Those who don’t remember the dead deserve to be forgotten by their descendants

PSVL has argued that some form of ancestor veneration is not just important but a defining characteristic of traditional and contemporary polytheisms across the globe:

One can’t really do this type of practice as a humanist realistically, because for it to be effective, it’s a two-way interaction: the living humans venerate their ancestors, remember them, and make regular offerings and honor them in particular fashions, and then the ancestors work behind-the-scenes to make one’s life better, to facilitate the connections one has to others, and so forth (often with motives entirely their own that are not revealed to the living humans involved). One can’t be equivocal about this: it’s either true that the ancestors in question still exist and are around and accessible to living humans, and thus one’s practices are effective, or one doesn’t believe that and thinks it’s all arbitrary speculation about the afterlife and therefore does nothing, or one thinks that the ancestors don’t and can’t exist, and one does nothing. Both of the latter viewpoints amount to the same thing (i.e. doing nothing), and thus I don’t really think there is much of a distinction between “ancestor agnostics” and “ancestor atheists” on this point. And yet, the technologies for ancestor veneration across cultures and historical periods are remarkably similar, as are many of the beliefs which accompany, explain, support, and suggest those technological processes. I think this is one of those matters where taking it as “up-for-grabs” and arbitrary and “just about beliefs” pretty much invalidates the possibility of someone participating in the practice fully, and thus it is something of a “requirement” of belief (leading to practice) on the part of the people involved.

What do you guys think?

I’d love to see discussion around this topic and even more than that I’d love to see folks talking about what they do to honor the dead within their tradition and the reasons why they do so.

And if you’re willing to write a blog post on this I’d encourage you to flesh it out and polish it up a bit and submit it to Walking the Worlds, since the inaugural issue of this print journal focusing on polytheism and spirit-work is going to be on ancestors and hero-cultus. We’ve already got some top-notch articles by some of the biggest names in the community but we want to bring together a multitude of voices reflecting the diversity of ways and approaches within contemporary polytheism. This shit’s gonna be good.


The deadline for this issue is October 1st and for information on where to send your stuff as well as the submission guidelines, click here. Unlike most of the anthologies, e-zines, pagan and polytheist portals and suchnot out there we’re actually paying contributors – two cents a word, in fact, which is even better than what a lot of mainstream professional publications are offering in this disposable digital age, because we value your work enough to pay you for it.

Of course a large part of what’s enabling us to do that is advertising and subscriptions. And so to sweeten the pot for subscribers we’re running a really cool contest which you can read about here.

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6 thoughts on “Those who don’t remember the dead deserve to be forgotten by their descendants

  1. I don’t actually think I’ve characterized it as you’ve stated above, Sannion. Yes, it is widely shared amongst traditional cultures, but the real issue is that for many modern polytheists and pagans, it isn’t a defining characteristic, it’s something they poke at with a stick from time to time. My main point in that post was to say that this is one thing that utterly depends on two things: belief, and a notion of (at least some variety of) afterlife; and, I think that’s why a lot of pagans, and some polytheists, really don’t have a good grasp on it, don’t have an effective practice in relation to it, etc. That was my main point…

    That having been said, I’m not entirely happy with the comments on the post (including and especially those of your interlocutor, whose comments you’ll notice I’ve deleted; I unapproved her further postings after a subsequent one earlier that suggested I don’t know how to read, and I won’t be allowing any further ones unless that person apologizes before doing so, and learns my fucking name since I’m the host of that conversation, and just barging in and expecting to be heard and to have a forum for one’s thoughts is not how my definition of the hospitality of the Aedicula Antinoi works).


    • Thank you for nuancing that. You teased out several really important threads in the piece and I’d hate for people to miss out on all that good and thought-provoking stuff because I chose to emphasize just one of them – and by no means the most interesting! These are questions of gravity and consequence and I think we’re all the better for considering them.


  2. I am at present adapting an ancestor rite from Cei Serith’s book “Deep Ancestors” to solitary practice and my geographic locality.


  3. Excited about the journal!

    One important thing, though, needs to be fixed… The website says it’s a “biannual” publication, which would mean it’s pubished every other year. You want “semi-annual” there.


  4. *published


  5. Matt G

    “Biannual” is the appropriate word in this context. Biennial is the one which means once every two years.


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