September 17, 2018

Photoville: Altar: Prayer, Ritual, Offerings photo by Lilith Dorsey. Featured are MFON co-founders, and curators Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and Adama Delphine Fawundu, assistant curator Crystal Whaley,  along with artists Diane Wah, and Régine Romain.  All rights reserved.

It’s not often that the sacred power of African Traditional Religion and the powerful women behind it get to be truly seen, and appreciated in the light of day. Luckily, this is not the case in the exhibit called Altar: Prayer, Ritual, and Offerings on display as part of Photoville in Brooklyn. Presented by MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora their visual creation is both complex and sublime. The artists statement from the Photoville website explains :” The visual association of altars are often akin to spiritual pedestals; sites where rituals are enacted, places of sacrificial endowment. Altars are often erected to pay homage to an ancestor or to honor God or a saint. This exhibition takes the altar out of its religious context and interrogates photography as a practice containing the same attributes as altars. The images presented in this exhibition examines several religious traditions that have originated in and/or practiced on the African continent and throughout the world. “ALTAR” also centers love and meditation as a spiritual practice. In this exhibition, we regard the final product—the photograph—as the altar. The context, process, and content of the photographs fulfill the attributes, ritual, sacrifice and offerings.”

Like most of the installations at Photoville, Altar is located inside a shipping container. But instead of seeming industrial, what the artists have created here is a true spiritual transformation that allows the works to be seen in a sacred context. This context takes the form of red walls, beautiful draping ceilings, rose petals, and numerous altars dedicated to the ancestors. The most complex altar takes the form of a center table towards the back of the exhibit. On this altar are photographs of other women photographers from the African Diaspora who have risen up to join the ancestors.

Altar: Prayer, Ritual, and Offerings was curated by MFON co-founders, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn (pictured above) and Adama Delphine Fawundu (pictured above,) along with assistant curator Crystal Whaley (pictured above.) It includes many phenomenal photographers including : Collette V. Fournier, Crystal-Anne Chijindu, Daesha Devón Harris, Deborah Willis, Diane Wah (pictured above,) Fanta Diop, Felicita “Felli” Maynard, Gulshan Khan, Hilina Abebe, Idris Hassan, Imani Dennison, Intisar Abioto, Jenevieve Aken, Johanne Rahaman, Johnette Iris Stubbs, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Kay Hickman, Kennedi Carter, Koren Martin, Lola Akinmade Åkerström, Manyatsa Monyamane, Marilyn Nance, Melissa Bunni Elian, Miora Rajaonary, Nicky Woo, Nicole Najmah Abraham, Nina Robinson, Nydia Blas, Pavan Carter, Rahima Gambo, Régine Romain (pictured above,) Rhynna M. Santos, Sabriya M. Simon, Salimah Ali, Sokari Ekine, Stephanie Mei-Ling, Valda Nogueira, Zarita E.Zevallos.

Régine Romain photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.

Many very important topics were discussed during the panel discussion last Saturday with curators and artists from Photoville’s Altar. Agency, representation, and anthropology were all brought to the fore as these female photographers shared their vision with us. It was a great honor to hear documentary filmmaker Régine Romain speak about her film Brooklyn to Benin: A Vodou Pilgrimage. Her images are phenomenal, and her words are just as strong. She spoke of her pilgrimage saying ” My journey with photography, and my pilgrimage to Benin, and to Haiti was one in which I was always destined to do….my project is one that took time to complete. It’s one in which I traveled throughout the Americas looking at the survival of traditional African spiritual practices. ” Régine is an inspiration to us all, and I hope to profile her soon here on Voodoo Universe.

The last weekend for this year’s Photoville exhibits will be September 20-23, 2018. Please take the time to visit Altar: Prayer, Ritual, and Offerings if you can, you won’t be disappointed.

Regular readers of this blog know that Art and Altars of the African Diaspora have been featured numerous times here, please check out this link if you would like to know more. As always if you have enjoyed what your read here please remember to like, comment, and share !

October 26, 2016

It’s not the candles. It’s not the food. It’s not the photos. No it isn’t the time, the effort, or even the money. The hardest thing about creating an ancestor altar is both more simple and more complicated than these things. The hardest thing is remembering.

What in the hell is this crazy woman on about ? This may be what your thinking and I don’t blame you. Remembering, remembering what? Yes, when you create an ancestor altar you have to remember to light candles, leave water, food and other offerings, place photos and other items from those who have passed… but most important you have to remember that these people have crossed on. This means many different things in many different traditions.

