Edit : To those who think this is a loaded question, it is based on historical facts. If you can please share your unloaded equivalent version of the question that would preserve the factual information, that would be great.

What is a word for turning dead into idols , e.g. making shrines to them. It was something that was happening during the dark ages in Europe, where a bone was attributed to a Saint was used to make shrines/churches. The Arabs after invading countries had a similar setup, where they forced the local populous to make shrines for their dead Arab invaders and ask them for miracles and healing ( A practice that is still going on at least in Iran ). The best word I can think to describe this is deadolatry ( Dead Idolatry )

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    A related phrase might be "ancestor worship".
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 2:44
  • 4
    Wow this is a loaded question. Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 3:48
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    If the Dead Invaders endured martyrdom, then martyrolatry, veneration of martyrs, would be the word to use. If the shrines were being set up to holy men, and in the hope of miracles, then hagiolatry is the dictionary word.
    – Hugh
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 3:52
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    @BlessedGeek : please share your unloaded version of this question, I'll use that if it is still conveys the same information.
    – jimjim
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 4:39
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    The worship of saints is called hagiolatry.
    – bof
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 14:10

4 Answers 4


The word you're looking for is necrolatry.

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    Nice that this comes from a user called "dead". :P
    – Scimonster
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 6:38
  • @Scimonster : also the original suggested word was Deadolatry.
    – jimjim
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 7:54
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    I would think this is used in a broader sense, not with physical relics of the dead, as described here. I find no definitions that support the use of this term in reference to objects from the dead, but rather of the essence of the dead person(s)... Closer to a formal term for "ancestor worship".
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 16:29

Which term to use depends on the attitude you want to express. The first term I thought of was ancestor worship:

the custom of venerating deceased ancestors who are considered still a part of the family and whose spirits are believed to have the power to intervene in the affairs of the living

(Merriam Webster)

This word is relatively neutral, although it might have a negative connotation to some people (usually a negative sense would arise from an implicit religious assumption that only God is worthy of "worship").

However, Wikipedia's article about this practice is called "Veneration of the dead," and it includes the following section discussing terminology:

Most cultures who practice ancestor veneration do not call it "ancestor worship." In English, the word worship usually refers to the reverent love and devotion accorded a deity (god) or God. However, in other cultures, this act of worship does not confer any belief that the departed ancestors have become some kind of deity. Rather, the act is a way to respect, honor and look after ancestors in their afterlives as well as seek their guidance for their living descendants. In this regard, many cultures and religions have similar practices. Some may visit the graves of their parents or other ancestors, leave flowers and pray to them in order to honor and remember them, while also asking their ancestors to continue to look after them. However, this would not be considered as worshipping them since the term worship shows no such meaning.

In that sense the phrase ancestor veneration may convey a more accurate sense of what practitioners, such as the Chinese and other Buddhist-influenced and Confucian-influenced societies, as well as the African and European cultures see themselves as doing. This is consistent with the meaning of the word veneration in English, that is great respect or reverence caused by the dignity, wisdom, or dedication of a person.

So apparently "ancestor veneration" may be a more PC or neutral-sounding word. You should take this with a grain of salt though, as I'm not sure whether the ideas expressed in the Wikipedia article are drawn from some established field of study like anthropology, or just one person's preferences (most of the citations in this passage are just to general-purpose dictionaries).

"Deadolatry" is not a word that I've ever heard before, and it sounds funny to me. I'd advise against using it. Deadrat's "necrolatry" sounds better. To me, words like this that are based on "idolatry" have a definite negative connotation (which may well be what you want). The Oxford Dictionaries define it as

Worship of or excessive reverence for the dead

  • The Arab invaders were not ancestors of the people in that region, nor the saints in most cases were ancestors of the people being fooled into the worshiping them.
    – jimjim
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 3:06
  • @Arjang: oh, that's a very good point. In that case "veneration of the dead" and "necrolatry" both apply.
    – herisson
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 3:38

The word that comes to mind for me is:

martyr noun a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.


consecrate verb make or declare (something, typically a church) sacred; dedicate formally to a religious or divine purpose.


Reliquary is probably the word... If you're talking about the container, including the bone(s).

Venerate is the verb you're looking for, probably. They were forcing the natives to worship the remains of their dead, as a way of oppressing them. These invaders were demanding that the natives venerate the relics of their (the invaders') dead.

For philosophical reasons, it seems to me necrolatry is not correct. I don't think it brings to mind the religious dominance that is being forced on the natives.

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