Why Our Ancestors Worshipped Those That Came Before Them
Thousands of years ago, we worshipped the elements of nature - the sun, the moon, the earth, the water, the flames, the air. Yet, there was another aspect to our lives that seemed to disappear only a few thousand years later. The practice of ancestor worship.
If we look at any of the ancient cultures and civilisations, we see that our ancestors lived a life in harmony with nature. They gave blessings and gratitude to the elements, for allowing them to survive. They blessed their food, the water they bathed in and the trees that gave them air to breathe. If we look closer, we can see that they also worshipped those that came before them. In Britain, for example, our ancestors would often bury relatives in their homes so their spirits could always be close to them. In our modern day, this practice seems morbid and kind of eerie, but it all adds up when we look deeper into the past.
To the ancients, the recently deceased were links to the further past. If someone could stay close to their deceased loved one, the information and wisdom from the otherworld could be passed to them. They could also prove their connection to the 'gods'.
In ancient Britain, temples carved out of mounds were common for ancestor worship. On the eve of a solstice, equinox or full moon, an auspicious air went over the tribe as they remembered who came before them. This was just one of the ways our ancestors connected to the past.
So why did they cling to the past?
Why would they want to keep their ancestors in the front of their minds?
Our ancestors wished to remember those that came before them because of the knowledge they had. The hope was this wisdom may be passed down through the generations to help them overcome the darkness that was to come.
To understand this period of history, we have to look at the cycles of time, or the Yugas. Each 'Yuga' or 'epoch' in history denotes a different quality. Science tells us that humans appeared around 200,000 years ago, according to the evidence they have found. In the Paleolithic era, we see more common human traits like making clothes, producing musical instruments and jewellery among other things - this is dated anywhere between 50,000 - 20,000 years ago. Modern science today paints a pretty uninteresting depiction of our past. We essentially evolved, made a few essential items, went through an ice age, then developed farming thousands of years later. The ancestor worship that was so common in these times doesn't make much sense - until we look at the Yugas.
The Yugas say that 200,000 years ago - 20,000 years ago (middle paleolithic to upper paleolithic) we lived in Satya Yuga. Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, Yogananda's teacher, wrote that Satya Yuga was a time governed by spiritual energy. The average person lived in a peaceful, harmonious way. There was no competition for food, because it was manifested instantly, and people could heal themselves with their inner being because they understood the Universe on a deep level. In Greek mythology, the land of Arcadia, located in Greece, was said to be the birthplace of the gods. The people there of that time had no need to grow food, because it was so plentifully supplied. Sounds familiar, don't you think?
Every culture in recorded history has mythology that alludes to this time. A time when those that went before them appeared to be like 'gods'. It is said that the average lifespan for our ancestors at this time spanned thousands of years. With this information, its easy to see why our ancestors wanted to honour these people. Our ancestors were honourable people - they had amazing healing powers, figured out the very mysteries of life and were masters of their minds. They had done so much good in the world, and whats more, our ancestors could say they were the direct descendants of them.
Why else might our ancestors have worship their lineage? The ancestors are the gate keepers of the past. After the deluge, commonly refereed to as the Young Dryas in academia, this knowledge was lost. The trauma of this time erased memories from the people. If you believe the myths, our ancestors are in fact the descendants of the survivors of the floods. Ancestor worship was highly ritualised - it could be that through this ritual they could always be close to their ancestors. They could always be close to the knowledge they kept and the wisdom of the past. The end of Satya Yuga also symbolised the decrease in consciousness, and our ancestor's knew this. They were aware that as the centuries wore on, we would become more closed off from the divine, and negativity would seem to triumph. Perhaps through close ritual to the ancestors, they could ensure that the spark of divinity was never lost.
So why don't we worship our ancestors anymore?
I think there are a few reasons for it, which can be boiled down to a simple answer. Our ancestors were descending in consciousness, so we don't like to relate to them as we begin to ascend in consciousness. Our planet at this time is beginning the long ascent back to the golden age of humanity. It is all too easy to look back over the last thousand years and see all the imperfections. Those that came before us did a lot of horrendous things, and its understandable to forget them, to shut them out of our lives. Yogi Bhajan once said that we must bless our ancestry, so we can move forward. If we ignore the past, it will repeat itself through us, whether we want it to or not. If we clear it and bless the past, then we can move forward with grace. We also clear the path in front of us, so we can ensure a good future for our descendants.
Yes, our ancestors were, for the most part, not admirable people. We may look back and desire to be nothing like them, but we have to remember that they made it possible for us to be here today. The trauma they went through was a product of what we are here to learn. We can take the lessons from the past, clear the pain, and create a world more in line with our souls.