Ancestor Altars and Remembrance Rituals

12:49 PM


The Beloved Dead and Helpful Ancestors enter our thoughts in October and early November when the veil between realms thins. This is particularly true for those whose loved ones passed during COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions when we were prevented from visiting terminally ill relatives, or gathering with our support groups following a loved one’s death. No wonder now, more than ever, people desire remembrance rituals, ancestor altars, and guidance in how to honor loved ones they have lost.


The Need For Ritual

Rituals help us accept and honor life passages, including the soul’s journey into the afterlife. When we gather, witness, and offer or receive support, we alleviate the heavy vibration of grief and loss. I witnessed this transformation during a recent ritual I facilitated in the high desert near Joshua Tree.

Photo Credit: Rob Coates


Each member of the group had experienced a heartbreaking loss during the pandemic. Compounding their grief was their inability to gather together for support. I asked each woman to bring a photo and mementos representing their loss. As wind gusted outside their small Airbnb, we sat on woven blankets around an altar that included live lavender and marigolds to subliminally raised the dense vibrations.

Photo Credit: Anne Nygard

In turn, each woman spoke about the items they had brought. Their lovingly chosen photos and mementos created vivid, sometimes poignant, other times funny or inspiring portraits of parents or a dear pet that had passed. Each woman lit a candle to honor her loved one and illuminate that soul’s journey. Others shared representations of unwelcome life passages that had rendered them grieving and adrift, fearful of the uncertain path ahead. They lit candles to brighten their way forward. After over a year and a half, the women finally had the chance to mourn together and support each other.  


Chant: The Blood of the Ancients

by Charlie Murphy. 

Sung by Hebamme Kiria Vandekamp


It’s the blood of the Ancients

That runs through our veins

And the forms pass

But the circle of life remains.


Beloved Dead and Ancestor Altars

Any shelf, wall niche, or tabletop can be transformed into an altar. Ancestor altars serve as touch points, sacred spaces where you can gain guidance from those who passed. Avoid placing the altar in your bedroom. And remember, the altar is meant to honor and build a relationship with those who have transitioned, not summon them.


The Beloved Dead may be friends, mentors, or pets that have passed. Ancestors may pose a greater unknown, so be sure to only address and honor helpfulancestors who intend your highest good.


The Basics to Include:

·     An altar cloth. Spirits like white, but let your instinct and lineage guide you. Your Beloved Dead and ancestors may prefer a clan tartan, or an African Kente cloth.

·     Photos

·     Mementos 

·     Candle(s)

·     Representations of the 4 Directions/Elements 

Air: A feather, bell, rattle, or incense 

Fire: Candle(s)

Water: A goblet or bowl containing fresh water; or a sea shell

Earth: crystal or other stone, a potted plant, or a small bowl of salt

Photo credit: Nick Fewings


Día de Muertos altarsoften include crepe paper marigolds, paper mâché sugar skulls and skeletons, and seven tiers to represent the seven levels the soul passes through to reach its final destination.


Through rituals and altars, connect with your dearly departed. Respect and release those in transition. Illuminate their path, knowing they will be available soon for advice and protection.

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