More Ideas for Creating Your Ancestral Altar Items

Create a collage card: A powerful tool for accessing and acknowledging the ancestors

This exercise is based on the process called SoulCollage®, as described by Seena Frost in her book, SoulCollage® Evolving

The ancestors love to pop up in the most surprising and often delightful ways. They may choose to show themselves through images of animals, perhaps a pet, or a farm animal, or a bird. They could also be evoked through an image of a house, or a landscape. Perhaps you will run across an image in a book or magazine that reminds you of an ancestor, or that captures your attention for some unknown reason. The image triggers a memory or emotion, or a vague recognition. When this happens allow yourself to pick up the image. Cut it out if it is in an old book or magazine that you use as a source of images. Of course, you can also use copies of actual photos of ancestors for this exercise if you have them. Cut around the image carefully.

Next, allow yourself to be guided by the image as you assemble a small collage (large index card sized). Ask the image what type of background it would like. Play with different backgrounds such as buildings, landscapes, or interior scenes. Try different additions to the collage and ask yourself if they feel right. Try to remain in your intuitive mind as you create this collage card. Allow and the images to be an opening for the ancestor to appear to you.

When you feel finished with your collage, place it on your altar. You will be working with this card or photo in future exercises. For now acknowledge the image and thank him or her for showing up in visual form.

Collage card of ancestor by Audrey Chowdhury

Create a Question Jar or Box

Find a jar or box that would fit well on your altar. A vintage or “vintage like” container of some kind (like a mason jar) would work well. Decorate it if you like with copies of vintage photos, magazine images or objects. You can paint it, collage it, use tissue paper and watery glue to cover it, wrap it in a beautiful wrapping paper, whatever appeals to you. Place it on your altar. This will be your “question container”. Have some strips of paper and pen next to it. Whenever a question occurs to you, write it down and put it in the container. Be sure to note if it is a question for a specific ancestor, or if it is one that you would like to ask all of your ancestors. These questions can be things like: What toys did you play with? What was your favorite subject in school? What were your chores as a child? Were you ever sick as a child? Did you have any pets? My favorite question for my grandmother is “what was in your apron pockets?”

As you begin to fill this jar or box with questions, more will occur to you as you go through your day and through this process. Perhaps they will come to you in dreams. If you are interested in a particular ancestor, consider reading a novel, or watching a movie about the period during which they lived. New questions may come to you as you learn more about what their lives were like. Be sure to add them to your question jar. It may be helpful to have a jar for specific family lines, or ancestors. There is no limit to the number of question containers you can add to your altar.

Preparing for the Journey to the Ancestral Realm

Create a Home Base

So here we are…grab a cup of something soothing to sip and sit back in your chair, with your pen, pencil or crayon and sketch book nearby.  Take a deep breath and feel yourself in your body with your feet on the ground, your hair on your head, your heart beating, your lungs filling with air, your stomach digesting….just notice what is going on in your body.  Notice any tension and let your shoulders drop, soften your face and jaw and ease into your home, your body.  Maybe today you can only ease into your little toe…go wherever you can feel yourself being present.


Now, take a moment to reflect on NOW:  where are you?  What type of place? What city? Where in the world?  What time is it? What day? What season?  Imagine yourself surrounded by a protective light, a bubble or a shape of some kind…and the see this light grow into layer upon layer of protection for you and for the people around you, for the city, and beyond.


As you sit in this safe place, in this moment, ask yourself, how did I get here?  Where did I come from?  What journey brought me to this place?  Who journeyed before me to this or similar places?  That is the work of this book.  Together, we will start where you are, look around, and search for signs of those who came before you and the memories that they hold.  We will explore the realm of your ancestors with them, holding their hands, blessing them, and gently allowing them to tell us their story. The bits and pieces that they share:  their needs, their prayers, their wishes, their passions, their instincts, their drives will help you discover how you got here, to this place you are now, and how you can ask them for guidance in moving forward to the place where your deepest Self feels at home. If you don’t know what that is, your journey with the ancestors will give you many clues and point the way toward finding it.


