Ancestor veneration was a regular part of ancient Kemetic religion. Maintaining tombs, remembering the dead, making offerings to their kau – all of this was vital not only for the happiness of the living, but for the dead in the afterlife. Modern Kemetic-based religions often include some form of ancestor devotions. In Kemetic Orthodoxy, having a strong relationship with one’s akhu is strongly recommended. But it can get complicated.

Most of us come to Kemetic Orthodoxy as converts. Very few people have been born into the religion. Therefore our ancestors are usually Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim – one of the “big three” Abrahamic religions of the modern world. I have often questioned whether my many Catholic akhu can appreciate my strange prayers and communication with the dead. Others have even been told directly by their akhu that an akh disapproves of being venerated. Sometimes there’s a culture clash when we introduce them to our practices.

People often have complicated relationships with their ancestors. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone refuse to honor their akhu because of an abusive or otherwise unsavory relative, I’d have… a lot of nickels. To be clear — there should never be a requirement or obligation to honor ancestors who hurt you deeply in life. The choice to reconcile, in both life and death, is personal.

And then there’s a cultural piece that gets even more complex. Our ancestors may not match the cultural context we’re honoring them in. Or, they may have done things that are problematic or ethically questionable. It’s a concern for many.

Our ancestors, however, are many. We have more ancestors than we can count. The number of generations that span the gap between us and prehistory is astonishing. I may lament an akh‘s bad behavior or problematic history and still connect with the vast crowd of unknown akhu whose actions unwittingly lead to my life. They feel infinite — and in a sense, they are.

My advice for those new to Kemetic religion, or those struggling to connect with their akhu because it’s complicated for them, is to start without names. Thank the ones who loved one another and through that love created part of your life. Even if you never met, they gave you life; surely among that crowd you will find a connection and a place to start.

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