What is an Ancestral Altar, and How Can You Use It As Part Of Your Ancestral Healing?

An ancestral altar is a dedicated space to honour your ancestors. It serves as a physical and spiritual link to your heritage, providing a place to remember, reflect, and connect with those who came before you. Creating an ancestral altar can be a deeply personal and enriching practice, offering both comfort and guidance.

Purpose and Importance of An Ancestral Altar to Ancestral Healing

The primary purpose of an ancestral altar is to pay respect to your ancestors. This practice is rooted in the belief that maintaining a connection with our forebears can bring blessings, protection, and wisdom into our lives. Altars can be found in various cultures around the world, each with unique traditions but a common goal of honouring and remembering the deceased.

In many cultures, ancestral altars are integral to daily life and religious practice. For instance, in Mexico, during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), families create elaborate altars adorned with photographs, food, and candles to welcome the spirits of their loved ones. In China, it’s common to have home altars where incense is burned daily to honour ancestors, keeping their memories alive and seeking their guidance.

Benefits of an Ancestral Altar

Creating and maintaining an ancestral altar can bring numerous benefits to your life. This sacred space serves as a constant reminder of your heritage and provides a focal point for reflection and connection.

Enhances Sense of Identity

An ancestral altar helps deepen your understanding of your roots. By honouring your ancestors, you gain a stronger sense of identity and belonging.

Creating an Ancestral Altar

Example: Displaying family photos and heirlooms on your altar can remind you of your heritage and the values passed down through generations.

Provides a Space for Reflection

Creating an Ancestral Altar (1)

Having a dedicated space for reflection can be incredibly grounding. An ancestral altar allows you to pause, reflect, and find peace amid daily life’s hustle and bustle.

Example: Spending a few minutes each day in front of your altar can help centre your thoughts and provide a sense of calm.

Strengthens Family Bonds

Involving family members in the upkeep and rituals of the altar can strengthen bonds and create shared memories. It becomes a collective effort to honour and remember those who came before.

Example: Encourage children to place offerings or help decorate the altar, teaching them the importance of family heritage and respect for ancestors.

Promotes Spiritual Growth

Regular interaction with your ancestral altar can deepen your spiritual practice. The rituals and reflections performed at the altar can help you feel more connected to the spiritual world.

Example: Lighting a candle and saying a prayer at your altar each morning can become a meaningful part of your spiritual routine.

Offers Comfort and Guidance

An ancestral altar can be a source of comfort during difficult times. Knowing that your ancestors’ spirits are close can provide emotional support and guidance.

Example: When facing a tough decision, sitting by your altar and seeking your ancestors’ wisdom can offer clarity and reassurance.

Encourages Mindfulness

Maintaining your altar requires attention and care, which can foster mindfulness. This practice encourages you to be present in the moment and cultivate a deeper awareness.

Example: The simple act of refreshing the water or arranging flowers can become a mindful ritual that grounds you in the present.

The benefits of an ancestral altar extend far beyond mere decoration. It enhances your sense of identity, provides a space for reflection, strengthens family bonds, promotes spiritual growth, offers comfort and guidance, and encourages mindfulness. By integrating this sacred practice into your life, you create a lasting connection with your ancestors and enrich your daily experiences.

Creating Your Own Ancestral Altar

Setting up an ancestral altar is a personal journey. It can be as simple or elaborate as you wish, reflecting your unique heritage and personal preferences. Whether you’re drawn to a minimalist setup or something more ornate, the key is to create a space that resonates with you and honours your lineage.

Remember, the act of creating an altar is itself a form of respect and remembrance. It’s not about following strict rules but about expressing your connection in a meaningful way. This personal space can become a sanctuary for meditation, prayer, and reflection, helping you feel grounded and supported by your ancestral roots.

Choosing the Right Location For Your Ancestral Altar

Creating an Ancestral Altar

Selecting the right location for your ancestral altar is crucial. This space should be peaceful, respectful, and conducive to reflection. Here are some key considerations to help you choose the perfect spot.

Find a Quiet Space

Look for a quiet area in your home where you can focus without distractions. This could be a corner of your bedroom, a dedicated shelf in your living room, or even a small table in a hallway. The goal is to find a place where you can sit and connect with your ancestors in peace.

Respect and Privacy

The location should be respected by all household members. If possible, choose a spot that isn’t in a high-traffic area to maintain the sanctity of the space. For example, placing your altar in a private study or a quiet nook ensures that it remains undisturbed.

Natural Light and Elements

If possible, choose a location with natural light. Sunlight can enhance the energy of your altar, making it a more inviting and vibrant space. Additionally, incorporating natural elements like plants or flowers can further enrich the atmosphere.

