Ritual: Creating an Ancestral Altar
Our ancestors represent our closest connection to the unseen world. This is especially true for recently passed ancestors who once walked earthside alongside us and whose remains are now becoming one with the earth. Working with relatives who have passed on can help us build a bridge to other realms and lend insight on our journeys. We can begin to decipher the different beliefs and behaviors that have been passed down through our ancestral line and work to release those that do not align with our current journey.
While colonization and other tools of patriarchy have prevented many of us from knowing our ancestors by name, all of us have ancestors who are interested in our well-being. This ritual will help you create an altar that facilitates communication between you and your ancestors
An altar represents a sacred space in your home where you can strengthen your spirituality. Decorated with intentional items that are meaningful to you, your altar should beckon to you and elicit feelings of calm and protection. Visit it in prayer, meditation, when seeking support, or for any magical workings.
Depending on what you’re calling in, you can have multiple altars that serve different purposes. An ancestral altar can be used for healing generational wounds, deepening your relationship to well ancestors and your family lineage, and/or creating a consistent spiritual practice. Before making an ancestral altar, spend a few minutes considering any intentions you have for this practice.
As you consider which items to decorate your altar with, think of the ancestors that you would like to honor with this space. I recommend centering one ancestor if they are a strong presence that you knew during their physical incarnation. If no one specific is coming through, you might dedicate your altar to a lineage you feel close to (for example, your maternal or paternal side). If you have no connection to your direct family lineage, you can create an altar for any well ancestors who have your best interests at heart or for a famous figure who has provided guidance on your journey (for example, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, or Sylvia Rivera).
Once you have decided who you will dedicate this altar to, begin to collect items that celebrate their spirit. This could include old photographs, yearbooks, or personalized cards if you’re dedicating the altar to someone you were close with. If your altar is dedicated to a public figure, you might include published works, a meaningful quote, or a printed image of their likeness. If you are dedicating your altar to a lineage, you might include foods or plants that are native to that homeland.
You can also add different crystals to your altar that will strengthen ancestral ties and provide support in journeying through other dimensions. Obsidian and black tourmaline are great tools for ancestral work and provide protection from negative energies. Clear quartz and selenite can be used to direct energy and cleanse your space. Rose quartz can provide emotional support and help you keep an open, receptive heart.
As the resting place of all ancestors, the earth can also provide gifts to decorate your altar with. I recommend choosing items that the earth has released rather than plucking or picking anything. That might include fallen petals or flowers, pine needles or cones, or found feathers. Click here for guidance on different herbs and their magical properties.
Once you’ve settled on your altar items, begin to arrange them in a way that feels conducive to energy flow. A bowl of water can act as an offering and serve to collect energy. Candles and incense can help set the mood and you can also keep your favorite cleansing tool nearby.
Once you are finished arranging your altar, you are ready to call in the spirits of your ancestors. Take a few centering breaths and bring to mind the figures that you are honoring. State aloud the purpose of this altar and the ancestral beings you are inviting into this space. Thank them for their assistance on this journey.
It’s important to note that not all ancestors are well and not all ancestors wish us well. Be specific about who you are honoring with your altar and be mindful of calling in well ancestors who have your highest and best interests at heart.
Like any other relationship, your relationship with your ancestors will thrive under consistent energy and attention. Create a daily practice with your altar, perhaps meditating with your ancestors or giving gratitude to them before going to bed. You can leave offerings to show your appreciation, such as fruits, candy, or a cup of wine or coffee.
Over time, you may notice that you feel a stronger connection to your ancestors under certain astrology, such as a full moon or new moon. As you become aware of these intricacies, you can shift your altar practice to coincide with different moon or planetary phases.
Feature Image by A.P. Bio