Suggested Activity:

Create an Altar or Shrine for your Ancestors

The ancestors respond to any attempt you make to honor them, or remember therm.  They want to be remembered and acknowledged.  Why?  Because they want you to remember that they lived, that they are still with you, and that they have something to say.  Creating a shrine or altar is just a way to tell them, and you, that they were real, that they mattered in life and still matter in death.  Creating this “remembering” place can be as simple or detailed as you like.  If you have many objects that were special to your ancestors, or that they created, and photos, then you are fortunate.  You will have fun choosing what would be most meaningful for your altar.  Maybe your grandma had a menorah in her home, or a mezuzah on the door.  If you find an object like that, include it in your shrine.  Pieces of jewelry, doll clothes that they made for your dolls out of the scraps from their own dress fabric (I have these), can be very meaningful.  Maybe you have a special recipe that is hand written on an index card, or a letter or postcard that your ancestor wrote.  These may belong on your altar.


If you don’t have any mementos, or creations of your ancestors, you can go to thrift stores, or vintage stores and scour them for items that remind you of your grandmother’s house.  For example a cookie jar, or a clock, or a tea cup, or a doll. Many sacred objects, such as Madonnas can be found in these places.  Those objects that were prayed to and considered sacred have special meaning and energy.  If you know anything about what your ancestors found beautiful or moving, such as a piece of music, a favorite book or poem, or a work of art you can find a way to represent this on your altar.  Maybe you can find a copy of the book or poem, or a photo of a famous painting. Perhaps you will run across a recording of a favorite song or piece of music that your ancestor played, sang or listened to.  If you remember a portrait of a famous person on your grandmother’s wall, perhaps they could be represented on your altar as well.


Feel free to be creative and put together a shadow box, or collage using copies of photos.  This is meant to be fun and expressive. You can create a “tableau” with the objects, arranging them so that they tell a story that has meaning for you. You can create commemorative boxes or hats by gluing pieces of costume jewelry to them with a hot glue gun.  Look in art supply stores, or arts and crafts books or websites for ideas for creative things to do with found objects. Alternatively, a simple basket or bowl to hold your commemorative objects is fine.  The point is for this to be a sacred space and reminder of your ancestors that has meaning for you.


Find a place for your Ancestral Altar that is easily seen and accessed in your daily life, especially while you are working through this process.  You want the ancestors to be part of your world now, and they want to be remembered often.  The more that you think of them, the more they are here to help you.  Place a cloth on the altar that gives it a sacred feeling, add a candle, a special stone or crystal, a feather, and a mirror or bowl of water. In this way, you will have the elements of air, fire, water, and earth represented.  You can add to this altar as you follow through with the work outlined in this book. Symbols and signs of your family lineage may show themselves along the way.  You can acknowledge these by creating a tangible representation through creative art processes, or through words.  For example, you may see animals or birds, trees or landscapes as you experience the guided imagery exercises in this book. Perhaps you will learn of important items that have been passed down through generations while having a dialogue with your ancestors in later chapters.  It is possible that memories will surface and mental snapshots that have long been buried will show themselves to you as you delve into this realm.


This altar will continue to grow and evolve through this process, so it would be instructive to take a photo of it when you begin, and keep a visual journal of this living memorial as you add (or possibly subtract) to it from it during your work with your ancestors.


Why Take this Journey into the Ancestral Realm?

Today I am sharing the introductory chapter of my book, Ancestral Impressions, Exploring Your Ancestry through Creativity, Imagery and Intuition. 

This book has been designed to facilitate your own journey into the ancestral realms.  It is meant to be an interactive workbook. There is narrative for each section which is followed by a collection of suggested exercises. The “Personal Reflections” are stories about my own personal experience which are interspersed throughout this workbook.  These are meant to give you examples and to evoke your own thoughts and feelings about your personal recollections and experiences.

Introduction:  Why Take this Journey into the Ancestral Realm?

Have you ever felt as if your life were following a script that someone else wrote?  What if the choices that you have made and the beliefs that you hold belong to someone who lived generations ago?  The life that you have created is a tapestry woven from the threads of many influences. Many, if not most, of these threads were produced by the people that came before you:  your ancestral lineage.


This journey into the ancestral realm is a quest for meaning and guidance.  It is a journey into the truth of your being.  Embarking on this path can help you find the answers to some of your deepest questions, such as:

  • What unknown forces have brought me to this place in my life?
  • What mysteries lie in my ancestral lineage and how are they affecting me?
  • What are the beliefs, patterns, illnesses, and family stories that are playing out in my life and how are they affecting me?
  • How can I change or possibly benefit from the way these patterns affect me?
  • Who are the ancestors that wish to help me through their guidance, healing, or courage? How can I access their wisdom?

