Ancestors 101

If you are going to make an altar to the ancestors, keep in mind these points.

Firstly, not all ancestors will wish to be on your altar. When you first place a photo of the ancestor(s) you wish to have on your altar, light the candle and ask them if they wish to be on the altar. If they do not, whatever their reason, respect their wishes and remove their picture. Bear in mind that ancestors may change their mind – my mother-in-law said she did not want to be in contact with me via my altar, then a few months later the other ancestors said she’d changed her mind and wanted back on.

Secondly, the ancestors on the altar will have all the same faults and virtues that they had when they were alive. If an ancestor is an untrustworthy son-of-a-gun when s/he was alive, they’ll still be like that after death. Only venerate the ones which will support you in your life. I have not yet had an ancestor turn up who I did not wish to be in contact with after death, but if I did I would politely request them to leave. If the ancestor did not I would then research banishing rituals for spirits.

Thirdly, I have heard that you should wait a year and a day after their death to invite them to your altar. I was going to do that after my Poppa (mother’s father) died only because it seemed like a decent interval. However, he turned up on my altar six months after he died. This may be an exception, as he was always a people person and my son is named after him, which may be a good reason for hearing from him sooner than I thought. I would still wait a year and a day, but it would be insulting to ask them to come back later if they turn up before that interval.



This was the first year in a long time I have not carved turnips for Samhain. I did not get organised in time and as I have a baby son I would have needed LED tealights, which I couldn’t buy in time.

In the morning I did my Samhain ritual and finished writing the ritual to introduce our son to the ancestors. It was appropriate that he is nine months old this Samhain.

I watched the film Ghost. A lot of people watch horror films at Samhain; I don’t like horror movies as I am easily scared but I thought this film was appropriate.

Afterwards I went to a party in the afternoon and we went out for a meal as my husband had just finished an exam.

Then we introduced our son to the ancestors. We first consecrated a candle using his touch, spit and breath. This candle will be put away and used for any rituals involving him. Then we said a short piece telling the ancestors about his names and lastly we asked them to help us bring him up.

Catching Up

At the moment I have a lot of things to catch up on, as it’s taken me awhile to get used to having and caring for a baby.

Some of them are mundane, like weeding the drive. Others are not so mundane, like weeding the garden, which has some humungous weeds on it since it’s been left for five months or so.

Others are magical. I have my yearly house defences and cat health protection spell to do. Also my hubby knocked the wing mirror off someone else’s car. Years ago, after three accidents in a year including one where a suicidal pheasant took his windscreen out on the motorway, I made him a travel protection device. My reaction to this accident was that it wasn’t working. My hubby then informed me that he thought it wasn’t in the car, and lo and behold when I checked I found it wasn’t, so that needs replacing.

I also have to finish writing one ritual to introduce my son to the ancestors and another to introduce him to our tribal tree, plus I have an oath to write so I can flametend for Brigit. It’s a busy time…


I’ve always had a bit of a problem with altars. I think it’s because of my Protestant upbringing, which sees altars as being pagan.

I’ve had an altar for the past year for my ancestors and I talk to them every evening. The altar consists of a saucer which holds a tea-light and two pictures of my ancestors. I don’t yet have one for my deities.

I’ve been meaning to make my own candles for the altar for a long time now, but haven’t got around to it yet. They seem quite happy with a single white tea-light for now.


This festival was eventful and chaotic but I managed to enjoy it.

I read the tarot in the morning. I’ve never managed to read tarot on Samhain, so I thought I’d do it in the morning. I started off with a general reading, but I couldn’t make much sense of this, so I did three readings instead.

One was for work, which is summarised as it was going to stay the same. One was for my marriage, which was good. The third is for my aromatherapy which I found difficult to read.

After a relaxing morning I carved my turnip lanterns (called Jack O’Lanterns) while watching Poirot : Dead Man’s Folly. I don’t like horror, but a murder mystery was appropriate for this festival.

I then went up to my tribal tree where my baby is buried to say some appropriate words. I walked for a while in the woods and came back to a darkening house.

