The reason I called my book The Witches’ Book of the Dead, and the reason I refer to my altar for that work as an altar of the dead, as opposed to an ancestral altar is I believe that my work goes far beyond those with whom I share blood relations. Yes, those who swim in the DNA of your blood do matter and they matter a lot, as do those “ancestors” who had a hand in your upbringing (for those adoptees out there!). I have so much in the way of ancestry (including even Pygmy, as some of you know!) that there is much to call on there, but I am so inspired by so many in the realms of spirit. Just as those who are spirit mediums build bridges to the beloved dead of other people, so to do Witches make connections in their work to spirits across the spectrum of the other worlds. To not call upon someone because they are not a direct relation in some way feels wrong to me, especially as there are spirits who some forget to call on that may be happy for that connection to be made. I know that there is much debate now over ancestors in the racial sense, but I do not see every white person that ever lived as an ancestor of mine. Heck, there are a quite a few that I’d never want to call on! If I had a choice between lighting a candle in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or of Joseph Stalin, I’m going to go with Dr. King. I think you should honor those dead not only who are part of your blood but also those who inspire you. I know that my niece Angel Griffin is not my niece by blood, but I know she doesn’t mind when I call on her grandmother and her mom in spirit as both women formed such a part of my life and who I am today. The key in all of it is respect. If you are practicing ancestral traditions, you must show respect to the cultural realities that formed those traditions or you are committing an egregious error. You must respect the dead and their traditions should you wish them to respect you and yours. If you honor and remember the dead, they will honor and remember you. Your ancestors do represent a powerful hub of the wheel of your spiritual work, but remember that we are creatures of spirit and that our spirit connects to all spirit. Your dead is your ancestors, including spiritual ancestors in the traditions of your lineage. Your dead is your child who died of cancer. Your dead is your best friend who helped you in your darkest times. Your dead is your adoptive parents. Your dead are all those from whom you draw wisdom and inspiration.
Musings on the Altar of the Dead