Frequently Asked Questions About Ancestor Altars

Maman Brigitte altar photo by Lilith Dorsey. Copyright 2014

Yesterday I wrote in detail about Creating  Ancestor Altars in Santeria, Vodou, and Voodoo . Anyone can create an altar or shrine for the ancestors and it is a great way to begin to open up your spiritual avenues. Many people do have questions, and I am going to do my best to answer them.

-What do I do if there was some unsavory bastard in my family and I don’t want to honor them?

Hell, if you wouldn’t have them in your home while they were alive, I certainly wouldn’t have them there after death. Put people you loved and cared about, if they loved you in return they will do their best to try to continue to help you in the afterlife.


-What if you are adopted?

I get this question a lot, and the answer is simple. Use whatever yes/no divination system works for you. That could be dowsing rods, pendulum, or whatever other way you prefer. See what names, places and thoughts come to you, and then test out if they are supposed to go on the shrine with your yes/no method. This will give you a decent place to start. You can also add elders, and friends who may have passed. My ancestor shrine contains photos and items from my friends Cayne, Shaughn, and others whose time came too soon, as well as photos of mine and my godchildren’s grandparents, parents, relatives, friends, and even children who have passed.


-Where should I place the ancestor shrine?

As I mentioned, some spiritual houses think the dead should be located outside the home, so as not to bring those energies too close to the living. It is generally accepted across all afro-diasporan spiritual houses that altars are not to go in the bedroom or sleeping area.


-What about the elements?

An ancestor shrine is a great place to light a candle, put it out if you must every night, to remember the dead, I also like to include waters from different ancestral sacred sites or cemeteries. Whole chapters of books have been written about sacred dirts, I recommend the work of Denise Alvarado about New Orleans Voodoo and how those traditions use dirt, and for Santeria/ Lucumi you can read Carlos Montenegro’s Santeria Formulary. Air can be represented in the form of incense, either a specific blend for a god, goddess, or Lwa of death, such as Maman Brigitte, Santisima Muerte, San Elias, The Morrigan, Hecate, or another that you may have a connection with.

-Are there other ways to honor the ancestors besides setting up an altar?

In my spiritual house we also make flags to honor those that we have cherished who have passed on. Some people have a custom of making quilts, the possibilities are endless. If you have other creative ways, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.


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About Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey M.A. , hails from many magickal traditions, including Celtic, Afro-Caribbean, and Native American spirituality. Her traditional education focused on Plant Science, Anthropology, and Film at the University of R.I, New York University and the University of London, and her magickal training includes numerous initiations in Santeria also known as Lucumi, Haitian Vodoun, and New Orleans Voodoo. Lilith Dorsey is a Voodoo Priestess and in that capacity has been doing successful magick since 1991 for patrons, is editor/publisher of Oshun-African Magickal Quarterly , filmmaker of the experimental documentary Bodies of Water :Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation, author of Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism and The African-American Ritual Cookbook, and choreographer for jazz legend Dr. John's "Night Tripper" Voodoo Show. She believes good ritual should be fun and innovative, and to that end she led the first ever Voodoo Zombie Silent Rave Ritual in July 2013, complete with confused Thriller flash mob.