Honoring Your Ancestors with an Altar

It’s October and there’s still so much going on in the world. There’s more and more grief to process with the aftermath of hurricane Ian as well as all that’s happening in Iran right now, etc. 

How are you doing these days?

Here in the northern hemisphere we’re getting closer to the darkest time of the year. The bears are starting their path of hibernation, we’ve seen their scat on the trails near our house. And there’s a pull to draw in and get cozy as the days are shorter and the air is much cooler.

It’s also the month “they” say the veil is thin. This happens around Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, also known as All Souls Day or All Saints Day. 

All these holy-days originate around Samhain a Pagan Celtic holiday to honor the end of the harvest season and usher in the darker part of the year. 

It was also a time to honor the ancestors with gathering around the fire and feasting together as well as leaving food for the ancestors too.

This blog is all about how to set up a simple ancestor altar which you can do anytime of year, not just when the veil is thin. 

Start by getting clear with who you’d like to honor. 

  • It could be your most recent relatives who have passed, or your entire lineage. 
  • You may honor one specific ancestor or a few of them.
  • You could set up an altar to someone who has recently passed, although this could be challenging as the pain may be so very present. 

If that’s true for you, then just notice what happens and take your time to do this or put it off for another time when you feel ready. You could make an altar to your grief instead. (Keep it simple with a piece of black fabric, a candle and a bowl of water).

Whatever altar you choose to make, set it up in your home where you can spend some time in prayer and meditation. I have one set up in my kitchen and another one in my office/creative space. 

  • Find a photo of your ancestor or loved one and place this prominently on the altar. 
  • If you don’t have any photos or it’s too hard to look at them because you’re in acute grief, find a symbol that represents who they were.
  • Make your altar beautiful-find a beautiful cloth and put that down first. If you’re lucky enough to have a cloth made by an ancestor, use that. 
  • Next place a candle on a plate or another kind of stable and safe base. 
  • I use a red candle because it’s the color of the ancestors according to the Dagara people of West Africa. But any color candle will do.
  • Place items on the altar that were once theirs or remind you of them. 

My paternal grandmother collected small pitchers, I am lucky enough to have two of them. I also have one of her coffee mugs with butterflies on them. 

  • Place items that symbolize strength or anything else that has heart-full meaning for you.
  • You could also place items there that bring you joy and represent beauty. 
  • If you can, buy a special bouquet of flowers or pick a bouquet from your yard if you’ve been growing a garden.
  • If you’re setting up an altar for someone specific-what was their favorite flower? Use those if you know and are able to find them.

My garden right now has a few flowers clinging on to the last hurrah of fall. So my bouquet includes bright orange marigolds, white cosmos, and a few yellow sunflowers. I added dried tassels of corn and other grasses to bring a touch of fall. 


  • Lastly you may include a small plate of food and a beverage for them. 


What were their favorite food and drink? Include these if you can. You may have to do a bit of research with this. 


After creating your altar, step back and notice-is anything missing? 

Maybe you add more natural items-rocks, pumpkins, a plant or gourd. 

Maybe you feel inspired to create red hearts out of fabric and felt.


Let this be a creative time for you. And let it be a process that evolves over time as you continue to add to it and be in relationship with it. You can also change this altar to reflect the seasons throughout the year.

And remember-you may connect with and honor your ancestors at any time of year not just when the veil is thin.

Most of all, let it be a practice that grounds and nourishes you during this time when we’re losing the light and the darkest days are approaching. And the world continues during such a challenging and grief-filled time. 

I’ll be writing more about how to connect to your Ancestors in my new moon blog in a few weeks.

Until then, grieve well…be well.