We Remember You: Creating a Basic Altar for your African Ancestors Workshop


Karen communing with her mother.It was a blessed experience. I had no planned structure about how to conduct the workshop. I knew that who came was meant to be there, as I had been guided to this awareness by spirit. It was through that same guidance that I decided to do the workshop in the first place.
I have recently observed how easily ‘ancestors’ fall from our lips but that appears to be kind of ‘fashion following’ banality, if not vanity. Or it’s maybe just opportunistic rhetoric and as such divest of the very expression and essence the “lipservicing” is trying to command. Spirit, thankfully cannot be fooled in this way.

For some time I have been aware of a kind of tension that surfaces during discussions about African ancestors. I know this has much to do with the overwhelming denigrations around the way Africans have traditionally expressed our spirituality following enslavement and colonisation and the impositions of the Abrahamic versions of religions. We were lead to believe that “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” Dreams and seemingly random messages from those family members who had passed on were vigorously dismissed or considered signs from the ‘devil.’ How many ancestors, appearing in dreams to their descendants were chastised and told ‘you’re dead,’ thus being banished (from consciousness, but not the spiritual world). Let me give an example of a recent conversation I had with my mother.

Sorena with her grandfather

She said, when I pass on (she’s 86, so conversations like these are regular), I would have to hide from my other children when I come to visit them (in a dream, say) because they would chase me. She has good reason to feel this way. Her other children do not subscribe to African Spirituality and owing mostly to their Christianity or differing ideologies about the deceased have condemned any communication or mediation with ancestors – when she raises the question. My mother doesn’t know how to tell them what she (and I) know about the fruitful communion with ancestors; how they come in dream or actually through manifestation and advise us. How they have cried bitterly that ‘dem [my children] nah call me” – this was recently from my grandmother about her progeny who do not call on her. That call is necessary though the spirit is always there overseeing and protecting us: ‘Ma, thank you for your protection all these years of my life; thank you for being the shoulders on which I stand; thank you for being a watchful guide over everything I do. I will keep your memory alive in all I do.’ That is as simple as the call can be.

Margaret with mother, father and aunty

So at this special workshop we few gathered did just that, we called on our ancestors. We focused on particular ones we each wished to honour in the session and invited them to take part. We acknowledged their ever-presentness; that we and them are one and part of a continuum that links to the Divine. Our primary ancestor is that Creative Life giving force, of which we are individuated and manifest expressions. Materially, the tree is an ancestor, the seas, rivers, stars, moon the air that vitalises, the sunshine, the rain, animals etc; all the cosmic forces seen and unseen are inseparable from us. This is not simply philosophic or esoteric and accessible only to those who claim to be ‘woke’ (!) and ‘conscious.’ This is about our alignment with consciousness and the ultimate expression of an indigenous African spirituality that has been too long misinterpreted, misaligned and demonised.

There were questions around whether ancestors could be someone who brought us up, as opposed to one that is biological but had no part in one’s growing up. A number of us have serious (and justifiable) issues around our names (for a long time my birth surname was not my biological father’s) which naturally confuses matters. But this engagement and connection is as much to do with the positive nurture we experienced from someone who had passed whether they are retained/remembered by us as an ‘ancestors’ (through blood line or from the vast order of influences available to us). These positive influences and energies that enable our Ori (consciousness) toward its journey to the Divine are necessary and deserve a place on our altar. We might think of the “altar” as that outer expression of the inner force that is our guide (our spiritual compass, if you like). I was mindful during the workshop not to be (over)prescriptive since the individual should allow their spirit to guide their consciousness (and thus the creation of the ‘altar’). I hoped to encourage participants to use their imagination – and the intuitiveness that they need to trust if they are to have a meaningful engagement with their ancestors.

My ‘demo’ altar, on which I have pictures of my father, Solomon, maternal grandmother Felicia Saul and grandfather, Daniel Ezekiel David

We may have ‘issues’ with a deceased parent, say, so don’t wish to put them on our altar. Converting (or transmuting) the ‘issue’ is, however, part of advancing and expanding our consciousness. That parent might be consulted to ameliorate the ‘issue’ and so enable healing where this was wanting. Or it may be their parent (that is a generation or two before them) that is the main drive for your spiritual and personal development. It is better to face the ‘issue’ than deny it, given that the ultimate motive is positive progress towards our Divinity.

