Honoring the Ancestors has been a significant part of my spiritual life for at least 38 years. I have been around the custom since a child. I remember going to West African Akan and Yoruba ceremonies in New York City where I grew up. My mother took me to at least one ceremony. She also came home one day with a set of elekes (spiritually consecrated beaded necklaces.) I was also brought to ceremonies by other adults in my life. After my grandmother passed, my mother honored her mother with an altar like setup. A beautifully framed photo with Mama’s picture was set on top of the baby grand piano, graced with two elaborate taper candle holders on either side of the framed photo. She would add fresh flowers from time to time. My mother also honored her mother in the way she spoke of her with such love and admiration. The stories she would also tell of Mama after her passing made us even closer to our grandmother. My mother also honored her grandmother in similar fashion. She made sure we at least new her name and knew what she looked like. I remember when she refurbished and beautifully framed a photo of my great grandmother. The large photo was set in an ornate gold frame trimmed in red velvet just beneath the elaborate design. I remember being amazed that I was related to the woman in the picture who was dressed old-fashioned like in the black and white movies I watched! This is a simple form of honoring one’s Ancestors. I don’t know if this is something my mother instinctively did, or she was advised to do by her association with African Traditional Religion. It seemed very natural to her. In her so doing, she nurtured my connection to my deceased relatives making my honoring of them an easy addition to my spiritual life. Ancestor Reverence is an integral part of my every day. When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is thank Olodumare (God), Orisha (divinities), Ori (personal spark of the divine) and my Ancestors. I have shrine in my home to them which I salute daily.
(Anna Douglas Ayers. My maternal Great Grandmother)
When I began my journey reclaiming my ancient African and Native American spiritual practices, much of the advice from the Spiritual Elders I sat down with was to connect with and honor my Ancestors. In various divinations over time and in ritual directly from the mouth of Spirit, I have been told that my path is strong in Ancestral work or that “I am a daughter of egun (the dead.)” As ominous as it sounds, it simply means the ancestors are close to me. I became an ancestral medium quite by surprise at a ritual. An ancestor appeared to me, that I allowed to speak through me to assist in helping the ritual participants. Since then I have worked with the Ancestors in this manner off and on through the years, usually in ceremony and sometimes outside of it when an Ancestor arrives to help in an emergency.
Ancestors are our spiritual foundation without a doubt. Before any angel, archangel, orisha, goddess/god, divinity, etc., it is our ancestors who have our backs and look out for us all of the time. Needless to say, we are who we are because of them deciding to bring children into the world, and because of their survival, sacrifices, triumphs and struggles. When they leave this earthly life, they leave their earthly concerns and struggles behind, but they do not forget about us because they are connected to us and remember how life was for them. They, like most parents, want us to elevate, be happy and to achieve our highest destinies. The following information is a combination of what I have learned and practiced, along with my own observations and thoughts regarding the realm of Ancestors and Ancestor Reverence. This is by no means an authoritative viewpoint. There are many different beliefs and Ancestor practices worldwide. Each are different and beautiful within the context of the cultures from which they were birthed. The realm of Spirit isn’t exact, finite, or controlled by us. We are constant explorers continuing to discover the vastness of the non-physical realm. The viewpoints on and practices of Ancestor Reverence are as diverse as the ethnic groups on the planet. No one culture has the end-all-be-all perspective. No one person is the one and only exalted authority. All you can really rely on once you’ve received guidance from Elders who have practiced Ancestor Reverence, is your own personal, intimate experience as you begin to revere your ancestors and strengthen your relationship with them.
I think of Ancestors in groups. There is the family group connected to you by DNA. The family group extends to include people that have come to be family to you during their lifetime that do not share DNA. Their close bond with you creates a strong connection. I like to call this “spiritual DNA.” Then, the next group would be our community or shared Ancestors. They are the deceased whom because of their work on behalf of large groups of people while they were living on earth are connected, remembered and revered by that larger group or community, and lastly, there are the Ancestors who are responsible for the well-being of particular ethnic groups although DNA may not be direct, there is spiritual tie because of the ethnic grouping. I like to call this the Ancestral Ethnic Pool. The Ancestors can be members of one or all of the groups.
