Working with ancestors?


First post in a long time, it’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to splurge on a membership again, money has been tight. I’ve been getting back more into my craft again and figured while I had the finances I’d rejoin, especially as I’ve had more and more questions :slight_smile:

Anyway, I have some questions around working with ancestors! As an Appalachian witch it’s something that’s very interesting and important to me, but I’m kind of lost on where to start.

First off, I’m working on building my main alter still, but I’m trying to brew ideas for an ancestor alter to set up as well. Should this wait until I’ve cleared enough space for a main alter? I’ve been planning on doing a large spring clean out of my space in order to prepare for a good summer alter :slight_smile:

Second, how do I get started with this? What are some basic suggestions?

Third, how do I know which ancestors to work with? How do I go about introducing myself to them?

Anyway, let me know any general tips you have as well


Hello, it’s good to see you here. I’ve not worked with Ancestors yet, but there are many who do. :green_heart: Maybe this will help.


There’s a lot of good information in Honoring Your Ancestors: A Guide to Ancestral Veneration by Mallorie Vaudoise. I did a review of it a while ago:

Here’s a snippet from a section on building your ancestral altar:

Many people who practice ancestor veneration keep a permanent altar in their homes. But ancestor altars can be temporary as well. At religious ceremonies dedicated to the Orisha, we create a temporary shrine to Egun, our blood and lineage ancestors, by marking out a circular space in chalk and placing offerings including candles, food, beverages, and flowers in that space. Egun are honored in this space and asked to give their blessing before we proceed with any other rituals, even if those rituals are not directly related to the ancestors themselves. My good friend and ojugbona (second godparent) is Mexican-American, and every year he builds an elaborate, three-tiered altar to celebrate Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). On this altar, which he sets up in the same space where his permanent altar is set up year-round, he places pictures of his ancestors, candles, images of Mayan deities and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and marigolds, a flower strongly associated with this holiday. He invites people in our community over on Día de Muertos to place photographs of their ancestors or a list of their names on the altar so we can make offerings to them collectively.

Altars can be set up in your home or out in the wild. They can be elaborate or minimalist, large or small. What your altar looks like will be determined by a combination of your personal tastes and the practical considerations of your space. An ancestor altar doesn’t have to look conspicuous. If you live with people who might not understand your ancestor veneration practice, you can pare your altar down to something very simple; even just a few pictures of your ancestors taped to a friendly patch of wall can serve as an ancestor altar if you tend to it with the right sense of reverence.

Some of the ideas for the ancestor altar are these:

Pictures of Your Ancestors

Keeping pictures of your ancestors on your altar is a beautiful way to remember them. Personally, I prefer to use pictures of my ancestors when they were young, healthy, and joyous whenever possible.

Some practitioners caution to avoid using pictures that include people who are still living in them, but again, I leave that up to your cultural background and discretion.

Holy Images

You can include images of holy powers on your ancestor altar. These can be holy powers that are sacred to you, or that your ancestors were particularly close to. For example, you might include your great-grandfather’s patron saint even if you’re not Catholic. While you might not have a devotional relationship with that particular being, your ancestors may still appreciate their presence. The image can be something small, like a holy card or medal, or something more elaborate like a statue or a large painting.

You may also consider incorporating images of holy powers within your ancestors’ spiritual traditions which have a particular affinity for the dead, even if you don’t know of specific ancestors who were dedicated to those powers.

Memento Mori

:warning: CW for the following: mortality, death.

As we discussed earlier in this chapter, memento mori is the practice of reflecting on your own mortality. Within Western art, memento mori often takes the form of skulls and hourglasses. We might expand the category to include symbols that speak to us of our own mortality, especially those symbols that made an impression during our childhood years. Growing up in Massachusetts, the oldest art that I encountered as a child were colonial gravestones. Consequently, the motifs and verses inscribed in them are a potent memento mori for me.

I have my own ancestor altar as well, but there isn’t much to it. I kind of just place things that are important to myself and my partner, in terms of ancestry, there. So it’s got a combination of things given to us by family, things representative of our cultural heritages, and even one thing that represents our union as partners. :black_heart:


Welcome home, @SusannahsDaughter!

It’s lovely to hear from your again, hope all is well :heart:

I think you should work on whichever altar calls to you in the moment. Our intuition has a way of guiding us to what is most important to us right now. It’s fine to work on both altars at the same time too! :sparkles:

The wonderful duo Tracy and Starborn have shared some great advice and resources - if I can add to what they’ve already offered, here are two more resources about creating, maintaining, and using ancestor altars/spaces:

Whatever you choose to do, wishing you all the best with your altars and ancestor work! Blessed be :candle:


Thank you all so much for your help!! This info is great, reading more into it now.


Aww! I’m honoured to be made into a wonderful duo with @tracyS! :laughing: :black_heart:


@starborn I feel the same :partying_face: with you. Shared honours :rofl::sparkling_heart:


@starborn & @tracyS - You’re a fantastic duo, full of helpful wisdom and suggestions! :hugs: :heart:

@SusannahsDaughter I hope you’re able to find what you’re looking for - good luck and blessed be! :sparkling_heart: :blush: