Friday, September 7, 2012

Ancestor worship

I am extremely conflicted about ancestor worship. The idea both intrigues me and fills me with anger, and I've spent a great deal of time trying to tease out the whys and wherefores.  This is one of those places where the education, my life experiences and my ideals are all at loggerheads.  For many people around the world, ancestor worship is both normal and correct, but for me, it highlights the many problems of looking at our ancestry.

Unlabeled branches on the family tree are a big problem for many people.  If you are adopted or don't know one of your parents, ancestor worship can seem fake.  It's hard to worship ancestors about whom you know nothing.  Me, all I know is that the vast majority of my ancestors came from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, as far records show.  Is ancestor worship still valid if you worship an adopted family's ancestors?  I don't know.

Secrets, unspoken truths, and haziness- Families are sometimes comprised of individuals who share genetic material, but they are also created through unbreakable bonds of shared experience and emotion.  My mom's uncle was not fathered by great-grandfather, who he was named after.  In fact, nobody but my great-grandparents knew for decades.  I'm pretty certain that this is a common occurrence.  If you compared written histories to genetic analysis, what would you find?  I doubt, for many reasons, that the two would match up well.

The honour of our ancestor's pasts belongs to them, not us.  I find that many people who are interested in their ancestry tout their ancestors accomplishments as though it reflects on them personally.  I find my ancestors interesting, and sometimes I see how things have been passed down from generation to generation, but I can't claim any reflected glory by being related to them.  For example, my ancestors arrived on one of The Mayflower's sister ships.  They were involved in the creation and governance of Plymouth Colony, and one of them was promptly in trouble for practicing astrology.  Later, other ancestors joined Joseph Smith's early Mormons and headed west, until they decided not to stay in Utah.  My great grandmother, baptized in a river in Oregon, didn't like missionaries.  I find comfort and humor in the lack of good behavior my family history reveals; it gives me an excuse to do my own thing, because they did, too.

We are all the beneficiaries and end product of 3.5 billion years of evolution.  We are genetically the sum of our ancestor's most adaptable and lucky genes, and therefore, we are all unique and potentially world changing creators of the future. From an anthropological perspective, we are all also the inheritors of thousands of years of societal evolution.  We reproduce culture as a society, but also as individuals.  Each more we reject, each tradition we teach to the young ones in our lives creates the societies of the future.

Reincarnation is not something every Pagan believes in.  Me, I find too much of life and too many people familiar before I should to not think that at least some of us have been around this planet a time or two before.  I've had past life readings from psychics; some of them told me amusing tales that ring false, while others told me of lives that I can almost see.  I've also been dreaming about being someone else since I was four. If you accept that you've been reincarnated, wouldn't it stand to reason that you've been your own ancestor at least once or twice? We were them and now we are us.  Should we skip the middle part of ancestor worship and embrace worshiping our own divinity?

As Samhain draws nearer, I'm sure that I'll see more writers who worship their ancestors, and that's fine for them.  For me, I'm uncomfortable with the idea, though, at times it has seemed to be a perfectly good idea.  Whatever stirs your heart and feels good and true should be what you practice.  I'll honor my dead family members at Samhain, but I draw the line at reaching into my unknown distant past right now.


  1. Great post! I agree with you totally. I was just thinking about this. My issue is this....there are some of my ancestors who were in no way worthy of any worship, bad characters indeed!

    1. Thanks Debby! Characters is great way to describe some of my ancestors.

  2. Very interesting thoughts.

    I do have a strong ancestor practice, but I see ancestors as I do spirits, gods, except that what separates the ancestors from the others, blood related or not, is that they were all human at one time. I think that's the real bond and why it is easy to work with them, since they have walked this path before. You're right about not all ancestors being worthy of worship - Just as there are spirits I work with and those I don't, there are ancestors that I include in my practice and others I don't, so I don't worship an ancestor just because of a family or cultural link.

    1. Aine, out of curiosity, have you studied your ancestry or do you think about ancestors in a more general fashion?


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