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How to Make an Ancestor Altar

Updated: May 29

An ancestor altar is a sacred space dedicated to honoring and connecting with your ancestors. Rooted in various cultural practices and spiritual traditions, ancestor altars are a beautiful way to remember and appreciate loved ones. The altar itself also provides us with a physical place where we can go to seek guidance and connect with the spirit realm. They form a bridge between earthly and other planes and are a source of spiritual magic.

small table outside in a wooded clearing on a foggy, moonlit night with a white tablecloth, candles, fall flowers and plants

Where to Place Your Ancestor Altar

Different cultures have various rules, and you may wish to align your altar with these practices. For instance, in the Shinto tradition, altars are placed on the highest shelf in a room and should face south or east. I am half Japanese and practice Shinto, so I place my ancestor altar according to the Shinto belief system.

Altars are generally set in a private, quiet, and peaceful place to foster a meditative and serene atmosphere. However, you can set up your altar anywhere that has a meaningful connection to you or your ancestors. Altars can even be placed outdoors such as a dedicated space in a garden.

Items for your Ancestor Altar

Ancestor altars are sacred spaces that serve as a bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds. They allow us to connect with our ancestors and seek their wisdom and blessings. Below are some items you might want to add to your ancestor altar.

  • Photographs and Memorabilia: Include pictures or personal items that belonged to or are symbolic of your ancestors

  • Candles: Represent the light and guidance of your ancestors and can be used for candle magic, spirit summoning and communication, and blessings

  • Bells: Uses include summoning spirits, purifying the space, facilitating meditation, and signaling the beginning and end of a ceremony or ritual

  • Offerings: Food, drink, flowers, incense, or items that your ancestors enjoyed in life

  • Spiritual or Secular Symbols: Objects with symbolic or spiritual significance such as crystals, statues, or talismans

How Are Ancestor Altars Used?

Offerings and Blessings

Many altars have a space set aside for symbolic offerings. Typical offerings include food and flowers but can be anything that has magical, spiritual, or personal meaning (magical, spiritual, or personal). Offerings could even be silent blessings or prayers for the deceased.

Offerings may be given at any time but could also be part of specific rituals or holidays (such as the Feast of Bendidia). Perishable offerings like food and flowers should be removed or replaced when they begin to expire.

When presenting an offering, you may also wish to start with a simple purification ritual such as cleansing your hands, clearing your thoughts, or reciting a brief incantation, prayer, or blessing.

Meditation and Reflection

Ancestor altars serve as a space for meditation and reflection, providing a tranquil environment to seek guidance and contemplate life's challenges and decisions.

Celebrations and Rituals

Special occasions, such as anniversaries of death, birthdays, or cultural festivals, are often marked by rituals or festivities held at or near the ancestor altar. For instance, on personal occasions such as the birthday of the deceased, you may choose to gather with others near the altar to share a meal and tell stories of happy memories. Larger cultural celebrations may include music, feasts, dancing, and traditional or ritual clothing.

Many also perform daily, weekly, or monthly rituals at the ancestor altar. These could include simple purification rituals before presenting ancestor offerings. Examples of purification rituals include:

  • simple and brief incantation or prayer to purify the thoughts and calm the mind before calling upon the ancestors or presenting offerings

  • ritual baths or showers for cleansing and purification

  • symbolic ritual bath such as dipping fingers in a bowl of sacred water (such as moon water or holy water)

Spirit Summoning and Calling Upon Ancestors

Ancestor altars give us a physical space to communicate with the spirit realm. When you send blessings or prayers to your ancestors for advice or guidance, it is common to call upon them in a specific manner. You could do this by lighting a candle, burning incense, ringing a bell, or saying a blessing, prayer, or incantation.

Ancestor Altars and Witchcraft

In witchcraft and other metaphysical practices, ancestor altars play a crucial role. They are often used as a source of power and protection. As witches, we call upon our ancestors for wisdom and guidance during certain spellwork and rituals. Strengthening the bond of ancestral lineage may amplify the effectiveness of magical workings and give you deeper insight into the nature of your craft.

Integrating Ancestor Altars into Witchcraft

  • Spellwork: Ancestor altars can be used as a base for performing spells, particularly those related to protection, wisdom, and family matters.

  • Divination: Tools such as tarot cards, pendulums, or runes can be used on the altar to seek guidance from ancestors.

  • Rituals: Specific rituals, such as Samhain or Dia de Los Muertos, may involve elaborate ceremonies at the ancestor altar.

How to Make an Ancestor Altar for Your Home

Below are step-by-step instructions to setting up your altar, but making an ancestor altar is a deeply personal and intuitive process. Let your inner wisdom and the spirit world guide you to create a meaningful and magical place for you and your ancestors.

1. Choose a Location

Select a quiet, respectful space in your home where you can create and maintain your altar. This could be a small table, shelf, garden area, or a dedicated room.

2. Cleanse the Space

Before setting up your altar, cleanse the area using sage, incense, or any other purification method that resonates with you. This step helps to clear any negative energy and create a sacred space.

3. Gather Items for the Altar

Collect items that hold significance to you and your ancestors. This can include:

  • Photographs and personal items of your ancestors

  • Candles for illumination and spiritual connection

  • Bell to summon spirits, purify, and begin and end rituals

  • Offerings like food, drink, flowers, or incense

  • Spiritual symbols such as crystals, statues, or talismans

4. Arrange the Altar

Arrange the items thoughtfully and with intention. To define the space, you may also add an item such as an altar cloth.

5. Dedicate the Altar

Once your altar is set up, take a moment to dedicate it. Light a candle and say a prayer or incantation to invite your ancestors to bless and protect the space.

Ancestor Altars and Spells

Using an ancestor altar in spellwork can enhance the potency and focus of your rituals. Here are some ways to incorporate your altar into spellcasting:

  • Protection Spells: Call upon your ancestors to shield you from harm. Light candles and place protective items like black tourmaline or obsidian on your altar while performing the spell.

  • Guidance and Wisdom: Seek the counsel of your ancestors for important decisions. Use divination tools on your altar to receive messages and insights from the spirit world.

  • Healing and Ancestral Patterns: Address ancestral wounds and patterns through healing spells. Incorporate items that symbolize healing, such as rose quartz or lavender, and ask your ancestors for their support and guidance.

Happy Altar Crafting!

Creating an ancestor altar is a meaningful way to honor your lineage and deepen your spiritual practice. Whether you're a seasoned practitioner or new to the path, an ancestor altar can provide a powerful connection to your roots and a source of strength and wisdom in your daily life.

Integrating these insights and steps into your practice will help you create a vibrant connection with your ancestors that enriches your life and spiritual path.




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