Embodied Altars: Portals of Ancestral Reverence is from Candace's Braided Seeds ZINE
Note: There are many ways, across many lineages, to practice ancestor reverence. I have not been blessed to find a living teacher to guide me in such practices but I have found my own path and philosophy that is ever evolving. In this piece, I share some of my journey with you in hopes that it supports you in connecting to your lineage.
You are an embodiment of your ancestral lineage(s) and as such you are the primary altar upon which you tend to your relationship with your ancestors. Pausing to acknowledge this powerful truth is where the practice of ancestor reverence begins.
What is ancestor reverence?
It's the many ways one can connect and center one’s ancestors, roots and lineage in one’s daily life.
For many, this practice is centralized around an externally curated altar. While I do have an ancestral altar and encourage folks to explore this practice if one hasn’t already, I am most interested the embodied ancestor altar that is y o u.
How do you tend to y o u r s e l f as a living, breathing embodiment of your ancestors? Instead of, or in addition to, a table covered in white cloth and carefully curated with representational pieces that connect and ground you in your ancestral connections, imagine that this practice centered y o u as the intentionally curated altar. Y o u are the primary p o r t a l of connection to those that came before you. The science of epigenetics affirms that sacred truth that you and I hold the stories of our ancestors within our bodies. It is my belief that the deeper we each connect to our own self the deeper we connect to our inherited ancestral wisdom.
Why practice ancestor reverence?
To know oneself more fully; self awareness. To live more mindfully. To do one’s part in this life to heal generational trauma and co-create a new narrative for oneself and future generations.
This is the alchemy of ancestral work. Opening oneself to remember the truth of one’s ancestry; the trauma and harm caused by and/or inflicted on, as well as, the resilience, brilliance and love of one’s ancestors is our responsibility to understand within.
Some questions for reflection when working with ancestors:
How do I connect to my ancestors?
First and foremost, I feel compelled to briefly acknowledge that as a child of colonization, I am the descendant of both displaced peoples of Africa that were enslaved and European colonizers who committed significant atrocities. As a result of the violence of colonization, I don’t have easy access to my ancestral traditions in ways I would like. When I think about that it triggers a range of feelings; anger, frustration, grief, sadness, jealousy of those who have immediate access to their ancestral traditions etc. I meet those feelings with compassion and love, giving myself plenty of space to feel my feelings while carving out my own way of being in sacred relationship with my ancestors. So with this understanding, I began my practice by asking... who are my ancestors and where do my ancestors dwell?
Who are my ancestors? My ancestors are the deceased human beings that I am the descendant of but I want to expand the answer to this question to acknowledge that we are also apart of the land and cosmos. Remembering this often forgotten truth opens me up to the powerful kinship we are each born to inherit and nurture with our plantcestors and other landcestors; for example, our birds, trees, rivers, mountains, bees etc are our kin as well. Remembering that we are on planet Earth floating in the cosmos. We are deeply entangled in a celestial dance with our planetary relatives and cosmic ancestors that influence many things like our tides, moods, seasons and cycles of life and death. It's in these spaces that my ancestors dwell; each its own portal to deepening my personal connection with them and ultimately coming into a fuller knowing of myself.
Here is a glance at some of the ways I personally practice ancestral reverence within the portals/ gateways of my ancestors, my embodied altar, the Land and the Cosmos.
The Cosmic Portal: Lunar rituals on the new moon, full moon, super moons, eclipses or celestial events like the Solstice and Equinoxes. Daily practices that center the planetary energies and relationships to specific days; for example, Mondays are Moon Day and a great day to do shadow work, Thursdays are Jupiter Day and a great day to do wealth and abundance cultivation work, Fridays are Venus Day and a great day to center love and beauty, Saturdays are Saturn Day and a great day to do protection work. I like to integrate practices like divination with tarot, meditation/prayer, vision boarding, journaling, intuitive movement and nature walks. I also like planting seeds, harvesting and working in my garden in conjunction with what’s occurring in the cosmos.
The Land Portal: Land stewardship is a central part of how I live my life and in as such I accept the inherent responsibility to tend to the land as an extension of my whole self. This looks many ways; living at a slower pace and in alignment with the rhythms of nature. This pace gifts me the spaciousness needed to receive the medicine, guidance and stories of my ancestors through the plants, trees, birds, rains and more. There are many ways the land speaks to us if we are open to witnessing. I work with animal oracle cards, look up the sacred meanings of the landcestors that present themselves to me, I meditate with plants and animal guides, journal, dance, drum, dream and take notice of any resounding themes. I get my hands in the earth and listen; honoring the generations of stories held in the soil alone. All of these practices deeply cultivates my intuition and enables me to more quickly discern the communications I receive from the Land.
Ancestor Portal/Altar: I curate an altar table or piece of art that grounds me and serves as a physical totem or touchstone for connecting to my ancestors. It is important for me to be clear that I do not only work with the ancestors I knew and had a relationship with. I don’t only work with my benevolent ancestors. I choose to work with all my ancestors; those who were colonizers and oppressors, those who were healers and liberators, those who were enslaved, those who are not here for me and those who are here for me, those whose names and faces I know and those whose names and faces are unknown to me. I choose to connect with all of my ancestors because I am personally committed to doing my part in this life to heal the wounds and woundings of those who came before me. This requires a personal commitment to go deep within and welcome the discomfort as well and the ease that comes with daring to be whole and free with my story.
Some things the physical altar or artwork can contain are:
I center tending to myself on all the layers; physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically and spiritually. Sleep. Nourishment. Water. Adornment that connects me to the land, my ancestors and my heritage(s). Self study/inquiry/examining my patterns of behaviors and thought via practices like yoga asana, meditation, pranayama, journaling, talk and somatic therapy. Shifting toxic patterns of self talk and lifestyle to new patterns of self love, gentle pace, boundaries, learners mind, wholeness and living with not over the land and its rhythms, stages, phases and cycles. I come to my ancestors in each of these portals with deep humility, a desire to learn, a full awareness of both my power and my limitations, and a commitment to do my part for my personal and ancestral healing and wholeness.
Im still discovering my own way of being in relationship with my ancestors. This practice has gifted me with a well of wisdom to draw from for guidance and support, an expanded perspective on life, inner clarity and discernment that promotes a sustainable state of embodied grounded-ness and compassion even during tumultuous times. Feel free to integrate what resonates in this piece and discard what doesn’t resonate. Until I am the ancestor myself, I want to name how profoundly grateful I am for the plethora of ways ancestral reverence as a lived practice has expanded my way of being present and participatory in this cherished life.
Yoga. Food. Urban Homesteading. Herbalism. Wholeness. Teacher. Healer. Writer. Visionary. Truth Speaker. Protector. Trauma-Informed. Queer. Femme. Decolonization. Anti-Capitalism. Trekkie.