Notes from a Wise Woman

Altar Work is Self Care

Ancestral worship has roots in many cultures in almost every part of the world. There are body of works dedicated to ancestral reverence, If you are wondering exactly how common ancestral worship might be, look no further than Disney's Coco.

It is not new or a hot trend, it cannot be appropriated, regardless who may try and many do. It is a cultural birthright and our practices are passed down by tradition, even when we didn't realize. Every Black, Caribbean and Latinx household I've ever been had a shelf with pictures of elders who've passed on, their funeral cards, candles and other mementos.

"Pouring one for those who ain't here," is rooted in ancestral worship and while we don't call it, "pouring libations," that is exactly what it is. This type of veneration existed always, a way for especially Black Americans and other native peoples, around the world, to remember and know ourselves.

For the sake of this article, when I say "altar" I'm referring to the ancestral altar. Though much of this can apply to any type of altar work, for Black and Native American and Caribbean peoples, I believe the process of reclamation and reaching back, over the gap of colonization, towards our birthright, is revolutionary.

Altar work, grounds us and reminds us how far we have come! It is space, that fills and empties us at the same time. Divine energy transference, at home, on your time.

Altar work gives us opportunity to see, tangibly, the courses life has taken through each branch of the tree. A space to honor those who's names we know and acknowledge the souls who's names were forgotten or erased without cause, through the cruelty of whiteness.

Altar work is self care. A confrontation and reconciliation of past pains. We all carry trauma through the generations but we also carry talents, affinities, and skills too. An ancestral altar makes room for these stories, when family gathers, sees photos, and remembers..."Did you know your great grandmother loved to knit too? Did you know your grandmother kept a tarot deck in her side table drawer?"

This becomes a point from which oral history become current events.

This is self care. This type of spiritual work connects us to the past while moving us forward. These practices can be passed to our own kids or to the community's children and niblings. This is celebration of lineage, culture, and tradition and this is also self care.

Specifically for groups of marginalized identities disenfranchised and with a deficiency in faith. Altar work can be scaled up or down according to means and resources. One only needs to shower, eat, and hydrate before lighting a candle and setting down a glass of water and piece of fruit in front of grandma's picture.

There is an intertwining that happens. Where we begin to care for our ancestors and their altar, and ourselves like one in the same. When we feast they feast, when we fast, so do they. How we care for them is how we care for us and it's a beautiful investment in our spiritual wellness.

I've done several videos about the process of setting up an ancestral altar here and there on the internet but I think it may be the center of our next community crafting event!

In the meantime, find and collect pictures of your ancestors and pick a spot in your home that feels right (anywhere but the bedroom). Learn as much about them as you can, lean about the history of where they (and you) came from, and be ready to welcome them into your home.

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