My kids got a HAUL trick or treating and this morning everyone was a bit bleary eyed as we started our week. I was a fox and loved walking around with my girls in the autumn wind of West Asheville 🍂 and appreciated all the ways our neighbors set things up to social distance and still enjoy the day. Here Rosetta, as a steam punk black cat, and Perl, as a Victorian maiden are in front of the SPECTACULAR Dolly Parton mural up the street, giving props to a woman who DEFINITELY knows how to dress up.
If you enjoy celebrating All Hallows’ Eve I hope that last night had just the right amount of revelry and spooky vibes to satisfy you.
Today is the actual ‘All Hallows’ or All Saints Day and tomorrow is All Souls Day or Day of the Dead/ Dia de Los Muertos. This time of year is also rooted in older earth-based traditions, like Samhain, pronounced SOW-in, a Celtic word meaning summer’s end. According to these traditions, this time of year the veil is thin between the living and the dead.
However you relate to these traditions (or not) we all have ancestors. We can’t arrive on the planet without them!
I didn’t grow up creating an ancestral altar but found myself drawn to the vibrant ofrendas of the Mexican communities in my home town of Dallas and ancestor honoring I experienced living in Central America. (Here is a quick video from our stroll a Nicaraguan cemetery.)
I felt like an acknowledgment of ancestors was a missing piece in my own spiritual life and have worked over the years to craft a simple ancestral altar which feels good to me. I wanted to share some tips and inspiration today for those who are interested in creating your own!
Why create an ancestor altar? It helps you position yourself in the long line of life. Remembering my ancestors and the teachers and luminaries that inspire me helps me shake off any sense of loneliness or isolation as I navigate challenges. Creating an ancestor altar also slows me down and reminds me to be grateful for all that I get to experience in this lifetime. It calls me to live in such a way that I will be a good ancestor: supporting truth and beauty and sustainable systems for my children and future generations.
I hope these tips help you. And I would love to hear how it goes!
PS Prize raffle closes at midnight tomorrow night, November 2. Please share your thoughts about the upcoming holiday season in the super brief survey and be entered to win a hour of free coaching + other fun gift options.
PPS I will be hosting the The Flourish Holiday Playshop, a fun workshop to help you craft a conscious holiday* season for you and your beloveds, at two seperate times this year: on Friday November 19th and Saturday November 20th. Mark the dates + registration will open soon! xo
How to Create Your Own Authentic Ancestor Altar
1) Lay the foundation. An altar simply means a threshold or doorway between the world we see and the Mystery. You can make this ancestor practice as simple or involved as you want. First identify a location for your altar: a table, a shelf, a window ledge, or a nightstand all work well. Add a beautiful cloth or napkin if you want.
2) Layer. Altars develop organically. Start simply and trust what speaks to you. Today for All Saints Day add photos or objects that relate to luminaries that inspire you. These could be traditional spiritual teachers, like Jesus or the Buddha, or others who have passed and whose legacies comfort or excite you to stretch further. Today is a day to celebrate those who show you how to live fully.
3) Add photos of loved ones. Tomorrow on November 2 or Day of the Dead add photos or mementos from those who have passed on, including friends and family. You can also add photos of ancestors you didn’t know but who are a part of your family story. Intend to carry forward the best from what you inherited and to heal and release the rest.
4) Include all your senses and get creative. Some ideas to potentially incorporate: candles, essential oils, art, herbal bundles for smoke-clearing, incense, and flowers. Marigolds are a traditional offering in Mexico but any seasonal beauty from where you live is perfect.
5) Look for inspiration and the well ancestors. If we go back far enough we all have ancestors who provide a model for living in right relationship to the land and to other living beings. Search for those stories and legacies. For example, my family, both on my mother and father’s side, comes from the British Isles: specifically England, Scotland and Ireland. (I am grateful to both my parents who are genealogy aficionados for their research.) The more I sink into Scottish and English history the more I am drawn to Celtic spirituality and its deep and vibrant appreciation for the earth. Knowing my particular family history allows me both to acknowledge what is painful in it, like the legacy of colonialism and treatment of indigenous communities here in the US, and gives me an access point to engage with what inspires me and to re-invigorate those traditions within my own spirituality and family culture.
✨ Where do you find ancestors who inspire you? ✨
* What do I mean by the holidays? The season of celebration that starts in November (and for some on the US Holiday of Thanksgiving) and extends through the new year.
Depending on your culture and traditions, this time includes Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hannakah, Kwanzaa, Diwali and other holidays – or none at all.
Increasingly people are fed by more than one tradition or are holding different traditions in the same family. As for me, I call myself a “Buddheo-Christian.” I grew up Methodist (a Protestant denomination) and have been meditating since I learned how at the Homeopathic Hospital in London during my junior year abroad. I weave both of these loves together in ways that delight me (think garden Buddha and a home altar for all Saints Day to honor my ancestors and all my favorite mystics). I love the desert mothers and fathers of the Christian tradition — who may have had a hand in creating the Enneagram– and the liturgical year, with all its myriad feasts and fasts. And I love my husband who is trained in ecology and whose patron saint could probably best be described as Jane Goodall.
But beyond all these elements of my story is this: I LOVE holding space for people to examine what they belove and I am super comfortable with all the traditions or none at all. (Hey, that is why I went to Harvard Divinity school and studied alongside such a diverse crew. We laughingly said the only thing we could all agree on is sitting in silence.)
It brings me a lot of joy to venture into these waters with you. And if you think some reflection on YOUR holiday season, whatever that means to you, could potentially be helpful or fun, I hope you will fill out this survey to share more.
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