Creating My Ancestor Altar

After communing with my ancestors on Sunday, March 20th, I decided to start an ancestor altar. I knew that I did not have a large surface so I thought I would start small, until I am able to get a larger place to put photos and other mementos. Here’s a picture of the altar:

It contains a picture of my maternal aunt, uncle, and grandmother; a jar for water or alcohol to give to the ancestors in libation; a covered dish for copal incense which has given me great results with previous ancestor work; two tealight candles, partially for illumination and partially for offering; and reddish-pink roses. I hope to add an image or symbol for my unknown Egun, something for Oya, a permanent incense burner, and many more items that my ancestors enjoyed in life (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, various foods, etc.).

With regard to the colors and basic items on the altar: I chose white because it seems to be a traditional color for ceremony in Santeria and other Ifa derived traditions. I selected clear glass because it is attractive, my grandmother enjoyed glass items, and because I do not have any (chipped) porcelain or white ceramics which some sources recommend for ancestor altars. Overall, I am pleased with my start and I can’t wait to grow the altar and make it feel like home for my ancestors!


8 thoughts on “Creating My Ancestor Altar

  1. “Traditionally”, the Egun-{Ancestral}-Altar would be located on the floor: close to the Earth. Which of course, is symbolic of the grave… In west Africa { Nigeria } and I am pretty sure in other regions of Africa, the deceased are interred in the ground: “Underneath” the family home or on family property…

    And then there is the Ancestral staff {Opa Iku} which is tapped nine times while calling the names of your maternal and paternal Egun/Ancestors…. The mouth is generally prepared with Guinea Pepper {Ataare} prior to reciting prayer/Oriki { 7 ataare for Females & 9 ataare For Males }. Items such as pictures,Honey, Efun, Gin, Water and other personal items can be placed on the Ancestral/Egun Altar. It is important that you allow your Spirit to guide you. In addition to the aforementioned items, Ive also placed several river stones on my Ancestral/Egun; {Egun Are Known To Reside On The Other Side Of Water}…. In a dream, an older woman instructed me to draw a cross inside a circle on one the larger river stones, which I did. I learned some years later, the stone itself and cross within the circle has “deep” symbolic overtones…

    I’ve also placed a Machete, on which Ive drawn various symbols, using Efun chalk, on my Egun/Ancestral altar…A tool used for protection and to cut through negativity on the physical and astral planes. Oftentimes, our Ancestors will visit us in the dream/astral realm to inform, thank, guide and protect us…..The Ancestral staff can also be used to clear your home environment of negative energies: As far as I know, there is not set number of times one must tap the staff.

    Yoruba Oriki to Call Egun- Ancestors:

    Egungun kiki egungun.
    Praise the Ancestors.
    Egun iku ranran fe awo ku opipi.
    Ancestors who have preserved the mysteries of featherless flight.
    O da so bo fun le wo.
    You create words of reverence and power.
    Egun iku bata bango egun de.
    On the strong mat you spread your power.
    Bi aba f’atori na le egun a se de.
    The Ancestors are here.
    May it be so.

    Efunlola Ogunseye

    • Very interesting! Coincidentally–although I have little belief in coincidence myself–my rit room is in the basement. I believe if I were to measure it…the table height on which I have my ancestors would be six feet beneath the ground. Exactly where one of my ancestral traditions would place the dead. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily account for the branches of my family that would have used cremation, nor the tradition of putting the body up on a treehouse-type device exposed to the elements as some American Indian tribes would have done. It certainly wouldn’t cover the Viking tradition of putting the body into a boat and setting it on fire…or the cairns of ancient Britain. But we can’t cover it all, now can we? I’m doing the best I can negotiating middle ground, listening to what each Spirit is telling me they want or need, so this is where I’ve personally wound up.

      I don’t have any ancestral staffs, although I have staffs aplenty, one of which was given to me by one of my deities. I have family pictures on the table as well, and abide by the warning of not having any pictures of living beings on it; better safe than sorry! There are also other momentos; things they held precious (like my grandmother’s wedding ring) as well as things they made (my grandmother’s crocheted flowers).

      A question…what you’ve referred to as Efun chalk…is this the same thing commonly referred to as “cascarilla” in botanicas, or a different substance altogether?

      Thank you for sharing the prayer as well. I don’t feel personally drawn to follow the African Traditions for a number of reasons. I also do not want to appropriate your religious practices. My goal is simply to repair lost traditions and rituals that would have been part of my own heritage at one point or another historically. Traditions I feel are necessary, that my own Spirits are pushing me to find and replace and practice. I do not feel at all comfortable with the Christian prayers so common place in most Spiritsm practices as well as many ATR, but this simple prayer gives me much to think about.

      • Camylleon! Hey! You make excellent points about the challenges of recognizing and honoring diverse ancestry. I agree with you that standard practice really must be to keep an ear in the spirit realm and let our Egun/Blessed Dead guide us.

    • What wonderful information/suggestions! Thank you, Efunlola Ogunseye! My Ancestor altar has developed quite a bit since March 2011 when I started it. I try to listen and to hear my Egun as clearly as possible, and they continue to inspire me. Right now, my “ancestor” altar is serving as sacred space for the Orisha, Ancestors, Lwas, and the occassional saint (I’m still sorting that out). I plan to do an updated post about my ancestor altar soon. Thanks again!

  2. Pingback: Oya’s Blessings: The Road to the Ancestors | Wandering Woman Wondering

  3. Beautiful! And a great start. I had mine on a smaller table like yours…but my Ancestors demanded my main altar and worktable. Of course, I insisted we share…so it’s a bit more chaotic than yours. The clear glass is also traditional in the Afro-Carribbean religions although it might be an influence from Spiritism. I had a hard time with that because all of my glassware is cobalt blue…*sigh* so I ended up buying new clear glassware. When I get a chance later today I might try to get some pics of mine…but considering the fight I’ve had with my digitals (and the fact that batteries get sapped in no time flat in my spiritual room), I might wait until my friend comes out tomorrow. She’s better at getting pics and faster at it so we should be able to get them before the battery dies!

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