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Religion and Culture

Religion & Culture | Ancestor veneration: Communicating with loved ones at the altar – Pt 2

Published:Sunday | March 31, 2019 | 12:00 AM
The ancients believed that ancestor veneration was essential to social stability.

T he deep religiosity of black people the world over is directly traceable to primordial African spirituality. In fact, Orthodox Christianity is rooted in the Kemetic religious system. Josef Ben-Jochannan advances this theory in several of his seminal works, including, ‘The Black Man of the Nile,’ ‘Africa: The Mother of Western Civilization Roots of Christianity’ and ‘A Chronology of The Bible: A Brief History of the Development of the Old and New Testaments from Their African and Asian Origins to Their European and European-American Revisions.’

In terms of religious appropriation, doctrines such as the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the crucifixion, salvation and the Ten Commandments only scratch the surface.

Ancestral invocations (prayers) of the Luxor Temple of Amun (Egypt) and those of Aksum (Ethiopia), a competing power, made their way into the Western and even West African religious construct. The Christian depiction of the afterlife was arguably sourced from the Egyptian Book of the Netherworld. This explains the commonality in the solemn recitations reserved for the dead in many a Roman litany.

One such Roman prayer reads:

- That Thou (God) wouldst be pleased to deliver the souls of our parents, relations, friends, and benefactors, from the pains of Purgatory.

- That Thou wouldst be pleased to have mercy on those of whom no especial remembrance is made on earth,.

- That Thou wouldst be pleased to fulfill all their desires.

- That Thou wouldst be pleased to receive them into the company of the blessed…

While ancestor veneration is usually presented only in spiritual terms, I wish to primarily explore its psychological and natural benefits.

As the reader argued (See part1), our failure as society and as individuals is due to the dismissal of a natural aspect of our spiritual expression.

The forced and unforced adoption of religious systems that are alien to our genetic and archetypal constitution does little good to advance us as individuals or as a Collective.

While politics and economics are integral to a people’s advancement, culture just cannot be dismissed. I lived through the enviable political and economic rise of the East Indian in Trinidad. As Hindus, ancestor veneration remains vital to their personal and communal identity.

The individual is always part of a larger generational gestalt. This inextricable connection at the deepest level of soul (psychic bond) is mentioned multiple times in the Bible (rooted in African teachings and mythologies), none more so than in Romans 11: 28 – “ From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers,” and in Deuteronomy 10:15 – “ Yet the LORD has set His affection on your fathers and loved them. And He has chosen you, their descendants after them, above all the peoples, even to this day.”

Individual salvation is never divorced from the Collective. We must therefore rebuild the family structure starting with acknowledgement of our immediate ancestors.

How then do we create a sacred space and altar as found in history’s greatest Kingdoms?

It is not as onerous as imagined.

Select a quiet, clean area, preferably a study or room where there is little traffic as possible. Some of us may not have that luxury but that should not deter us from creating this quiet space. Our altar, stripped bare can be a table or desktop covered with a white cloth or different color depending on the purpose of our communion.

On the table should be placed photos of the deceased and items that identify the character or predilections of the deceased. for example, we could place a piece of jewellery belonging to our deceased mother. Our altar should include candles, incense, a bowl of water, flowers, a crystal (preferably blue gemstones for serenity), a holy book or sacred symbols, and an offering. The offering or gift can be in the form of fruits that must be disposed of in nature. If you review these items you realise they are representations of the four elements: water, fire, earth and air, of which we, as energetic beings, are composed.


Now, tap three times on the altar to signal the beginning of your communion. This rapping helps us to focus. Our intent is important. In some cases we may use our sacred space just to replenish our energies, to sit quietly and breathe consciously. On other occasions we sit at the altar to literally talk to our loved ones. We can opt to write gratuitous notes to them or notes asking for forgiveness. This is a powerful therapeutic exercise. Whatever our intent we approach our sacred space, preferably before sunrise, with affirmations of positivity and prayer.

(To put some context to this, I sit at my altar focusing and contemplating on the incredulous resolve my mother had shown during her battle with cancer. That was decades ago. Whenever my faith is tested and I am weighed down by life, there is no greater panacea for me that reflecting on my mother).

Our sacred space must be kept clean, away from disturbances, frivolities and mundane indulgences. It is here that we relive moments of our ancestors’ sacrifice and love for us. We retrace the best of their lives. We can talk to them and share our concerns. It is here that we bask in the stillness of the moment allowing us to access the answers to all our questions. Getting the best from our sacred space takes time and patience, but every time we enter this sanctuary we strengthen our bond with the family Ideal. Also, we become more attuned to the different levels of awareness and begin to fully grasp the meaning of the dictum: Silence is golden.

Expectedly, not every ancestor is worthy of venerating. We are advised against revering those we know to be of questionable character and those of ill repute, for obvious reasons. Given that we are energetic beings, as science has long proven, we are transmitters and receivers of energy in the form of thoughts. Having those of unsavory characters as our point of focus can be psychologically damaging. Therefore, we must be judicious in our selection. If we do not have sufficient information on a particular ancestor it is advisable to omit that individual. We must only commune with family members that represent the ‘ideal good.’


As a cautionary note, individuals diagnosed with melancholy (depression) or neurosis (bipolar disorder), should not engage in any form of ancestral work. Not unlike particular forms of qigong and yoga, ancestral work can unearth psychological scars that are best addressed in a professional setting.

Ancestor veneration is really an art that is carefully handed down from one generation to the next. Although the black family was historically ripped apart we can still begin to reap the benefits of this practice by adopting its basic principles.

The wise ones of yesteryear embraced it, so why shouldn’t we?

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the award-winning author of the audiobook Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend ad Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. Email feedback to and, or tweet @glenvilleashby