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Setting up your Ancestor Altar


Here is an overview of what we’ll cover in this article.

  • The intention of an ancestor altar
  • Finding the right space
  • Identifying objects to use
  • Journal Questions for clarity
  • What to do at your altar
  • How to feed your altar, how to feed your ancestors, how to do lineage healing work


To begin get centered, grounded and connected. Take some deep breaths and remember to enjoy yourself! Trust your gut, you can not do this wrong.

The intention of an ancestor altar is to honor those who have gone before us, those in the spirit world.

Add any special thoughts to this general intention that feel good for you; maybe there’s just one person you want to honor this year, or maybe your altar is a good space for all those who have passed before you including friends, blood relatives, adopted family, ancestors you never knew or archetypical ancestors, pets and more.

Find the right space

Pick a space and clear it, clean it well and put away any items that no longer need to be out. Gather up items to arrange on the space for your ancester altar, explored below.

When feeling for the right space, it might help to pay attention to what direction this space is sitting in in the room and locationally in the house. Take a look at the Medicine Wheel and get a sense for each direction. Don’t overcomplicate it, if this causes you worry or stress, just ignore it and go with what feels right. Ancestors are found in the North on the medicine wheel, but that doesn’t mean your altar has to sit in the North, it’s just a guideline.

You are creating a space that will be an opening to the other side, the altar is a place of communication, it is a portal. It might look like a regular table with some pictures and object arranged on it, but it is a living space and you will be feeding it with your thoughts, intentions, grief, love, incense, offerings of food and drink, reading, singing, sound-making, smoke or anything you feel your ancestors would enjoy receiving from the living world.



Journey with Julia
Mondays in November

Get Clarity

How to know what to place on your altar

Take some time to journal, meditate or just take a walk about what you want your altar to feel like.

Who do you want to honor? Who do you want to be in touch with? Do you want to invite messages from your loved ones? Do you want to invite them into your dreams? Do you want to simply honor them and not be in intimate contact with them? How feels best to honor them? Do you want to give them offerings? What were their favorite foods? Smells? Activities? What would you wish for them if they were still here? Do you need to do releasing work around your lineage? Behaviors? Specific people or events? What objects or spiritual tools feel most supportive to me for this honoring process? How willing am I to be present in this process? What do I hope to achieve with this process?

If this is overwhelming for you to consider, Samhain is a whole season, not just a day, and the reason I work with the Wheel of the Year is because I get to go deeper each year. This might be something you just graze the surface of this year and go deeper into next year. Don’t disregard your efforts because you think you should be doing more. Start where you are, keep it simple and pay attention.

Theme: Grief and Ancestral Healing
About Mabon / Fall Equinox
Ritual Tools & Allies
Releasing Ritual
A Prayer of Surrender
Grief Gardens
When the Grief Isn’t Yours
Tending your grief garden
Devotional Gardens
Ancestors & Dreams
In Season ~ A poem by Amy Thomas
Journal Prompts
And more!

A 3-day ritual to honor Samhain.

Ritual Tools & Allies
Ritual Bath
Journal Prompts
Ancestor Meal
Fire Ceremony
Opening & Closing Sacred Space
Prayer & Meditation
Restful Activity
Mala Meditation
Dream Journaling
After the 3-Day Ritual: Going Forward

 Items to Gather 

  • Images and objects of your loved ones
  • Seasonal Natural Items
  • Items used in feeding the Altar
  • Items used in feeding your Ancestors
  • Spiritual Tools

Images and objects of your loved ones

Do you have items that belonged to those you want to honor? If not, use another object in it’s place if that feels appropriate. If you want to take a trip to the thrift store and purchase an item to hold space for that person, make sure you clean this object before using it for this work. If you would rather, you can also simply use a stone or other kind of object to hold space for that person. If you do not have images of your loved ones, you can do the same thing; make or buy a piece of artwork to represent that person or use an old photo of someone you don’t know to hold the space of that person. 

Seasonal Natural Items

This is a beautiful time to take a walk and ask for some items to offer themselves to you for your altar. As you walk, notice what stands out to you, try to take leaves, for example, that have already fallen, and not disturb the ground too much in your interactions, respect the ecosystem you are engaging with and the items that are giving themselves to you for the work of creating a sacred space in your home. These are not just objects; they are bits of energy that want to come help you create this space and do the work of connecting to your ancestors. It’s bigger than just a simple walk, keep that in mind, but also enjoy yourself and the delightful things you do find on your walk. You may recieve messages right away, or you may get no clarity at all except for one tiny thing. Be grateful for whatever comes that feels right.

Feeding the Altar

Because it is a living space, altars need to be activated and fed regularly. There are many ways to do this that are simple but creative. The most basic and common is lighting a candle while you want to animate your altar. You can go grand and have many candles, offerings of incense, small cups of wine or juice, objects of the elementals – bowls of water, dirt, a feather, more candle or oil lamps for fire. This is simply to activate and feed the space.

Feeding your Ancestors

You’ll also need to have space to leave offerings for your loved ones. More on this below.

Spiritual Tools

Leave some space for any items you may use while you spend time at your altar, this may include herbs for burning and a feather for smudging to clean the space and yourself before spending time with your altar, a rattle, bells, any kind of sound-maker, oils for annointing, water for annointing, charged water or liquids, stones or crystals you may use for any purpose, like creating a grid or asking for guidance, feather or other types of fans, healing bundles you have assembled, medicine bags, the list is endless.

What to do at your altar

  • How often to visit the altar
  • Feed your ancestors
  • Heal your lineage

How often should I be at my altar?

You can choose to do this every day or just once. Go to your altar as often as you are drawn to it or if you have an inspired thought about making it part of your month in November, set up some dates with your altar and do your best to keep them.

Feed your ancestors

How to feed your ancestors and loved ones; Remember them. Drink tea with them. Mourn them. Speak to them.

Offer them some of their favorite things by leaving them on the altar over night or for a few days and ultimately taking the objects outside to be returned to the earth. Do not eat or use these objects, they are for offering only.

Instructions for having a Silent Supper in Honoring Samhain

Heal your lineage

Using your spiritual tools and asking for guidance, having the willingness to trust your intution and inspirations (messages from spirit), use your tools to do clearing and releasing work in whatever way you are guided. If you are willing to do this work it can be very intense, make sure you ask that it’s clear, simple, healing and gentle and for the highest good of all.

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