Honoring the beloved dead- building and keeping an Ancestor Altar


Ancestor worship (or as I prefer to call it, ancestor veneration) has been prevalent throughout the ages everywhere on this planet. Humans are known to honor and mourn their closest family members and friends when they die, and in many cultures, continued offerings, visitations, and conversations with the dead are typical.

A lot of people think having an altar to the blessed dead in your home is a little strange- some assume you’re worshiping your ancestors like gods, when in reality you’re doing nothing more than reaching out to them so you may connect with your beloved deceased. For me, I know that my family is gone and buried physically, but my family altar gives me a place where I can talk to my mother and father, along with other family members that are beyond the veil.

My ancestor altar is not as large as I would prefer, but a 3 ft X 1 ft shelf is still pretty sizable real estate in a bedroom as small as mine. On the left of the altar is my father, and the pewter figurine collection he left for me, his obituary, and the cedar box I purchased when I was visiting him about 2 years before he passed. On the right is the area for my mother, along with a photo of her (I never got a proper copy of her obituary, which frustrates me to no end), and a few things that she loved. As offering, my mother receives cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon (her preferred brand of beer), a lit Virginia Slim cigarette, and a small salad with carrots (an inside joke within the family that died out with her. I still remember it though, and I know she does too). My father often receives a Marlboro cigarette, a shot of Goldschlager, or fresh baked bread. Sadly, the most ideal offering for him (a cheeseburger from Whataburger) isn’t available regionally. Nevertheless, when I give them something, anything really- I feel a twinge of the childhood pride I felt when mom would hang my pictures on the fridge, or the comfort I felt when my father gave me advice after a rough day.

I think the most exceptional part about my ancestor altar is the fact that it gives me a place where both my mother and father are available. My mother and father are buried in separate cemeteries, about 30 miles apart- it’s much easier to visit a spot in your home that holds a part of their grave, than to make a 60 mile round trip to see them

So what if you’d like to make your own Ancestor Altar? They’re pretty easy to start, honestly. All you need is a clean spot like a shelf, the top of a cabinet, the mantle, or a table) and whatever reminds you of your beloved dead. Got favorite photos? put them up. Gifts from them that you love? Put them up there too. Maybe great Aunt Dot loved to cross-stitch; put one of her embroidery hoops up there, along with a needle and thread. Offer them their favorite things, and don’t be afraid to consume it afterwards, if that’s how you feel it should be done (I don’t tend to do it, but in Hindu culture, offerings are made to gods- such as a portion of the family meal- left for them, then returned to the family pot to be dished out to everyone), “waste not want not”, right?

Don’t be afraid to make your altar your own, however it is that you do that. This is your family and your place to honor them, so do as you wish.

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