My confession is…I honour my ancestors. And, for that, I’m in trouble, again.
Druids and pagans are loving me for saying it, but some (and by no means, all) of my Christian friends think I should be, metaphorically, hanged, drawn and quartered…’in love’, of course. Celts, depending on their calling toward Druidism or Christianity (do we have to choose?) may be a different response.
I was taken aside (some time ago), and told ‘ancestor worship’ is wrong.
‘So, I’ve been told,’ I replied, ‘but why are you telling me?’.
What had I done wrong?
Well, here’s the evidence, for you to decide guilt or innocence:
I had, and still have a table, set aside, a special table as it has items on it of relevance to me, reminders of the seasons, and is a focal point for me to dwell upon, meditate upon, and give thanks.
Currently, although that will change tomorrow as the Autumn equinox approaches, it has an ear of corn on it; a candle that I light for a short while each evening to gaze upon; an open book with a poem about harvest, visible; and several photographs of my ancestors to prompt my memory. Usually, regardless of the season, photographs of ancestors abound. It was the latter that ‘sparked’ some interest by the one who drew me aside.
To be fair to the person accusing me of ancestor worship, their heart is in the right place, and I bear no malice; however, it did (and still does) concern me at how many people apply ancient text out of context, and are oblivious to it! It worries me. In many cases it may be because they haven’t honed the skills of objective thought, or maybe they have been ‘duped’ by the modern world and its ‘soundbites’ into accepting a view which is modern and shallow, but seemingly and falsely ‘dressed up’ as ancient and wise; or maybe it’s ego on their part. I’m not sure. Nevertheless, it concerns me.
However, I happen to believe history, especially family history, is important.
Part of my family is Italian. When I hear of people talking about ‘taking back control of our borders’ and stopping immigration, I immediately think of that Italian ancestor of a couple of hundred years ago being turned away, and in my mind’s eye the ensuing family tree (chart) being slowly erased…until I finally disappear. What happened in the past, affects me (and you), now. Ancestors are important.
‘People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.’ (Edmund Burke)
One of my favourite phrases is: standing on the shoulders of giants. That is, we are the product of all those that have gone before, and that includes our immediate family, the last generation and the myriad of generations before that. Ancestors are important.
‘Honour your father and your mother…’ (Exodus 20:12, The Book)
For instance. I have blue eyes. Did you know that, ‘…research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.’ (Science Daily, 31 January, 2008). And, so I’m indebted to that ancestor for my blue eyes and other bodily characteristics. Ancestors are important.
One of my ancestors, according to his marriage certificate has as his occupation as ‘reporter’. I think that that is a mistake by the recording clerk at the time, and that his occupation was a porter in a market, and not a reporter. What persuades me of this? Well, my ancestor (and we’re going way back) couldn’t sign his own name on the certificate, and so put an ‘x’. If he was a reporter and unable to spell he would be the world’s worst reporter! No, I think he was a porter, and am proud that. Despite him not being able to write, he secured paid employment for him and his family in extremely tough times. Resilience. I honour that. I honour him.
Having used the oak tree as an analogy of a literal family tree, passing on attributes from one generation to the next generation of oak tree, Brian Swimme in his book ‘The Universe Is A Green Dragon’ says, ”Modern humans….regard history as something dead, and fail to realise how this cripples us.’ And he goes on to ask: ‘What would happen if we began to see that the achievements of our ancestors are permanent creative advances, handed down for our benefit?’. It’s like a relay race, and we’re the ones to have ‘inherited’ the baton that has been passed down from generation to generation…except very few people know that, today, and those that do know it are considered as ‘ancestor worshippers’. When, infact, they should be known as ‘ancestor honourers’.
‘The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children’. (Philip Carr- Gomm)
So, there’s the case. I do honour my ancestors, but don’t worship them. I do, however, worship the One behind it all – who guides you and me (on our continuing lineage-journey). But, I do I honour my ancestors, giving gratitude for all that they’ve done to ‘bring’ me to this time, and that reminds me to accept the responsibility of passing on their good works, and for me to do something for the next generation. I would encourage you to take time to honour your ancestors periodically, in some way, not as a chore, but as something lively and joyful, and, well….honouring.
‘Our ancestors did great work for humanity. What will we do for the next generations?’. (Lailah Gifty Akita)
So, innocent or guilty? You get to decide.