Ancestor Veneration in African Spirituality

Ancestor Veneration in the Ifa Tradition

Ancestor veneration is not the same as worship. Ancestor reverence is not solely for soliciting help but to fulfill one’s family obligation. In which case, ancestor veneration involves honoring and elevating our lost loved ones. African societies believe that ancestors require sustenance from their offspring, and their customs involve giving food and other offerings to their deceased fore-parents. 

The spiritual realm, according to Ifa and other African traditions, is not a far location or destination with which we only have interaction after death. Instead, we have access to this highly vibratory and active dimension while living in the physical realm.

It is believed in Yorùbá land that all living things have consciousness or awareness and that a portion of our awareness is inherited from our forebearers. Realizing and fulfilling our destiny requires us to connect with our foreparents. There is a need to have a constant connection with the world of our ancestors.


An ancestor is a deceased person who was formerly a member of a clan’s social group. The family in the African worldview consists of existing members and ancestors. The fore-parents are still there, looking over the home and the family’s possessions. They are the clan’s most powerful members as they maintain a strong connection between the world of mortals and the realm of spirits. 

They are thought to be concerned for the well-being of their living descendants. Furthermore, they even defend and chastise any erring member of their clan’s surviving population. As a result, they provide advice on family matters, ethics, traditions, customs, morals, health, and fertility. The ancestors punish acts like adultery, thievery, incest, bearing false testimony, and other moral vices.

Because our ancestors are no longer visible in the material world, Africans ascribe spiritual powers to them. Their power comes from the Supreme Being, yet they use it independently of this Divine Source. Such powers are thought to be either beneficial or evil. This is why ancestor connections and elevation are critical tools.

It is thought that if our ancestors are not sleeping, witches and wizards cannot afflict them, and ill medication cannot impact them. They are required to stay attentive, keeping an eye on the living. If one has a dream about a deceased family member, it is thought to be confirmation of the ancestor’s presence.


Death is the first criterion for becoming an ancestor. Though not all deceased persons are regarded as ancestors. Before someone becomes an ancestor in Africa, he must die at a very old age. The person must also die a decent or natural death. Persons who die in battle are regarded as ancestors because their deaths are considered noble acts of bravery.

Deaths caused by sleeping illness, leprosy, childbirth, dropsy, epilepsy, suicide, or accident are thought to be the result of a concealed crime or other malevolent behaviors. Also, if a man dies in old age and has no offspring to carry on his legacy, he is not regarded as an ancestor.

The ceremony of a funeral rite by the deceased’s children is very essential. It allows the departed to enter a realm of rest where they can enjoy the companionship of other ancestors. Some feel that if the second burial is not performed, the departed soul lingers in a filthy spot and will not be properly cared for in his new world.

Finally, an ancestor should have lived a good moral life as defined by society’s ethical norms. When libations are offered to the ancestors, the names of bad individuals, cowards, adulterers, extravagant people, thieves, drunkards, and the like are not mentioned. There is a concept that if a real person isn’t good, his spirit can’t be either. As a result, ancestor veneration assists the living who seek to be revered as ancestors to live a happy life here on earth. 


The concept of “veneration” indicates “high regard.” It thus denotes awe and reverence, as well as appreciation and regard. It is dedicated to the souls of man, in contrast to worship offered to the Supreme Being. In the precise religious sense of the term, perfect honor is given to the Supreme Creator in worship.

Africans use oracles to determine the will of their fore parents from time to time. When our foreparents are driven to rage, we pacify them through various means. It is critical that the living maintain excellent relations with their ancestors and perhaps pay them more respect than they deserved when they were in physical form. 

This is why Africans never go to bed with their pots empty. Food is positioned outside at night for any deceased relative who comes to visit. Water is not spilled out at night without first declaring it so that no ancestor is harmed. When individuals consume wine or hot beverages, they spill a small amount on the ground for their forbearers. All of this is done to recognize and strengthen the interpersonal bond between the dead and the living.


Ancestor veneration is important in African traditional religions (ATR) because it is a way to express gratitude to our forbearers. Veneration is practiced for a variety of purposes, including protection and cleansing. The ancestors safeguard and bring wealth to the living, according to Ifa and other ATRs. In these systems, respect for ancestors is mandatory. When ancestor spirits are venerated, they are capable of protecting and prospering their people.

Ancestral reverence is the most significant instrument in a spiritual practitioner’s arsenal. The ancestral altar is where one bonds with their fore-parents or ancestors. This shrine is where one goes to seek assistance, guidance, and protection. It serves as a tool for the people group’s survival. As such, we work with this and other tools to harmonize our ancestral relations. 

Learn more about ancestor veneration in African Traditional Religions in this episode of The African Spirit Reintegrated and Reimagined:

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