|Photo by Mitch Young|
Given the importance of ancestral rites for ancient societies such as the Egyptian and the Roman, and the widespread persistence of them in African and East Asian societies, as well as the form that it takes in the cult of the saints, I am dissatisfied with the ancestors' almost total absence from religion in role-playing settings. Yesterday's work on an Underworld (here and here) made me think about the destiny of the dead in that incipient setting. Hel assumes Valhalla: one place for those who die as heroes, another for those who die of sickness or old age. The fact that my mind has been in the native Chinese religions in recent weeks (and perhaps my own Christianity) creates some dissatisfaction with the majority of people being ignominiously consigned to hel.
For this setting, I would introduce a division in hel for the mediocre majority from the miserably damned: the Valley of the Shadow of Death for most dead, and the Pit of Perdition for the wicked. While the heroic dead could be called upon for aid like patron saints, the mass of the dead could be placated with ancestral rites. This would be an explanation for the rites, and neglect of the rites that would reconcile them to their fate would be one major cause of the curse of the undead. Perhaps the appropriate rites could even insure an eventual reincarnation for the mediocre dead to give them another shot at glory. There could also be occasions where spirit possession would be part of the rites. This cosmological detail could give rise to interesting ties with certain spells in the game and new possibilities for adventuring plots. In short, it is full of world-building and role-playing potential.
For a very elaborate and public practice of ancestral rites, see the Korean festival of Jongmyo Jerye.