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Ancestor Veneration

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"The knowledge and power of departed ancestors benefits the bloodlines of Dunmeri Houses. The bond between the living family members and immortal ancestors is partly blood, partly ritual, partly volitional."
— "The Ancestors and the Dunmer", The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

A common aspect of many religions is the veneration, exaltation, and/or outright worship of one's deceased familial ancestors. This generally happens for one of two reasons (and sometimes both): first, it is believed that the ancestors can in some way influence the fortunes of the living, watching over or assisting them, and the veneration of these ancestors makes them more willing to act and/or grants them greater power with which to act. Second, the veneration from the living makes the ancestor more comfortable in the afterlife.

In fiction, these effects tend to be more direct and powerful. A particularly exalted ancestor may, for example, be able to return as a Spirit Advisor to their descendants. In settings where prayer and worship have observable, tangible powers, worshiped ancestors may be able to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence or even become gods themselves.

Older Than Dirt, ancestor worship is believed to have been part of the earliest religious practices in prehistory and was definitely part of Ancient Egyptian practices.

Compare Remember the Dead, where such veneration is required to prevent the deceased's Cessation of Existence. Also compare Appeal to Familial Wisdom, where living ancestors are venerated. Overlaps with Honor Thy Parent, as it can easily be seen as continuing familial piety back more generations.

Contrast Precursor Worship, in which a previous, usually technologically advanced, civilization is the target of the worship rather than one's direct ancestors. Also contrast Our Ancestors Are Superheroes, where the ancestors had greater powers while they were alive.

Also has an article on Wikipedia.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: The people of Karakura Town venerate their ancestors, praying for them and remembering them on a regular basis. There turns out to be a good reason for this. Not all people go to the Soul Society after they die — some wander the world of the living. If the veneration of them ceases, these lost souls are vulnerable to falling into despair, being turned into hollows (evil ghosts), and returning to plague the living. This is what happened to Orihime Inoue's brother Sora when she stops praying for him: he becomes the hollow Acidwire.
  • Doraemon: Nobita in the Wan-Nyan Spacetime Odyssey: One of Nekojara's few redeeming qualities; it seems like he does genuinely respect his ancestor, Zubu, with much of his motivation being driven towards fulfilling Zubu's wishes that felines should rule the world.
  • One Piece: The Shandians are a tribe native to the island of Jaya over which they are fiercly protective. Their culture and beliefs place a lot of importance on respect for one’s ancestors.

    Comic Books 
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: The people of Talok VIII practice ancestor worship. Shadow Lass's shadow powers are derived from her ancestors.

    Fan Works 
  • The Dresden Fillies: In Chapter Two of False Masks, when Twilight sees Dresden carrying around a human skull, she tries to be charitable and hope it's just because he worships his ancestors.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Brother Bear, living things become Great Spirits after they die. All species venerate them, among them are the main character's brother and a supporting character's mother, both of whom die early in the movie.
  • Coco depicts a celebration of the real-life Dia de los Muertos holy day (which combines Catholic and pre-Columbian religious traditions), honoring deceased family members. Miguel doesn't initially take the celebration too seriously, since his family restricts his love for music, but comes to appreciate it more after actually taking a trip through the Land of the Remembered and meeting his ancestors.
  • Lions in The Lion King franchise worship the past kings, though they also have a god according to supplementary canon.
  • Mulan: Mulan's father is seen in the family shrine praying to the ancestors for Mulan to do well with the matchmaker. Her grandmother is more skeptical ("How helpful can they be? They're dead."), but after Mulan runs off to join the army, she prays to the ancestors to keep Mulan safe. Played for Laughs when the ancestors themselves make an appearance to the audience since they are depicted as bickering amongst themselves.
  • In Turning Red, Mei's family venerate their ancestors especially Sun Yee, the first ancestor who was granted the ability to turn into a giant red panda.

