Offerings for an Ancestor Altar (Beginner & Advanced Friendly!)

by Naima @ Ritual+Vibe
10 Comment(s)
Offerings for an Ancestor Altar (Beginner & Advanced Friendly!)

Creating an ancestor altar that you regularly work with is a powerful ritual that powers spirit work. It is a great way to connect with your ancestors as well as yourself. Strengthening that bond with your ancestral army will help you stay not only grounded, but properly guided.

This post is designed to be a quick, multi-tiered guide on the offerings you can provide on an ancestor shrine or altar. Whether you're a beginner or already have an altar you work with, you'll find inspiration and direction that can help support your spirit work and ancestral work.

Starting Out:

If you’re new to setting up an ancestral shrine, keep it simple when setting up your shrine. I posted steps on setting up a simple ancestor altar in this post, but to get started, all you need is a small table, ideally covered with a white table cloth. You can energetically clean the table, cloth, and area if you'd like with your preferred medium. Keep this table outside of your bedroom or places you sleep.

This will be your ancestor altar or shrine. Here, you can meditate and do spirit work, you can leave offerings, or simply venerate your ancestors here. 

There are a a few of these basic offerings to add on an ancestral altar: 


  • Pictures of close family members and friends who have passed. Typically, I see framed pictures on ancestor shrines, but I have also put obituaries on my altar.
  • Candlelight. Obviously, with candlelight, you'll need to either sit with the light (in a meditative way, if inclined) or be preset while the candle is lit. 
  • Fresh, cool water in clear glass. You'll have to change this water regularly/weekly. 

Do you want to learn more about what things you can do with your ancestor altar? I would love to make a post if you're interested. If so, let me know in the comments!

Intermediate:

For more advanced offerings, there are other offerings that can require more attention or regularly tending. Some of these items may cause you to actively sit with your ancestor altar, or tend to the items on a daily basis to ensure items do not spoil. 

  • Incense/Cigar smoke
  • Flowers
  • Black Coffee
  • Fresh Fruit
  • A part of your meals of the day 

Other Ideas for Ancestor Work: 

If you are ever so inclined, work with and talk to your ancestors about any small special offerings in that can be included. If you want other ideas on special things you can offer your ancestors at your ancestral shrine, you can include more personal items you may have or even prepare a  you may want to include more personal family items to your ancestral shrine: 

  • Special meal/foods. Even if you don’t eat meat, your ancestors might appreciate a small offering of backfat, or turkey necks occasionally (for example). Or another traditional food popular for your ancestors that you may not eat, you could prepare a small amount for your ancestor table specially prepared for them.
  • Ancestral crops/agriculture like cotton and sugarcane are nice additions if your ancestor table calls for it. 
  • Cigarettes, Chewing Tobacco, Cigars, and other Tobacco Products. Find brands that you know passed family members used if you know them. 
  • Jewelry, precious family items 
  • Bible, prayer books, sacred texts
  • Liquor is often given to ancestors, but please be mindful with the history of alcoholism in so many families, it may not be something you want to add on your table. Use your best discernment

No matter if you simply offer cool water to your ancestors, or elaborate meals, regular tending an ancestor table can help strengthen relationship with guides.

Traditionally, what are some ways your culture venerates those who have gone before us? Are there certain motifs or items that represent your family? Meditate with your ancestor table, and if any ideas come to you on offerings that would be relevant to your shrine, write them down and fulfill when possible.

Do you want to learn more about what things you can do with your ancestor altar? I would love to make a post if you're interested. If so, let me know in the comments!

 

UPDATE JUNE 2020:

I want to address a few of the questions left in the comments. First of all, it is soooo important when doing this work that you connect to yourself and your guides.  Some questions you can answer yourself using logic, your personal experiences, your intuition, and your beautiful mind. What do you feel? What makes the most sense to you? Ask yourself these important questions while doing this work, because it's truly personalized for you, your needs, and what you have access to. If you cannot afford a place for a table, your altar might have to be on the ground for a while. If you don't have room for an altar, you may have to find other ways to connect and venerate your folks. The rules are fluid because we are all different, so please keep that in mind.

