When we dig into the history of ancient civilizations you quickly find that the worship of ancestral spirits is fairly universal to humanity. Modern Neopaganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft are an amalgam of a lot of practices originating throughout Europe and Asia that have been unified into a modern practice. But what are the historical roots of these practices? This week my theme is on Ancestor Worship so let’s take a look at ancestor veneration across ancient Europe and Asia:
Ancestor Worship in Asia
Another beautiful tradition for this festival is a recitation of the names of the dead spanning back three generations which creates a sense of continuity for those children and families participating in the festivities.
In Cambodia the Buddhist holiday of Pchum Ben is when ancestors are given special attention. It is a 15-day long event that takes place in early fall and is also called Ancestor Day. They pay homage to their ancestral lines tracing back as much as seven generations and creating offerings of food — in particular rice — which is brought to temples and offered to the monks who are believed to have a direct line to the ancestors. The monks perform a specific ancestral ceremony once a year following the reception of the offerings from their community.
One final example of ancestor worship in Asia is the holiday of Choseuk which takes places in North and South Korea. It is similar to modern Thanksgiving in that it is also very much a harvest festival, but their main focus for their gratitude is towards their ancestors for providing the food they prepare and eat. A special ritual called a “charye” takes place in which food is laid out and incense is lit as offerings to the dead. Another common practice involves visiting the graves of the dead to clean up and care for them as a token of their thanks as well.
Ancestor Worship in Europe
All Soul’s Day is the name of the feast day celebrated by many Catholics on November 2nd. (Which is VERY close to the dates for Samhain and Dia de los Muertos — many ancestor-centered holy days occur around the same time of year!) This day is also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and the Day of the Dead. It is a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have passed on especially during the preceeding year. It is commonly observed by the Greek Orthodoxy and many other catholic sects in Eastern Europe. Common practices include prayer, ringing bells, lighting candles, and feasts for the death including traditional foods such as honey cakes and roasted pig. All Soul’s Day is also observed in the Phillipines (part of Asia) where it is also traditional to make offerings of flowers, food, candles, and incense to the dead and gather in cemeteries for “reunions” with their lost loved ones.
There is also the holiday of Calan Gaeaf celebrated in Wales which is celebrated on November 1st. During this holiday the spirits of the departed were believed to walk among the living. As such, graveyards were often avoided and in order to protect oneself from being unduly harassed by mischevious spirits and to honor one’s ancestors a common practice was to write your name on a stone and place it near a fire for protection.
Tying Up Ancestral Ties
Ancestor worship is so incredibly universal that examples can be found in nearly every cultures across the globe. Those mentioned here are just a smattering of festivities from around the world. This doesn’t even include the veneration of Saints, the Egungun Voodoo dancers of Africa, Dia de los Muertos, Paganito the Phillipines, Shinto death rites…. etc etc etc. The list goes on and on and on!
Does your family celebrate any unusual traditions when it comes to honoring your dearly departed loved ones? Tell me about it in the comments below!