To a certain extent we do carry the knowledge of our forefathers within our cells and chromosomes, which present a pattern that is not rigid but flexible–one that in codified fashion endows us with the subjective living experience of those who, in our terms, have gone before. Some very old cultures have been aware of this. While being independent, individual members also identified with their ancestors to some extent, accepting them as portions of their selfhoods. This does not mean that the individual self was less, but was more aware of its own reality. A completely different kind of focus was presented, in which the ancestors were understood to contribute to the “new” experience of the living; one in which the physically focused consciousness clearly saw itself as perceiving the world for itself, but also for all of those who had gone before– while realizing that in those terms he or she would contribute as well as the generation past.
The animals were also accepted in the natural philosophy of selfhood as the individual plainly saw the living quality of consciousness. The characteristics of the animals were understood to continue “life,” adding their qualities to the experience of the self in a new way.
The human body would be used in earth’s great husbandry as, from it, dying and decaying new forms would arise. This was a give-and-take in which for instance, a jungle neighborhood was truly home, and all was a portion of the self psychically, spiritually, and physically.
Let those who will, laugh at tales of spirits turning into the trees–a simplistic theory, certainly, yet a symbolic statement in such societies: The dead were buried at home in the same close territory, to form in later times the very composition of the ground upon which religions grew. Again, our limited concepts of selfhood make what I am saying difficult for us to perceive.
I am not saying, that the living consciousness of each individual returned to the earth literally, but that the physical material permeated and tamped with that consciousness did, and does. Even the cells retain knowledge of all of their affiliations. In physical terms the consciousness that we understand is based upon this.
Selfhood is poorer when it does not at least intuitively understand this heritage.