The Cult of Self Reverence

Dear Friend,

You wrote:

“In respecting and accepting our ancestors, there is a struggle in that for many of us, our ancestors come from diverse cultures. Within these cultures they worshiped various deities, and had diversity in beliefs on life and the afterlife. Many people's more recent ancestors were Christians, or some branch of the Abrahamic faiths. How can we ensure that we respect their traditions and cultures as we also try to revive the old beliefs? Do you think that people should incorporate the gods from all their ancestry?”

Reverence for ancestors consists in generating a connection across the veil that separates the dead from the living. This is commonly done by offering up light, incense/fumes and food and drinks the ancestor appreciated when they were alive. It is also helpful to place on the shrine dedicated to the ancestor’s tokens they were attached to and also symbols of their religious faith. In doing this we create a sacred space that will call upon the presence of the ancestors. For the Yoruba’s it is important to compose poetry and song in honour of one’s ancestors, it is in remembering our lineage of blood we become aware of whose shoulders we stand on. These poems typically speak of the character, quality and deeds of the ancestor, and here many people in the West will find conflict given the deep rooted social dysfunction the modern Western family often replicate. In this way, attending to ones ancestors with respect, poems and songs we also experience a call to understand where we are coming from.

I believe that in the afterlife religion is not such a big issue. We place a cross on the shrine if the ancestor in question was Christian, a Star of David for a Mosaic ancestor and so forth. These are tokens of recognition and do not hold any bearing on the religion the one performing the reverence holds.  After all, religion is a vestment for the timeless truth – a particular reflection governed by a set of norms, moral and laws that hold importance for the human life. When we pass on I don’t think these religious vestments are too important anymore. I believe that in death we are all the same, there is no rich or poor and there is no Christian or Muslim – it is just about the succession of tradition – hence we move towards the mysticism found at the heart of many religions.

So, respect for ancestors is done in a practical way by remembering them and to feed them in order to maintain a connection with the departed ones. Spiritist schools are of the opinion that a form of elevation need to take place in the other side and for them the shrine of ancestors will also serve this purpose. I believe some departed ones go through a sort of elevation, which the living can help them in, while others made this transition with greater ease. In succession of this it should also be mentioned that several faiths in the world is of the opinion that one’s religious preferences while living generates an ideal paradise shaped by the religious conviction in the afterlife. Likewise; untimely death or uneasy death can lead to one being situated in a state of hellish limbo upon ones passing. These are matters worthy of consideration, but I don’t see any necessity for incorporating ones ancestors’ belief, while a respect for them should be in place. After all; Heaven and Hell is of our own making. Yet another factor worthy to consider is what actually happens with the Soul upon death, when it leaves its shroud of flesh. Do we pass on completely intact or do we get dispersed upon death? Is our Soul singular or is it a collective gathered into uniformity through a life lived? There is much to ponder in these questions and many answers might be true.  

However, I don’t see any need for reviving old beliefs or ‘incorporate gods from one’s ancestry’ in order to cultivate ones ancestors. It is ultimately cult of Self, rooted in memory, it is about you and your blood and your legacy. And it is from this we need to measure the reverence for our ancestors and then see how the landscape widens up.  

Religious beliefs, virtues and vices make part of this long line of wisdom we stand upon, so respect and understanding for their religion can only be rewarding, but there is no implicit demand for conversation in this. Reverence for our ancestors is about Self knowledge through understanding one’s past. It is about becoming aware of the wisdom that brought us forth – and it is about understanding the role vice and virtue held in the formation of our legacy.