The Ancestors are one of the “Three Kindred” in ADF Druidry, and are honoured at every rite. It is tempting to think of ancestors as only one’s own parents and grandparents, the immediate family. However, the ancestors can be thought of as being in three categories.
The “Ancestors of Blood” are those of your own genetic lineage, not just immediate family but ancient ancestral groups like the Celtic peoples as well, all those who made *you* possible. In my case, this involves mostly Irish, Spanish and Polish ancestors.
The “Ancestors of Place” are those people who lived on the land you now live on, whose bones lie beneath the soil on which we walk. Here in the South East of the UK, this includes not only about a thousand years or so of Saxons and Normans, but also Celtic tribes such as the Iceni, led by Boudicca.
The “Ancestors of Spirit” are all those whose lives and works inspire your heart and your path. These can be ancient Pagans, but they can also be people who have influenced us, including philosophers, scientists and writers. For me, this would include Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, Charles Darwin and others.
As a naturalist, I do not believe the ancestors live on after death as spirits. But they are ever-present in our thoughts and memories, as well as (for ancestors of blood) in our own bodies and genetic heritage. Philosopher and Druid Brendan Myers writes in Paganism 101:
A scientifically-minded person might want to deny that [the ancestors] live on as disembodied spirits…As an alternative, we could say that they live on in the form of a discernible presence embodied by the habits and characters and stories of their living descendents today. This alternative requires no supernatural element to be intelligible. Yet it seems to me no less spiritual.
Besides all of our human ancestors, I like to think about our evolutionary ancestry. Darwin’s glorious revelation showed that we are all related, and we share a common ancestor with all humans, an older one with all animals, and an even older ancestor (the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA) with all life on earth some 4 billion years ago. Looking at the deep roots of evolution’s tree of life, we can honour all our ancestors right back to thee origin of life itself, and recognise that we are kin with all that lives today.
Honouring the ancestors, whether by rituals such as leaving offerings for them at Samhain or visiting their graves, or by simple acts of remembering and telling their stories, is a vital part of being human. The ancestors literally and spiritually connect us to our history and tell us where we came from and who we are.
ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009
Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010
Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth. Bantam, 2009
Trevor Greenfield (ed.), Paganism 101. Moon Books, 2014