ITEMS ON ALTAR: remember whatever you place on the altar is not something that you should continue to wear or use. So if you put food on the altar, you must get rid of it the next day. Do not consume or keep food on the altar. If you put jewelry on the altar, you should avoid wearing it unless absolutely necessary for a ritual of some sort. If you want to continue wearing a piece of jewelry on a regular basis, I would not recommend putting it on the altar. When putting food on the altar, I have a specific chipped plate that I do not use and only use for the altar. I recommend you using something similar - a chipped plate for a small offering of food and a chipped mug for coffee. Get a clear glass that stays on the altar for water. 

You can put any type of food you want. Because I put food on the table on a daily basis, I put the food that I typically eat - along with things they might eat like white bread and bacon. However, I'm not related to you, so I can't tell you what your great-grandmother would want on that table. This is where you have to use your own creativity and mind. 

You do not need to put a whole meal out for them unless you want to. A small piece of bread and meat or a scoop of veggies or piece of fruit is fine. 

FOOD DISPOSAL: Food should be disposed of by the very next day. Do not leave old food on an altar. Do not let food spoil on the altar. You dispose of the food by either throwing it away or putting it in your compost. Just throw it away, either before you go to bed or the next morning. 

Food and drink should be disposed of regularly. For water, be sure to refresh the glass regularly. For some people, that can be as often as everyday or every week. For me, twice a month or monthly is a good interval. You don't need a ritual for removing the food, y'all. Just throw it away. If you feel like you need a ritual to do this work, tap into yourself and YOUR ancestors and create one. Use what you have. Use your knowledge, your experiences, and your guides. 

MAKING AN ALTAR: Your altar should be on a table, ideally, but you can put it on the floor as well. I've seen that done many times before, even though that is not the way I was taught, it makes sense. These are our roots; why wouldn't they be on the floor? If you want them elevated, but you don't have room/funds for a table, use another elevated surface for a makeshift table.

You do not want to put an altar where you sleep, because they need a separate area away from you. If your ancestral line is active at night, they might keep you up. They need a separate room to be in, so you can have some uninterrupted peace. The purpose of this is to create a space for your ancestral line to commune near you, but not necessarily on top of you. If that didn't make sense, then I guess the message isn't for you. My apologies for not clarifying any further. Some things cannot be explained too much to the uninitiated. 

I hope this helps, and thank you guys for asking these questions! I do hope these help!

by Naima @ Ritual+Vibe

POST COMMENTS

Sylvia Navarro
Sylvia Navarro

How long do I wait before I place the photo of a relative who just past on my alter on May 30, 2020.
Many have said I have to wait a year and a day please clear this up for me, and thank you in advance.

Sylvia

Lana
Lana

Was there a follow up article with the answers to the questions in the comments? I’ve been wondering how to dispose of food/liquid and non biodegradable offerings as well. If that was ever answered could I get a link for where to find that info? Thanks!

Are Vee
Are Vee

I also just set up my first ancestor altar and would love a detailed post.

Janice Marie
Janice Marie

I would enjoy a post about more ways to utilize an ancestor altar. Especially steps to take to remove offerings of food and drink when it’s needed to be done. Thank you so much for this information. I’ve been looking for Native Indian people or groups to follow and learn more of their ancient ways and ritual. Thank you, Amen, A’ho and so it is.

Nay
Nay

This is my first time creating any type of altar. Is it mandatory for the altar to be outside of the room you sleep in? Do I need to leave the food uncovered/unpackaged?

Betty
Betty

I’m a beginner . Any advice will help me. What to do with my offering the next day.

Ally
Ally

Can you explain why we shouldn’t place our altar where we sleep? I only have one room to work with (my bedroom)

Ash
Ash

I’d love to read more on the types of food.

Derrlyn L Mosby
Derrlyn L Mosby

This will be my first time, I don’t have table yet. I just moved into my new place. But I have an extra bedroom, which will be used as an office. Can I set my items on plate on the floor, I purchased just for them?

Charlotte
Charlotte

If I place treasured Jewelry, can I still wear it? Or do I have to get rid of it?

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