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:


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Ancestor Worship in Asia


In Hinduist India there are very specific rituals and traditions surrounding each individual death which is also enacted on a wider scale at an annual festival once a year called Pitru Paksha. This festival takes place during early fall and is celebrated during the lunar month of Bhadrapada (which means that the date varies from year to year based on the Gregorian calendar that much of the world uses). The intention behind this two week festival is to help bring peace to the spirits of their departed loved ones. Some of the practices include ritual bathing, ritual meals prepared with food that was loved by the dead, ritual dress, and making offerings to the spirits of the dead, the local holy men (Brahmins), and the gods.  -
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In Hinduist India there are very specific rituals and traditions surrounding each individual death which is also enacted on a wider scale at an annual festival once a year called Pitru Paksha. This festival takes place during early fall and is celebrated during the lunar month of Bhadrapada (which means that the date varies from year to year based on the Gregorian calendar that much of the world uses). The intention behind this two week festival is to help bring peace to the spirits of their departed loved ones. Some of the practices include ritual bathing, ritual meals prepared with food that was loved by the dead, ritual dress, and making offerings to the spirits of the dead, the local holy men (Brahmins), and the gods.

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.


Even more ancient than All Soul’s Day (which most certainly has pagan roots) was the practice of building megalithic tombs. The dead were often buried in mass tombs that resembled homes that included many of the favored possessions of the dead, which is a clear indicator to anthropologists and historians that there was a strong belief that the dead lived on in a different way in the afterlife. -
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Even more ancient than All Soul’s Day (which most certainly has pagan roots) was the practice of building megalithic tombs. The dead were often buried in mass tombs that resembled homes that included many of the favored possessions of the dead, which is a clear indicator to anthropologists and historians that there was a strong belief that the dead lived on in a different way in the afterlife.

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.


And, of course, there is the ancient Samhain festivals observed by the ancient Celts/Scots. I don’t probably need to tell you much about it, but the traditional version included a belief that the dead could walk among the living and making offerings to them of special foods were thought to prevent unpleasant encounters with them or the faeries which were especially powerful at this time of year. -
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And, of course, there is the ancient Samhain festivals observed by the ancient Celts/Scots. I don’t probably need to tell you much about it, but the traditional version included a belief that the dead could walk among the living and making offerings to them of special foods were thought to prevent unpleasant encounters with them or the faeries which were especially powerful at this time of year.

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!

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