Little Altars: A Practical Way to Honor Your Ancestors

Since we held our 1st Annual Death Faire last November, I have thought a lot about making more room in my life to honor my Ancestors. While communication with my Ancestors is nothing new to me, I felt deeply moved to bring this into more regular practice after hearing the keynote address by Dr. Daniel Foor of Ancestral Medicine. I wanted to treat them less like distant relatives only seen on high holidays and more like immediate family invited regularly for Sunday supper.

After reading Ancestral Medicine’s informative blog entry titled Five Ways to Honor Your Ancestors, which addresses the question of who our collective Ancestors are, I began to put some of his suggestions into practice. I realized there are activities I’ve done most of my life that I hadn’t before associated with Ancestors ripe for adaptation. With increased frequency, these practices have changed the type of communication I share with my Ancestors from a monologue to something nearer dialogue.

Here is the first of many easy ways to honor your Ancestors, and make them a more familiar presence in your life.

Little Altars Everywhere

Create space in your home dedicated to your Ancestors. This doesn’t have to be a grand undertaking. It is quite simple. A photograph of a beloved family member, spiritual teacher, or companion animal that has transitioned is a great focal point. They may already be displayed in some fashion—framed on the wall, bookshelf, or mantelpiece. All that is needed to create an Ancestor altar is a focused intention. Add a tea light candle, a small bud vase to hold seasonal blooms from your yard (spring violets are coming), or an item that once belonged to, or reminds you of your loved one. When you see this everyday altar, you call your beloved dead to mind. You may ask them for guidance or blessings in the day ahead.

Add another level: You may also consider adding a representation of your cultural heritage—an image or object representing far-distant Ancestors. A photograph of a beautiful landscape from your Ancestral homeland, a rustic village or farmstead, a Neolithic burial mound. Anything that recalls those long-dead.

Another place to create an Ancestor altar is in nature. This outdoor space can honor all Ancestors. I notice whenever I am walking in the woods, I keep an eye out for natural altars. These places look or feel sacred in some way. Here, the goal is not to create as much as it may be to mindfully enhance and bear witness. A tree stump grown over with bright green moss, or a flat or indented stone covered in lichens or that holds a natural pool of rainwater are a few examples. These places resonate with the energies of Those Who Go Before. You may find a lovely stone, or stunning dogwood blossom or autumn leaf as you walk. These can be the offerings you use to focus your intention, to honor the Ancestors or genus loci.


Add another level: Bring a handful of cornmeal or tobacco with you on your next visit to a natural Ancestor altars and douse these to honor the indigenous dead. Thank them for sharing this parcel of land with you. Or, use an array of stones or crystals to form a radiating grid to amplify your honor and gratitude to the wider world. These grids are strong medicine for healing Ancestral wounds carried by my Northern European colonizing Ancestors. They also seek to balance my position in a long line of consumers of the great gifts of our common Ancestor, Mother Earth.

Little altars are an easy way to create a space for beginning conversations with your Ancestors.  They allow for the privacy and respect many of require when initiating contact, but allow for more regular, even daily practice. As we begin to acknowledge the presence of our Ancestors in our routine of living, we grow more comfortable on our inevitable path to becoming one of them.

This is Part One in a series of blog posts on moving beyond a death phobic culture.

Sparkroot Farm will be hosting Dr Daniel Foor in a April 8 workshop on Ancestral Healing & Social Justice. Learn More

About the Author

Jenn Hansen is driven by intense curiosity and a passion for education and the exchange and preservation of knowledge through story and experience. Born and raised on the high plains of Colorado, she relocated to North Carolina in the winter of 1999 and immediately felt as though she had come home. Holding an Associates degree in Theater Arts, and a BA in English Literature, Jenn is passionate about the creative arts. She is a vocalist, writer, ritualist, linguist, and voracious reader. After a cancer diagnosis in 2013, and witnessing the true power of connected community, she joined the Abundance NC team in the summer of 2016 in order to resonate some of this abundant karma back. She currently lives in Hillsborough with her son, husband, and remaining cat. When not in the Abundance office, you can find her at Starrlight Mead, where she works as a Production Assistant and Distributor.