Lunarshadows Network

a guide to the paranormal

How to create an ancestral altar

ancestral altar ideas
Cultures around the world set aside time each year to honour the ancestors who have gone before. The dead are believed to revisit the world of the living during these festivals.

It is also considered an auspicious time to clean the family graves and tombs of those who are interred nearby. The mood can vary from solemn rites to outright celebration of death as a vital part of life.

In addition, it is a traditional in these same cultures to have an ancestral altar within the home. This allows a means to both leave offerings and communicate with the ancestors.

What is an ancestral altar?

An ancestral altar celebrates the spirits of one’s deceased family. In many cultures it is traditional to build an altar to honour their memories, provide offerings for any spirits who visit, and talk with those who have crossed over. Communication with your ancestors is a birthright if you have the ability to do so.

The individual building this particular altar can place something on the altar which is symbolic of the person they wish to remember. Offerings will normally include the favorite items of those expected to visit -- foods, toys, jewelry, etc.

Who should be considered ancestors? Blood relatives if known, your family if adopted, even those who have influenced your life. The main thing is to remember the relationship with those who may be willing to assist you and provide guidance with your life. You should exclude unwanted spirits such as those who were abusive to you.

Note: An ancestral altar should be a separate space from the main or "working" altar. This altar is a place of tranquil communication, not random magickal workings.

How to construct an ancestral altar

The process of making an ancestral altar is organic. The first thing is to find an auspicious location for the altar. It should be a place that is both comfortable to you and also accessible to you as you will be making regular offerings to the ancestors.

Begin by cleaning and cleansing the space. Both physical and spiritual dirt and disorder and signs of neglect -- do not neglect the ancestors. Set up a shallow table for the altar space, then drape fabric for an altar cloth. Arrange taller objects toward the back, and smaller ones at the front. Leave some space as the altar will change and evolve over time.

Tip: If you are honoring several people, arrange the items for each person together.

Items to include on an ancestral altar might include:

Note: If you are able to determine -- by various means -- that the soul of a particular ancestor is lost, you may if desired set up a smaller separate altar dedicated to "those who are lost" rather than individuals.

Do not mention the names of lost souls if possible as it may attract their attention in an undesirable way.

Once the altar is set up, decide on a routine of making offerings -- and stick to it. It is better to commit to one day a week and do it than promise to offer every day and not do it. Do not upset the ancestors. Although they may make themselves known on their own, you will probably need to establish a relationship with them before making requests.

Let's honour our ancestors

The Book of Tides