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Religious beliefs or practices that involve addressing prayers or offerings to the spirits of dead relatives. It existed among the ancient Greeks, other Mediterranean peoples, and the ancient Europeans; it also plays a major role in traditional African religions. The dead are related to the family, clan, tribe, or village; mythical ancestors may be included. They may be friendly, or they may be displeased and require propitiation. Commemorative ceremonies are sometimes held at graves or monuments and may include prayers, offerings, sacrifices, and festivals of honor. Worship of individual ancestors is common; it may be combined with communal forms of worship, as in the case of the Roman emperor cult. An ancestor whose deeds are heroic may attain the status of a god. In China and Japan, ancestor worship (more accurately, ancestor reverence) has declined with the decline in the size and importance of kinship groups.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ancestor worship, visit Britannica.com.