On Passive Ancestors

Ancestor worship is typically considered to be a staple of Heathenry. Yet, many Heathens struggle with this—some have ancestors who committed terrible acts in life, others have ancestors who reject their own veneration. But what about when the ancestors are silent?

Up until recently, I had no insight into my ancestors’ relationship to me and my practice. I often gave cultus to the ancestor collective, but it always felt like a hollow act.

It was only through divination that I learned that my ancestors, while invested in my personal development, are not involved in my practice. It’s not that they disapprove—they just prefer that my Heathenry be a lone endeavor.

I wanted to discuss this finding to explore what this revelation has meant for me and whether it might provide insight for other polytheists.

I still believe that it’s important to worship our ancestors (unless they are actively against it), but that doesn’t have to be at the forefront of cultus. While I experience some sadness in the knowledge that my ancestors are not interested in being involved in my practice, I am also liberated from certain expectations. I’ve accepted that it’s okay to worship my ancestors once or twice a year.

This also has implications for the “Gods of limited access” line of thinking, which I have long opposed. We should not assume that our ancestors will be our best spiritual guides. Every relationship with the divine is different. Recognizing that even our ancestors can be passive allows us to accept that whatever divine relationships we have are important in and of themselves. At the same time, we do not benefit from imposing our own expectations onto a relationship.

As practitioners, we should be open to all forms of devotion—with Gods, with local spirits, and with our ancestors, but we must also accept that we are not the only ones shaping the relationship.1


1. I want to clarify that I don’t believe the Gods reject respectful devotion. However, the Deity-devotee relationship takes many forms.

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