Ancestor Veneration When It Isn’t Your Father’s Wish

I received a question by letter, which I wanted to answer privately, but didn’t have an e-mail address or even mailing address. So here’s to hoping this post is seen by who it’s intended for. ❤

The question presented:

Dear Benebell,

I am a Taoist witch, but my religious family thinks I am a Baptist Christian and therefore against non-Baptist religious practices.

Last night my dad and I were watching a Taiwanese movie and an ancestor veneration scene came up. My dad began a conversation about Taoist traditions and said, “When I die, please don’t venerate me like a Catholic or Taoist would.”

I am a strong believer in ancestor veneration and plan to venerate both of my parents when they pass away.

I do not want to go against my father’s personal wishes as I love and respect him, but I also do not want his spirit to go un-venerated because I love him dearly.

What, in your opinion, is the best way to go about this?

Dear A,

It’s interesting how culture and ideologies change in cycles. With an Asian lineage, surely at one point your ancestors were deeply Taoist and would have held opinions of Baptist Christianity that your father now holds of Taoism. And now you’re returning to honoring your Taoist roots. Beautiful. ❤

“Ancestor veneration” is a word that’s hard to define. It means so many different things to different groups of people.

My best guess is what your father meant was that old school Taiwanese/Chinese/Japanese/etc. practice of doing the whole pomp and circumstance rituals every year for their dead, kowtowing to his image, taking pilgrimages back to the burial site, moving around bones with chopsticks, that whole thing. =) If he’s against that, I would dutifully honor his wishes to the letter.

I think what he means is he doesn’t want you to spend tens of thousands of dollars on “paper money” to burn for him after he’s gone.

And maybe he also doesn’t want a giant portrait of himself hanging over an ornate altar top where every square inch is covered with fruit, candles, and random Taoist/Buddhist religious knick-knacks.

To all of that, I would dutifully honor his wishes.

Likewise, if in the very, very distant future and at the point when you will need to make decisions about his palliative and/or end-of-life care, it should be done after thorough understanding of his specific religious beliefs and carried out per his religious beliefs. You are Asian first, and we Asians honor our elders– that, to me, is part of “ancestor veneration,” too. It’s not just about the dead. It’s also about our living elders.

To balance your identity and practice as a Taoist witch with your Baptist family’s wishes, what you can do is get a plaque inscribed with just your family name. Old school truths: it used to be just the paternal line. Today and how you might want to approach this? For me, of course I’ll set up plaques for both my maternal and paternal lines.

You consecrate your home ancestor altar in such a way that it’s an open invite to the ancestral line of that family name. But you’re not summoning anyone specific or making anyone, living or dead, be a part of your ancestor veneration practices who doesn’t want to be there. Instead, what you’re casting is a nexus, or a gateway point that serves as a [limited] open invite, where those who want to come through of your blood and bone can come through to make sure you’re safe, happy, healthy, wealthy, and cared for, who can lend their powers to you to ensure your good life.

In accordance to our beliefs, ancestors looove being able to return to check up on us. =) But their spirits can only do that if invited. Ancestor veneration, for you, doesn’t have to be about imposing traditional rituals specifically for your father when those rituals would go against his beliefs. It can simply be about setting up and ensuring a channel of access to you from beyond (i.e., your home altar with just the family name plaque), if and when he wants to have access through such a channel.

These are, of course, just my own opinions and that needs to be weighed against your own intuition and beliefs.


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