I often get asked about ancestral shrines and how they are properly cared for and maintained. Problem is there are different methods according to the culture from which one decides to adopt one. For instance in the west, many have learned how to develop and maintain an ancestral shrine according to west African traditions. However in the Orient, the procedures and protocols are somewhat different so before you decide on which one is “right”, you need to do some research and determine which is right for you.
One thing that seems to be universally accepted, however, is the notion that you do not have to only talk to blood relatives at your ancestral shrine. This is because friendship is often thought to be thicker than blood in many cases. So if you have friends who have passed on before you, realize that they too can be called and remembered at your ancestral shrine.
Your ancestral shrine is simply a place where you can go and commune with the spirits of your ancestors both blood relatives and the ancestors of all humanity. Add into that dearly departed friends and you have quite a grouping of loved ones you can call on for any ancestral work or communiion.
In previous posts I’ve mentioned using “litanies” of your ancestors or lists of names of who they were so that you will remember them as you practice. This is reasonable to use since space is not always favorable for adding new images and photographs on an ancestral shrine. Thus take some time and write out your litany or list of family members as well as list any and all dearly departed friends and/or acquaintances whom you felt close enough to in life for you to add to your litany. This will be your sort of “roll call” for rituals be they communion or for actual ritual work.
As we grow older, it is far too easy to lose track of those we have known and loved over the years until it is too late and we’re informed they have passed on. By then you may not be able to get a photograph of the individual however you do remember their name so add it to your litany and use it.
These folks could have been well meaning co-workers, neighbors, coven/temple (or even church/synagogue) members, former roommates, classmates, and so on. There are no right or wrong save the rule of thumb: they’re welcome on your shrine as long as the rest of your ancestors are okay with them being there. That is the only stipulation. You can discern this via a couple of simple methods first by either sortilege or divination, OR you can ask your ancestors to let you know in a dream if adding the person to your shrine or litany is acceptable. That’s it. Other than that, you should not have any problems.
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