Worship of Ancestors Tradition / Ritual in Empire of the Covenant | World Anvil

Worship of Ancestors

Welcome to the Empire of the Covenant! In this federal empire, tensions are increasing between the Light and Dark political factions. Light Lady Annabelle is the target of the Leader of the Dark faction and in order to gain allies to protect her, she starts Courtship Rituals to make suitors compete for her hand—but then the Dark Lord joins in. Come read about Annabelle's Courtship and her world!
Introduction to the story | Lady Annabelle Alyssenne | The imperial nobility | Novel upcoming

Table of Contents

The inhabitants of the Empire of the Covenant worship their ancestors and the traces of themselves they left in the Land after dying. With the correct practice, they can even communicate with these traces to receive protection and advice. Because of this, the identity of a person's ancestors is essential to determine their social worth, and shaming one's ancestors is the worst thing anyone could do...

The ancestors

The traces left behind: When people die, they leave a trace of their magic behind that also carries a weak part of their sentience. This trace settles in the ground where their corpse was buried.   Sentient Land: Several generations of the same family living and dying in the same place reinforce the magic, giving rise to a form of sentience of the Land. This sentience is limited, more an instinct than a very defined personality.   Different sentiences:
  • The global Land covering an Estate, linked to the family ruling the Estate.
  • Small sentiences as part of the big one, linked to specific locations and to weaker families and their own ancestors.
  •   Worship: Through proper worship, people can establish a link with the global Land or the smaller ones and communicate with one's ancestors so as to request protection and advice.    
    Nobles vs commoners
    The more magic someone has while they live, the more they live behind. Thus, the nobility leaves more than commoners, especially the rulers of the Estates that are magically linked to their Land.
    The Land by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

    Annabelle let a tendril of her magic out of her body and reached towards the ground with it like an invisible tentacle. The Land immediately reached back, warm and eager to make her feel welcome. This was her inheritance. Her ancestors.   She would never get over that fact, after fifteen years spent isolated and ignorant in an orphanage. Her family may have all been dead, but they were still there for her, surrounding her with their protection, their advice, and their esteem.

    The worship



    Goals of the worship
  • To communicate with the Land and get something from it, be it advice, some magical boost or something else.
  • To feed the Land—weakened Land is harder to communicate with, less able to answer requests, and may even die and disappear completely.
    Magic required
    1) Some personal magic, sacrificed to establish a communication with the Land.   2) A lot of magic from any kind of sources, to feed the Land.
    Communication with the Land by AmélieIS with an image from SAZ Digital on Vecteezy


    To establish a full connection with the Land and the ancestors requires a lot of magic, and so most people will only be able to do so during the important religious rituals such as solstice and equinox celebrations.  

    During solstices and equinox
    People's mind can fully connect with the Land's sentience, just like they connect with someone's mind during rituals or long distance communication.   Questions can be asked, and the answer is mostly direct and clear, coming in the form of images and strong feelings.

    Outside of these events
    Daily worship only establishes a partial communication with the Land's sentience.   Catching its attention is more difficult then; questions can be misinterpreted and answers are vague or unhelpful.
    Prayers and sacrifices by NickyPe on Pixabay
    Before her first proper autumn equinox, Annabelle had been a bit doubtful. Why bother connecting with the Land when it was already there with her every day, answering to her every feeling and thoughts and trying to nudge her to take specific decisions?   Of course, that was before she went through with the ritual and the full weight of the Land's awareness descended upon her as it fully awakened. Nothing could be compared to its size and power, and the feeling of such an all-mighty and all-knowing entity fully focus on her. It was not loving—that was not really the style of the Alyssennes—but it was benevolent and wanting to keep her safe and have her bring glory to the lot of them. And how could she refuse them when she was finally offered a place to belong?


    How to get the best connection?
    It is easier to catch the attention of the Land in places of high power, as it has more awareness there. Worshipping in the same place throughout your life also reinforces the connection.
      Temples: Worshipping is done either in a private family temple—for the most powerful family who have a strong connection with their own direct ancestors—or a village temple—for most commoners, as all inhabitants of a village tend to be more or less closely related together.   Sanctified ground: A place at the centre of the temples where all sacrifices are laid or buried to be absorbed by the Land, including people's corpses.   Sacrifice disposal: The exact method of worship depends on regional preferences, ranging from:
  • burning the sacrifices and dispersing or burying the ashes there;
  • directly burying the sacrifices alive or dead;
  • having some special species of insect or mushrooms inside that sanctified ground to accelerate the digestion of the magic contained in the sacrifices.
  • Candles in front of a temple by Filippo Cesarini on Unsplash
    After that first equinox, Annabelle went back to the temple in the Alyssenne manor. Beyond a brief visit, she had not really been here before, had not truly given a thought to giving a proper worship to her Land. It had never really mattered in Arianie, but then, she had no true link to that place, did she?   The temple was small and simple, with paved stones on the ground and modest abstract symbols painted directly on the walls. In the middle of the room was a patch of bare soil, with a hole in the ceiling just above it. And in front of this sanctified ground was a big slab of black marble on which knives and candles had been left there since the time of her parents' death, just as forgotten as Annabelle's ancestors had been...