Your ancestors were survivors. You know this because you are here now, living, breathing and reading this page.  Just being conscious of this tells you that they had strengths, hopes, and dreams that sustained them, kept them alive and perhaps even enabled them to thrive.  Their strengths also live within you and can help you navigate the difficult times in your own life.  Working with the ancestors can help you identify and own the special gifts and visions that you have inherited.


You may have many questions about how you have become the way you are.  Your ancestors are a tremendous resource for you, and they are just waiting for you to ask them for guidance and information about who and where you came from.  Maybe they can help you understand the beliefs and attitudes that you carry? For example:

  • Were there secrets, fears, or superstitions in your family that were passed on as “common sense”?
  • Which inherited beliefs, strengths, illnesses, and family secrets do you carry into your daily life?
  • Which ones do you try to keep buried?
  • What about their coping strategies and survival skills: do you recognize these in yourself or have you forgotten them?

The journey that we are about to take together is a journey into the ancestral realms of the body, personalities, culture, geography, and guiding lights.  We will be accessing these realms using the keys of curiosity, memory, imagination, and intuition.  It is a journey that can be fun, exciting, revealing, and instructive.  It can also be emotional, troubling, and disturbing.  It is not one that we take lightly, but one that we take with reverence for the suffering and the will to survive that has triumphed.  We look for signs and stories of redemption and of the power of love and joy to surface even in the midst of despair.  Our ancestors lived through all of the problems and the trials that we face now.  Yes, the context was different, but they were facing the same types of dilemmas and heart breaks that we endure today.  Their wisdom is a well that waits for us to access.  The ancestors are with us in our pain, and in our joy.  They want their lives to have meant something.  They want us to know that their love is with us, even if they couldn’t show us love during their lives.  They want us to know that they are cheering for us.  They are very close, hoping to be able to offer us guidance, wisdom, and courage.  We can ask them for help, and that is all that they wish:  they are waiting for our requests for guidance and wisdom, because they can only help us when we ask.


Our ancestors may have died holding unlived dreams, unmet expectations, and feelings of betrayal, anger, guilt or shame.  Perhaps they died feeling love that was never expressed.  I believe that the person who dies feeling completely finished with whatever they came to earth to do, is fortunate, and probably not very common. Our ancestors’ deepest wish is to help their family members reach a place of peace and joy before leaving this planet.  Why?  Because they care about us, and because our healing and mastery can help them move ahead in their own healing journey.


The ancestors are calling us because they want us to know what they can now understand from their place of wider vision: those things that they could not see during their lifetimes.  They feel pain when we are in pain, and they feel frustrated because they cannot help us.  How can they tell us that what we are anxious about at this moment is really not as urgent as we think it is?  They have the advantage of perspective and hind sight and want us to know that we do not have to re-invent the wheel.  They also want us to know that we can we can pass on their wisdom and our own while we are still here on earth.  They are waiting and hoping that we will think of them as resources and supporters.


How can we get in touch with them?  Through imagery, symbolism, intuition, and imagination.  The written word can also work, but the channels opened by the intuitive right side of our brains are more easily accessed.  When we try to reach the ancestral realm through our logical, left side of the brain, we may run into skepticism and “reasoning” which block our ability to hear and believe the guidance that comes through unidentifiable channels.  The ancestors can speak to us through dreams, while we are washing the dishes, or running, or knitting…anything that gets us out of our thinking minds and into a place where we can let go of our own blocks to hearing their voices.  That is why we will be using creative techniques to access the voices that are trying to get through to us.


Many of our ancestors did not have “happy”, carefree, easy lives.  They faced challenges and hostility that we may not be able to understand.  Perhaps they did things to other people that were destructive, painful, and even hateful.  They may not be people that would make you proud, or even want to revisit.  What can we learn from them?  Do you carry any of their hateful thoughts or destructive tendencies?  These ancestors could be helpful and very enlightening in their way, but you are never forced to listen to or revisit anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable, or fearful.  It is fine to set boundaries, in fact it is quite important to be firmly in charge of your body and energy field as you do this work.  We will begin this journey by learning some techniques for becoming sovereign in our bodies, so that the ancestors honor your personal borders.  You will be in charge.


What if you know very little about your ancestors?  Can you do this work?


Information about your ancestors such as where they lived, their names, bits and pieces of their stories, can be very helpful as starting points for conversations with them.  This information can help you decide what type of question you want to ask and what you are curious about.  Many of us do not have much information, and this is OK.  The data can be a starting point for the deeper questions about the dreams, motivations, passions, trauma and grief that have been passed down to you. We can also access the deeper recesses of our ancestral realm through our own intuition.  We all have ancestors, and we can start with what we know, or what we would like to know.  Whatever comes through our work will be a stepping stone to more information and further questions.  Trust what comes and see where it leads you.


