I want to do a quick and dirty breakdown of ancestor practices.
1. firstly, there's the personal, domestic cultus: making offerings, maintaining a shrine, cooking for the dead, maybe studying genealogy. Things like showing filial piety by visiting graves, telling stories to your kids about their ancestors, encouraging ancestor awareness - all practices that increase your connection to your own personal dead, and which help you to foster and further your connections there.
2. But then there's this other, civic component, at least I think so, that isn't so much about your own ancestors, but about caring for your community's dead.
It makes sense that we forget about this: it's not like we live in a culture that has state supported ancestor or hero cultus. I didn't think anything of this at all until earlier this year. I was taking a student of mine to one of the local cemeteries to introduce her and to teach her the correct protocol for engaging with a cemetery and its dead. As she was walking around, this older guy comes scurrying over. He is chatty and asks me if I'm looking for anyone in particular. When I said i just liked to pay my general respects and wanted to show my friend the cemetery he got excited and asked if i was part of the local cemetery association.
Well, at that point, I was getting the sort of psychic poke from my ancestors that says "you may not be now, but you will be soon" lol. I got all the information from him and found out that the local historical society has a sub-committee dedicated to maintaining the local cemeteries, fixing headstones, holding educational events and tours, and otherwise increasing local knowledge about the many cemeteries in my area as well as making sure that they're properly cared for. I'd lived in my little town for years but hadn't any inkling that this existed.
I started attending the monthly meetings and took on a couple of little projects and …felt my own ancestors responding positively. It's not as though any of the work I have slowly started to do with the cemetery committee benefits them directly but they very clearly approve. It took me awhile to parse out why and the closest I can describe it is that it's the civic equivalent of filial piety and that this is a necessary component of ongoing ancestor work.
What's nice about this is that you don't' have to be a medium to do this work really, really well and for those who may be struggling with their personal ancestor work (it can take some time when there are family issues and what family doesn't have issues?), this can be a really good way to engage.
So I plod along with this doing what I can. I will probably be talking about it here from time to time. It's another aspect of ancestor work.