As Samhain approaches, thoughts turn to honoring the ancestors. It is a common practice to create an altar to recognize the long line of descendants that came before. With the veil thin between our world and theirs, we take time to sit with those who have departed, welcoming them back and listening for their messages.
There’s no one way to make an ancestor altar; it can be as simple as a photograph and a cup of tea or large and elaborate with pictures, mementos, candles and flowers.
Until this year, I would put add a photograph of my parents and their parents taken at my parent’s wedding on my altar. Only my father is still alive.
Recently, I came across a small notions box that had been my grandmothers; it was behind a few other things on a shelf in the corner of my bedroom. I loved it when it hung in her house, and I love it still. One drawer went missing years ago, yet it remains one of my most treasured possessions.
In a box in a dresser drawer, I had some of my mother’s pins. In another box, I had a bracelet given me by a witch friend who died a few years ago. I have a carnation from my an arrangement at my grandmother’s funeral. The old thimble in my sewing kit, I believe was my mothers. I also have a bag of dried rose petals, some of which could very well have been from my mother. Since I picked up her habit of drying them, they remind me of her.
There were the makings of an ancestor altar.
I pinned and sewed items a black velvet ribbon and draped it over the box. On the back, I affixed two pictures taken from an old book that are from the town in Sicily my mother’s mother was born. Using letter beads I had in a craft cupboard, I stitched onto the last little piece of black ribbon the names of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Next, I plan to reduce a copy of the wedding photo to fit in the place of the missing drawer, and find photos of other loved ones who have crossed the rainbow bridge. As I find other mementos and trinkets, I will add them.
After Samhain passes, I will keep the box in view, perhaps on its own shelf, as tribute to my ancestors. I plan to use it again come February. In ancient times, the Romans devoted February to purifications, atoning sacrifices and veneration of the dead, especially during a nine-day festival. During Parentalia, family would visit the cemetery, and share cake and wine with their dead. Then, the day after the festival ended – February 22 – was the Caristia, a celebration of the family line as it continued into the present. It became meaningful to me because it just so happens that February 22 is my birthday.
May you find ways to connect with your ancestors this Samhain.
For additional ancestor altar ideas, check out the small collection of photos I have on my Pinterest board, Ancestor Altars.
And merry meet again.