Although, our existence isn’t linear, our minds have been trained to perceive existence in linear time. In this regard, we can acknowledge our Ancestors by their generational timeline. A generation is considered roughly 30 years. Your most recent Ancestors can be classed in the range of 1-20 generations prior to you; older Ancestors are in the 21-40 generations prior; and even farther back are your ancient Ancestors in the approximate range of 41+ generations prior to your birth.
Most of us can’t go beyond 5 generations back when it comes to naming our ancestors and knowing their stories. Going farther and farther back, the names become more and more obscure. The stories become legends or fairytales. Even more so, our ancestors become faceless, storiless, unknowns to us. The farther back we go in our family line, what were once personal and relatable people, become groups of unknown people and geographic locations. However, we cannot help but feel linked to them because we know them to be family.
Stages in the Afterlife
Another way to group Ancestors is in “length of time since becoming deceased.” Once death occurs, there are stages that the spirit goes through as they move on to their afterlife experience or realm. For the purpose of this blog, the categories have been broken down in the following way: recently deceased (10 years or less); deceased (11-30 years); and, long deceased (31+ years.) There is no official timeline that I know of. Actually, in the world of Spirit, timelines should be taken loosely. Time moves differently in that realm. However, in an effort to present ways of categorizing the Ancestors which frames the way we perceive them, and the Ancestral realm, the following breakdown is a perspective of the afterlife experience:
Our more recent Ancestors: mother, father, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc., are what most people are concerned about when starting on a path of Ancestor reverence. To connect again with those deceased whom we have had a bond with is a longing that is real and can weigh on our emotions. The void that the person left behind is tangible to those still living. They are missing their loved ones. It can be disruptive to mental and emotional peace. With Ancestor Reverence, we can build a bond with their non-corporeal energy signature and communicate with them either through divination or psychic connection. The feeling of the void that she/he left can be lessened and their presence can be felt energetically. Sometimes they will show up in our dreams, or they will find ways in which to send signs that they are around. It can be in the form of a fragrance, a song, or numbers that are repetitive, flowers, animals… anything that you know represents them or for which they had a special appreciation. Another way they show up for us is when we have a strong sense of their presence.
There seems to be a general misconception in modern religious thought that once we are deceased, we have nothing to do. The truth is the Afterlife is just that… a non-physical LIFE. Ancestors are actively involved in different things. It’s just in a different way, in another realm.
Ancestors (and all spiritual beings) can show up to many people at the same time. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the children of someone who is deceased to all have the same strong feeling of their presence at the same time. They care very much for our well-being, success and fulfillment. That is why Ancestor Reverence includes asking them for assistance and guidance in everyday affairs. They want us to ask. They want to help us.
When we go farther back into our Ancestral lineage, there are Ancestors who have obtained a certain level of spiritual growth both through their work on earth and in the ancestral realm who are no longer required to incarnate. They can if they desire to take on a certain task to help humankind. They usually have lived many incarnations and learned their required lessons. However, they do still tend to their family members on earth but their strength and ability to assist has even more potency. That is why Ancestral reverence is also important. The reverence we give them aids in their growth and development during their time in the ancestral realm. Our reverence strengthens them energetically and gives them greater opportunities to continue their growth while in a non-physical form. Their work on our behalf is motivated by their love and caring, however, when they are able to help us it also elevates them. It is a relationship of reciprocity. The stronger and more elevated our Ancestors are, the stronger and more able they are to intervene on our behalf in our earthly lives and to assist in our endeavors.
