Ancestral veneration is an ancient practice that has been a staple across cultures within the African diaspora. Honoring the lives of our family members who have transitioned to higher realms pays homage to their time and energy spent on this Earth. An African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” This proverb imposes the value in community—and I view our ancestors as the leaders of the pack. The psychology of epigenetics teaches us that, through our DNA, our ancestors pass down their memories, lessons, experiences and even traumas that they have experienced in their respective lifetimes.
In many ways, we can still relate to their plight: The impact of systemic oppression continues to manifest in our emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical bodies. But ancestral veneration is a gateway to healing, breaking generational curses, facing generational traumas, and restoring generational gifts and blessings. Many of us are honoring our ancestors by taking advantage of opportunities that weren’t presented to them. But remember: When you learn about where you came from, you can gain more clarity to get to where you’re going. As Juneteenth approaches and we reflect on our collective resilience and power, consider these practical ways to honor your ancestors.
Create a family archive.
We can honor our ancestors by creating our own family archive. Most of us have a family historian— this would be the person who likely holds the family tree, important documentation, old photographs and information about your lineage. Connect with your family historian and if you’re ready to take on that responsibility, ask them to consider passing down the torch. Preserve all of your important family information from addresses, recipes, photographs to landmarks like where church was attended. Since we are in a digital age, consider scanning important documentation and preserving them on an online platform. If you’re unsure how to begin, archivist Sierra King created a platform (and movement) called Build Your Archive where they help Black artists create their own archives. They even have a service to help you create your own historical database to preserve photographs, journals, audio files or ephemera.
Honor family traditions—or create your own.
Whether it’s Sunday dinners or annual family reunions, we all have at least one tradition that’s been within our family for generations. Some even have their own spiritual significance, like cooking collard greens, black eyed peas and cornbread on New Year’s Day. Many of us don’t realize that it’s actually Hoodoo we are practicing when we do this, and those foods are cooked intentionally to invite good luck and abundance into our lives for the year ahead. Holding on to these traditions is a way of honoring the wishes of those who came before us. It gives us the opportunity to return to that familial love and enforce the importance of community to the children in our family. On the other hand, family dynamics can get complicated. If that’s the case for you, consider creating your own family traditions that meet you where you are.
Memorialize passed on family members in your home.
Building an ancestor altar has brought me so many blessings and empowered my sense of faith and confidence. However, we all are at different places spiritually and we may not feel comfortable with that. There are other ways that you can honor your ancestors in your home without allocating a designated area in your space. Another route: Think about a departed loved one and their favorite keepsakes, interests, and even the memorabilia they kept in their home. Then, find creative ways to nod to their favorite things within your own interior design. What were some of the prints, patterns, textures and materials that you can remember being in their home? For example, if your grandmother loved herself some floral print, get a floral print vase or chair to honor her. If your family has a history of people who lived near the water, aquatic elements like seashells or hues of blue pay homage to the respect they held for the ocean. You can even frame family photos and restore heirlooms. Keeping a piece of them close is an easy way to remind yourself of where you came from.
Learn about their spiritual beliefs and practices.
Historically, our faith is what has kept us grounded and liberated. It’s what we turn to during times of distress, joy and every emotion in between. Regardless of your own personal beliefs, it’s important to remember that the Universe is expansive. This means that the divine manifests in our lives through various religions, belief systems and practices. This doesn’t make any one “right” or “wrong.”; instead, it reveals the limitless potentiality of connecting to the Universe. You do not have to practice the religions or spiritual beliefs of your ancestors to grow closer to them, but learning about these modalities can support you along your journey. As new information is unlocked, you will be able to determine if it resonates based on how it makes you feel. And who knows, maybe you’ll learn something that you feel inspired to incorporate into your own faith.
Even if you decide it’s not for you, your willingness to at least learn and respect these beliefs gives room to feel closer to your ancestors. For example, if you want to connect with a loved one who was a devout Muslim, learn more about Islam and its values. If you are considering seeking connection with an ascended one, it’s important to honor them in the way that they honored themselves and their faith. In doing so, we reclaim our ancestral power and unlearn the ways that colonization has clouded our faith and judgment. This can help slowly clean the slate and strengthen our DNA for generations to come.