As part of my practice, I don’t venerate my ancestors. I know its a popular thing to do in various Pagan communities, but I’ve never felt compelled to do so myself.
Specifically, I do not “regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference” or “to honor (as an icon or a relic) with a ritual act of devotion” (source) the “person(s) from whom one is descended, especially if more remote than a grandparent; a forebear” (source). I have a number of reasons for this, which I’ve found can be somewhat controversial, as people often take someone else’s rejection of something they find important to be personal (If you, fabulous reader, don’t agree with me, that is A-ok in my book!):
- I know diddly-squat about most of them. I have a big family. When it comes to my more recent ancestors, there’s quite a few I’ve never even met and my family isn’t the type that sits around and tells stories about “back in the day”. And then there’s the fact that two World Wars and two more wars to follow them up can do a lot to scatter family, leading to permanent loss of contact. I consider this to be perfectly fine, considering the next point.
- Some of them are assholes. I personally know that some of my ancestors have been complete and total jerks. I see no reason to celebrate their life. I’m not alone in this either… AFAIC, the fact that a total creeper did the deed and contributed some genetic material and/or some family dysfunction down the line is not incentive enough for reverence.
- Some of them would be offended by reverence. Lets face it, for at least the past millennium my ancestors have been Christian. Statistically speaking, just by looking at the countries that my ancestors have come from, not only were they Christian, but they were pretty darn strict Christians. I already know for sure that some of them, though they might be worthy of honoring, would be offended (if not downright horrified) by the practice…and I’d be willing to bet that’s the case for most of my ancestors over the past 1,000-1500 years.
- Some of them aren’t dead yet. Hubby and I have some long-lived kin. Really long lived. 8 decade minimum. Until my great-grandmother passed away last summer, we had five generations of women in our family.
- They are just people. Its a bit idealistic to think that one’s ancestors were all healers and bards and white knights…most of them were ordinary people, and some of them are likely all-around assholes.
- Who the heck are my ancestors anyhow? I’m an ethnic mutt. Between myself and the hubby, our family can count in their ancestry Irish, Scottish, English, German, Scandinavian, Native American and (according to some rumors) African. I can’t even revere my ancestors in a general, cultural sort of way. Its also fairly common to in Pagan communities to see people who are drawn to the traditions of their ancestors…I see this as highly problematic as a mutt, and…well, as a student of biology, humans are all related anyhow.
- Genetics are only genotype-deep. I think my biggest reservation about ancestor veneration is the idea of placing that much emphasis on a chemical. DNA is just a portion of what makes us who we are, biologically-speaking; as a whole person, it is even less.
So, here is what I think about ancestry. I don’t really care who contributed to my personal DNA or what they have done in the past. Sure, I find it interesting (I like history, after all), but I don’t ordinarily find it spiritually significant. Instead, I choose to honor those people that have meaningfully impacted my life, related or not. Not everyday, or as a regular part of my worship, but at times like Samhain, or Memorial Day. I choose to honor humanity as a whole, because at the end of the day, for all our cultural and biological diversity, we are all related genetically, and in purpose (just trying to survive).
What matters to me is what I am doing with my life right now. Humanity isn’t a chain, one generation linking to the next, it is a river, flowing and overlapping. What matters to me is remembering the lessons of history and human kind that have impacted our lives in a general sense, and in a more specific and personal sense. Sometimes those people are our relations. Sometimes those people are friends. Sometimes those are people that we’ve never even met. Sometimes, they might even be fictional.