Your ancestors are some of your most powerful spiritual allies. Working with them is not the same as working with a deity, nature spirit, or other entity. Your ancestors have a personal connection to you, deeper than any other spiritual connection. Honoring and working with them can bring you peace and a sense of purpose, as well as heal toxic family dynamics and emotional patterns. While they enjoy having altars and offerings, working with your ancestors as a spiritual practice is its own, unique path.
Creating an Ancestral Altar
Whenever you want to engage with something on a spiritual level -- whether that is a god or a concept like love or abundance -- it helps to create an altar. This altar serves as a focus during ritual, and a way for you to devote your time and attention to the things you wish to cultivate a relationship with. Creating, decorating, cleaning, and refreshing an altar is a tangible way to honor your ancestors, and meditating there allows you to hear the messages they have for you.
Begin by selecting a place in your home or garden that is safe and quiet, but not somewhere you can easily ignore or forget about. Clean the area well, then cleanse using your favorite method, like sage, palo santo, incense, or water and a bit of sea salt.
With the area physically and energetically cleansed, place an altar cloth. You can use whatever color your tradition or intuition guides to you. (White is a good neutral color, but some traditions use red specifically for ancestor worship.) Then, set your altar. Begin simply at first -- you can always add more decorations and tools later. An offering bowl, a glass of water, a candle, and a bowl or holder for incense is a good place to begin.
With the altar set, it is time to invite your ancestors in. Light the candle, and, if you like, some incense. Take a moment to relax your mind and body, then say a few words of welcome. It is best if these words come from the heart, but they can be something simple, like,
"Ancestors, I bid you welcome to this space."
You can also take this opportunity to let your ancestors know where they are or are not allowed to go. This can help give you some spiritual privacy, and keep them from disturbing you when you are relaxing in the bath or sleeping in bed.
Using the Altar
The altar is a living, breathing thing. It requires attention. If you can, light the candle and change the water every day. If that is not possible, do this as often as you can (at least once every few days). If you choose to use fresh flowers to decorate it, remove them when they begin to wilt and replace them with new ones. When you make food offerings, do not allow them to become moldy or attract bugs. If you place crystals or gemstones there, keep them dust-free and energetically cleanse and charge them. Your altar is a manifestation of your relationship with your ancestors, so do everything you can to keep it clean and well-tended.
Meditating at the altar gives you an opportunity to connect with your ancestors. You can use this time to ask questions, request help or guidance, or simply sit quietly and receive messages. It takes practice to be able to receive guidance this way, so do not be disheartened if you do not hear anything right away. It will come with time.
Treat your ancestors the way you would living people. They are more than a vending machine for spiritual favors! If all you do is ask them for things, they may choose to stop responding. Instead, say hello. Ask them how they are, and if they need anything. Make offerings. Show you care about them, and they will return the favor.
Your ancestors are more interested in you than any other entity. If they are blood ancestors, their blood runs in your veins. If they are spiritual ancestors, you are their successor. Honor them, visit with them, and make offerings to them, and they will repay you with wisdom, opportunity, and abundance.