Moving into Samhain means that many of us are putting a greater focus on our ancestors through our practices and spellcraft. As the veil thins our ancestors becomes increasingly available to us.
The most visible change in my practice at this time of year is the addition of an ancestor altar. I know that many leave this altar up year round, but I need something to change in order to really appreciate its value when it comes to visible elements of my practice. The anticipation of putting up the ancestor altar is part of the magic for me.
My ancestor altar is usually on a small table or a cleared bookshelf. I use a festive spiderweb table cloth (cheesy, but like who doesn’t love spiderweb lace!) that is black and lacy. Carefully chosen photos are brought out of the ancestors most recently passed. The size and frame varies, but it’s always comforting to see their faces displayed again. I light black candles on the altar and decorate according to the season.
Each night I take time in front of this altar to remember my ancestors. I ask for their participation in our lives during this season. Together my husband and I share stories of our ancestors. Sometimes these are old, often heard stories. Occasionally, a fresh story will emerge as we remember experiences long hidden in our memories. This story telling is the real magic of the ancestor altar. It’s not a candle being lit, but the act of sharing what these people meant to us and the lessons, good or bad, that they gave us. The stories invite their spirits into our homes in a way unlike anything else.
This year we’ll be adding the photo of my husband’s uncle and godfather. He had brain cancer the last few years of his life but still managed to be true to himself throughout the pain and disease. Prior to retirement Uncle Scott had been a park ranger at Glacier National Park. Most years Brad and his mom would go hiking with Uncle Scott learning about the park in a rich way. I know that I owe Uncle Scott for Brad’s deep love and appreciation of nature. It will be the first time since my sister’s passing that we’ve added a photo to the ancestor altar. I don’t have a specific ritual planned, but I know the stories of Uncle Scott will be rich and vibrant. It will be nice to welcome him into our home this year as a part of the ancestors.
There is also the magic of ancestors that allow us to heal or at least acknowledge the different family and historical trauma that we might hold. A ritual designed to bring us into conversation with our ancestors can be the start of a dedicated practice that helps us bring light to those traumas. As we become more aware of our family wounds (both that we hold and that we afflicted on others), we can change the narrative our own lives. This change will enable us to break the cycle and assist future generations.
Ancestors hold so much magic. This is just a small taste of how I use Ancestors in my own Druidry.