Any time you’re around a group of Heathens, whether online or in person, you’re bound to hear someone reference “The Ancestors”. Sometimes during a blót or sumbel, one might raise a horn and shout out a hearty “hail the ancestors!” in a form of toast, or you might see a meme on social media platforms pleading their viewers to “Remember The Ancestors”. But who are “The Ancestors”? Whose ancestors are we talking about? All of our ancestors, or just specific ones? Just the viking ancestors, or the farmers and Christians as well?
It seems to be a trend in modern Asatru to just talk about some nondescript group of dead folks from the Viking Age in which we may or may not have any direct lineage to and yet worship or deify them. Some of this fascination seems to be rooted in some sort of Viking Age romanticism and to be honest, some of it is rooted in something quite a bit more deviant as “The Ancestors” can be twisted to just mean a bunch of random white dudes and in some circles has become the politically-correct way of saying “White Power!”. As with any other subject, you have the two extremes that everyone talks about while the more common sense and rational approach tends to go unnoticed.
Ancestral worship has a long history in many different forms of paganism, namely those that are pre-Christian and/or animistic spiritual paths, and Heathenry is no different. It should come to no surprise that Heathenry is derived from the ancient shamanic practices of the Proto-Indo-European people and as such it has deep roots in the cult of ancestral worship, deification of the sacred dead, various mothers’ cults, and so on. A lot of the reason for this was the tribal society our ancestors lived in at the time and the fact that family and tribe came first, so it only made sense to continue to revere the family members who had the greatest impact on us after their passing.
Ancestor worship takes many forms throughout history and presents itself in ways such as remembering and celebrating the birthday of a loved one who’s passed on, or hosting a memorial on the anniversary of their death. It was common for our ancestors to continue to bring offerings to the grave mounds of their relatives for years after their death. The Ynglinga Saga has one major example of this, as followers of Ing-Frey would bring offerings to his mound in hope of a plentiful harvest or continued prosperity. The tradition of leaving offerings for our dead relatives was actually so prominent in our culture that it’s actually the reason we leave flowers on the graves of people we care about still to this day.
But wait, in all of this, where do the random white guys or nondescript viking warriors come in? All of what I mentioned above seems sort of personal, doesn’t it? Well, that’s kind of the point: ancestral worship is supposed to be something that is very personal to each individual, otherwise it’s just empty words that ring hollow. By replacing “Hail the Ancestors” with “Hail MY Ancestors”, you make it personal and by doing so you start to effect change in how you practice your spirituality and even how you live your everyday life as it should be.
I mean, what good is a belief system if it doesn’t inspire positive change and growth? “Honor YOUR Ancestors” should be a call to action. It should inspire you to live a life that honors the people in your life that have passed on. Your deeds should honor the memory of your mother, father, or grandfather. We should be able to think that someone we loved would be proud of us and who we’ve become since their passing, and our words and deeds should reflect a drive to do just that: make your ancestors proud.
You can start honoring your ancestors by building honor within yourself, by becoming a person of virtue, by holding yourself accountable and possessing integrity, and being honest and forthright. Someone close to me once suggested that honor is the culmination of all other virtues because if you become a person of great virtue, you will by default become a person of great honor. The greatest gift that any of our ancestors gave us is the blood that courses through our veins. The life that we choose to live should honor the memory of those who came before us and their struggles and sacrifices that they made for us, and in doing so we build our own legacy to pass on to our descendants. Our greatest hope is that they will carry our traditions, culture, and heritage forward into the future so that they aren’t forgotten – but first it is on you to pass down something meaningful and sacred not ironic or superficial.
Honor YOUR ancestors, even if they were Christians, and stop romanticizing about a vague description of vikings in long ships or just a bunch of pigment-deficient strangers.
Make your spirituality deeply personal and sacred to you and then pass that on to your children and grandchildren.
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