Why Ancestors Worship?

Sep 23, 2020Blog, Culture, Shinto

Why Ancestors Worship?

What does it actually mean to worship one’s ancestors?

First of all, there are different ideas about the word “worship” and what it encompasses in a “religious” context. 

The perferred word “veneration” can be translated nicely into Japanese as sonkei (尊敬), which is more, “down-to-earth.”

While thinking about the Japanese society, and the social conventions to which the Japanese adhere, one came to the realization that venerating the ancestor, along with the Sun is the best way to express gratitude toward our world and what it gives us. 

By the way, Amaterasu Oomikami is the Japanese Sun Goddess.

Amaterasu Oomikami ama shinning her life on us

This notion of expressing gratitude to those who came before and the life giving energy of the Sun embodies a sense of unity with all people of the world, for we all share the Sun and each has one’s own ancestors. 

I have very fond memories of one particular ancestor, my maternal grandfather.

As a child he had tuberculosis and was cared for in a small room for a year where ones Really Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather were simply waiting to see if he lived or died. 

Helen Otta Kean -Inglis-Richardson- Stephen Kean Filiatrault Great Grandmother

Helen Otta Kean -Inglis-Richardson

Fortunately for my mom and I, he lived (Dad is also happy about this as well).

It was during this time in sickness where he read 100s of books which left him a very well read and intelligent man. 

One’s heart fills with fondness when recalling the time spent together with grandfather and his spirit being manifested in me. This leaves me with a feeling that the spirit of grandfather still resides in part here in the material world. 

One could say that once the last of the people who were directly touch by this extraordinary man pass away, this spirit of grandfather will also fade away. 

Even if this may be so, the spirits of the ancestors live on in our alter along with all relatives who have already crossed the SANZU NO KAWA into the afterlife. Mitsunobu_Sanzu_River

Here in Japan, ancestors are remembered on specific holidays, one of them being around this time of year, the Autumnal Equinox Day (Shūbun no Hi), which usually occurs on September 22 or 23. On this day, people will reconnect with their families by tending to the graves of ancestors, and visiting shrines and temples. 


Pragmatically so, the Japanese believe all virtue and frailty of being human are natural, and look upon all departed as some kind of Gods, which represent the entire spectrum of the human experience. 

One finds the inclusiveness of this way of thinking refreshing, and indeed to be a much more practical way to think about and live one’s own life.

Looking at ancestor veneration from a different lens, one likes to celebrate present relatives who will one day become “ancestors.”

Like when taking the in-laws on an overnight trip, and saying to mother-in-law, “I believe we should also venerate our ancestor while still here on earth, so you can celebrate this wonderful world you have left your descendants while still here.”

She had a good laugh and concurred with these sentiments. 

Say thank you to our shared Sun Goddess Amaterasu Oomikami and venerate one of your living ancestors today as one tells them…Thank you, thank you so very much.


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