Sages hark back to the ages. They revere their ancestors. Ancestor worship is the oldest form of worship, and for good reason. It’s good. Today, alas, we revile the ancients. We call them silly and superstitious. We think ourselves incomprably more advanced, while we roll the whole ecosystem and smoke it in one drag. In this fallen age, we worship only our selves and the great golden gods of ‘progress’ and ‘growth’. No wonder things are literally going to hell. We have offended the old gods and the new. An age that forgets ancestor worship is truly cursed, and that’s the age we live in.
Recently someone close to us was killed and we keep pictures of him everywhere. I light the oil lamp we only used for birthdays and watch the flames flicker over his photograph. We bring fresh flowers and watch them fade, like the passing of a human life. I understand ancestor worship for the first time really because I do it, religiously. He’s like a deva to me.
In Sri Lankan culture we also worship our elders. Before leaving we bow to them and touch their feet. As a ‘modern’ person I had begun to avoid this as anachronistic, but now I realize that trying to jump the line out of time is the problem. I try to worship my parents again, to show my children that elders should be respected, rather than just telling them. And it’s nice also. It makes everybody happy.
We lose all this under modernization. Confucius said you should take three years off when a parent dies, and now you get a day if you’re lucky. Master Kong harked back to much wiser ancients than him, but today those sages are forgotten and Master Kong’s wisdom is reviled as the “mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.” The fortune cookie, of course, being a modern American invention. You can see how history folds in on itself, under the pressure of blithe ignorance.
Today we worship ‘progress’, ‘innovation’, ‘growth’, and don’t believe anything for real unless it has a ‘study’ attached to it. Everything has to be passed through the ‘double-blind’ eyes of science, even though few such studies are replicable and they lack any cultural foundation to help you live an actual life. Instead we’re told that everything can kill us and everything can save us and we’re just dumb for not being able to figure it out for ourselves. We’re isolated consumers, dissolute souls, coming from nowhere and being no place except our bank accounts. We have all the options in the world and nothing means anything. What gilded misery.
The very idea of progress is that we weren’t even worth mentioning during ‘pre’ history, we were ignorant for most of history, and that it was only once the violent tribes of West Asia began industrially raping and burning the world that we actually became wise and ‘scientific’. Ancient civilizations that built massive irrigation systems which we can still use and pyramids we can still see are somehow ‘backward’ and the way forward is to strip the Earth of nutrients and build transient glass towers and highways that depreciate within decades.
It’s like seeing a great house and calling it progress to burn it, because ‘look, it’s so much brighter’. We’re like children who found their father’s gun, digging up even more ancient ancestors and burning them as ‘fossil’ fuels. With no respect for their resting places. We claimed all of their power for our own, until they built up in the skies and said “no, not really.”
What is the answer to any of this? Fuck you to even think you deserve one. To even think that your questions make sense. Some questions are not meant to be answered, and some are asked so ignorantly that no answer is even possible. The endless and frankly mindless inquisitiveness of the scientific age has made us think that we can dissect and torture every animal, burn every object we find, and it’s all OK because we’re pursuing ‘knowledge’. But what is knowledge without wisdom? Just greed.
The proper response to the majesty of nature and the bounty of the past is worship, not devouring what pleases you and throwing the rest away. I’m reminded of the British who raided Egyptian tombs, stole mummies, and ate them at unwrapping parties. There’s never been a more apt metaphor for the West Asian attitude towards everything ancient. Far from worshiping ancestors, they devour them, idiotically, violently, and ultimately Pyrrhic'ly.
The very idea that the past is just superstition and ignorance that we can dig up and discard at will, that religion was the root of all violence and we—with atom bombs—are so much better than worshipers, this is all hubris. We stand before our ancestors, before the ancient gods, and scorn them. But who do we actually hurt? The dead are dead and the gods are doing their thing. We claim the power of god-men because we can fly and speak over long distances, but we still don’t control the weather.
The weather has always been the domain of actual gods, since time immemorial. Call them Ra or Thor, or the microbes that carefully balanced the ‘climate’, before we started digging up their ancestors and lighting them on fire. The same as we burned all ‘superstitious religions’ that talked about balance, and scorned the new prophets that told us to submit to something higher. What’s higher than man’s own greed and vanity and indeed, what has ever burned brighter. But it’s all just a bonfire of the vanities.
By scorning and trying to dominate powers greater than ourselves, we have hurt ourselves only. Nature has genocided entire ecosystems five times before, once caused by microbial life itself. The gods go and and reform wherever someone offers sacrifice and worships them. Who ultimately dies from hubris? Icarus, not the sun. Those that fly too close to the sun, on waxen wings of technology. The sun will go on shining with or without us, and we forget this.
We’re not going to get out of this by merely catching it in some new form of technology, continuing on with our attitude of hubris and greed, only powered by ‘renewable’ energy. Instead we will have to crash out of this through a hard encounter with the ground, where our ancestors are, where our past is, where we have vainly tried to escape through ‘progress’ and ‘growth’, completely forgetting where we came from and what exactly we have been burning. We have spent our precious time trying to fly away from this Earth and so we are given escape, just not in the direction we were hoping. We tried to get to heaven and ended up with hell on earth. We worshiped ourselves and greed, and ended up where the ancients predicted.
A fallen age scorns the ancients and starves their ancestors, and that’s the age we live in. To all the unmourned dead, from the unmournful dying, I’m sorry. I know it’s too late but I’ll bow before my parents and light the oil lamps again. Bitter experience has made me worship again. Bitter experience is coming to us all this century. As the Earth crumbles, there’s only one place we should be. On our knees. In worship and penitence, and turned away from the false gods of ‘growth’ and ‘progress’. These are insults to the ancestors, who we have callously scorned and refused to feed. When the dead go unfed, it’s only so long before the living go hungry.