  • In The Divine Comedy, some of the souls of the damned in Hell ask Dante to take their stories back to living so that they can be prayed for, hoping to escape this fate.
  • In the Foundation Series story The Traders, the people of the planet Askone worship their ancestors, whom they believe to have been virtuous heroes who freed them from evil (i.e. the Galactic Empire), and put up richly-decorated shrines to their spirits, complete with altars ornamented with gold. They also shun advanced technology, which they came to associate with the Empire, and consider it to lie "under the ancestral interdict".
  • In the The Lost Fleet, ancestor veneration is the dominant religion in Alliance space. It's mixed with a spiritual take on the role played by stars in creating the materials of life, with ancestors believed to be residing in "the living stars" until some future rebirth. The protagonist frequently visits the shrines in the most protected part of his flagship to seek guidance — and he believes he gets it, although the books themselves stay in Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane territory. He is discomforted to learn that some people see him as halfway to being a venerable ancestor himself — he spent a hundred years in a stasis life pod while everyone thought he was dead, and now some religiously-inclined people believe that he was personally among the ancestors and has been "sent back" to save everyone. (He does note a positive side, however — hardliners in his fleet can't easily accuse him of disrespecting the ways of their ancestors if he's an "ancestor" himself.) Ancestor veneration is also part of why Earth is not considered an Insignificant Little Blue Planet despite its lack of political and economic power — it's where most ancestors lived their lives and is therefore holy.
  • Redwall: While they don't really worship them, badger lords often see their ancestors in visions or when at death's door, asking for advice and getting cryptic results in return. The secret forge in Salamandastron contains carvings of past badger lords, of heroes and their great deeds (some of which have yet to happen), which can be added to when a badger is working in a fugue state.
  • Speaker for the Dead: Played with via the Pequeninos of Lusitania. The human xenobiologists THINK this is what the Piggies are doing when they talk about their fathers, even claiming to be able to talk to said fathers via the trees that bear their names. The reality is that the Fathertrees the sexually mature forms of the more mobile pequeninos and therefore are their fathers in a most literal sense. That a pequenino has to either do something exceptional for the tribe or be a certified badass to be allowed to take this form, rather than the sterile brothertrees, explains the generation.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: On the planet Barrayar, a non-Barrayaran character notes to herself that "Barrayaran ceremonies for the dead approached ancestor-worship", including burning very personal offerings (a special hand-calligraphed copy of a military officer's commission, a scholastic transcript, and hair) at the site of an ancestor's grave. When a woman is convicted of infanticide, her sentence includes the stipulation that no one "shall make a burning for her when she goes into the ground at last", which the older and more traditional Barrayarans view as a literal sentence of the death of her soul.
  • Warrior Cats: Both the Clans and the Tribe, due to originally having been one and the same, share a very similar belief about the afterlife and ancestry. Good, noble cats from both end up in either StarClan or the Tribe of Endless Hunting, where they can watch over the living. The living in turn worship their ancestors, often looking to them for help and guidance, especially as they are capable of giving omens about the future or even prophecies.
  • The Takisians in Wild Cards. Every upper-class Takisian is selectively bred for superior beauty and ability, so they revere their ancestors for providing them with quality genetic material.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Klingons of Star Trek hold great respect for their ancestors, especially those who died in battle and rose to Sto-vo-kor, and pray to Kahless on behalf of said ancestors.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In Canaanite Mythology, the word ilib was also a generic term for dead ancestors honored by individual families, and scholars believe that the god Ilib represented the concept of a person's posthumously deified ancestor. Support for this belief includes the existence of deities such as the Eblaite dA.MU, who similarly represented the concept of a person's posthumously deified father.
  • In Malagasy Mythology, people hold that, so long as they are remembered, the souls of the deceased retain a strong influence on the lives of the living. While most of the Malagasy ethnic groups take this as a good sign (ancestors can and will be cajoled into increasing their relatives' luck), some (such as the Bara) believe that attracting a dead soul's attention in any way is a recipe for disaster.
  • In Roman Catholicism, in order to go to heaven (or reduce their time in purgatory) and join the angels, the soul of the deceased needed to be prayed for. This led to the modern idea of the funeral, particularly how the modern Western funeral is such a huge deal, as well as other ideas. This is still part of the Catholic beliefs, but you only pray for the soul in Purgatory as man has no role in deciding the salvation of souls.
  • In Ancient Rome, familial ancestors were honored during the festival of Parentalia, during which the family visited the cemetery and shared cake and wine, both in the form of offerings to the dead and as a meal among themselves. Parentalia drew to a close with Feralia, a somber public festival of sacrifices and offerings to appease potentially malevolent who would do the living harm.
  • Ancestor Veneration is common in Eastern religions, such as Taoism, Shinto, and Buddhism. Including seasonal holidays where food is offered to ancestral spirits. Some even believe that ancestors might become gods.
  • Voudoun has Ancestor Veneration as a core part of its beliefs.
  • Ancestor worship is endemic to Native American religion of every stripe, as they help establish a vital connection to both their history and their communities.
  • The "hero cults" of ancient Greece are a form. Different kingdoms and city-states would erect a shrine to a hero or heroine from myth and legend, typically one associated with their people. For example, Athens had Theseus, and Boeotia (Thebes) had Orion. They would leave offerings and libations to them, often for purposes such as protection of their town or people. However, despite what some may think, these heroes were not seen as gods, even by those worshipping them. Instead, it is more like how people venerate Saints today.