    Daily worship
    To ask for a small benediction from the ancestors.   For this, only small sacrifices are needed:
  • A small amount of magic to connect with the Land.
  • Special candles made with concentrated plant materials filled with magic—wards over the temple ensure that all ashes and vapour are redirected towards the sanctified ground.

  • Important worship
    To ask a question to the ancestors.   This requires more important sacrifice.:
  • To establish a stronger connection with the Land, the worshipper sacrifices their own blood—the more the better.
  • To put the ancestors in a good mood and coax them into giving a "good" answer, the sacrifice of a full cow is a great idea.
    Cooked animals
    A common method of worship is to bring animals that are destined to the cooking pot and to kill them and bleed them over the sanctified ground so as to avoid any waste. The parts discarded from the cooking and the bones are also brought back to be sacrificed.
    Sacrifice of a pig by Jastrow on Wikipedia
    Annabelle started with a small sacrifice, just lighting the old candles that had been left lying around. She dubiously reached with her magic to the smoke and intermingle it with the carbon atoms and all the magic they already contained. The ward of the temple brought the smoke down towards the sanctified ground where it was quickly absorbed by the Land.   Immediately, the connection between her and the Land flickered. Its awareness poked back at her, wondering the reason for her call. She winced. How neglectful she had been, that the Land could not realise this was only supposed to be an offering and not a request for help. But she would do better in the future...

    Cultural impact


    Religion in daily life

    Religion is woven through the lives of everyone in the empire:
  • All big celebrations revolve around celebrating one's ancestors and doing a ritual to magically connect with them. The most important ones are the solstice and equinox celebrations.
  • Before taking any important decision, it is important to confer with one's ancestors to ask them for advice, such as during Courtship Rituals or before a marriage bonding.
    What if you do not like the advice?
    Going completely against the ancestors' advice is unthinkable and brings a lot of shame. People doing so are cast out of their family and local community.   What to do instead:
  • Try to understand the causes of the ancestors' decisions and see if you can change them.
  • Try to "negotiate" with the ancestors by offering a bigger sacrifice to coax them over.
  • Couple dancing
    A couple dancing during Courtship Rituals, by AmélieIs
    When Annabelle first started to consider the idea of the Courtship Rituals more seriously, it was very natural to decide that if she were to go through with this she would have four "tasks", one for each of the solstices and equinoxes and to be carried out alongside them. Finding allies and making good trade deals was going to be hard enough, she could use all the help she could get and her ancestors would be more than eager to help.   Adrien, of course, disapproved.

    Social importance of one's ancestors

    Since people do not completely disappear after death, having highly regarded ancestors is extremely important: it brings a lot of respect or dishonour if people think someone has the direct advice and approval or disapproval of past heroes.    
    The narratives
    Each House has a narrative about themselves, choosing which events to remember and how to remember them, so as to draw from them a series of values important to the family and a view of their place in the world.   The family's line-gift has a paramount place, with these narratives explaining why the family choose to develop that specific area of magic and the importance for future generations to continue practising that magic to further refine the gift.
    People with unknown ancestors
    Travellers, people uprooted from their ancestral lands, and orphans with unknown parents are all looked at with a great deal of suspicion. This includes foreigners claiming an Estate from its previous ruler, even if their magical power forces people to limit the amount of social stigma...

    Adrien was a good teacher, and as a member of a House that had served the Alyssennes for centuries, he was ideally placed to share with Annabelle the history of her House. Simple facts were not enough; there were other things there, reasons for their decisions, and behind them, values to uphold. Annabelle would make sure to do them proud.

