Ancestral Altars

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PapaHood
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Ancestral Altars

Post by PapaHood »

Thought this belonged here, seeing as how it is an excellent way to develop spiritual senses and communication:

The ancestral altar is one of the core components of many forms of witchcraft and shamanism. One of the earliest forms of spiritual practice, ancestral veneration is one of the fastest and most potent way to get your 'friends on the other side.' The actual implementation of the altar is fairly simple, too, and unlike many forms of altar, these can be openly displayed in the home easily, not just in the sense of a focal point for the living family, but for those more 'in the closet', it can fit well with the Live, Laugh, Love aesthetic. The best first step would be to set aside a table or shelf of some kind that will serve as the altar itself. Cover this with a white cloth, and put pictures of your deceased loved ones. I personally like to have family members closer to me on the tree closer to front and center, but this is not necessary. You can also add living family members as well, if you so wish, though I do not. If you don't have pictures, you can also print out a family tree to place on your altar. With your pictures in place, the next step is the offering dishes. I like to reserve one chalice (in my case, a wine glass) and one plate that stays on the altar unless it is being cleaned. This is not used by anyone else in the family, and is reserved for the ancestors. I use a plain white porcelain plate, as it is simple and straightforward. I also like to include white candles. Novena candles are a personal favorite, but you can use anything for this. I also like to include a plain, unadorned incense burner. The key factor to your decor is that it is simple. White cloth and candles, because white is the most generalist color. Plain candlesticks, incense burner, chalice, and plate, so that everyone may equally partake without feeling as though you are favoring one member over another. Once you have your things assembled, you can start making your offerings. Again, the key is simplicity: water, pound cake, white candles, and floral incense. Nothing too fancy, except as a special occasion. But making these simple offerings once a week will build your connection. Once you've made a habit of making weekly offerings, the fun can begin. Make your offerings and just sit, enjoy their presence. Your ancestors will settle into the schedule, showing up for their offerings and hanging out a bit, and during this time, you can commune with them in quiet meditation, or even use cards and other tools to communicate with them.

Once you've built the connection, you can use this altar for working with specific ancestors if you so wish. When doing this, change your altar up to meet your needs. Exchange the white cloth for one in their favorite color, bring their picture front and center, offer their favorite drink and food, burn incense they would enjoy, and change your candles out to something more in line with them. Then, when you make your offerings, call to them specifically and ask them to be present with you. It is not an overly complicated practice, but it does yield a great many benefits.

Now, a question I get asked frequently is, why give offerings to spirits? They do not eat the cake or drink the wine, so what good does it do? Well, aside from imbuing the offerings with your personal energy by the act of giving them, they do eat the food, in a way. They take in the essence of what is offered to sustain them. This is why with some spirits, the offering changes depending on what you need. For instance, if I am at my altar asking for money, I offer something sweet and smooth, like mead or brandy, so that the same energy is imparted to my spirits for their work and so that the money is not painful to acquire. If, on the other hand, I am asking for the death of my enemy, I might offer boiling chili oil or water taken from a stagnant puddle. The essence of the offering matters just as much as the act of giving it. So, in short, by making an offering, you are imparting a sympathy to the spirit they can use to your benefit.


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Re: Ancestral Altars

Post by Whyme »

Hello

Thank you for posting about ancestral altars. I do have questions. What is your definition of ancestors? I've come to understand that ancestors are not limited to physical descent so past lives might be included. How long do you leave the offerings out and what do you do with them afterwards? What do you do if your ancestor(s) are further back in time so you don't have pictures of them (they lived before cameras were invented) and/or anything that can be associated with them?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the questions.


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Re: Ancestral Altars

Post by PapaHood »

So, generally speaking, there are two traditional definitions when referring to ancestors and ancestral work. The first is the obvious, your familial descendants. The second is used in reference to initiatory traditions like Vodou, Quimbanda, etc, and is used to refer to your lineage. Initiation essentially brings you into a new family, the house which you join, and the shared ancestors of the house become your ancestors as well. There are some people who would make the argument that past lives count as ancestors, but I am not one of them personally, because then you get into the inevitable debate of "am I my own ancestor" or "this person is definitely my ancestors because of past lives" or whatnot. To each their own, but it is not a viewpoint I ascribe to.

As for how long you leave them out, there are different opinions, but I like to leave them overnight to allow the spirits time to fully enjoy their gifts. I would not leave them much longer than that, though, because you don't want to have rotten food on your altar. Me personally, I like to throw away the food, candle stubs, and incense sticks, and pour the liquid out on the ground, but that is what I was taught as a way to honor the spirits that rule over garbage as well. You can do that, or you can bury them, place them at the crossroads, or simply set them outside.

Of course, you will reach a point where you can't find any information on your ancestors (mine is currently in the 1600s). You do not have to know them by name to pay your respects. Simply acknowledge all of your ancestors in your offerings, whether or not they are known to you. You can also seek out a skilled medium, who may be able to connect to these ancestors on your behalf and learn something of them for you.


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Re: Ancestral Altars

Post by Neter »

It is my understanding that you do not put living people on your Ancestor Altar. Something about it hastening death.

An Ancestor Altar can be as simple as you have space and privacy. A dedicated glass (water is fine), candle, or incense burner will suffice as long as you offer it with intention.

You can also burn Ancestor Money (aka joss paper, ghost money, hell note, etc) as an offering.

I give my offerings to my benevolent ancestors, known and unknown.


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