Oct 21, 2011

Ancestor Reverance or Veneration

Based on the idea that life continues after death in one form or another, most cultures have certain rituals or traditions involved in caring for or communicating with their ancestors.

** The word "ancestor" can be defined as:
1. a person from whom one is descended.
2. a person who serves as an influence or model for another; be it mental, artistic, spiritual, etc.

Therefore, an ancestor need not be a family member of a direct bloodline, but also beloved friends or someone who excelled in your field of practice who has passed on. For example, people who engage in charity work, may feel that Mother Theresa is an ancestor. A musician may look to John Lennon or Johnny Cash as ancestor.

In some groups, such as the Catholic church, saints or "ascended masters" are venerated as messengers or intercessors to God. These saints had their holiday in "All Saint's Day" and some had their own individual holiday, such as Saint Michael's Day. The mass that was said on All Saint's Day was called "Allhallowmas" (the mass of all who are hallowed) and the eve before All Saint's Day became known as "All Hallows Eve."

In most cultures, no intercessor is believed to be required to have a relationship with one's deceased family, friends 0r societal ancestors.

Please note that ancestor reverence (honouring) is not the same as worship. Most cultures do not worship their dead as gods. There are some cultures that believe their ancestors may ascend to attain god-like status, but this is not what "reverence" is referring to here.

The idea behind ancestor reverence is that your ancestors maintain some kind of existence after death and may influence, in some way, the lives of the living. This influence may come in ways as simple as communication to as complex as being able to procure good fortune in many forms.

In some cultures, ancestors are seen as needing to be cared for, but usually an offering is a way of showing respect or acknowledgment to the ancestor. In this way, caring for them is a way of honouring them. To "care for" an ancestor can mean merely leaving an offering of water or wine out for them, going to their grave and cleaning it or leaving flowers, or building an entire altar with photographs, flowers and favourite treats of the deceased as offerings.

Here are some various ancestor practices by different cultures:

-Mexicans celebrate Day of the Dead, where offerings of candles, food, sugar skulls and photographs are set out in cemetaries to honour the dead.

-Egyptians believed that to be forgotten, was the end of the soul. So, building remembrances to the dead was not just a way of honouring them, but essential so that they would not be forgotten as long as their statue/tomb stood. Priests could be hired by the family to continue to speak prayers for the dead and make offerings at the tombs.

-In India, a yearly observation called "Tarpan" is made to the ancestors where the deceased's favourite food is made and offerred to them, as well as to animals considered holy, such as crows and cows.

-The Romans venerated their dead in the month of February during a 9-day festival called Parentalia, when they visited cemetaries and shared cakes and wine with each other and as offerings to deceased family members.

-Some of the oldest Catholic churches house tombs for their dead as well as having altars that often are said to contain the bones of a saint. And, of course, the "blood" and "body" of Christ sits on the altar in the form of wine and wafers.

-In China, many believe that honouring their ancestors is part of the duties of life, in that your parents gave you life and took care of you while they were alive, and could also care for you after they are gone and offer assistance. In Spring and Autumn festivals bring families to the graves of their ancestors to make offerings, and during another festival, called Ghost Festival, it is believed that the ancestors come to visit the living.

-A "dumb supper" is a dinner where a full place setting, with a serving of dinner is set out for an ancestor, and the entire dinner party eats in silence. Often this is to not only honour the dead, but to encourge contact. The living do not speak, that the dead may do so if they choose, and be heard.

An invitation can be given at the supper such as:

"This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before us.
Tonight we honor our ancestors.
Spirits of our ancestors, we call to you,
and we welcome you to join us for this night.
We know you watch over us always,
protecting us and guiding us,
and tonight we thank you.
We invite you to join us and share our meal."

~from Patti Wigington at About.com

-In old (Celtic) Europe the last harvest festival is celebrated, and offerings of food and lit candles are left out for the dead that wander this time of year. This is the festival of Samhain (pronounced "Sow-en" or "Sow'een") when spirits were believed to freely roam. The practice of leaving out food and lit candles is part of the beginnings of what is commonly celebrated as Halloween now.

Athough the last harvest time is thought to be the time when the space between the two world's was thinnest and most conducive to spirit contact, you can honour or seek to contact your ancestors at any time of the year.


Barbara F. said...

This is a very beautiful and very informative post. I honor my deceased family, especially at holidays, the birth dates, anniversary of their death,
all Soul's Day etc. xo

Judy said...

Interesting...thank you

Jennifer said...

I am planning to begin an ancestor altar this week! I have been wanting to do it for years. It is going to be somewhat in the style of a project called "Conmemoracion" from the super cool website The Anticraft! (There's a link to it on my blog) so this post was very timely for me today! :)

Birgit said...

Visiting the graves of family members has been part of my holiday tradition since I was a child.

Very interesting and thoughtful post, yet I would have never expected anything less from you, Jen.


Linda in New Mexico said...

Very in depth view of ancestor rememberance. Thanks I really enjoy this and learned some new things as well. Oma Linda

Anonymous said...

Great post, thank you so much for sharing.
I have searched for my ancestors and am very proud of them.
I celebrate them at Samhain ; )
Have a magical day.