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Ancestor Worship

Ancestor Worship In China, Ancestor Worship In Japan

The term ancestor worship, coined in 1885 by the British philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer, refers to a ritualized invocation of dead kin. It is based on the belief that the spirits of the dead have the power to influence the affairs of the living. Ancestors who are respected and remembered by elaborate rites include members of the family, clans, and tribes. Ancestral spirits that are worshiped also vary in distance of time from the living. In some societies, only the spirits of the recently deceased are worshiped, while in others, all ancestors are included.

The practice of ancestor worship is not universal, but exists or formerly existed in many countries including those in West Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and East Asia. Information is most abundant on traditional practices of familial ancestor worship in China (Thompson 1973) and Japan (Yanagita 1970).


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