My ancestors are not remembered

I don’t remember my ancestors. I venerate them, but I have essentially no memories of them, just like everyone else. There are branches of my family tree that I can trace back to the 300s, and I could memorize those names and dates, but that’s not the same as have memories of the many generations of dead whose lives made my own possible. Even if those names and dates did count as memories, that scant information covers not even two thousand years out of six thousand that there have been human civilization. Just like everyone else, my ancestors stretch back much earlier than history: homo sapience have been around for 300,000 years, and evolved from other primates over the course of six million years before that.

No, I do not remember my ancestors. The definition of “ancestors” that I use actually specifically excludes the people that I remember, but discounting that, I knew and remember my parents and grandparents. That’s just six people, and one of my grandparents was reared by a different man than was the father, making it incredibly hard even to know tidbits like names, dates, and burial locations. Just like everyone else, I have barely a clue about my ancestors, and a lifetime of focused research probably wouldn’t reveal a lot more of the total picture of my ancestry.

Just another ancestor shrine

I venerate my ancestors. I maintain an ancestor shrine, and I bring offerings more days than not. I do not have any pictures of individuals on my ancestor shrine, because I don’t want my focus to be on those few individuals for whom I have photographs. Images of beloved dead can be affirming, but the tool that resonates with me is a black mirror, which I use to meditate on what of my ancestors is reflected in me. Whether they are of blood or choice, all of our ancestors are reflected in us to some extent. I want to venerate all of my ancestors: the Roman slaves, the Dutch soldiers, the English farmers, the Turkish merchants, and also the African nomads, the australopithecines, the therapsids, the bony fishes, and all the mysterious forms my ancestors assumed in times even earlier.

Having gaps in the family tree is inevitable, and it can feel anything from annoying to profound depending on how close that gap is to one’s own life. There’s a certain sense of belonging that is associated with knowing something about these people that contributed to our existence, but no living human has a complete understanding of how all those pieces fit together. Do not fret if there are not many people in your own tree that you can remember; venerate your ancestors. Venerate them all.

2 thoughts on “My ancestors are not remembered

  1. See, this is actually why I’ve started taking up the practice of giving offerings to Hades and Persephone before giving offerings to an ancestor or a hero to pray that They send the correct souls my way. That way there is definitely a lot less doubt that I’m talking to the right people whether I knew them in life or not. Granted, I’m pretty sure just saying that you are invoking the ancestors is enough to do that but I’ve seen that there are historical instances of chthonic deities being prayed to in order to make sure the right people show up and I just think that is pretty helpful. If anyone is going to know it’s going to be Them!

    Liked by 1 person

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