How to Perform Ancestral Worship


Since the holidays are here, I want to present an entry that might help with grieving persons. In the past, when I have coped with loss during the holiday season, I have allowed myself time to grieve. However, I have also had to force myself out of that grief; so I wouldn’t become trapped in a negative place.

The first year I dealt with grief over the holidays was after my grandfather died. The January prior, he had suffered a stroke that caused him to flatline. Although he was a “Do Not Resituate” case, paramedics revived him. Over the following days, he lingered in a coma from which he would never awaken.

That year’s holiday season, I spent my time moping because I didn’t know what else to do. The following year, I determined I wouldn’t spend this season feeling sorry for myself. To succeed, I created new traditions with friends while honoring family customs. Since then, coping has become easier with each year. Regardless, the holidays are never the same.


Ancestral Worship

Seven years ago, I discovered ancestral worship. For many, this might sound sacrilegious, or tedious, but it is neither. Before one jumps to assumptions, this practice is a glorified version of tending a grave. My thoughts are, when one visits a relative’s grave, one gives them offerings. Gifts can range from: flowers, trinkets, or decorations to show that we still love, miss, and honor them. Also, it isn’t uncommon for one to speak directly to the grave to relay words of longing and loss. These actions that I detailed are the primary building blocks for ancestral worship.

For those questioning if ancestral worship excludes any one particular religion, it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, anyone can perform the following, as long as they believe in a spiritual existence. Even if one is an atheist, they can still create an ancestor altar and give offerings. However, I believe one’s skepticism could create communication obstacles.

To succeed when preforming ancestral worship, all one must do is act and speak from the heart. No matter what one may have heard in the past about one way being the only way, there is no wrong way to honor the dead.

Benefits of Ancestral Worship

The benefits of ancestral worship are plentiful for you and them.

1. The greatest benefit is knowing you served your loved ones.

2. Ancestor worship can decrease grief and feelings of loss.

3. By honoring loved ones, the method can strengthen one’s spiritual bond. These bonds will allow one a greater means of spiritual communication.

4. The spirits may be quicker to assist when called on.

5. The spirits will feel more confident in relaying signs. The reason why is because they understand their spiritual existence is being acknowledged. Therefore, they understand the living won’t dismiss any signs they provide.

Selecting the Deceased

It is best to honor deceased relatives who one has met in life and felt close to. Most cases will include immediate family members and a few close cousins. Nonetheless, there is no limit to who one can honor within their family tree.

If one has endured abuse from a relative, one should use their own judgement if they want to honor that relative. Being honest, there are a few uncles who aren’t honored on my altar because they were mean spirited in life.

In the modern age, there are many family types. Adopted, blended, and step are but a few to name. If one falls into those above categories, or a similar category, they may include nonblood relatives.


How to Honor Deceased Relatives

A. One will need to build an ancestor altar.

Like a gravestone, an ancestor altar will act as a personal memorial to our loved one. What I have learned from past experiences are spirits appreciate offerings.

When building an altar for a relative, or relatives, include the following:

1. A lit white candle to give them light and energy. (I use seven day prayer candles.)

2. A cup of water to allow them a refreshment. As the water evaporates, it symbolizes the spirits drinking.

3. A photo of the deceased.

4. (If Possible) something that belonged to the deceased.

5. An offering pertaining to what the deceased enjoyed in life. This can include, but is not limited to: cigarettes, wine, jewelry, books, snacks, candy, etc.

B. When honoring a deceased relative, speak aloud from the heart.

1. Call each honored spirit by first and last name.

2. Explain the light is to give them energy.

3. Say the drink is to provide them refreshment.

4. Specify the offering you brought is for them.

C. Sit in silence and reflect on the good times one shared with their ancestor. Or, one can speak aloud to the spirits.

Meditation is a big part of this exercise. For those who don’t know how to meditate, don’t worry. Meditation can be as simple, or as complex, as what one makes it. Personally, I consider meditation to be alone time while blocking out the rest of the world. Being in solitude will allow one to clear their mind and to focus on peace and quiet for however long they wish.

D. When finished, I invite my deceased relatives to hang around. I close with the Lord’s Prayer and blow out the candles.


Holidays, Birthdays, Death Days, and Anniversaries

1. Holidays

Opposing any typical day, I treat holidays differently with deceased relatives.

On holidays, such as: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. I will give extra offerings. I consider extra to be holiday candy, or small portions of whatever holiday feast one is serving. As one may gather, the idea is to share with the deceased what the holiday provides.

Before family arrives, I perform the steps listed in “How to Honor Deceased Relatives.” After completing those steps, I invite my deceased ancestors to join our holiday celebration.

If one can keep an eye on the candles throughout festivities, they may leave them lit. Otherwise, it is always safe to extinguish any unsupervised flame.

2. Birthdays, Death Days, and Anniversaries

Among celebrated holidays are the birthday and death day of those who I honor.

One should always remember the birthday of the deceased. Without this individual being born, one would have never known the joys they brought to life. If the deceased is a parent, or grandparent, etc. one might not exist without them. By celebrating our loved one’s birth, we honor their worldly contributions.

The anniversary of a loved one’s death should receive celebration, not mourning. I say celebration because upon celebrating the death of a loved one, one recognizes death isn’t the end. Rather, death is a transformation that allows one to live beyond the body. (If one does mourn during this celebration, don’t worry. Some emotions can’t be helped and it is better to expel vs. feeling repressed. Just do not trap yourself in a state of grief.)

One can celebrate wedding anniversaries in regards to their deceased spouse by using the same above methods.


What to do with Food Offerings

The objective is waste not, want not. The idea of offerings is to show our ancestors that we remember them and we include them in our festivities.

Candy is easy to dispose of. After the holiday is over, take the candy and give it to whoever may enjoy it.

When sharing meals with the deceased, keep the portions small. Once festivities end, feed the offerings to your pets, if they are pet friendly. One can throw food offerings to the elements. Or, if the offerings are still good, eat them.

Ancestors Trapped in Purgatory

As I stated in a previous entry, sometimes spirits can go to purgatory due to deeds they have committed in life. If you feel a loved one may be in purgatory, I would urge that one pray for them to ascend. Using one’s own judgement, one may place them on an ancestor altar and grant them offerings. One may ask family spirits to help that ancestor ascend.

However, I wouldn’t ask for assistance from a spirit in purgatory. Doing so is like asking for help from someone who is already overburdened by their own troubles.

Though one may light a vigil and pray for purgatory spirits at any time, a powerful day for this work is All Souls Day.


Side Notes:

To ensure no negative entities visit, one may first smudge their home with burning sage.

Saying a protection prayer, or opening an energy bubble, can help keep unwanted spirits away.

I am not responsible for how one decides to honor their deceased loved ones. Nor am I responsible for what may occur after making contact.

This entry is dedicated to Brenda.  Thank you for requesting I write of this subject.

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