If the Ancestors Don’t Answer, Change their Altar

If the Ancestors Don’t Answer, Change their Altar September 5, 2020

I have been honoring my Ancestors for many months already, and I’ve always felt a special connection although I do not share their same fate. I’ve always felt their love, their support, the nearness when I am in the altar I use for them, no matter our differences, the way we see the world/s, and the fact that they would surely have many discussions with me because of my beliefs and opinions. However, a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting there, and felt nothing.

“Several questions popped in my mind. Is this okay? Is this enough? Will they be really happy now with this?” Image via Pixabay

Several nicely arranged things

I was just someone sitting on a chair in front of several nicely arranged things, but there was no energy at all. Thinking that maybe I had had a stressful day and week in general, which I had, and it was affecting my perception, I didn’t pay much attention. My surprise was bigger when this happened again the next day, and the next, and so on for a bit more than a week.

Truth be told, June and July have been difficult months for me and my family, and we haven’t had it easy, so I first thought, again, that this was just a matter of circumstances, numbing my senses. It wouldn’t be the first time, although it was actually the first time it lasted so long. Then I remembered: if that’s the case, then why do I feel so at ease and so connected in my main altar? Tired of not feeling a things, I knew something had to be done, yet I failed to know what.

The answer came that same night. I always do my devotions, prayers, do offerings if I feel the desire or need to do, and so on, in the morning and the nights. When I sat down for the second time, something came to my mind: rearrange the altar. It wasn’t one of my thoughts, wasn’t something I was deciding, but something I was receiving. I took out the offering plate, the clock one of my Ancestors used when alive, the deck of cards I used to talk with the, and left only a simple family tree with my parents, their parents, theirs, and so on as far as my grandma could remember. Yes, I felt, rather than heard.

So… empty

Looking at the altar, now so simple, so… empty, I had mixed feelings. Several questions popped in my mind. Is this okay? Is this enough? Will they be really happy now with this? I took a deep breath to silence them. It had been long ago I learned to trust those feelings, no matter how illogical they would seem at first. For a number or reasons I couldn’t it in that altar more than for a few seconds the next days, but when I did there was a change.

With a clear mind and steady breath, I suddenly felt my chest oppressed, the sign that something was about to happen. Deep breath in, deep breath out, and I was in a labyrinth made of stone at night. What? I saw in my mind’s mind where to go, where to turn to the left, the right, saw the labyrinth from above for a second (not enough to see where I was walking to, though, but enough to see I was surrounded by darkness,) and after a minute or so, I saw a desert at twilight. When I arrived, one of my familiars was there, waiting for me, and one of my Ancestors came from behind.

When I looked back, the labyrinth was in ruins. The old stones had crumbled down and the sands were devouring them little by little. However, I felt safe with that spirit I had loved so much while he was alive. We didn’t talk that much, but he smiled, dance and sang a little as he did when I was a child, and my familiar came closer, letting me touch him for a while. Then I felt the urge to come back. I knew he was okay, as all my Ancestors were, so I visualized the door of the room I was in right in the exit of the labyrinth, and opened my eyes when I came in.

No images allowed

I cried a tear or two, the experience still clear in my mind, and couldn’t help but remember what I had been told as a child. Arabs do not believe in images or representations. That’s something that share Islam and the religious minorities derived from them, all at some degree. I was told that I wouldn’t find images in the saints’ tombs or temples, but words and written praises, and even that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes, it would be only mosaics, decorations, and ornamental structures to reflect devotion, faith and worship.

It also was a mistake from my part honoring the pre Islamic Gods and my Ancestors in the same altar. I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that they must be angry with me for putting them in the same place as deities they did not believe in. Before going to the labyrinth, I simply sat down and remained in silence. The images appeared, I saw them like a mess of snapshots and carefully made my way through the corridors as I saw one picture after the other. It was like having a dream within a dream. Having a clear place for them made it much easier for us to connect.

That same day, as I prepared pancakes for breakfast, I couldn’t help but seem some similarities in the process. I had the ingredients, the plate, spoons, and everything I needed in a way that was comfortable for me to use and work with. I only had what I would need, and nothing more. Having an altar was just the same: If you put it there, it’s because you will use it.

It has to look pretty, sure, because you will spend time there and you will want to like it, but follow your intuition to know how to arrange it. The Gods now I’ve changed mine (quoting Katy Parry) “like a girl changes her clothes,” and it has been the right thing to do.

Your needs change, your practice change, and your altar is a reflection of both. It is your direct line with the divine, a garden for your energy to grow and bloom, a mirror for you to know your soul. It is not meant to stay the same for a long time. If you listen carefully, you will know when and how to change it, and like fresh rain for a thirsty plant, the results will show.

About Bader Saab
I’m an Arabic witch and journalist, also with a master’s degree about to be finished on digital research. I have worked as a book reviewer and written about pre-Islamic folklore. You can read more about the author here.

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2 responses to “If the Ancestors Don’t Answer, Change their Altar”

  1. I enjoyed this article. For quite a long time, my ancestor altar has felt like… nothing. Just a shelf with some nifty stuff on it. I thought the deficiency was my own, but perhaps I just need to switch things around a little. Thanks for the perspective.

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