Honouring the Ancient Dead is a British initiative that advocates respect for what are commonly called ‘human remains’ and their related funereal artefacts.
HAD’s particular focus is the physical evidence of ancestors who don’t fall into the protective cloak of the Church, these being for the most part those ancestors who lived and died before the seventh century when Christianity began to spread through Britain.
Here are some Quick Links to key pages.
HAD’s Statement of Intent lays out the initiative’s aims in full. The following is a summary.
HAD aims to present a particular perspective with regard to the ancestors, one that perceives the ancestors as still being integral and influencing members of the community. For animists and pantheists, this may be through a deeper consciousness within nature; for others, this is based simply on the legacy of ancestral lives, our memories of them, and our ongoing interaction with both those elements.
As ongoing members of the community, the ancestral dead continue to be persons, in other words, the ancestors are still individuals who have the right to be treated with respect. This includes the physicality of their bones, cremated ash, and other bodily elements that may be found. HAD believes that this perspective is widely held, both instinctively and philosophically.
HAD aims to explain such a perspective, define the terms used in the discussion, encourage support for those who share this view, facilitate involvement on a local and national level, increase dialogue and consultation when it comes to decision-making, and generally raise the standards of respectful interaction with the ancestors.
Respect is a key word addressed in HAD’s Definitions document. In essence, respectful interaction requires that we engage with the ancestors – including the bodily evidence of their lives – as persons, not objects. Furthermore, the fundamental expression of respect for a dead person is to allow them to rest in peace.
How HAD Works
HAD is essentially a website, a small administrative team, and a fluid body of volunteers. Some of the volunteers work solely within the think-tank, offering advice and comment on issues that arise. Some of the volunteers are working in the field, for example, talking with museums about ancestors in the collections, or gaining access to ancestors in store rooms for meditation and vision questing, or talking with archaeologists about the future of ancestors that have been exhumed, or arranging for the reburial of bones found in someone’s attic or a biology class store room. Our volunteers are academics and professionals in the heritage, archaeology and museum world, and indeed anyone who has a deep interest in the welfare of the ancestors.
If you would like to become a volunteer, get in touch.
History of HAD
HAD was originally created in response to negotiations following the Public Enquiry into proposed road developments at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, in 2004. Head of The Druid Network, Emma Restall Orr, had made a presentation to the Public Enquiry raising the issue of the spiritual and religious sensitivities that such an intrusive project would have touched upon. She was asked to put together a group that represented the British Pagan voice in order to continue negotiations with the various companies and organisations involved.
In the event, the road development was once again postponed, but HAD had been formed. Instead of representing every Pagan group or individual, HAD’s aim was to represent the broad spectrum of theologies and philosophies within modern Paganism within which heritage and ancestors were considered sacred.
Fairly quickly, however, HAD’s core volunteers found a huge amount of support from people who were not Pagan, but whose attitude towards ancestors and their physical traces were profoundly important. Furthermore, HAD was also challenged by some Pagans who disagreed with its premise. As a result, in 2012, HAD officially altered its parameters to become an initiative representing a particular set of ideas, those stated in the simple triad:
- As human beings we have a duty of care towards every other human person.
- As integral and influencing members of the community, the ancestral dead retain their personhood.
- Personhood entails the need for respectful interaction.