Samhain and Ancestor Altars

Last week we asked readers to send in photos of their Samhain or Ancestor altars. We hope you enjoy looking at these meaningful and creative altars as much as we have.

Photo Adrian Hawkins - In honor of my Elder, First Priestess and most importantly my mother on her birthday - Lady Galadriel, Matriarch of the Unicorn Tradition and Grove of the Unicorn.

Photo by Carol & John Stiteler: The house altar is "Seasonal House Altar at WhiteWing Cottage" with symbols of Life, Death, and Re-birth including skull, antlers, bones, seasonal fruits and both fresh and dried flowers.

More photos after the cut:

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Honoring Our Ancestors and the Mighty Dead at SPC

Samhain and Ancestors Night are two religious observances that have a similar focus – honoring our ancestors and acknowledging the Mighty Dead.  Food and drink is set out, photos are dusted off, and altar candles are lit.  It’s a night of power, when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest.  Divinations for the new year are performed and festivals are held in honor of the gods.  Although Samhain (or Ancestors Night) are not observed by all Pagans, Samhain is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of the modern Pagan holidays.

Who are these ancestors and Mighty Dead we honor?  Our ancestors could be blood relatives of ours who have passed on.  They may have been good people that we felt close to and loved all of our lives.  Or they may have been not-so-good and we remember their lives as cautionary tales.  Some Pagans include close friends or members of their coven or religious group who have passed on as their ancestors, saying they are the family they chose to have.  The Mighty Dead are those practitioners of our religion who have crossed the Veil, but who still take great interest in those of their lineage.  Or they may be relatives who were so kind, loving, and devoted to their family that some part of them stays on our side to continue caring for the family.  They watch over us, guide us, and assist us.

The Ancestor Shrine at Sacred Paths Center

Which brings us to a very special place for honoring our ancestors and Mighty Dead year round.  The Ancestor Shrine at the Sacred Paths Center.  The shrine is simple and beautiful, brought into existence through necessity.  Unlike Wisconsin, the Twin Cities has no Pagan cemetery or other public place for us to honor our dead.  When Loui Pieper died, that lack was felt even more keenly.  Enter Clarke Stone and Volkvhy Sterba, the two who are credited with constructing the actual shrine.  They based the idea and the design off of traditional Shinto shrines in Japan.  The shrine has been built without any metal pieces in it. Not a single nail or screw has been used, only wooden pegs and glue.

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Show Us Your Altar

photo credit - Carolan Ivey

Many Wiccans celebrate Samhain on October 31st and do so in style, spending hours creating beautiful, touching, and meaningful altars. Samhain is one of eight Sabbats, observed as part of the Wheel of the Year. Samhain is a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to family members, elders within Wicca, friends, and other loved ones who have died.

photo credit - Rigphoto on Flickr

Heathens celebrate Winter Nights and Ancestors Night around the same time. Winter Nights is a festival from ancient Scandinavian Heathenry which coincided with the slaughter of cattle at the beginning of winter. In the USA it is typically celebrated during late October, usually around Halloween.  In modern Heathenry Winter Nights has become closely associated with the ancestors.


Ancestors’ Night celebrates the ancestors and is typically celebrated around a bonfire on November 1st.  Candles are lit to honor individual ancestors. Some Heathen groups dedicate this night to the ancient oral traditions of storytelling, song, poetry and riddles.

No matter what you are celebrating – and if we have missed your religion’s holiday let us know – PNC-Minnesota invites you to send us a photo of your altar.  Tell us the meaning behind what is on your altar or what it means to you.  We will then show these photos on this site on October 31st as a way to honor the festival and those who have passed on.

If you do not wish your name to be used when displaying your altar, just let us know.  Send photos to