I didn’t grow up with an altar in my home, but unconsciously created one in the first apartment that I lived in by myself.
I’ll never forget my mother who, while visiting, noted that my window altar called in the four directions. At the time, my altar simply had 4 glasses of water in different colors …it never occurred to me what I was “calling”.
My main altar has grown more elaborate over the years, so I avoid sharing it with people. I notice how exotic it seems to them, how intrusive their curiosity feels and that an outsiders scrutiny makes me (and my ancestors) uncomfortable.
Yet having an altar is not so exotic.
An altar is a personal expression of what you want to focus on. In fact, after a brief look around your home, you may find that you have unconsciously created at least one “altar”.
We all do this naturally.
Candles, flowers and special items arranged on the kitchen windowsill are a type of altar. Hell, a vision-board is kinda like an altar!
My main altar is my ancestor altar…a portal between worlds where my family, loved ones and ancestors long forgotten, meet daily.
And when I am sad, I ask for support. When I am happy I thank them. On their birthdays they receive special offerings. Fresh flowers, “spirit water”, candles and other gifts are placed weekly.
Some people believe that pictures of the living combined with pictures of the dead is “bad luck”, but my belief is that my ancestors protect those whose images I place there.
Some also believe that mixing deities in with your ancestor altar is “wrong”.
I believe my ancestors are these very deities.
I did not learn “altar creation” from my family or any book…and I did not “teach” it to my daughter, (but she has an altar too.) My approach to altar-creation was purely intuitive, a gift I’ve learned to honor (and so can you, here.)
To think that we operate in this life without support from those who have come before us is not only naïve, it is too big of a burden for us to bear.
Here are 5 elements of an ancestor ritual which can be used at your altar:
- Open the Space: Before you invite your ancestors, create sacred space by clearing (I prefer the uses of Palo Santo for this.)
- Invocation: Calling in your ancestors for a specific purpose (even if it is simply gratitude.)
- Dialog: Speaking aloud your request.
- Repetition: Creating a regular schedule and process.
- Closing the space: The ritual space is closed when you send your ancestors away, with gratitude and trust. This helps shift this space from sacred back to mundane.
One of my favorite teachers used to say “Operators are standing by to take your call…”
Have you dialed in to your ancestors lately?