Examples of Suitable Locations

  • Bedroom Corner: A small table in the corner of your bedroom can be an ideal spot. It provides privacy and a serene environment for daily reflection.
  • Living Room Shelf: A dedicated shelf in your living room allows the altar to be a visible reminder of your connection to your ancestors, without being intrusive.
  • Garden Space: If you have a garden, consider creating an outdoor altar. The natural surroundings can amplify the spiritual connection, especially if you feel drawn to nature.

Practical Tips

  • Keep It Accessible: Ensure that your altar is easily accessible for daily or weekly rituals. You should be able to comfortably reach and interact with the items on it.
  • Respect Cultural Practices: If you follow specific cultural or religious traditions, consider their guidelines for altar placement. For instance, in some traditions, altars should face specific directions or be positioned at certain heights.
  • Create Boundaries: Use a small rug or mat to delineate the altar space, setting it apart from the rest of the room. This helps create a focused and intentional area for your practice.

Choosing the right location sets the foundation for a meaningful and effective ancestral altar.

Essential Elements of an Ancestral Altar

Creating an ancestral altar involves thoughtfully selecting items that honour and connect you to your ancestors. Here are the essential elements to consider including in your altar.

Photographs and Mementoes

  • Photographs: Displaying photos of your ancestors is a powerful way to feel their presence. Choose pictures that evoke fond memories or represent key moments in their lives.
  • Mementoes: Include personal items that belonged to your ancestors, like jewellery, letters, or heirlooms. These tangible connections can make the space feel more personal and meaningful.

Example: Place a cherished photograph of your grandmother alongside a piece of her favourite jewellery. This combination not only honours her memory but also serves as a physical reminder of her life and legacy.

Candles and Incense

  • Candles: Light candles to symbolise guidance and remembrance. The flickering flame represents the ongoing presence of your ancestors. Choose colours that resonate with you or have specific meanings in your culture.
  • Incense: Burning incense can purify the space and create a serene atmosphere. Different scents have various symbolic meanings; for example, sandalwood is often used for spiritual healing.

Example: Light a white candle every evening to invite peace and clarity, and burn lavender incense to promote a calm environment.


  • Flowers: Fresh flowers can be a beautiful and respectful offering. Select blooms that have personal or cultural significance.
  • Food and Drink: Offering food and drink is a common practice in many cultures. Place small portions of your ancestors’ favourite meals or beverages on the altar.

Example: During a special ceremony, offer a small plate of your grandfather’s favourite biscuits and a cup of his preferred tea.

Sacred Texts and Symbols

  • Sacred Texts: Incorporate religious or spiritual texts that were meaningful to your ancestors. These can be scriptures, prayer books, or inspirational writings.
  • Symbols: Include symbols that reflect your family’s spiritual beliefs. This could be a cross, a Buddha statue, or any other icon that resonates with your heritage.

Example: Place a small Bible that belonged to your mother next to a cross, creating a focal point for prayer and reflection.

Personalising Your Altar

Your altar should reflect your personal connection to your ancestors. Add elements that have special meaning to you and your family.

Personal Items

Include items that represent your personal memories and relationships with your ancestors. This could be a letter, a piece of art, or a handmade craft.

Seasonal Decorations

Update your altar with seasonal decorations. This keeps the space dynamic and reflects the passage of time and cycles of nature.

Example: During spring, decorate your altar with fresh flowers and pastel colours. In autumn, add leaves and seasonal fruits.

Creating an ancestral altar with these essential elements helps to foster a deep connection with your ancestors. Each item serves as a link to your heritage and personal history, providing a space for reflection, remembrance, and spiritual growth.

Rituals and Practices for Your Ancestral Altar and Ancestral Healing

Incorporating rituals and practices into your daily or weekly routine can deepen your connection with your ancestors. These rituals can be simple yet profoundly meaningful, creating a regular space for reflection and communication.

Daily Rituals

Lighting a Candle: Start or end your day by lighting a candle on your altar. This small act can be a moment of quiet reflection and a way to invite your ancestors’ presence into your daily life.

Example: Light a white candle each morning, say a short prayer, or express gratitude to your ancestors for their guidance.

Offering Water: Placing a small glass of fresh water on your altar is a common practice in many traditions. Water symbolises purity and life, making it a respectful offering.

Example: Change the water daily, ensuring it remains fresh. As you do, take a moment to think about your ancestors and what you wish to share with them.

Weekly Rituals

Meditation and Reflection: Dedicate a specific time each week to meditate at your altar. Use this time to reflect on your ancestors’ lives, their values, and how they influence you today.

