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Ancestor worship

by Micha F. Lindemans
Ancestor worship occurs in ancient cultures all over the world, and even in modern times it plays an important role in primitive religions. It is founded on the belief that the dead live on and are able to influence the lives of later generations. These ancestors can assert their powers by blessing or cursing, and their worship is inspired by both respect and fear. The ancestor cult consists of praying, presenting gifts, and making offerings. In some cultures, people try to get their ancestors' advice through oracles before making important decisions.

In ancient China and Egypt, the influence of ancestors was very great. They were buried in expensive graves and in Egypt a permanent death cult was instituted. It was generally believed that the lack of veneration would cause the deceased to die a second death, which was for many people an almost unbearable thought.

In nearly every primitive tribal religions of Africa ancestor worship is common practice. The ancestors of the tribe are honored as spirits who preserve the moral standards of tribal life. They are also regarded as the intermediaries between the living and the divine powers. And the ancestor spirits play an important role in the initiation rites. Among some west-African peoples the belief is current that the ancestors reincarnate in their descendants.

In Japan, ancestors were worshipped until 1945. At that time, the Japanese Emperor disclaimed any form of divine ancestry and polytheistic ancestor worship was no longer permitted.

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