Some traditions believe that once loved ones are gone they travel to a different plane… a heaven, a nirvana, or a whole other world. It doesn’t really matter what your belief system is. However you do have to remember they do things differently now. When my daughter passed away several years ago it was hard to get past missing her, her smile, her laugh,… the things a mother treasures. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have a strong belief system and a faith that allowed me to still honor her and communicate with her, even if it was in a different way.

Maman Brigitte wedding jar photo by Lilith Dorsey.
Maman Brigitte wedding jar photo by Lilith Dorsey.

New Orleans Voodoo and Haitian Vodou Ancestor Altars

In New Orleans Voodoo and Haitian Vodou much time and attention are given to the ancestors. Weekly, if not daily, offerings and prayers are given. If enough sincere and proper care is given to those who are gone they elevate to the realm of honored ancestors, possibly even becoming Loa/Lwa themselves. Some view these loa as saints, or gods, or just representations of divine energy. In any case they are very powerful, and can be very helpful to the living if the proper tributes are given. So in addition to remembering that our loved ones are on another level of existence, we also have to remember to help them on their journey so they can help us on ours.

We must remember to honor them in whatever way feels right and proper to us. We have to remember the lessons they taught us …even if they are just whispers now lingering in our grieving memory. We also have to remember to listen to what they may have to say now. Listening even if our hearts and minds are heavy, and their messages are more confusing than ever. Ancestor worship can be challenging. Our listening can be improved by divination, prayer, visits to the cemetery, and in many other ways. The very creation of an ancestor altar or shrine will help us to better understand. We have new and different ways of communicating with our loved ones once they are no longer with us. If you are unsure what goes into making one, please see my post Creating Ancestor Altars.

Have a blessed Samhain season and the rest of the year with your ancestors! If you, and they, have enjoyed what you found here please remember to share, share, share.

March 3, 2015


10 Must Haves for your Tarot Card Altar photo by Lilith Dorsey.
10 Must Haves for your Tarot Card Altar photo by Lilith Dorsey.

Tarot Cards have a life and an energy all their own. Some people think I am insane for creating rituals that feed, bless, and protect them. They can think whatever they want, it has been with the benefit of over 30 years experience reading cards that I wholeheartedly believe that your tarot cards, as well as all your other divination tools, need to be honored and respected in order to deliver the best results. For  optimum performance intelligent people keep their car in a garage and give it regular tune ups and care, your cards are also a useful tool to get you somewhere, a spiritual vehicle so to speak, so you better take care of them too.

Still life with esoteric objects by Michaela Stejskalova. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock, all rights reserved.
Still life with esoteric objects by Michaela Stejskalova. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock, all rights reserved.

Personally my tarot altar, or more correctly shrine ( a repository for sacred energy and power,) is located in a place of prominence and is an ever changing creation. There are items to cleans the cards, items to amplify their energy, personal items, items from ancestors, mentors, friends, and lovers. Sometimes I will add things such as a pendulum or dowsing rods to help all the divination tools attune to each other. It doesn’t matter what spiritual tradition you follow, or even if you choose not to follow any at all, the powerful forces of the universe surround all things and are available to help you gain access to spiritual knowledge. Pagans from every walk of life value the power of the earth, air, fire, water, and spirit just as our ancestors did. The following list draws on those energies and more to help you set up your tarot altar.

  1. Earth item– This could be a small bowl or pinch of dirt, herbs, or something similar.
  2. Air item– Traditionally the element of Air is represented by things like incense, and feathers … some people I know simply use their breath to charge an item and give the element of air from deep within themselves. This is a time to think creatively, or breathe outside the box so to speak.
  3. Fire item– Fire is warmth, fire is light, fire is transformation. This element can be present on your Tarot Card Altar in the form of a candle or oil lamp.
  4. Water item – Water can be represented on your altar with a chalice of spring water, a bottle of Florida water, or a sprinkling of holy water. I even know one Pagan person who uses tap water to signify the spirit of place, use your best judgment.
  5. Spirit item – The spirit item for your altar can be a symbol, an image, or other offering.

    Money Altar photo by Darla Hallmark, courtesy of Shutterstock. All rights reserved.
    Money Altar photo by Darla Hallmark, courtesy of Shutterstock. All rights reserved.

  6. Personal item – Part of the key to understanding the sacred language of the Tarot Cards lies in the reader’s connection with their deck. This can be done by using a lock of hair or a favorite piece of jewelry on your Tarot Altar.
  7. Opening item– Many religions and spiritual traditions use some kind of ceremony or item to help open the way to spiritual experience. Here on your Tarot Card Altar this could be a key, a doorknob, or a bell.
  8. Cleansing item – Cleansing is very important when dealing with Tarot Cards in particular because they are frequently touched by others. A cleansing item for your altar could be a quartz crystal or bowl of black salt.
  9. Communication item – This component is going to be a bit of a wildcard. It can be an oil, incense, or traditional symbol to help with communication.
  10. The Tarot Cards themselves – The deck you use most often can go on your Tarot altar, or all your decks can rest there, it is up to you.