    Joining one's ancestors after death

    Everyone from one family can expect to join their ancestors after death by having their remains absorbed by the family's plot of land.   Family's punishment: When someone goes against their House, the head of their family can forbid them from joining that plot of land after their death, and so they will be forgotten and almost nothing of them will be left after their death. This is an extremely rare and harsh punishment—killing the head of House to claim the title is not enough.  
    Legal punishment
    A ruler can punish a House by forcing them to accept the body of a traitor or criminal. The implication is that such a bad person is going to be added to the House's ancestral sentience and is going to "pollute" it with their bad qualities, thus punishing the whole House and their descendants.
    Woman being absorbed by the Land after her death by AmélieIS with an image from Danie Franco on Unsplash
    What Adrien had been unable to share was all those ancestors of hers who had gone outside of the approved path and what had happened to them... Those people were bound to be born in every family, even the most prestigious. Yet, there was little more insulting and punishing than being refused the opportunity to join one's own ancestors and to be completely forgotten and stricken from all records, with not even a name left as a witness of their existence.

    Curses and expressions

      Since ancestors are so important, they naturally figure prominently in language.  

    Exclamations of surprise or disapproval
  • "Her ancestor forbade!"
  • "Her ancestors take her and her lack of control!"
  • "Oh, ancestors!"

  • Cursing someone
  • "His ancestors be forgotten!"
  • "You're a shame on your ancestors."
  • "You, ancestor-betrayer!"
  • "Your ancestors forsake you!"
  • "His ancestors curse him!"
  • "Ancestor-cursed idiot!"

  • Threats
  • "Don't let that fear make you shame your ancestors."
  • "Ancestor-forgotten"—implying that someone's ancestor forgot them because of how insignificant they are.
    The ancestor-spectres
    There are legends about specific ancestors' curses that would have given rise to ancestor-spectres. These are thought to be some kind of intangible formless ball of energy, the Land and ancestors manifesting to take revenge for someone doing something so outrageous that they could not take it anymore.   Not everyone agrees on their existence, but they make a very successful threat to disobedient children.

    An ancestor-spectre by Artie_Navarre on Pixabay

    Annabelle pinched her lips as Adrien once again implied that the Courtship Rituals were not what her ancestors would have wanted. Of course, she did not want to shame them, but she, as the lady, was the one with the direct link to the Land! If anyone knew what they actually wanted, it was her! She was not such a naïve child as to let herself be manipulated as easily. Not anymore, at least...
    Related Articles

    Cover image: Prayers by NickyPe on Pixabay


    Please Login in order to comment!
    Jan 7, 2022 06:50

    Fascinating interplay of ancestor and land worship where the ancestors are entwined into the land via offering and sacrifice and residual magic. The land psyche and magic feeding back. How much ghost do the ancestors retain and are they surrendered / dispelled or integrated into new dominion when someone takes over abandoned or unclaimed lands/ estates?

    Jan 7, 2022 18:18 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

    Thanks for the comment :D   I have a bit more about that in some other articles, but the short answer is that the "ghosts" do not really retain a lot of personality. It's more of an instinct really, and an attachment to their own descendants.   In the nobility article (sharing the link for info, don't feel that you have to read anything more :p ), I have quotes from Lady Merisse showing her conquering an Estate and having to deal with the hostility of the Land. She cannot dispel it, but by offering it her own magic and doing the adequate sacrifices (article Solstice and Equinox celebrations), the Land is mollified over time and starts to accept her. When she and her own descendants will die, they will get integrated with the rest of the Land, and slowly influence it away from how it was previously.   A famous case I have in the novel is the capital of Arianie. The members of the Arianie House were very powerful and absolutely hated the Alyssennes, and even a thousand years after their extinction, Annabelle still feels the hostile magic when she goes into the capital.

    Jan 16, 2022 16:06 by E. Christopher Clark

    I'm a sucker for ancestor worship, so this was a lot of fun to read.

    Now it's time for the awkward wave.
    Jan 17, 2022 07:28 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

    Thanks :D

    Mar 4, 2024 13:29 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

    Great article. I love the idea of magic leaching into the surrounding earth, and ancestor worship is always interesting to me.

    Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
    Mar 23, 2024 19:20

    Oh, that's really good! I love the fact that the ancestors remain as a faint presence and allow their descendants to communicate with them. Such great ideas in this article, and well conveyed too!   Funny how you can bribe even the dead with offerings and sacrifices.

    Hoo~ Hoo
    Mar 25, 2024 16:13

    Interesting metaphysical take on ancestor worship. I imagine this would lead to very fanatical defense of the land against outsiders.   On the dark side, this might lead to cultural stagnation and xenophobia.

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