The larger story of humanity tells us that we are all related to each other.  If we trace our origins back to the beginning of our species, we find that we all started from the same original people.  Consider the possibility of having adopted or honorary ancestors in addition to known blood relations.  These chosen ancestors could be authors, teachers, or people in your community who have inspired you or been role models. When you a sense resonance with another person, you are feeling something familiar and seeing a reflection of some part of you.  Someone who has been a source of wisdom and support deserves a place in your family of choice.


Poem from the Ancestors:

Your Life Has Meaning

Your life has meaning

This is the truth no matter what

That you have lived on this Earth

Means that you have entered the realm of the Holy

Your presence has altered the atmosphere

Your presence has evolved the cells and atoms of which we are made

Every living being:  tree, plant, frog, insect, cat, dog, human has an influence

On the evolution of this planet and of each other


Those who are conscious of this fact

Are the ones who can positively affect

The evolution of all of the beings who live or have lived or will live among us

You are one of the children who understands

What you do, say, think and feel has consequences

What you do, say, think, and feel matters


You are not living in a bubble

You are part of a great organism

This is a grand experiment called “Life on Earth”

Your ancestors know this now

They are counting on you to help their legacy be one of positive evolution

They send you love, guidance, and hope as you seek the nuggets of wisdom and truth that they have left behind for you to find.



Personal Reflection:


I often feel stuck.  Stuck in a rut. Unable to move forward, unable to take a step, unable to move.  I want to sit and think about what to do next, even write in my journal about it, but actually doing it is another thing.  I go to bed feeling ashamed of myself for not having taken the step that I had planned:  writing this first chapter, making a commitment to taking or teaching a class, whatever the thing was that I thought I would surely do today, but didn’t.  As I sit, I recognize myself in my grandmothers…the ones I knew. I only knew them when they were older of course.  They each had their own favorite chair, where they could be found most of the time.  One, my father’s mother, would be watching her “stories” on TV, with a Lucky Strike hanging off her lower lip.  My mother’s mother would be sitting in her lazy boy rocker, rocking and muttering to herself.  I felt invisible around both of them, but that was OK because I could just watch them and wonder:  what were they thinking about?  I sensed that they both felt sadness, even despair, because the lives that they had hoped for, the lives they envisioned for themselves were not possible anymore.  They were old, and had to make do with what they had, which after all wasn’t so bad, right?  They had a roof over their heads, shoes, clothes, a chair… a TV….a dog.  I think about this as I sit in my own chair, today, at age 60, and notice that I am thinking the same thing.


So I begin journaling with my grandmothers, one at a time.  They want me to know that they had come far from where they had been.  That getting to a place where they had a home was an achievement, but they both had sacrificed their dignity to get there.  They had to give up on the dream of having a husband that they loved and who loved them.  They had to give up on the dream of having supportive friends. They had to give up on their dreams of becoming a seamstress or a beauty queen, or even a successful hostess.  They settled for what they could have and were happy to have a home, and yet the sadness hung on. They remember the feeling of being told in either words or actions that they were not worthy to be alive.  That is the greatest sorrow of all, and that is the belief they do not want to see passed on.    They want me to know that getting stuck is a sign of despair, or hopelessness, and lack of confidence.  They want me to know that getting stuck in the stuck, as they put it, is not helping anyone.  They urge me to act on my ideas, to express my observations, and to tell their stories.  They are so happy that I have asked them for help, and they are so happy that they have not “lived for nothing” because their words of encouragement, and lives, have meant something to me and hopefully to my grandchildren.



Suggested Activity:

Gather Your Materials

Materials Needed:

  • Have a blank scrapbook or sketchbook that you will use to do suggested exercises.
  • Card sized pieces of cardboard or mat board, large sized index cards work fine.
  • You can also collect larger pieces poster board if you prefer this size for collaging.
  • Archival glue stick or other adhesive
  • Scissors
  • Colored pencils, markers or pens
  • Oil pastels or crayons
  • If you like to use paint, include your preferred type of paints in your supply basket.
  • Copies of images of your ancestors (if you have them)
  • Any objects (or photos of these) that your ancestors created
  • Special objects (or photos of these) that your ancestors used or cherished,
  • Construction paper (various colors)
  • A stack of old magazines or books that you can cut up.