12 Şubat 2013 Salı

İnanç Dosyası 3 | Ancestor Worship

Peru – Ollantaytambo. Ekako figurines on either side of the skulls of ancestors in a household shrine.

Ancestor worship and animism are closely interrelated, but it would be difficult to determine which of the two is cause and which effect. Religious belief and its practices relate to those coming from the same stock who have died. According to this belief, death does not separate the person bound together by elements of their community, such as family, rank, tribe, village, and nation. In some communities, the dead are regarded as individual family members, like friends with whom a relationship can be established. 

Vietnam – Hanoi, Tran Quoc Pagoda.
Hanoi’s most ancient pagoda is also the oldest religious foundation of the city.  The sanctuary has a special place for the deceased. Families bring the photos of their departed relatives fifty days after their death.  Candles, flowers, fruit, joss sticks and refreshments are offered in this corner which has more to do with ancestor warship than Buddhism.  

In the pre-Neolithic age, custom required not to be separated from the dead, but to inter them under the house. A shrine has been discovered in one of the houses in Neolithic Jericho, estimated to date back to about 5000 BC. It was built into a niche in the wall, and excavations revealed human skulls under the houses. These are thought to be the skulls of ancestors believed to exert powers over the living.

Sometimes, they might fall out with the living or even get angry with them, but through the necessary respect and veneration, this animosity can be eliminated. In primitive agricultural societies, ancestors are sacred. They are believed to continue their relations with their communities and with the living. Nearly all primitive agricultural communities practise ancestor worship. In particular Australian aboriginals believe that the soul of an ancestor enters the body, and that each carries within him an ancestral soul. The concept of the holiness of the soul stems from this.

The living should take care of the dead, since they are incapable of caring for themselves so the living should see that their every need is met, because they are venerated as members of the community or because evil consequences might ensue if they were neglected. Those of the dead who were once powerful during their lifetime, such as chiefs, shamans or elders, become more powerful after death, and are able to help the living, or bring them harm. In certain societies it is believed that the dead may once more return or be reborn into the community. This worship is carried out with all due funeral rites, such as to offer food or sacrifices or to beseech through prayer.

Several types of ancestor worship can be found. One of these is the worship of all members of the group - family, rank, tribe, nation - to which the dead had belonged while alive. Communal veneration of this kind could be found in Ancient Rome, and it includes all the dead who were of a certain standing. Here the dead person was regarded as a protective being. Individual worship, that is, the veneration of each single ancestor, is more widespread. This is seen in the cult of the Roman Emperors, the worship of ancient Pharaohs of Egypt, and in the veneration of members of the Imperial Japanese dynasty. Not all ancestors are considered worthy of an equal degree of veneration (Grades of Ancestors). Some are thought to be more powerful than others. An individual's acceptance as a venerated ancestor can be gained through seniority, reputation or prominence while alive. It was thus in the Greek cult of hero-worship. If an individual ancestor bears within himself most of the qualities which render him worthy of worship, or if he has achieved great superiority in a particular field, then he is not considered a soul who has departed this life on earth, but is seen as a god (Ancestors as gods). One of the best examples of this is Asclepius, who, while he was raised to the status of a god in many places in Ancient Greece, was also venerated as a hero by his Physicians Guild.

 Help can be requested from ancestors who are believed to continue their relation with their community-(Assistance Rendered): such as ensuring the continuation of the lineage, driving away disease or pestilence, or securing a good harvest - in many cultures it is thought that ancestors dwell in the soil. There is nothing that may not be requested from the spirit of an ancestor, nor anything it is unable to carry out. It is also expected to intercede with the gods on behalf of the living.

Ancestor worship prevails in primitive societes of Africa, Asia and many Pacific areas. It also existed among the ancient nations of the Mediterranean, and the peoples of ancient Europe; it can be encountered in Asian cultures, especially in Japan, China and India. Of the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean, the Babylonians practised a cult of the dead, and in Ancient Egypt, Osiris, god of the dead, was worshipped. Originally, the religion of Zoroaster did not include a cult of the dead, but this cult survived in popular belief in Iran and later, Zoroastrianism did actually include elements of this cult. It is thought that, in Shi’ite Iran, Imam Huseyn's commemorative ceremonies mourning the Karbala martyrs do in some degree contain traces of worship of the dead. There are even researchers who have discovered similarities between Osiris and Huseyn. In Morocco, on the Tenth Day of Muharram, women visit cemetaries and cleanse the graves with copious water. Ancestor worship used to be practised in Europe by Russians, White Russians, Lithuanians, Celts, Icelanders and Scandinavians. Funeral rites carried out in India by living relatives are intended to nourish, support and protect the dead person's soul, and to help it along on its journey from lower to higher realms, until it is ready for reincarnation and reappearance on earth. Ancestor worship is China's most universal system of traditional belief, which means that part of filial duty is to provide for parents both before and after death, because the dead are thought to have the same needs as do the living. The behaviour of the living influences the welfare of the dead and similarly, the conduct of the dead in their spirit world continues to help the living. The dead, plus the living, plus future generations compose the family group, which was regarded as a unit. The power and prestige of any member of this group became the power and prestige of the whole group. Ancient Japan absorbed a great deal of Chinese culture, and thus, in their religion, the gods of nature were linked with their imperial ancestors. The Japanese also adopted the Chinese concepts of filial devotion and they worship the spirits of their ancestors.

Even today, many cultures preserve the practices of commemorating ancestors, of making pilgrimages to burial places, and this maintains the relationship between the dead and the living. It also sustains remembrance of the dead and perpetuates knowledge of them.

For the Incas, a people living in South America between the 12th and 16th centuries, ancestors were guardian spirits worshipped as family gods.

 They were effective in bringing prosperity and providing protection. Surviving until the present day, there is a protective spirit named "Ekako" who very probably while originally an ancient fertility god, in time became the god of good fortune, a spirit that protected families. People wishing for good luck hang little moulded male figurines or Ekako, seen in the photographs (Peru – Ollantaytambo) on either side of the skulls. 

Peru – Ollantaytambo.
Quinoa, skulls of ancestors, dried guinea-pigs, Ekako figurines, flowers and candles in a household shrine.

In Peru at the present time, the ancient Ancestor Cult still survives in folk traditions. The belief that the dead "manifest themselves" is widespread even today, and on the Feast day of the Dead, the people leave various offerings, "potajes", on their graves. "Blank windows" and "blank doors" are thought to furnish an entrance for the spirits of their ancestors. Just as the souls of the living differ from one another, these too, are different from the real windows and doors. Mummies of the ancestors, displayed in niches in the walls, played a very important part in the ceremonies of the Incas. Since the spirits of the dead dwelt in sacred mountains, mummies often acted as intermediaries with mountain gods. In the Andes mountains, the abundance of crop yield and the ancestors are closely interrelated. The photograph shows quinoa or amaranth, a pseudo-cereal of high nutritional value, grown on high plateaux, hanging down on both sides of the niche. It has been placed in this house, together with the skulls of ancestors, to ensure a plentiful supply of food. Because the upkeep of this household is financed by breeding guinea-pigs, including the preserved dried bodies of these animals is a way of persuading the ancestors to vouchsafe protection of the household and its income. During the age of the Incas, the guinea-pig was considered to be one of the most acceptable offerings to the gods. Like placing flowers on a grave, the custom of putting flowers behind, and lighting a candle in front of their skulls reflects traces of Christianity.
The Hasidim (the 'pious ones’, a Jewish sect) , at the graveside of great followers of the Kabbalah (mystical traditions of Judaism) meditate in silence, their eyes closed, in the hope of catching a divine spark from the immortal soul of their master.

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