ‘mystical Grandparent religions’ if one wants.

Typically, though, there is usually an absence of nature with the ‘mystical Grandparent’.  That is to say, its religious sense generally does not connect us with nature and the natural world.  This gives it a very “exclusively social” tendency.  It primarily tends to create a sense of family-people-life-eternity.  In other words, its an almost exclusively human spiritual sense, not a natural world spiritual sense.  In this way, it creates what can be described as a ‘people-oriented religious sense’ which develops a strong sense of spirituality and religion based on things like this:

  • Us as a people.
  • Our ancestors.
  • Our connection with our gods.

Because of its strong sense of people this point of view often creates a number of stances such as:

  • An ‘us-versus-nature’ stance.  In other words, it tends to not see humanity-in-the-midst-of-nature but a humanity-opposed-to-nature or humanity-removed-from-nature.  This may of helped to cause very abstract and human-removed-from-nature points of view such as found in science and intellectualism.  It may of also created the stance of not respecting nature or of seeing nature as inanimate.
  • An ‘us-versus-others’ stance.  This makes it so that ‘our people are against your people’.  In other words, there’s a strong sense of ‘your different’.  This creates a very strong tribal sense in people.  It creates a great belonging for the members of the tribe but if you are not part of the tribe you can be treated bad and even killed.  This tribal sense can get so bad that people thing that they are better than others in some way.  The worst form of this is the idea of being a ‘superior race’ or ‘superior people’.

These qualities are seen a lot in Norse/Germanic society, showing that Norse/Germanic culture is, no doubt, based in a ‘mystical Grandparent’ sense.  This may be why I ‘sensed’ it so strongly as well, as I am from Norse/Germanic descent and culture.  But what these show is that the ‘mystical Grandparent’ sense can greatly affect how one views nature, other people, and ones bond with other people in the tribe.


It seems, to me, that the ‘mystical Grandparent’ is associated with the fear of old age.  I, myself, have said some interesting things about this over the years.  For example, I have said that when people get “too old” they “cease to be people”.  In other words, they don’t seem to be human anymore.  Its almost like there is a point where old people begin to ‘blur’ with the sense of the ancestors, so to speak.  This, I think, is a frightening sense as it refers to ‘leaving life’ or, rather, dying.  To put it another way, when this happens the ‘mystical Grandparent’ becomes too real . . . eternity is too real, timelessness is too real.  These things have become more than a ‘sense’.  In that way old people are perceived as ‘no longer being us’ but passing into eternity, like a doorway to eternity.  For many younger people, especially, that is scary.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen


This entry was posted in Death and dying, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Religion and religious stuff and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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