Ancestor Altar: How to Create Sacred Space for Your Ancestors
If you’re beginning to develop a relationship with your ancestors, setting up an ancestor altar is essential. It gives you a place to connect on a regular basis. It serves as a reminder that your ancestors are present. Learn how to set up your ancestor altar here with our step-by-step process. And how to maintain it.
How To Set Up Your Ancestor Altar: Step by Step
Don’t worry about what altars look like online. Don’t even worry about what altars look like in your mind. When you first set up your ancestor altar, focus on the energy you put into it. Yours will be unique from the rest…because it is yours. And your ancestors will be happy to have a physical place to visit.
1. Decide on a Surface
First, decide where to put your altar. I highly recommend that it’s not in your bedroom. But maybe in your living, dining room or kitchen. Ancestors don’t want to see what you do in your private time. Next, choose a surface of a table, buffet, shelf, counter, etc. that will be used solely for the purpose of honoring your ancestors. This means nothing else will be set on top of it. No phones, remotes, computers, TVs, appliances, etc. A wall shelf, empty book shelf, or small accent table is great.
2. Gather Your Tools and Supplies For Your Ancestor Altar
Next, decide what you want on your ancestor altar. A few basic recommendations: a photo(s) of your ancestors, heirlooms, a cup and bowl for offerings, incense and incense burner, candles and candle holders, and seasonal decorations (optional). If you don’t have photos of your ancestors, things that represent them and link you to their energy work great. Heirlooms are helpful for this. What if you don’t have any heirlooms either? A map of their homeland, photos of historical markers, etc. all work well in place of personal photos.
Once you’ve decided on a surface and gathered your supplies, it’s time to cleanse. There are different methods of cleansing your altar, including smoke-cleansing, asperging, or simply wiping the surface and tools with a cloth. If you choose to wipe them down, use a little lemon juice mixed into water. As you cleanse, visualize white light from above illuminating the altar surface and each item.
4. Set Up
Next, it’s time to set your ancestor altar up. The set-up is entirely up to you. In certain traditions and religions like Wicca, there may be a set pattern to follow; however, if you’re solitary and doing this on your own – set it up how you like! I prefer to keep my ancestors at the forefront and make their photos the central focus, then I build around that. I also like to add seasonal decor: eggs and bunnies for Spring, flowers for Summer, sunflowers and pumpkins for Fall, and Christmas decor for Winter. Don’t forget – invite your ancestors to this space!
5. Provide Offerings
The first time you set up your ancestor altar, provide offerings and invite your ancestors to this sacred space. Offerings include: a fresh cup of water, flowers, incense, candle flame, drinks like wine and coffee, fruit, and food in general. Over time, your ancestors will begin to tell you what offerings they prefer and what they don’t. Trust me, you’ll hear their voices soon.
How to Maintain Your Ancestor Altar
You have your ancestor altar set up, but now what? Use your altar as a physical, tangible place where you speak to your ancestors. Speak out loud or in your mind, it doesn’t matter. Also provide regular offerings. Some people give daily offerings. I provide weekly offerings. While others might only give once every other week. Other offerings to ancestors include handmade items, poetry, song, artwork, and just about anything you’re moved to offer them.
Let your altar be a place that inspires you. When you feel sad, ill, or in need, stand at your ancestor altar and call on your ancestors. Knock three times and call out their names (if you know the names). Light a candle and tell them it’s in their honor.
Don’t forget to cleanse your ancestor altar every once in awhile. I prefer to clean and cleanse mine once a month – usually on the New Moon. I take everything off, dust the altar and my supplies, then cleanse using smoke or blessed water/spray. After I set everything back on, I invite my ancestors presence back to the space.