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Ancestor Worship?

Post  WynnDark on Wed May 15, 2013 4:36 pm

This is a topic that has been bothering me for a while, we know that at least at some point in Greek History that there was something of a cult of the dead; ancestor worship on some level that ultimately gets replaced (at least in what records we have left to us) by the Hero cults. Granted, Hero cults and ancestor worship could have continued side by side and since ancestor worship would have been more of a household affair, well, we all know how little of the day-to-day religion was actually recorded.

So, the question is, do we have anything left to suggest what the cult of the dead would have been like? Offering worship to the Heroes seems, off, since with some exceptions (Herakles, Castor, Pollox) hero worship pretty much required being physically close to said hero's tomb, an artifact of theirs, or in some cases their bones if they had been exhumed, which puts most of out on a practical level from such worship.


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Re: Ancestor Worship?

Post  Erodius on Wed May 15, 2013 10:45 pm

Ancestor worship was a major element of domestic cult in both Greek and Roman religion — but it was just that, domestic, and dependent, for obvious reasons, on one's family. Major public figures, especially as time went on, acquired cult of varying magnitude as they grew to be perceived by the populace as a sort of 'universal ancestor' for all their subject peoples, as in the case of the Roman Emperors, though this was also the case with more local public figures. There were also numerous cults of various deceased sages and wisdom prophets — i.e. Jesus, Orpheus, Apollonius, Mani, Pythagoras, Trismegistus, and even Moses.

Cult of the deceased was simple, outside of major 'public ancestors', and consisted of the same core ceremonial actions that characterize Graeco-Roman religion as a whole: prayer, libation and sacrifice. One's ancestors were among one's family's household gods. Their central shrine was the gravesite, but it was very common for ancestral shrines to be a feature of the home, in which ancestors were typically represented with wax masks which were hung in a niche in a wall. One made libations, said prayers, burned incense, and occasionally made sacrifices to one's ancestors just as one would any other divinity.

In Orphism, all souls are considered daimones, and so are treated as such. Especially revered, deceased figures also are and were treated as akin to gods. Orphics of Antiquity likewise practiced proxy offerings and hymnodies on behalf of deceased co-faithful, which was seen as somewhat unusual by those who wrote of the practice.

Really, the cult of the dead in the Antique Mediterranean would have looked much like what is done today in Mexico and parts of Latin America for the Días de los Muertos — and there were similarly-purposed festivals in Greek and Roman religious calendars.

"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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