For more information on Tarot Card Blessings please see my post 5 Creative Ways to Recharge Your Tarot Cards, and if you would like to schedule a reading with me please give me a shout at

March 24, 2014

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.


March 23, 2014

Energia y Espiritu Altar #5 photo by wendEwho! Thompson. Text added. Licensed under CC 2.0

Ancestor Altars and shrines are a part of many different religions. They are present in Christian homes, Buddhist homes, Pagan homes, and even in Atheists’ homes. They can be as simple as a glass of water and a picture of Grandpa, or given an entire room to spread out in. Let me begin by making the distinction that altars are usually created for a specific purpose, while shrines are generally set up as a way of honoring what is represented. A ancestor shrine is a site to honor those who have gone before.

Cleansing of the space before you begin is highly recommended. In her article about ancestor reverence Oshun Austet reminds us that “Ifa teaches us that dirt and disorder can attract unwanted spiritual forces….Our external environment reflects out internal state of being and either supports resistance to change, or growth.” The room should be both physically and spiritually clean.

There is no wrong time to start an ancestor altar, a lot of my ancestors have birthdays this time of year. My grandfather, better known as Big Al, who I mentioned in the Sicilian St Joseph’s Day post, had his birthday on March 20. Much to my dismay the Pagan community has lost two very influential leaders this week, Donald Michael Kraig, and Judy Harrow. Artful coverage of their legacy can be found on The WildHunt. It is never to soon to begin an ancestor altar if you do not have one already, and please add to it whenever you have need.


Santeria/ La Regla Lukumi

Altar at Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo by Lilith Dorsey

In Lukumi/Lucumi/Santeria an ancestor shrine is very often referred to as a Boveda. The word translates simultaneously to mean vault, safe, cavern and canopy of heaven (which is my favorite.) Some houses have Bovedas as a standard element, others do not. Some have them in a separate room, some have them in a separate building. It all depends on the rules of your Madrina and Padrino, or godparents. The most common elements if you would like to create one are a white cloth, 3 or other odd number of water glasses, white candle, flowers, pics/items from the person. In some Santeria/Lucumi spiritual houses they separate the males and females on the shrine. I spoke to a Babalawo this morning who says he likes to separate the different families on the shrine, which I think is a good idea in case they didn’t get along while they were alive. Beautiful photos of Santeria shrines can be found in Ysamur Flores- Pena’s book Santeria Garments and Altars.


Haitian Vodou

Haiti’s Vodou is known for some wild and wonderful shrines and altars. The Lwa or divinities are often represented with their own sacred space. The ancestors are known as The Barons, including Baron Samedi, Baron Lacroix, Maman Brigitte, and others. There are also The Gede or Gedeh, who are thought of as the nameless spirits. My godchildren like to invoke Gede Nibo, the spirit of farts… it’s funny until it isn’t. The most comprehensive museum exhibit I have ever seen about Haitian Shrines was UCLA’s Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou installation. The accompanying book, Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, shows a full array of different ancestor shrines, as well as those for other Lwa. One of my favorite pieces was a phallic walking stick covered with a condom (the spirits need to stay safe too.)


New Orleans Voodoo

Ancestor Shrine at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple, 828 N, Rampart St., New Orleans. Photo by Lilith Dorsey

In New Orleans anything and everything can be present on an ancestor altar. Like the city itself shrines are a delicious gumbo of elements mixing and combing to make something unique and wonderful. I’ve seen anything and everything a person can hold dear from money to liquor to jewelry. Sometime petitions are placed beneath or around the wick of a candle to send messages and request to those who have passed on. Most common are offerings of money, liquor, photos, medals, and mass cards.

Additional information about altars, shrines and Voodoo can be found in my book Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism. More next time on the Voodoo Universe with Ancestor Shrine Frequently Asked Questions.



April 19, 2024

Lilith Dorsey at the Hash, Marihuana, and Hemp museum, Amsterdam. All rights reserved.

Where my Weedy Witches at ? Do you wake and bake marijuana with the goddess at dawn? Is holy smoke a literal thing in your life? Then this is the blog post for you. You may be surprised that I’m writing about marijuana, well maybe not if you know me in real life. I’ve enjoyed the medical and recreational benefits of this glorious weed for almost 4 decades now. However I’m of a certain age and for a long time this weed was literally demonized and only now is society as a whole realizing its true benefits. So I figured it was high time, every pun intended, to put together of some of my most favorite things – a weedy witchcraft wondrousness list.

