ancestral practices

create sacred space

In many traditions, smoke and incense are used for clearing a space and purifying oneself in the creation of sacred space. While very specific herbs such as sage used as a ‘smudge’ are the cultural traditions of specific Native populations, most cultural groups have their own ways of doing this which you can explore as part of learning your heritage. For example, European traditions incorporate hyssop and mugwort. Mesoamerican incense varieties include copal and palo santo. Additional herbs used for clearing include:

  • cedar

  • rosemary

  • thyme

  • tobacco

ancestor altar

Your altar can be large and elaborate, small and incredibly simple, and everything in between. I know someone who used an Altoid tin as a tiny portable altar. Any space that you create with intention can be used as a center point for your ancestor practice. Consider the following for inclusion in your altar:

  • white cloth for cooling and grounding; or, use a special color or fabric that is meaningful to you from your ancestral lineage.

  • offerings of water, food, flowers. Preparing traditional ancestral foods or the favorite items of your beloveds is a special offering. Food can be left out for 24 hours before discarded.

  • representation of people or family lines, which can be in the form of photographs, family heirlooms, an article of clothing or musical instrument; whatever calls to mind your Beloved Dead.

  • the altar can be a space for quiet contemplation and prayer, or a more vibrant space where you can come and speak to your ancestors, sing to them, share your gratitudes and pleas for assistance, or whatever feels right.

water ritual

Water is a highly receptive medium for transmitting intention; it holds memory and responds to vibrational information (see the work of Masuru Emoto for more about this). Since our bodies are ~ 80% water, we too respond to vibrational information and can harness this capacity through healing with subtle but powerful therapies. A simple ancestor practice to bring healing to you and your family line is to pray or meditate with a bowl of water, you may also want to add offerings of love such as roses, rose quartz, song or other beautiful music. When your offering feels complete, you can drink some of the water and offer the rest to the land with the intention to bring healing to your lineage and to the planet.

ancestral awareness

Begin your day with awareness of the ancestral line that you are working with and the specific family pattern that you are seeking to break. Take a few moments to meditate on this intention in the morning. As you go about your day, practice awareness of when this pattern occurs in you or in your surroundings throughout the day. Be sure to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness as you loosen the hold of this pattern on you and your life. Place a hand on your heart as a gesture of self-compassion when you notice the pattern at work.

dedicating to the merit

Pema Chödrön, a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, shares that the Buddhist practice of ‘dedicating the merit’ can be used as an offering for ancestral practice. She says,

..when you’re doing anything positive, for example listening to a recording that you know will be meaningful to you, you can just say to yourself, ‘anything I learn from this, I dedicate to my family lineage.” I always start certain retreats by having everyone think about somebody or a group of people they’d like to dedicate it to, so that anything they learn or that comes out of it for the group goes to those people…Dedicating the merit has to do with acknowledging our interconnectedness - that what one person does has a ripple effect out into the world. So if you do something that brings you closer to your wisdom, then that ripple effect goes out. (from Many Moons, edited by Modern Women)