  • A Dynasty of Dynamic Alcoholism: Ancestor worship is the religion of the dwarfs, with their only Gods being the legendary Ancestor Gods who founded the Karaz Ankor. According to the QM, ancestor veneration is the main religion of Grand Cathay as well.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eberron: The Mongol-esque elves of Valenar worship the spirits of ancient heroes, and have spells that can channel them into their bodies, weapons, or steeds. Their uniquely powerful warhorses also tie into this, as legend says that they're descended from elven druids who became Mode Locked in the form of horses. This is in contrast to the elves of Aerenal, who transform their elders into Energy Beings called "deathless" which make up the Undying Court.
  • In Exalted, the souls of the deceased are drawn to the Lethe where their memories are erased prior to Reincarnation. However, they can resist the Lethe's pull with Essence that is granted by the prayers and worship of the living.
  • Pathfinder: Taiga giants revere their ancestors, whom they seek to honor in their daily lives and can mystically commune with. Living taiga giants can even call upon their forebears' spirit for aid in battle, and few things can spur a taiga giant clan to war quite as easily as insulting their ancestors.
  • In RuneQuest, the Cults of Prax supplement includes the Cult Of Daka Fal which worshipped the First Mortal from whom all other mortals were descended and was openly described as ancestor worship. The special spells granted by this cult allowed interaction with deceased ancestors although finding the friendly and neutral ones while avoiding the hostile ones was entirely the job of the players who participated in this cult.
  • Starfinder: The religion of the Maraquoi race focuses on ancestor reverence over worshipping a specific divine entity.
  • Warhammer:
    • Dwarfs traditionally practice a form of ancestor worship as a result of their reverence for wisdom, old age, and the past. Consequently, their departed ancestors are considered to be the ultimate founts of experience and are prayed to for wisdom and insight, in addition to being accorded the deference and respect that all dwarfs are expected to show their elders. This reaches a particularly strong form in the Ancestor Gods, the semi-mythical progenitors of all dwarfs, who are worshipped throughout dwarfish civilization. In particular, the Dwarfs hold that the Karaz Ankor, the united Dwarfen kingdom, was founded by the brothers Grugni and Grimnir and their wife Valaya, who are venerated by the Dwarfs as Ancestor Gods.
    • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay mentions that ancestor worship is common among many human communities as well and provides rules for playing as one such worshipper that include bonuses when the character performs a feat their ancestors approve of and penalties such as a round of paralysis as an offended great-great-great-grandfather delivers a furious tirade against an especially disappointing performance. It's noted that dwarfs greatly approve of this practice, but sometimes wonder how the much more short-lived humans can even keep all their bygone ancestors straight.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Early editions had the Squats, which were basically fantasy dwarfs in space. They believed that they'd join their ancestors after death. Because of this, they tried to earn glory in life and took their clan's honour very seriously. Especially long-lived Squats could communicate with and gain psychic power from their ancestors, earning them great respect. The Imperium tolerated this behaviour because the Squats were useful allies and willing to worship the God-Emperor above all.
    • The Leagues of Votann, a more modern reimagining of the Squats, venerate the mythical First Ancestors, who left earth to harvest resources on other planets and laid down the foundation for the Leagues. They worship the Votann, ancient supercomputers who hold all the accumulated knowledge and lore of their culture. Because the Imperium enforces a Ban on A.I., the Leagues try to keep this a secret.

