If you’re at all familiar with the practice of ancestral veneration you may have heard that photos of the living are not to be placed on the ancestral altar, and you may be wondering why that is.

First it’s important to establish the purpose of your ancestral altar. If your ancestral altar is only meant to be a testament to your family tree and in remembrance of loved ones, you don’t have to worry about whether or not photos of the living are included on your altar. It is perfectly acceptable to have photos of the living included in a family shrine.

However, if your intention is to use this altar to house the spirits of your ancestors and as a space to actively work with your ancestral dead and build and strengthen your connection to them, then photos of the living don’t belong on this altar and should not be included in this space.

The simple reason for this is that it’s not an altar for the living, so the living don’t belong there. The living don’t belong in the realm of the dead. It’s not a question of whether or not your ancestors recognize that you or your siblings or your children are alive. Death is invoked simply by connecting with the dead in this capacity. There is not an altar for working with the dead that doesn’t involve death.

To put photos of the living on an altar that is meant for working with and connecting to the dead invites death to the living who are represented. It’s symbolically pushing the living over the hedge. What is done symbolically in our world is done in actuality in the otherworld. While it’s perfectly possible that death won’t accept the invitation to come for the living represented, it’s also better not to hand over the invitation at all.

You can get more information on the ancestral altar and tips on setting up yours up here.

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