I, like many other times, light the candle at my ancestor shrine. I burn my incense and chant the offering formula. Then I take up my hotep tray to present my offerings. It’s a simple ancestor ritual, but I feel it accomplishes what I set out to do. I don’t have any image of any particular ancestor on my shrine. I don’t even know if any will show up. I’m not sure what I would do should I ever experience them. I just know what I’m doing in that moment.
I have to confess to something relatively ironic. Even though ancestor worship (as in not the literal worship, for those not in the know) is part of the Ancient Egyptian religion I have a difficulty partaking in such rituals. Some of it stems from my aversion of dead spirits. OK, the dead in general creep me out so much I dislike cemeteries. I wish I could explain why because I don’t fear death. I’m sure it’s something some therapist will help me sort…
Another part of my discomfort with ancestor worship stems from an issue of my own ancestry. The first obvious issue of my ancestry is one very common issue I’ve noted throughout the Kemetic community. I, like others, aren’t sure our ancestors would feel comfortable if we expressed such an act through a Pagan way. I’m not even sure how my Deist ancestors would react to such rituals. I know some in the community resolved the religion issue by assuring themselves many of their ancestor appreciate the remembrance. Unfortunately, as cited by many people in my life, I think quite often, and this rationalization of focusing on the act has holes in it for me. It goes back to my earlier points of whom would appreciate the gesture regardless of the religious expression. I remember, moreover, my maternal grandmother specifying that she had no intention of visiting as a spirit once she died. My mother has voiced something similar. It ultimately comes off as pretentious and selfish to assume that, unless specified somewhere, one can call upon their ancestors, expect them to show, and have no qualms with your ritual.
I didn’t know how to incorporate ancestor worship into my practice given my reservations. When I was a member of the Kemetic Orthodox it felt awkward even acknowledging my ancestors during the senut rite (it’s their equivalent of the daily ritual). It just never felt right to incorporate ancestors. I felt like if I did I would get the one who found offense and subject to his or her disapproval. What then? What if I managed to disrespect my ancestors? So I avoided mentioning them at all. I avoided ancestral rituals, and I read other members’ interactions without any real way to relate.
The past few months saw some massively hard times for me. I truly felt like no one cared and I had no idea what to do or to whom to turn. Since I am no longer affiliated with the Kemetic Orthodoxy I felt I didn’t have a religious figure in whom to confide. Despite the fact both of my paternal grandparents are living I never felt right asking them for advice. When I had a moment I gathered items: candles, a candle holder, incense, and a couple of small trinket boxes. After some discernment I decided to make a hotep tray out of clayboard. I sat down with my makeshift ancestral shrine and proceeded to perform similar to the ritual at the beginning. There was no chanting, but I certainly plead for help. It was clunky, it was awkward, and I certainly didn’t feel anything or anyone. I still found comfort in approaching my ancestors.
After I had some time to process everything I had some realizations. Yes, one should make an effort to remember and venerate their ancestors. It’s our ancestors who are one of many aspect that contribute to who we are. I feel one should not be expected to worship every ancestor because of this aspect of respecting who shapes us; not every ancestral tradition is one I follow today. Even my ancestors didn’t follow every tradition, hence why some were Deist or atheist in my family. Some of my ancestors divorced and remarried at a time when such things were taboo. If they found a way to live their life with their traditions I can too.
Even the idea it’s just for my ancestors is somewhat questionable. It’s a lot easier for some people to overcome grief when they acknowledge a loved one is dead. Some people mourn by tending to the grave. Knowing that if we can take care of them in a physical matter provides some guarantee we will see our loved ones in the afterlife soothes and assures us. It provides comfort and hope. Ancestor worship provides as much for the living as it does for the dead.
When I end my offering ritual to my ancestors I’m fully aware there probably aren’t any of my ancestors present. I’m aware that I’m probably “doing it wrong”. My concern lies with how I can venerate the ancestor in a way that’s comfortable for me. I know when I snuff my candle, bow, and leave that I did what was best.