    Video Games 
  • After the End: A Post-Apocalyptic America: Just as in real life, this is present in the religion of many Amerindian religions.
  • The role-playing game Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan makes ancestor veneration a central pillar of its setting. An 'aurion' is an ancestral legacy or memory that lives on in members of a clan or tribe that still reveres that ancestry, and an 'aurionic' is anyone capable of tapping into that legacy to commune with their ancestors and possibly gain superhuman or magical powers from it. Main character Enzo begins the game as an aurionic already tapped into the legacy of Honour, being the last of the line of the honourable Kori-Odan clan, and unlocks several other legacies from other ancestors as the game progresses.
  • In Civilization V, Ancestor Worship is available as a belief for religions that increases Culture from Shrines.
  • Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus and Butterfly: Every April, Hendry takes his daughter Rachel to her mother's grave, and also to her grandparents' graves when her mom was alive, with their extended family joining them if they're visiting. As is customary for nekomimis, they clean the gravestones, bring food, and have a feast while catching up.
  • Crusader Kings:
    • Crusader Kings II added an ancestor worship decision in an update to "defensive" pagan faiths (Baltic, Finnish, Slavic, and West African). Once every ten years, pagan rulers can sacrifice either money, their own limbs, or a human life in exchange for Piety, and possibly additional effects.
    • Crusader Kings III has ancestor worship as a possible tenet for multiple pagan faiths, it gives rulers better relations with close family members (thus decreasing their risk of assassination).
  • Dragon Age: Religious beliefs of the dwarves are split between venerating "the Stone", from which they believe to have originated and to whom they return after death, and venerating the Ancestors — particularly noble and resourceful dwarves of the past. There are also Paragons — individuals so remarkable, they are officially recognized as "living Ancestors" and, when they do return to the Stone, venerated above all other Ancestors.
  • Elden Ring: Birac, former Prelate of the Fire Monks, is treated as something of a saint and an exemplar of the Monks' unique brand of crazy. Concerned by how lax his fellows were becoming in their guardianship of the Giant's Flame, he cut off his own head and had it and its helmet fused to a candlestand to serve as a lesson to the other monks. He is now worshiped through the Cranial Vessel Candlestand.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • This is a major part of the religious beliefs of the Dunmer (Dark Elf) people. While the deities worshiped by the Dunmer have changed over the course of history, the veneration of their ancestors has always been a major practice. They will seek guidance from their ancestors, as well as more directly summon their spirits and reanimate their bodies for protection. (An act they consider holy, which is a major reason why blasphemous necromancy is so reviled.) The in-game book Ancestors and the Dunmer provides a highly detailed account of these practices.
    • In the series' backstory, the ancient Aldmer (Precursors of all of the modern races of Mer/Elves) had significant ancestor worship as a religious practice. As Aldmeri society evolved, commoners stopped worshiping their own ancestors and began worshiping the ancestors of their social "betters", elevating them to the level of gods through collective adulation. Trinimac was one such ancestor. After being eaten and excreted by Boethiah, Trinimac would become the Daedric Prince Malacath.
  • Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom: Three of the worshiped gods (Nu Wa, Shen Nong, and Huang Di) are ancestral heroes, who will send calamity after calamity on the city if not appeased by sacrificing goods to them (other gods are merely neutral when ignored, but their blessings tend to be worth getting).
  • King of Dragon Pass: Your clan ancestors expect you to abide by the choices you (or rather, they) made in clan creation, such as whether or not to take thralls. You can even build them a shrine and sacrifice to them as if they were gods. The ancestors can also show up in person if you please them by following their ways, or anger them by abandoning those ways (or by quoting too many proverbs).
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The Gerudo show hints of this, with their reverence of Lady Urbosa being a bit different from how other tribes revere their fallen Champion, and one Gerudo outright stating that they don't worship Hylia. Prior to the assault on Vah Naboris, Riju calls to the "Ancestors of the Gerudo" as the activates the Thunder Helm.
  • Mass Effect: Ancestor worship is the primary religion of the quarian race. Back when they were still an associate race of the Citadel Council, quarians were in the process of making Virtual Intelligences with personality imprints of their dead ancestors. There was a great deal of internal debate over whether this qualified as worshiping the VIs instead of the ancestors proper. Some more superstitious quarians believe that their exile from their homeworld following the geth rebellion was punishment for their hubris.
  • Mortal Kombat: Liu Kang and Kung Lao's ancestor, (the latter of whom shares his name) is known as the "Great" Kung Lao, honored for defending Earthrealm during the Mortal Kombat tournament centuries ago.
  • Potionomics: The walrus blacksmith Muktuk's people believe that their ancestors live on within them - literally in their bodies — and can communicate with them. He believes he is on a Mission from God via his ancestors... who do not speak to him.
  • Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind: You can't build a shrine to your ancestors like in Six Ages' predecessor King of Dragon Pass, but they still expect you to uphold their values, and may curse you if you cozy up to their enemies.
  • Takeover: The Crimson Horde worship their ancestors and eventually animate their mummified remains as their elite cavalry unit. At the end of the game, they realize this wasn't a good idea and go back to just worshipping them.
  • Total War: Warhammer: Living Legend Grombrindal the White Dwarf, who is said to be The Chosen One of the three main Dwarf ancestor gods (Valaya, Grugni and Grimnir) and has personally interacted with all of them, has a special mechanic of ancestor worship. By focusing on his kinship with one of the three main ancestor gods, or by strikes out to enhance his own legend by doing do great deeds on his own, Grombrindal will either buff his entire faction in one of three ways or gain massive personal combat bonuses.

    Visual Novels