Let me tell you about the saga hero Kári Sölmundarson and why he is included on my altar. Hero/ancestor worship below.
Kári Sölmundarson is a figure from Njál’s Saga, who, like many saga heroes, may or may not have been a real person. The first time we see him, he is standing next to the mast of a ship leading a convoy, and he is wearing a silk tunic and a gilded helmet, carrying a gold-inlaid spear in his hand. He is the very picture of the warrior ideal of the time: fair-haired, wealthy, leading several ships. More important than his appearance and standing, however, are his actions, and throughout the course of the saga, they are ever honourable and impressive. The first thing he does is help out Njál’s sons when they are in a spot of bother with other Vikings, and this is without having met them before; they swap introductions and he just decides to help them. Cool guy.
On top of all this, he’s a badass warrior. When we first meet him, he makes “a backward leap over a boom which lay across the ship” and cuts off a man’s arm just by swinging hard. Then someone throws a spear at Kári, but he dodges it by jumping. And this is just when we meet him.
After this he joins the Njálssons on their adventures and becomes part of the family by marrying Njál’s daughter. I won’t run through everything he does, but I will list his virtues: steadfast, reliable, excellent at fighting, persevering, humourous even in dark times, loyal, loving, badass, and at all times honourable. When Njál’s family, including Kári’s son, is SPOILER slaughtered, Kári vows revenge on their killers. Slowly, he kills almost all of them over the course of years, mostly on his own. When he gets down to the main antagonist, he decides not to kill him, and instead makes peace with him. What this shows is a man fiercely given to justice, but also to forgiveness.
Long story short, I love Kári Sölmundarson, and I try to emulate him when I can. He has earned a place on my ancestor altar as part of my honoured dead, even though we aren’t related and even though he may not even have been a real person. Doesn’t matter. Honourable people are honourable people, and they deserve to be…honoured. (An awkward but concise turn of phrase.)