Once you go extremely far back into your Ancestral line you will then be in the time of the Ancient Ancestors. It is believed that the Mystics, Priests, Shamans, Medicine People, etc. of many ancient and lost societies had reached high levels of spirituality and a profound connection to the Divine Creator. They were able to tap into Omniscience and develop and design spiritual systems to physically and spiritually heal and uplift the masses. These Ancestors aren’t as easily accessed because of their different vibratory rate. They exist on the higher spiritual plane and if we ourselves are not at a certain vibratory rate, we may not be able to interact with them in a way that will result in understanding. If it is a goal of yours to connect with them, it’s best to develop yourself spiritually and physically. There are times when the Ancients modify their frequency to interact regardless of where you are spiritually. So, a connection can happen if they choose. There can be very valuable and profound messages received should you experience a connection with an Ancient Ancestor. Sometimes we are in need of a “jump-start” to help us to the next level in our development. That is what the Ancients can provide.
Cycle of Life and Reincarnation
The cycle of birth-life-death and rebirth is an unending cycle reflected in all of life. The changes of seasons, the moon cycles, the animal and insect worlds, all reflect this. Humans go through the same cycle physically and spiritually. What is interesting to note is that, we also have a stage just before birth where much goes on. When an Ancestor prepares for re-entry into the human realm on earth, there is a pre-birth stage where agreements on life assignments, major events, life path and destiny are made. Many cultures believe that Ancestors return to the same family line over and over again. There are other beliefs that humans can change gender and ethnicity in each incarnation. I am of the belief that any and all of it can happen and that there are no “hard” rules where this is concerned. There can possibly be an alternating of reincarnating processes. You could incarnate into the same lineage for thousands of years and then choose to experience something different at another point of your existence. Possible? Perhaps. At the core of all of human beings is the same Creator and in essence we are spirit before we are anything else.
The recent emergence of interest in Ancestors and Ancestor Reverence is taking centerstage in many spiritual arenas now. Where descendants of black and brown people have retained or reclaimed the tradition of Ancestor Reverence across the world, Europeans are recently stepping into the practice by way of the systems established and maintained by Africans, African descendants, Asians and Native Americans. There are many people studying under author and Psychologist, Daniel Foor and becoming “certified” ancestor consultants. This brings a concerning monetization of the practice in the customary American style. Once a white American man gets hold of it, it suddenly becomes relevant and valuable to other white people. They then flock to this “expert” and the practices he learned like he is an original authority on the subject. Foor studied under Yoruba High Priests and has even become initiated as a Yoruba High Priest (Babalawo.) What gives me slight solace is that he gives credit where it is due and encourages other white people to reach back into their lineage and discover their own Ancestors’ form of Ancestor Reverence.
Regardless, Ancestor Reverence is a much-needed part of spirituality for all people across the world. It can help to heal wounds and trauma from the near and distant past. It has always been part of ancient peoples’ culture and spirituality. However, in Europe it was ripped away from its culture and replaced with the Abrahamic religions. If you notice most of the Abrahamic traditions don’t mention ancestor reverence in and of itself. However, if you look at many of the practices within the religions you can recognize it. How do you think Abrahamic religions are passed down? From the elders to the next generation. Are any of these elders celebrated after death? Yes, many. That is a form of Ancestor Reverence. If there weren’t any value in ancestors, then we wouldn’t mention them in any aspect of our society. We would just move on as if everything started from this point.
If you’re interested in Ancestor Reverence, research, read and then find a reputable Priestess or Priest who can help you start your journey. I have been revering my Ancestors for decades. It is a path that is beautiful, mysterious, fun and satisfying. It completes my experience of life on this planet and connects me with the spirits of people who love and support me. In this way, I never feel alone or completely lost. They uplift me, even during times when I do not have the strength to lift myself.
I am an ordained Interspiritual Indigenous Faith Minister with emphasis on serving those who are interested, pursuing or involved in ancient indigenous spiritual cultures. I can assist those who are interested in beginning on their path of Ancestor Reverence. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook you can find our page Sacred Mysteries World Wide. Feel free to also leave a comment below, like and share!
For ways to honor and venerate your Ancestors, get a copy of my book, "Ancestor Reverence & Ritual: A Beginner's Guide on How to Honor Those Who Have Come Before." You will find out ways to honor your ancestors that are easily implemented in your daily life. Available on Amazon in ebook and paperback.