Now that we are headed into the winter months the days are becoming shorter and the night are becoming longer and longer.
There is chill in the wind that seems to go right to our bones. The leaves are brown and the vegetation seems to be dying. This is the time that most pagans and magickal groups turn their attention to the ancestors. At Samhain, we decorate our altars with skulls, black candles, and pictures of our deceased loved ones to give them honor and perhaps offerings. Then at the end of the season we take down our decorations and prepare for Yule. But, what about the rest of the year? What about the ancestors during the light time of the year?
Patriarchal religions often describe the afterlife as some far away place. They teach that once you die you go somewhere to never be seen again by the living. Pagans do not necessarily believe this to be so. Some pagans believe that upon death, your energies and spirit merge with the land, sky, trees, and rivers. With this thought, the land becomes more sacred than we already believe. Other pagans believe that there is veil that separates the “worlds” and that those who know how to part the veil are able to help the ancestors come and go from the spirit world to our world. The ancestors can add much power to your magickal and spiritual work. They can help you with divination, spellcraft, and spiritual protection of the home.
To get started with our ancestor practice you must first build an ancestor altar. Find a space in the living room. You want them to be a part of your life. Never put them in a closet our some secret space. We do not hide our loved ones when alive; we do not want to hide them in death. If you are “closeted” by your spiritual practice simply tell your guests that you want to remember your ancestors. I have found people find honor in this. You will then need to decide “who” will be on your altar. I always say trust your intuition. If it feels right then use that ancestor. If not, then don’t. You can use a pendulum, the tarot, or runes to divine who is best suited for your altar. After you have decided on who goes on your altar, you will need to find pictures. You may have to do some thorough research on this. I have often have students who swear up and down that they have no pictures of great aunt Thelma, only to have their mother pull out some dusty old photo albums long forgotten. If your relatives will not give away a picture of an ancestor, ask if you may scan it. The picture may not be perfect, but it will do. You will want to have three to four ancestors on your altar. Any more than that then your altar will fill crowded. Place an offering bowl in front of each picture. The offerings will be of water or some kind of food. Try to stay away from food with a lot of salt. Salt drains a spirit’s energy and does more harm than good. Foods I often use are pasta, rise, beans, breads, and fruits. Now, you will then place one candle in the center of the altar. There is no need for many candles. One is plenty. Every day light your ancestor candle and say a prayer for them. Say something from the heart. It’s the energy of your love that feeds them the most.
Now you are all set. You will need to give your ancestors water every day when you light your ancestral candle. On special occasions you will want to give them a food offering. Now you are building up their magickal energy. You will notice after a while your ancestors will speak with you. This usually happens mentally, then astrally. If it doesn’t happen for a while, be patient. It will! Before asking them to do magick for you, I would work with the ancestral altar every day for six months. This gives them time to acclimate to the altar and the spiritual energies you are summoning forth with the candles, water, and prayer.
Working with the Ancestors is one of the most fulfilling spiritual practices you can do. It will teach you many things about them and about yourself. You will learn how to connect with your past and prepare for future generations. The ancestors are here and are waiting for you. Can you hear their call?