Above is my ancestral altar. The majority of it is dedicated to my grandmother. She brought me home from the hospital when I was born and raised me as her own. I did not know my mother or father until later in my teens. My father did come around more as my grandmother was his father, however, my mother was nowhere to be found. Now we are slowly starting to get to know each other, but I still do not equate her with my “mom”. I was very blessed to be raised by my grandparents. My grandfather passed right before my high school graduation. My grandmother passed about a year and a half ago. It was devastating. After that I decided to set up an altar to her memory as well as my grandfathers.
I do believe that it is very important to remember those that came before you. They laid the groundwork for who you are and where you are today. I do not know what exactly happens when you die. Nobody really knows because nobody can come back to tell us. That adds to the great mystery. When can theorize and postulate. Everyone has their different beliefs. I do believe spirits are a very real thing and it is possible to contact the dead, or something on the other side. The most disturbing thing about my grandmother dying is I did not feel her presence after she passed. Some people claim they can feel their loved ones around. She always swore that she could feel my grandpa sit on the edge of the bed and he also left her pennies. I felt none of that. I tried to, I even tried to make contact and there was nothing. Maybe she moved on or experienced reincarnation, I do not know.
My altar consists of many of her favorite possessions. She collected cookie jars and beanie babies. I also have a lock of her hair from her passing. I leave out offerings and flowers. She loved tomatoes so I frequently leave them out with some fresh herbs. I have other items from her lineage such as her fathers pocket watch and her mothers perfume. Sometimes I smell it to feel close to them. I’ll say a small prayer for protection over it and light candles. The act of this also sets the mood in my sacred space for my meditations and tarot readings. Its a nudge to say “hey if anyone is out there and wants to give me some guidance I’m open!” Many people who regularly work with spirits believe they are aided by opening the channels and asking for their loved ones assistance.
Even if she is not being “appeased” by my offerings it offers comfort to me. In a way it makes me feel close to her still. If she is out there actually watching over me then her presence should be acknowledged.
Below are a few of my tips for keeping an ancestral altar
You do no have to keep an altar for every single relative – You cannot obviously have an altar for every single person that passed. It should be kept restricted to those who touched your lives the most. That is where the connection is going to be the strongest, and if you are doing spirit work the biggest chance of success is going to be with the deceased you were closest to, not your 3rd cousin Bill who you may have only seen once.
You do no have to keep an altar for those relatives you did not get along with – If my father passed today I would not add him to my altar. He is an alcoholic and meth addict who was verbally and mentally abusive to me throughout life. Why would I honor someone who treated me so cruelly? Your altar should be something you want to do for your loved one, not because you feel obligated. Also I would not want my fathers negative energy in my sacred space. If you calling down the spirits and you believe this energy is tangible you only want to bring positive energy down.
Add offerings regularly – Having an ancestral altar is an interactive process. Consider it the place where you keep conversation with your loved ones. Would you invite your mother to sit at a table covered with dust and cobwebs? Most people would spruce up and at least dust before inviting relatives over. Tending to the altar can be a ritual itself. Keep it clean and tidy. Leave out offering regularly. I leave out food and make sure to throw it away when its gets spoiled. You wouldn’t feel your mother a rotten tomato. The act of leaving offerings should be treated with respect. It has become such a habit for me to keep it tended that I actually feel bad if I don’t.
Your altar doesn’t have to be huge and elaborate – I’ve seen some elaborate and gorgeous altars on pinterest and throughout the web. There are no rules to how big your altar needs to be. It is very personal. Every person will be different based upon their family and traditions. Do not feel like you have to go big or go home. You might have limited space or not very many family possessions. The altar is not about the size or how many things you put on it but the meaning that goes into it itself. If you even have just one picture and candle that is alright because it was constructed by you to create that link. The bottom line is that it is yours, nobody else’s.
If you have any pictures of your altars please share them. Is there any special way you honor your dead?