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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ancestor Altars and Samhain Altars

Venerating the Beloved Dead

As Halloween and Samhain (SOW-en) near, the veil between worlds thins and your thoughts may turn toward your ancestors, the Beloved Dead. Many cultures and religions worldwide venerate ancestors and honor them with altars. These can be permanent household shrines containing a photo of the deceased and a candle, and perhaps the urn containing their ashes. As the Reverend Carolina Dean explains, typical Ancestor Altars contain:
  • A White Altar Cloth
  • A Glass of Water
  • White Candles
  • White Flowers
  • Photographs and/or belongings of deceased relatives
Some Voodoo practitioners include graveyard dirt on their ancestor altars. An altar creates a focal point for communing with the Beloved Dead. Keep in mind that not all ancestors are friendly or good. You may want to dedicate a spot on your altar for your Unknown Ancestors (common among African Americans whose ancestral ties were disrupted by slavery). If calling upon your ancestors for aid, be sure to qualify your request. “I hereby call upon my helpful ancestors, known and unknown, whose assistance is in keeping with my highest good.” Be sure to thank the ancestors for their assistance, and perhaps leave a gratitude offering.

Samhain Altars 
Samhain, the Witches' New Year, is an ancient Celtic holiday, that marks the end of the growing season. It eventually evolved into Halloween, a separate and quite different holiday. Samhain rituals are somber religious events focusing on the recently departed. As renowned Pagan Elder Selena Fox  wrote in her article, Celebrating Samhain, "For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them."

Honey, a beloved dog, never forgotten  
Unlike ancestor altars, Samhain altars honor loved ones —friends, family members, and pets —who died since the last Samhain. In private group altars, each photo may be passed around the circle while stories are told about the loved one who has departed. In large public gatherings, such as Reclaiming's Spiral Dance the names of the recently departed are read aloud.

Samhain Altars contain:
·      A Black Altar Cloth
·      Black Candles (some people prefer red)
·      Photos and/or mementos of those who have passed.

The altar may be set up for the month of October or just for the sabbat ritual. 
Some Wicca practitioners set up a separate altar (a good distance from the black altar) to honor those who were born since the last Samhain. The birth altars should be dressed with white altar cloths, and white, pink, or blue candles, and baby rattles or booties, and flowers.

Related Reading                                                Samhain/Halloween Pictures

Copyright © 2015 Ariella Moon                   

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