Wonderful Marijuana Magick Book

Hands down this is Phil Farber’s High Magick: A Guide to Cannabis in Ritual & Mysticism. Farber once told me at an event we were both at that “I smoked more weed than anyone he knew.” I’m not surprised and this is a comment I share with pride. The book is a treasure trove filled with marijuana history, science, use with meditation, workings for ancestors, yoga, divination, and much more.

Marijuana Candle

Marijuana leaf candle by Mystical Mystic candles. All rights reserved.

These weedy candles are fantastic. Just the right thing to light while your getting lit. Bad joke, Can’t promise it won’t happen again. But seriously, one of my friends makes these handmade candles with three wicks and available with gold, copper, and other fancy dustings. You can find them at Mystical Mystic candles. 

Rose Wraps for Rolling

Rose wraps from Blazy Susan. All rights reserved.

I only tried them recently but these delightful rose wraps have become my new favorite smoking accessory. Sold by Blazy Susan these delicious wraps elevate smoking a spliff to the highest level. These wooden based papers are infused with rose extracts and are completely vegan.

Gemstone Pipes

The first time I saw a gemstone/crystal pipe, I wanted one. Smoking marijuana out of stone pipes is nothing new, but these carved pipes made from amethyst, quartz, fluorite, obsidian, labradorite, and other options is relatively new. I’ve seen health criticisms, so smoke with caution.

Weedy Bucket List Destination

Hash, Marihuana, and Hemp museum. All rights reserved.

I do a lot of traveling, both for events and for purely pleasure. If I had to choose only one weed inspired destination it would be the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp museum with locations in both Amsterdam and Barcelona. Created in 1987 it has had over 2 million visitors since that time. Focused on cannabis history, education, and archival collections, I was invited as a guest a while ago, and was truly amazed. The collection contains everything but my favorites were both the exhibits dedicated to marijuana in music and entertainment and the spirituality of this sacred herb. Of special interest was the small altar dedicated to Mexican saint Jesus Malverde, a folk hero of both marijuana and money.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy the museum, smoke a little cherry pie for me this 4/20, and as always if you have liked what you see here remember to like, comment, and share !

Jesus Malverde at Hash, Marihuana, and Hemp museum. All rights reserved.
March 5, 2024

High on the Hog image courtesy of Netflix. All rights reserved.

Personally I have always been a proponent of heritage cooking, and also a big fan of Jessica B. Harris, so when I saw the new Netflix show High on the Hog: How African-American Cuisine Transformed America appeared, I was hungry to see what it would present. Based on Harris’ book of the same name the show traces a journey through both history and food.

There is a lot to unpack here, and I will start where the show does, as close as possible to the beginning. The series begins in Benin, a place which holds great cultural significance. It is here that we find the roots of Black cuisine: okra, yams, and much more. We find out how these delicious beginnings make the journey across the waters.  For those interested in learning more I suggest checking out the documentaries In Search of Voodoo by Djimon Hounsou and From Brooklyn to Benin by Regine Roumain, one of our favorite filmmakers, who we profiled before here.

Jessica B. Harris is a James Beard lifetime award winner, and her book High on the Hog, has been serving up culinary realness for almost a decade. She has been profiled here on this blog before when we reviewed her book My Soul Looks Back. Harris has a delightful way of combining food histories with life herstories, and we’re here for it in every way.

An article in the New York Times titled “The Profound Significance of ‘High on the Hog‘” talks about the crew and their powerful mission ” The four-episode show was made by an intentionally Black creative team — itself a rarity in television. Fabienne Toback and Karis Jagger are executive producers. Roger Ross Williams is the primary director of the series, with Yoruba Richen and Jonathan Clasberry. It’s based on the 2011 book by the historian and prolific cookbook author Jessica B. Harris, “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America,” and hosted by Stephen Satterfield, a food writer, former sommelier and trained chef who is also the founder of Whetstone Media. At the center of the series is the holistic experience of Black foodways, told for us, by us: our unique and complex migration, diverse customs, creativity and expertise on full display. Blending a cross section of stories that address land and ownership, preservation and innovation, from fine dining to the outdoor pit, “High on the Hog” is an energetic, emotional and deeply nuanced celebration of Black people and their food. It is also sorely overdue.”

We can not agree more, so often we see media like this dominated by white creatives who filter authentic black narratives, this is a refreshing change. And just as with a great meal I intend to savor every bite. I’m very pleased to see that a second season has been released. It was so fantastic we even dedicated an episode of our Pop Occulture vidcast to it. You can watch that here –

As always if you have enjoyed what you read here please remember to like, comment, and share !

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