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Bring Out Your Dead! Bring Out Your Dead!

There's so much during this season that I find myself trying to find any lightness, any humor. Hence the title of this piece. We hardly need to bring them out, Python-style, when they are insistently demanding our attention as the nights grow like looming stalactites.

Tonight I want to write a bit about Ancestor altars.  Do you have one?  Do you leave it up, year-round, or put it up just after the Autumnal Equinox?  I've been asking colleagues which they prefer and it's about evenly divided.  For the record, I keep one up year-round because my root work is dependent on keeping my Ancestors in-the-know.  And also, happy.  I like some happy Ancestors, me.

My Ancestor altar sets atop the wooden box that holds the "good" silver I inherited from my grandmother.  I rarely use it, of course, and I like seeing her little clip-on sunglasses setting on the good silver.  Makes me smile.

The Altar has all sorts of memorabilia on it, plus photos and other bits and bobs. There are even some small boxes that contain some of the ashes of two good old people who more or less adopted me when my parents died.  There's a Hofbrauhaus mug full of feathers and wooden wands, and there's a small bundle of the sacred woods of the ancient Irish.

We also have an Ancestor altar at Mother Grove Temple.  It's one of those metal baking racks and it holds all sorts of memories and Sante Muerte candles and a snake skin that the children found during an outdoor ritual a few years ago.  There's a spirit pot and a small basket on the top shelf that holds some of the cremated remains of one of our founders. When we finally get our land and build our own building her ashes will be part of the cob of the North altar.  She'll like that, I think.

 Do you work with or commemorate or otherwise honor Ancestors in your spiritual tradition?  I'd love to hear what you do and how you do it, if you'd like to share.

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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at,


  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Wednesday, 08 October 2014

    Hello Byron - A great read.

    I build an altar, sometimes a few altars for my Beloved and Mighty Dead. I'll cook and eat foods that my recent ancestors loved. I tell stories, as much as I know, about their lives. I speak their names.


  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Wednesday, 08 October 2014

    Thanks! I think the food thing is terribly important. And the liquor thing--at least for my Ancestors.

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