The worship of the spirits of
dead ancestors. It is based upon the
belief that the ancestral spirits are
immortal and have the power to
help or harm the living. Rites are
performed to appease the spirits or
to persuade them to use their power
to benefit the living. By strengthening
the bond between the living and the
dead, ancestor worship emphasizes the continuity of life.
Kinds of Ancestor Worship
Ancestral spirits may be worshiped as individuals or as a group, and by a single
descendant or by a family, clan, tribe, or nation. Ritual activities may be simple or
elaborate and assume varying degrees of importance in the religion of people.
Ancestor worship occurs in both primitive and civilized societies. It is most
important among some of the Sudanese, Bakongo and Bantu tribes of Africa.
Ancestor worship is also found in Japan , Melanesia, and Polynesia.
Ancestor worship is a widespread practice in China, where it has existed since
1523. Most Chinese believe that the living and dead members of a family influence
each other. Families notify their ancestors of important occasions and make
offerings of food, flowers, and incense to them before household shrines or in
ancestral temples. Chinese ancestor worship also involves elaborate funeral rites,
frequent memorial ceremonies, and regular care of graves.
It was a minor cult among the Romans. (See: Manes)
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