I put nine candles in my candle holder and put it in the kitchen so I was cooking by candlelight. We don’t encourage trick or treaters as we feel that they are getting money for doing nothing. Other Brits see it as begging with menaces and don’t encourage it either.

I made dinner for us; food my dead Nanna (Mum’s Mum) would have made. Homity pie, which is root vegetables, bacon, apples and onions in an open-topped pie. I used some of the turnip from the lanterns for it, which made it doubly appropriate. I also made apple dappy which is a roll of pastry with an apple filling which is chopped up in seven and put in a dish to bake.

I’d gone on the net and converted the weights in the Apple Dappy from metric to imperial, which my Mum taught me to cook in.

It was the cooking which was chaotic as things kept going wrong. I put too much water in to bind the pastry and had to add more flour. I should have lined the dishes with greaseproof before I started rolling the pastry out and there were other little things that made the whole experience “argh! bleep! swear!” However, I managed to sort everything out and it tasted good.

My hubby got out the candles and placemats and for once we had a proper dinner. He got out the wine and we told each other stories of the dead. We welcomed my dead baby into the ranks of the dead.


I miscarried on 12th June, but I am only now ready to write about it and how being Pagan helped.

I started bleeding several days before I miscarried when we were on holiday in Malta, where they gave me an ultrasound which showed the egg sac but not the baby and told me it looked like I was miscarrying but it could be that my baby might be younger than they thought, so it wouldn’t show up on the scan.

When I got back home I asked my ancestors and the land I lived on that if I was miscarrying could it please go smoothly. It was important to use the word “if” because the doctors hadn’t been definite I was miscarrying. If I hadn’t used “if” then my request could have pushed it into a miscarriage as we get what we ask for and not what we meant. I also gave a general call for help when I was in A&E, saying “my deities, please help me with this” which is roughly the form everyone uses sooner or later.

It did go smoothly; even when I was in Malta away from my land, ancestors and altar. In Britain you can get a free card to carry that is supposed to allow you free treatment in hospitals in Europe. Before we left we heard on the news that there were problems with Spain accepting this card. I got wheeled into A&E in Malta, they checked our passports and immediately said “you’re British, it’s free for you”. We’re still amazed by this, especially as it turned out that my card was out of date.

When I miscarried it went smoothly. I did have some drugs as I needed to get to sleep as it had all kicked off at 3 in the morning, but after the first lot of drugs wore off I didn’t need any more and I got through it without any surgery.

All the staff at Milton Keynes hospital were very positive about what was happening and kept telling me that the next time they hoped to see me was in the delivery suite and asked if I wanted to speak to a chaplain, which I did. In Britain hospital chaplains will not try and convert you; they’re there to help you with the situation that you find yourself in and if they’re available I suggest that you talk to them.

Unfortunately I am still off work as I’m not healing well. My doctor has diagnosed a vitamin D deficiency which is being corrected by going out (he says sitting in the shade will do) and eating fish. When I got back from hospital I did a tarot reading which said I would recover, so I haven’t used magic.

Old Ways

When I am cooking something for ritual or my ancestors I make sure I use the old way of cooking.

This means translating the measurements from imperial back into metric, which I was taught to cook with by my Mum. Kitchen scales in Britain usually have both imperial and metric measuring systems, as we started the change over into metric a few decades ago and many recipes have both systems of measurement.

It also means using less gadgets. I rub butter into flour by hand, instead of using a food processor to do it for me.

Old or New

In my path, I use objects or methods that go back centuries. Partly because my ancestors would have used them (except the charm bracelet, which is Egyptian) and this makes a connection to my ancestors in general.

I don’t use objects or methods just for the reason that my ancestors used or did things, as that wouldn’t be practical. If I had children and lived in an Irish long-house with cows and chickens in there, Social Services would be down on me like a ton of bricks. This is an extreme example, but you get the picture.

I also use old objects and methods because I believe that by being used down the centuries this gives them more power. They have been used by more people and I believe that the thing itself gains power and belief the more it is used.

I am not saying not to use new things as our practices must evolve and change with time. There may be no old object or method to use for something, or a new object or method may be better.

