Many people have heard of honoring one’s ancestors, but what does this really mean? There is such a deeper and more beautiful meaning to ancestor or spirit veneration than what one may think from all the other broader and inferior meanings that we have been led to believe. For one, ancestor veneration in many cases has been associated with voodoo, hoodoo, juju or some kind of craft that pertains to witchery. In other instances, many people have felt an association to guilt or uncomfortable honoring their ancestors and spirits with candles and such, for they think that they are engaging in something wrong, however, this is so far from the truth that it is disheartening.
It is fact that our ancestors believed in life after death. They believed that death was a continuation of life, just in another world – the invisible world. From an African prospective, ancestor veneration served many purposes. For one, many societies of Africa believed that the deceased not only needed proper funeral, burial, and cleansing rites but it was also very important that the deceased be freed or released from all bad deeds. In these instances, friends, and relatives would gather around the body at the grave site and each person would recount all the bad deeds that the deceased did during their lifetime and after listening to all the misdeeds, they would all announce that they have forgiven him/her since he/she is now dead.
If the deed or the debt was financial in nature, a surviving family member would offer to pay off the debt. This was all done to ensure a smooth and easy transition from the land of the living to the realm of spirit. For it was the belief that since the deceased was totally cleansed and freed from bad deeds, he/she would have no other reason to linger in the lower realms to haunt or cause chaos amongst its’ family members or community. On the contrary, the spirit would be happy and free to ascend to higher realms of obtaining supernatural powers that could be accessed and bestowed upon the family and the community during periodic spiritual visits from the deceased that would provide blessings, protection, long life, prosperity, good harvest, fertility, or whatever the desires, prayers and requests were from those still in the living. Death was not only to morn, but it was a celebration of SPIRIT of continued life; a festive time of drumming, singing, dancing, drinking and eating – all to honor the dead for it is believed that to honor the ancestors is to honor your lineage, your culture, your roots and your self and is the first step to reclaiming your spiritual heritage. Therefore, the ancestors were and still are to this day consulted by many for guidance, prayed to, venerated with rituals and are given offerings for their continued influence on the living by helping them to resolve their day-to-day problems.
It is my belief and my experience that there are lots of potential consequences for not giving proper ceremonial/death/funeral rites to the deceased or continuing to venerate them no matter what they did or did not do in life. One of the consequences that we now suffer as a people is that we have become lost in so many ways, no thanks to colonization. Slavery and the enforcement of Catholicism by Catholic missionaries almost totally succeeded in the annihilation of ancient traditional ceremonial ways through torture and every abuse unimaginable. The breakdown of the family unit throughout slavery, especially for Black Americans, is so traumatic that it has affected millions of us on a cellular level even on the spiritual levels of death and birth (see the William Lynch Speech). The breakdown and dysfunctions of the family structure has caused a ripple effect that has spilled over into the community, into greater society, and now even the world at large. The curse of slavery still haunts many. How are we going to save ourselves? We may no longer be physically enslaved except for those jailed, but many of us are still mentally, emotionally, and financially enslaved! We now have a dysfunctional living society that eventually turns into a dysfunctional deceased spirit society and who’s going to clean up the mess? We are talking about a once strong community of cultural people who were almost totally annihilated over a four hundred plus year span from abuse, oppression, torment, and unjustifiable deaths. What happened to all that bad energy? In those times, who was going to perform the proper funeral, burial, and cleansing rites for all those dead souls? How were they going to ensure that those unhappy and angry souls did not linger close to cause havoc on the world for all their sufferings? Unfortunately, the answer was no one! Our ancestors had major problems to deal with in just trying to survive day by day in an unfamiliar land and the dead, unfortunately in most cases became just a cherished memory.
Now, today there are millions of individuals who are raised in some congregation indoctrinated with man-made doctrines or Christian beliefs, whether Baptist, Methodist, A.M.E., Lutheran, Pentecostal, or Catholic but have now grown to adulthood somehow feeling as if there is something else calling to their soul. One reason is that the traditions of the ancestors are deeply embedded in our blood, coded in our DNA, and is apart of our soul. And the concept of church derived from those old ancestral traditions for which many of us can still feel the calling. The slaves formed their own idea of “church” from cleverly orchestrating special meetings gathered either in the denseness of the woods or pretending to have “church”, in this way keeping the “Masta” in the dark, allowing themselves to discreetly and safely practice their traditions in hiding. While attending these special meetings, they were able to create songs encoded with secret messages, maintain devotion and receive spirit messages through preaching, lying on of hands and receiving a form of spirit possession that involved shouting, dancing, and speaking in foreign languages better known as “speaking in tongues”. Today, many view this as a manifestation of receiving the Holy Ghost. However, these old African spirituals, rituals and traditions, concepts of nature, spirit and ancestor veneration is fighting to survive but through our DNA. And because of such, you can sense that something else is calling to your spirit outside of all the conveniences and comforts that modern day society has awarded you. And even with the freedom that science and technology has provided as a society, you are increasingly unhappy, increasingly unsatisfied and even more unfulfilled than your predecessors could ever imagine. For many of you, it is a feeling of incompleteness and an emptiness that at one time or another you thought you could escape by using alcohol or drugs, or by obtaining wealth, sex, power, marriage, family, or love from some other individual whether it be the opposite or same sex. You know that you live in a perverted society that is plagued with sexual overtones, famine, disease, crime, and illness. The family structure is breaking down, communities are breaking down and even the earth is breaking down. Though people surround you, still you feel lost, confused and alone. You reach out, but you see nothing, you feel nothing. You search for answers, for solutions – but nothing. No one can help and you try everything physical and material within your power, but the void is still there. Even with all of this, you continue to feel that something is calling to your spirit sending you on a path-finding journey of fulfillment.
Now, to answer the call of the spirit, the inner guide, many people are broadening their beliefs and education of spiritual systems from around the world. And many do not understand or realize that it is the SOUL that is searching for THE spiritual home that will bring it peace. With the help of the Ancestors, one can now find that peace or at least work toward the inner peace that their soul can call home.
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