Example: Spend 15 minutes each Sunday evening meditating by your altar. Focus on your breathing, and let thoughts of your ancestors guide your meditation.

Incense Offering: Burning incense weekly can purify your space and invite positive energy. Choose scents that resonate with you and have significance in your cultural or spiritual practice.

Example: Burn sandalwood incense every Friday evening, reflecting on the week and seeking your ancestors’ blessings for the days ahead.

Monthly or Seasonal Rituals

Ancestral Meals: Once a month, prepare a meal that your ancestors enjoyed. Share this meal with your family, discussing your ancestors’ stories and legacies.

Example: Cook your grandmother’s favourite stew and enjoy it with your family, sharing stories about her life and the values she upheld.

Seasonal Decorations: Update your altar with items that reflect the current season or important dates. This keeps the altar dynamic and honours the cycles of nature.

Example: In autumn, add leaves, pumpkins, and other seasonal items to your altar. During spring, decorate with fresh flowers and pastel colours.

Special Practices

Ancestral Letters: Write letters to your ancestors, expressing your thoughts, gratitude, and requests for guidance. Place these letters on your altar, symbolically communicating with them.

Example: Write a letter to your great-grandfather, thanking him for his courage and asking for his strength in your own challenges. Place the letter on your altar and light a candle as you read it aloud.

Ancestral Stories: Regularly tell stories about your ancestors, either aloud to family members or quietly to yourself. This practice keeps their memory alive and strengthens your connection.

Example: Once a month, gather your family and share a story about an ancestor. Discuss their life, values, and the lessons learned from their experiences.

Incorporating these rituals and practices into your routine can significantly enhance your connection with your ancestors. Whether through daily candle lighting, weekly meditations, or monthly ancestral meals, these acts of remembrance and reflection create a meaningful bond with your heritage.

Maintaining Your Ancestral Altar

Maintaining your ancestral altar is essential to keeping it a vibrant and respected part of your home. Regular care and updates ensure the space remains a meaningful and dynamic connection to your ancestors.

Regular Cleaning

Cleanliness: Keep your altar clean and free from dust. This shows respect and maintains the purity of the space.

Example: Wipe down surfaces and gently clean any photos or items on the altar once a week. Use a soft cloth and, if necessary, mild cleaning products to avoid damaging delicate items.

Refreshing Offerings

Fresh Flowers and Water: Replace flowers and water regularly to keep the altar lively and inviting. Stale offerings can diminish the energy of the space.

Example: Change the water daily and refresh flowers as needed. This practice also gives you a moment each day to reconnect with your ancestors.

Candles and Incense: Ensure you have a steady supply of candles and incense. Regularly check and replace them to keep your rituals uninterrupted.

Example: Keep a small stock of candles and incense sticks in a nearby drawer or cabinet, so you’re always prepared for your daily or weekly rituals.

Updating Items

Seasonal Changes: Rotate items on your altar to reflect seasonal changes and significant dates. This keeps the altar in tune with the natural cycles and your personal life.

Example: In winter, add pinecones and evergreen branches. During summer, incorporate bright flowers and seashells.

Personal Mementoes: Update the altar with new mementoes or items that represent recent events or family additions.

Example: Add a photo of a newly born family member or a memento from a recent family gathering. This keeps the altar current and inclusive of your evolving family history.

Maintaining the Energy

Regular Rituals: Consistently perform your chosen rituals to maintain the altar’s energy. This keeps the connection to your ancestors strong and active.

Example: Dedicate a few minutes each day to light a candle, say a prayer, or meditate at your altar. This regular interaction helps sustain the spiritual energy of the space.

Recharging with Incense: Burn incense periodically to cleanse and recharge the space. This can help clear any stagnant energy and keep the altar vibrant.

Example: Burn sage or sandalwood incense once a week, focusing on the intention of cleansing and renewing the space.

Engaging with your Ancestral Altar

Family Participation: Encourage family members to engage with the altar. This shared practice can strengthen family bonds and collective memory.

Example: Invite children to place offerings or help clean the altar. Explain the significance of each item and the importance of honouring ancestors.

Special Ceremonies: Use the altar for special ceremonies and milestones. This creates meaningful moments and deepens the connection with your ancestors.

Example: Hold a small ceremony at the altar to celebrate an anniversary or to seek guidance during significant life decisions.

Maintaining your ancestral altar with regular care, refreshing offerings, and engaging rituals ensures it remains a respected and powerful part of your home. This ongoing practice not only honours your ancestors but also strengthens your connection to them and enriches your spiritual life.

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