Traditional ancestor worship dates back early in mankind's history and there is hardly a culture untouched by the ancient practice of honoring one’s forebears. Honoring our ancestors is based on a simple premise. In order to know ourselves we must first know where we came from.
Our ancient ancestors were much different people than we are today. They had different ideas about who an ancestor might be and relationships often transcended blood ties. The early Celts didn't just honor ancestors of blood relation who passed on before, but counted everyone who made a profound impact on Celtic society by great and humanistic deeds.
We may be very familiar with famous figures in Celtic mythology who gained deity status. If we look closely, most Celtic deities were not initially portrayed as omnipotent beings who watched over the early Celts in typical god-like fashion. Their myths are very human.The heroes and heroines of Celtic mythology led mortal lives and experienced the same personal conflicts and trials we do today. Their triumphs over these very human experiences allowed them to not only enter the Halls of our Fathers in the afterlife but ascend to a higher spiritual status. There is little sense of separation between Celts and their human ‘gods’ of mythology.
Less celestial individuals are celebrated, too. King Arthur and his court, including the Knights of the Roundtable, were honored for their pursuit of peace in the British Isles. While most Celts are probably not blood-related to Arthur, the spiritual adventures of this great king and his quest for the Holy Grail is something we can all relate to. He and his court are also honored as ancestors.
Our own blood relations are our ancestors too, of course. Most often this is where we begin honoring the past. The very act of asking our elderly relatives to remember to us blood-kin who passed on before is an act of honor. In this way, they are kept alive and relived through present time memory. The study of genealogy brings to life those relatives lost in time. We even begin to learn something about ourselves as we discover ancestors who bore a similar disposition or appearance to us.
The most renowned celebration of Celtic ancestor worship takes place during Samhain. Better known in contemporary times as Halloween, this well-loved holiday began as a celebration for ancestors who passed from the realm of the living. Samhain is known as the time when the veil between this life and the afterlife grows thinnest, allowing spirits of our relatives to return for a visit. An extra plate was set at the Samhain dinner table in their honor and the dead were feted among the living again with verbal remembrances.
The Honor of Celtic Ancestors can be simply conducted throughout the year. In addition to studying family history to find out who you came from, you can create a memorial to serve as an altar for ancestor worship. It need not be elaborate for our spiritual relatives no longer have use for material items. A small table will suffice as a devotional area of memory.
For more contemporary relatives, you can decorate this memorial with their pictures and lay flowers in remembrance. For those who passed long before the advent of modern photography, writing stories and poems about their lives to place on the memorial is a loving way to conduct the honor of Celtic ancestors. Or you might light incense and reflect on their lives and what they learned in times long past. In these moments of reflection, you can call on their wisdom to guide you through this life.
Ancestor worship isn't limited by social boundaries. There is no harm in borrowing from other cultures during your times of honor. In that way, we can better relate to the world at large and begin to see how we are all relative to each other regardless if we are blood related or not.