In many cultures and traditions, the ancestors are honored. And for Pagans, Samhain is the perfect time because this Sabbat and the days leading up to it is the time when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its most fragile. By setting up an ancestor shrine or altar, you can honor the people of your bloodline -- your kinfolk and clansmen who have helped to shape the person you are. Your ancestors deserve your respect and remembrance. Samhain is the ideal time to create an ancestor altar for seasonal use, or as a permanent place in your home and in your life.
Ancestors may include those connected to you by blood, but also those who, while a blood relationship might be lacking, were nevertheless close enough to be kin. These are our teachers, mentors, and friends—our spiritual kin. And don’t forget our pets who are on the other side as well.
Set up the altar in a place where it can be left undisturbed, so that the spirits of your ancestors may gather there, and you can take time to meditate and honor them without having to move things around every time someone needs to use the table. A bookcase shelf is what I use, and for me. It’s a wee bit small, but it’s the perfect location.
While an altar should be set up to your liking, and you can get as creative as you like, there are two rules that you need to follow. Never place salt or a picture of a living person on your ancestor altar. The spirits will not come around where there is salt and you should never place the living among the dead. This is considered the equivalent of tempting or thumbing one’s nose at Death, neither of which are wise courses of action.
Start by selecting photos of your ancestors. Choose pictures that have meaning for you. Try and arrange the photos on your altar so that you can see all of them at once. If you don't have a photo to represent an ancestor, you can use an item that belonged to him or her. Any objects belonging to one’s deceased ancestors are completely appropriate with or without the photos.
To honor the four elements, your should include the following on your altar: Incense and a holder, which represents Air (North). A white candle which represents Fire (East). A small glass of water which represents Water (South) and Crystals, gemstones, rocks and/or coins. (North).
The simple way to cleanse and consecrate the altar and make it a sacred space is to use a sage smudge stick, frankincense or sandalwood incense. Some people prefer Myrrh because myrrh smoke brings the astral realms closer to earth opening up a spiritual doorway. As the sage or incense burns, offer up a prayer to the ancestors:
Spirits of my fathers and mothers, I call to you,
and welcome you.
You watch over me always,
protecting and guiding me,
and I thank you.
Your blood runs in my veins,
your spirit is in my heart,
your memories are
in my soul. With these acts of remembrance, I remember all of you.
You are on the other side but never forgotten,
and you live on within me,
and within those who are yet to come.
Spend a little bit of time each day at the altar. Sit, meditate and reflect. See who might come through or what messages they send to you.