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Demystifying Ancestral Veneration

‘Tis the season of Sagittarius. In this season of faith, higher learning, expansion, travel, deep truths, and wisdom, there has been an increase in conversations about how to revere the divinity in our lives. Most of these conversations have been filtered through the worldview of mainstream religious practices. “Particularly black Christians are taking to social media to demonize the practice of African Traditional Religions (ATR)(Thomas, 2020).”

While this conversation has continued over the years, there is still an increase in men and women reclaiming their spiritual freedom and honoring their ancestors along the way. On the journey of spiritual liberation, it’s critical to lean into the liberties available to build and develop your relationship with the Divine energy felt in life.

Ancestral veneration is simply remembering your ancestors. How this looks varies from person to person. Some may seek out connection with the ancestors “through music, religious-cultural practices, folk religious customs, prayers, and dreams.” Remembering is, therefore, a way of teaching, preserving, and celebrating culture while honoring the ancestors (Manigualt-Bryant, 2014).” It’s important to see the memories we cherish of our deceased family and friends as wisdom, cultural and family preservation. “Forgetting one’s history is interpreted as a sin that can be avoided by active remembrance. Honoring the ancestors is described as a spiritual practice that takes faith as a starting point, and when employed -- it helps one overcome the sin of forgetfulness. These memories carry just as much significance to the faith of BIPOC families and should also be honored.

Venerating the ancestors also happens through storytelling and creating, using the talents passed down through their teachings and mentorship. The familiar story shared among BIPOC women, of picking greens and snapping peas for dinner, was a pearl of wisdom passed down through cooking and coming together as a family. Ancestral veneration has been woven into our stories and recipes, and this is why we must remember. Traditions like cooking black-eyed peas for New Years Day is a ritual passed down through many generations, rooting from the rituals of enslaved Africans in Southern America, and it is still a practice today.

With ancestral veneration, we can hold space for the memories and the spirit of our loved ones we have an immediate connection to. “...None shall defile himself for the dead among his people except for his relatives who are nearest to him. (Leviticus 21:1)” Throughout history, most of the widely accepted spiritual experiences happened in the church through song, prayer, and sermon. BIPOC churches can be an example of how connected our people are to the spiritual world.

The connection to the spiritual realm is an indigenous gift that predates slavery. We see the application of ancestral veneration practiced with intention in the Lowcountry of South Carolina by Gullah/Geechee women of modern society. In the ethnography *Talking to the Dead, “*we can see the enriched west African culture tangled within the Black Christian experience.” Shared by multiple perspectives, ancestral veneration is conveyed as a spiritual practice that honors the lineage of people who have fought, cried, prayed, and conjured the life we live today. The spiritual warriors of our families deserve respect and honor even in death. Through their pictures and our memories with them, they continue to live. How we heal and show up for our own lives allows the spirits of those before us to thrive in our gained wisdom, skills, and stories. We may never physically or emotionally understand the amount of pain our ancestors experienced by being stripped of their culture. However, the way the BIPOC community is still a target for hate, racial crime, and systemic oppression, we are to remember and honor the bravery and willingness of our ancestors and embody that energy and faith in our everyday lives. Embrace the honoring of your ancestors, and may the memories of your loved ones never die.