Ancestor Altar

In the last place I rented, I had set up an altar for my ancestors. I set one up in my current home but didn’t seem to get around to using it.

So now I make an effort to go and talk to my ancestors daily. It’s nothing fancy; just a picture of my Granny and my Nanna that I photocopied.
It gives me a sense of peace and fulfilment that I have my ancestors with me.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that talking to your ancestors is a form of necromancy, which many people think of as evil and/or not to be done. I don’t know why this is the prevailing morality as we’re not doing any harm to anyone.

There is a famous story in the Tain Bo Cuilagne where the druids realise that the story of the Tain has been lost. So they find the grave of Fergus mac Roich, raise his spirit and ask him to tell the story.


I am trying to live a life more in accordance with what my ancestors would do.  It is not possible to totally recreate their life, as if I did I would be living in a long-house, which is a one room house with the fire in the middle and the animals inside for warmth.  You can just imagine what The Authorities would say if I were to try that – plus I’d fall badly ill within the first week as we don’t have the immunity to diseases that our ancestors did.  So I decided to follow the seasons instead.

When I read Irish texts they mention two seasons, Summer and Winter instead of four.  I’m also going to be following those two and doing tasks that are applicable to both of them.

Summer is a time for doing things outside, and in the period from Imbolc to Samhain I will be concentrating on the outdoors.  I now have a jungle, sorry garden, which I will be redesigning this winter, so next summer I will be doing lots of gardening.  I will also make an effort to take whatever I am doing into the garden to do – as long as there is not an unseasonal rain shower.

Winter is the time for doing things indoors.  I will be concentrating on my knitting and crafts skills, as they were traditionally done in the long winter months, when it was cold and people didn’t have as much to do.

One myth that seems to have sprung up about Winter is that vegetables don’t grow in the Winter.  Farmers often have winter crops : some of them are kale and turnips (called swedes in England), of which the swedes are often used to feed the sheep.  Wintergreens also grow in the Winter, hence their name.  Rosemary and thyme are herbs which are available all year round.

So I have divided the time between the eight festivals and allotted tasks which I will do in that time.  This means I have eight seasons instead of the usual four.  I’ve done this because I think it’s a good way to divide the year up into seasons, instead of using the weather, which is very changeable here in Britain.

This year we had a long winter, short spring, average summer and we seem to be getting Autumn weather at the moment.  Someone once said that you can get four seasons in one day in Britain, which is true.

I can see people saying “wait a minute! they didn’t have eight seasons…” which is true, but different plants come into season at different times.  It just so happens that cereal crops ripen in August, but elderflowers are in season in June and elderberries in September – if you are having average weather conditions.  So that is why I am having eight seasons.

This is my plan so far for living in accordance with the seasons, like my ancestors did.  It’s just a rough plan and will change as it goes along, so I will keep you updated with how it’s going.  I do wish I had more activities for each season, but it’s a start.


  • Walks – once a week if possible
  • Identifying wildlife
  • Weeding the garden


  • Knitting and any crafts
  • Tidying up the garden
  • Doing research
  • Identifying coniferous trees

Winter Equinox to Imbolc

Spring cleaning

  • Sort out books and clothes
  • Sort out magazines
  • Clean sideboards
  • Clean under everything

Imbolc to Spring Equinox

End of Winter

  • Polish hat
  • Get winter coat dry-cleaned
  • Wash winter scarves
  • Wax ends of scarves

Spring Equinox to Beltane

Planting Season

  • Put plans for garden into effect

Beltane to Midsummer

Floral season

  • Make elderflower cordial
  • Make infused oils from flowers
  • Make bath salts

Midsummer to Lughnasadh

Hot season

  • Make ice creams and sorbets

Lughnasadh to Autumn Equinox

End of Summer

  • Wash summer coats
  • Wash summer scarves

Autumn Equinox to Samhain

Berry and Nuts Season

  • Pick hazelnuts
  • Pick blackberries
  • Pick elderberries and make cordial

Samhain to Winter Equinox

Dying Times

  • Get skeletons from leaves
  • Make plant food