Cheryl with her maternal grandmother and father

To this end we considered how the ancestors might ‘appear’ to us. Dreams are the most obvious signs. But then there are those little synchronistic moments when you’re thinking about an ancestor and someone appears that either looks like them or says something that reminds you of them or have their names. A constant butterfly or other creature might also remind or appear at times when you need or feel the presence of an ancestor. I’ve stopped batting away flies too forcefully for this reason! I try to talk to them (yeah, I know…) and see where that takes me.(That bee buzzing about me the other day as I wore my Osun – T-shirt and drank my rum punch at the reparations March on 1st August – I entertained whilst watching others flee or fear it might sting them). What about a billboard poster that seems to scream a message just for you? Do you ignore it or think it over it? How frequently do these signs appear but are ignored? Then there is the outward spiritual manifestation of an ancestor through trance; whether this occurs and how often depends on the earnestness (and realness) of the ‘call.’
We didn’t speak about ‘mental illness’ (as the Western interpretations would see it) as a sign of their ‘appearing’. In other words, sometimes experiences of mental imbalances are calls to observe our spiritual practice, particularly by honouring our ancestral ties. I know this personally, but in case you need the famous voices to corroborate and lest it appears that I’m venturing into disciplines I know nothing about (psychology and psychiatry for example) I encourage you to read the Zulu Shaman Vuzamazulu Credo Mutwa’s book on Dreams, Prophecies and Mysteries; and Burkino Faso Shaman Malidoma Somé’s Of Water and the Spirit. Also check out this article by Bass Oratory (who attended the workshop): Discourse of a Man with his Ba.

Danny who brought with him the energies of his two grandfathers.

Some basic items that can be used to create an altar for your ancestor include:

Candle: white or any other colour that reminds you of them, that they might like. The candle gives light. Light is knowledge and is eternal as well as internal. Light is a spark and is always a central focus when we want to be still and connect with our Divine. It also represents fire – which creates and destroys, requiring temperance.

Water: a clear glass can be put on the altar. It is pure, it is life, it’s healing and cleansing. It is what we are made of. It too is therefore eternal/internal and was there from creation. It is harmonious, a peaceful sign. But like fire it too can be destructive (as in the rains that washes away or hurricanes that destroys). In other words it’s a powerful force of nature – many rituals (throughout the world) involve water.

Natural stones/crystals: such things that are of the earth, symbolised in the ashes of the returned physical body to itself. These items remind us of that connectivity with and respect for earth. We are also made up of minerals that are of the earth. It’s about abundance, too, what gifts we receive from earth. It’s also about our grounding – our humility.

Flowers: another element of nature. We keep our ancestors’ spirits elevated and energised with all things beautiful and natural that they would love. Flowers can be your ancestor’s favourites (if you know) or yours or in colours that represent love, calm, peace etc., for you. Sometimes the many coloured flowers represent the many and varied ancestors in your line. Flowers can also remind of vegetation, plants and trees that enable us to survive and thrive – symbolic of the first Tree – from whence sprung life and through which it is maintained.

Incense: this can represent air (note the elements previous in the fire, water, earth/nature signs) but also used to reinforce the connectivity between the seen and unseen (spiritual and material orders). Burning incense purifies and cleanses the space, suppressing unwanted energies and elevating positive forces to be present.

Participants engaging with each other’s altars.

Picture/s of an ancestor: not everyone brought pictures to the workshop. If we don’t have any of an ancestor, we can put their name/s on the altar. But there were some beautiful pictures of ancestors that students brought to the workshop. It was wonderful observing their collective interactions and how gentle each of them moved in the presence of each other – and the unseen presence. It’s not quite the same thing to have the ancestor picture on the wall, but to also give them a decided area for the purpose of communing with them; they and you being one. If, for example, you’re in a need of something urgent, spend some time at the altar (considering this a focus of/on consciousness) commanding what you wish to see manifest.

Money/coins/cowrie shells: we know as Africans this material substance is hard to come by for plenty of reasons. Our ancestors can be consulted to magnet us to areas (in our path) that are fortuitous. Naturally, they require the constancy of our communion with them, as well as the pureness of our heart to align us with that unlimited supply.

Other items you can add to the altar include alcohol (beers, wines, rum), perfumes, combs, brushes; anything that was theirs whilst alive (jewellery, handkerchief – I loved that one of the students used her mother’s tablecloth and added her St. Christopher’s cross) and so on. Don’t feel anxious about adding their Bible or other symbols that appear contradictory to African spirituality. Building your altar is a matter of initiating a life-changing process of becoming attuned with self and evolving one’s conscious, which process our ancestors serve as conduits and conducive for.

The rest is up to you – and your readiness to open to spirit, to remember and allow yourself to be guided by the powerful yet calming presence of your ancestors. Finally and beautifully we sang: “Come Ancestors. Come and help us fight. We’re tired and we’re weary. So come with all your Might.”
Shout Out.

Have you registered for the Osun Day of Love River ritual on Sunday August 12th? Click here for details.

Scroll to Top

🎉 Celebrating 10 Years of Excellence! 🎉

Join us in commemorating a decade of dedication to academic achievement, creativity, and personal growth through the power of words.

For the past 10 years, we’ve specialized in elevating content and quality through our Editing and Proofreading services, enriching publications spanning fiction, non-fiction, blogs, essays, dissertations, professional statements, and websites.

Our Tuition service has nurtured excellence in personal and academic realms, offering tailored one-to-one and group sessions to foster development.

Additionally, our Publishing service has brought to life captivating fiction and non-fiction books, aiming to uplift spirits, inspire minds, and enrich cultural understanding.

Thank you for being a part of our journey! Here’s to another decade of empowering minds and shaping futures. 📚✨”

Join the newsletter

Subscription Form