Column: Incredible Ancestral Altar For Samhain

Crystal Blanton —  November 4, 2013 — 7 Comments

IMG_2836There are so many different ways to celebrate during this time of year, and the plethora of Pagan celebrations go throughout the month of October and through the first week of November. While a large majority of Pagan practices happen on October 31st or November 1st, the actual astrological day for Samhain this year is November 7th, lending for more time to have more celebrations. Festivals of ancestral honor continue in many different traditions and cultures; two of the most known, of course, include Dias De Los Muertos ending November 2nd, and All Saints Day on November 1st.

After writing my ancestral piece last month, we were contacted by a priestess in the Bay Area about her coven’s practices and process of ancestral worship. I took the opportunity to correspond with Cynthia of Circle of Winged Toads, a coven that is a descendant from the Compost Coven started in the 70’s, because I was very moved by the pictures of their elaborate ancestor altar.

Different practices dictate different processes, and the length of time needed for the preparation of any rite; practices at this time of year can take a matter of days or weeks to get ready for.  This is one of the covens that take a lot of time in preparation to put up their ancestor altar every year.  I found the pictures of the altar that were sent to the Wild Hunt fantastic and quite fascinating. Cynthia answered a few questions for me about the altar and ancestral practice during this time of year.

IMG_2835What do you find to be important about this time of year?

I feel connecting with ancestral spirits and my own mortality is important at this time of year. I also want to honor those in the community who have passed. This year I noticed that where as I used to have several people each year who had died from AIDs now it is bicyclists here in San Francisco. So I hung white ghost bikes on the altar.

How long have you been building this ancestral altar?

I have been doing this for around 25 years. It started pretty simple using the buffet in my dining room. As I continued to host our covens ritual each year people would leave things behind. So when I take the altar down I save photos and drawings for the next year. Thanks goddess I have an attic.

When do you put it up and take it down, and how long does it take?

I put it up over 2-3 days in early to mid October. Then fine turn as I meditate with the spirits each evening. I leave it up until early November so I can appreciate the transformation after the covens ritual on Samhain night.

What types of things do you look for in a well-crafted altar and how do you gauge what should go on it?

It’s all about the spirit. Items that belonged to my grandmother always have pride of place. I am fortunate to live in San Francisco within walking distance of the Mission district where I can find many Dia De Los Muertos items that are beautifully made. I like a touch of whimsey too.

IMG_2837Inspiration, creativity, and ideas can be ignited by the sharing of some of the incredible practices of other Pagans.   I hope you enjoy the pictures of this incredible and detailed altar as much as I did.

As the ancestral celebrations this time of year come to a close, I wish everyone a season of love, health, wisdom and guidance. May those who have gone before inspire and inform us on our journeys.


Crystal Blanton


Crystal Blanton writes the monthly TWH column "Culture and Community." She is an activist, writer, priestess, mother, wife and social worker in the Bay Area. She has published two books "Bridging the Gap" and "Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World," and was the editor of the anthology "Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism." She is a writer for the magazine Sage Woman and Patheos' Daughters of Eve blog. She is passionate about the integration of community, spirituality, and healing from our ancestral past, and is an advocate for true diversity and multiculturalism within the Pagan community.