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The notion of one or more “spiritual” realms existing alongside the world of our ordinary, everyday experience is taken for granted in almost every religious tradition. One broad area of agreement is that communication between this world and the otherworld is possible. Dreams, which often seem to be experiences of a confused parallel world, are frequently the medium of communication.

One category of inhabitants of the otherworld is the ancestors. Many cultures revere their departed ancestors, so much so in some societies that they are regarded as quasi deities. As beings who now reside with the gods, they are thought to have access to powers and information unavailable to ordinary mortals. Hence, they are invoked to protect and guide the living. Traditional beliefs and rituals associated with the ancestors are sometimes referred to as ancestor worship, although the appropriateness of the term “worship” is debatable. Ancestor worship is especially characteristic of certain African tribes, some strands of Buddhism, Shinto (Japan), and Confucianism (China).

Of particular interest are cultures in which the departed relatives are thought to take an active interest in the affairs of the living. In these societies, ancestors may be requested to help the living with a particular problem, much as one would make requests of a parent or grandparent. Deceased ancestors can intercede with divine forces on behalf of descendants and can provide information—often when the descendants are in a dream state—that will help the descendants live a better life.

References in classic literature ?
But the same worthy person, when placed in his own snug parlour, and surrounded by all the comforts of an Englishman's fireside, is not half so much disposed to believe that his own ancestors led a very different life from himself; that the shattered tower, which now forms a vista from his window, once held a baron who would have hung him up at his own door without any form of trial; that the hinds, by whom his little pet-farm is managed, a few centuries ago would have been his slaves; and that the complete influence of feudal tyranny once extended over the neighbouring village, where the attorney is now a man of more importance than the lord of the manor.
Happily for our ancestors, their situation allowed them to repair it before its effects had proved destructive.
She was indeed, as her fellow Martian had said of her, an atavism; a dear and precious reversion to a former type of loved and loving ancestor.
A French privateer captured the vessel on her passage home, the flaxseed was condemned and sold, my ancestors being transferred in a body to the ownership of a certain agriculturist in the neighborhood of Evreux, who dealt largely in such articles.
An ancestor of Marmaduke Temple had, about one hundred and twenty years before the commencement of our tale, come to the colony of Pennsylvania, a friend and co-religionist of its great patron.
It was almost as if they were the ghosts of their own ancestors haunting that dark wood and dismal lake, and playing some old part that they only half remembered.
Not many leagues from here is a tribe of Jews whose ancestors fled thither after an unsuccessful revolt against King David, and these their descendants are still under a ban and keep to themselves.
I could imagine how my first ancestor felt that distant, prehistoric morn that he encountered for the first time the terrifying progenitor of the thing that had me cornered now beside the restless, mysterious sea.
By my first ancestor, I think O-Tar might make a jed of the man who subdued her," and again he advanced toward Tara.
The bush ancestors from whom he had descended had survived by being fear-selected.
The Fox replied, "You have chosen a most appropriate subject for your falsehoods, as I am sure none of your ancestors will be able to contradict you.
What we inherit as a superstition our barbarous ancestors must have held as a reasonable conviction.