Various cultures have forms of Ancestor Worship, it is not to be confused with how they worship their gods (if their religion has gods at the center of the belief system).
The most commonly known to Neo-pagans, is the celebration of Samhain by Celtic peoples. The concept was to mark the end of the Light Season, and the beginning of the Dark Season (according to the Coligny Calendar). The final harvest was celebrated as the days got shorter, and planting season came to an end. Traditionally bonfires were lit, and bones of animals killed for their meat were cast into the fire as a cleansing ritual. There is a strong focus on the change of seasons, and solar cycles. (see also the Celtic Calendar)
What modern pagans my not know, is that the ancestor worship wasn’t brought into the observance until Post-Christianity, with a direct connection to All Saints Day. Previously, it had just been animals used in observances (until around 8th century).
A list of Countries which had some form of Ancestor Worship:
United States (North America)
This discussion is to share information, and discuss each cultural context of Ancestor Worship, and how it was performed.
Death as the End of Our Life
Some of us believe that our life ends when we die. When we die we are either buried or cremated and that is it. Our life ends. Death is the end of our life.
Death as Release of Our Eternally Living Soul
Others of us believe that our life is eternal. If we believe that our life is eternal we tend to believe in two different kinds of the life: temporal life and eternal life. We believe that the life of our body is temporal and the life of our soul is eternal. When our body dies its life ends. Its life is over. When our body dies our eternal soul escapes and lives on. Some believe our soul lives in another realm forever. Others believe our soul lives in another realm for a while and is reincarnated.
Valuing Soul over Body and Eternal over Temporal
Many who believe that the life of the soul lives on eternally value the life of the soul over the life of the body. They value what happens after the body dies and the soul escapes over what happens while we live in our bodies in the physical world. They tend to emphasize what it takes to get to the best place after our bodies die rather than what it takes to make our bodies and this world the best they can be. In short, they value the eternal over the temporal.
Valuing the Future over the Present
Those who tend to value the eternal life of our soul over the temporal life of our body, also tend to value where our eternal soul will be after we die over where our temporal bodies live before they die. In other words, they tend to value the world to come over the physical world now. They value the future world over the present physical world. Since we are only in this world for a relatively short time, why pay that much attention to it, especially if we are not going to be reincarnated? Why care that much for it? So some believe.
Eternal Life Inherently Eternal
Whether or not we believe that we are reincarnated, those of us who believe our life is eternal tend to believe that the eternalness of our life is inherent; that is, we believe that the eternalness of our soul is a given. We do not believe that the eternalness of our life depends on anything else.
Another View of Eternal Life
Some time ago I came across another way of thinking about eternal life. It is eternal life as described by Nietzsche in his Twilight of the Idols. It is the eternal life that is “life as collective continuation of life through procreation, through the mystery of sexuality.”
In Nietzsche’s view of eternal life there are not two different kinds of life. There is not a life of our body that is temporal and a life of our soul that is eternal. There is only one kind of life: Life.
Eternal Life: Collective Rather than Individual, Dependent Rather than a Given
In Nietzsche’s view eternal life is not individualized. Eternal life is not a quality of our individual souls. Rather eternal life is a “collective continuation.” Eternal life is a group effort. In other words, the eternalness of eternal life is not a given. It is dependent on the efforts of all of us who are living, not just humans. Eternal life transcends human beings. Life can be eternal without humans. It is eternal as long as there is a collective effort by all of the living to sustain life. Eternal life is conditional.
Eternal Life and Sex
What is the condition of eternal life? Sex. Procreation. The continuation of life for all eternity depends on procreation. It depends not on human procreation alone but the procreation of all living beings. As long as there are living beings procreating, life will continue.
Eternal life is not guaranteed. All of us who are living have a role to play in sustaining life. We either affirm, support, and sustain life with the overall effect of our efforts or we deny, hinder, and threaten it.
Fertility Rites Old and New
Nietzsche’s view of eternal life being a collective continuation of life through procreation can inform a modern view of fertility rites. In former days, many of our ancestors engaged in various fertility rites to encourage and ensure the fertility of the oceans, rivers, streams, land, plants, animals, and other humans where they lived. They practiced a type of sympathetic magic, trusting that the energy of their own acts of procreation would be infectious and stimulate the procreation of all other living things.
In our own day, we can engage in various fertility rites to encourage and ensure the fertility of all life where we live. We can practice a sympathetic magic that encourages and ensures fertility of the oceans, rivers, streams, land, plants, animals, and humans where we live. We can encourage and ensure the fertility not only of bodies but of spirits and minds as well.
Those of us who pay attention to the struggle of life going on in the oceans, rivers, streams, land, plants, and animals and have a desire to do something to help might feel inspired to reclaim the sympathetic magic of fertility rites for our own day and time. They are one way we can participate in the collective continuation of eternal life.
Even if our life ends when we die, life goes on. Even if our soul is eternal and we live on in another realm, life in this world goes on. With our support it has the potential of going on eternally
The Nine Principles of the Goddess 1. I acknowledge that there is one Goddess in essence, Creatrix of all existences; Her forms are infinite, She manifests Herself in our love, and we are all Her lovers. 2. Treat all beings with reciprocity, for the Goddess lives in them as well as in us. Check it out on Witches of The Craft