I’ve written a great deal on ancestral veneration and offerings, but sometimes when you’re learning how to work with spirits, the details of it can feel perfunctory. It’s so easy to get into your own head about it and worry about whether or not you’re doing it right, and it can feel difficult to establish the connection at first. I invite you to consider your motivations and the state of your heart in your approach to spirits. These connections are about so much more than an altar setup.

Remember that all connections take time to develop. If you’re an American of mainly European ancestry, it may feel like it takes an especially long time. Many of us find ourselves to be spiritual orphans, cut off from our roots. After generations upon generations of neglect, it is no wonder why there is not often an immediate response when seeking relationship with ancestors or the old gods of our ancestry. These beings are like giants who have been slumbering for centuries. Have you ever tried to wake a mountain?

And what offerings have you brought to feed and strengthen them to hear you and respond? We make offerings to feed the spirits, because it energizes them, and hopefully in a temper of gratitude and with an open heart. Food is the heart of community, whether it’s a community of the dead or of the living. Conversations shared over meals build bonds. Bring some coffee and treats to your ancestors, and a cup and a plate for yourself, invite them to speak, and listen. 

With ancestors, at the very least blood calls to blood and the base of the bond is there. With other spirits, you may need to establish what you want the relationship to be like with them. It’s ok if at first you feel a little trepidation or uncertainty. It’s not that unlike being a child on the playground approaching another you think you may like to be friends with. Some might view this analogy as naive. There’s plenty of fear mongering around developing relationships with spirits. I’m writing this with the assumption that you know who you’re approaching and inviting into your life, and that you’re using a measure of prudence and thoughtfulness in doing so.

Consider what basis you would like to build these relationships on, the underlying nature of the connection you want to nurture. And maintain your autonomy. Remember that no spirit will live your life for you or make your decisions for you. They’re not there to do your thinking for you. Many of them will help you, but don’t give your power away. I’ve found great comfort in knowing that my ancestors have faced life before me, that they’ve done this before. We can take courage from that. 

So go ahead and set up your altar, make your offerings, do the things- but relax. Go outside and enjoy the company of trees, of the river, of the birds, of the sun. Find the spirits all around you.

We’re not all that separate from spirits, even though we think we are in the same way that we have been taught to believe we are separate from our environment. But how near the front of your mind is it, how well and deeply do you know, that you are made from the earth, that the oceans swim in your veins, that fire within keeps you warm, that air is the constant companion of your lungs and spirit animates your mind? Can you close your eyes and see that you are the alchemical result of these elements in the core of your being? 

The more you learn what it means to bond and apply this knowledge with care, the easier and fuller these kinds of relationships will become.

Self reflection/ journal prompts:

  • What is my motivation for wanting to build relationships with different spirits?
  • What is the foundation I would like to build these relationships on?
  • What do I hope will be the result of connecting with my ancestors and/or other spirits?

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One thought on “Why It Can Feel Difficult to Connect With Ancestors and Other Spirits

  1. Hi Jessica,

    I have a question about discarding the offerings you make to the spirits in a highly unusual situation. Also, can I have a “temporary” alter, and what happens when I leave my home altar unattended? I work at sea, so I live on a ship for months at a time?
    So with discarding the offerings – food, etc – I can’t simply bury it or throw it overboard to compost (this is illegal). However, my ship uses a biodigester, which ultimately composts the food, which then ends up in the sea – providing nutrients to that environment. I also hear all of the arguments about how damaging that practice is, but so is putting food waste in bins at home.
    So, could I place the used offerings with our food waste? And, can I have a temporary altar on my desk or window? And is it OK to leave my permanent altar at home unattended (there is nobody to look after it on a daily basis).
    The water is easy – I can pour it out on my balcony (I am lucky) and it will flow directly out to sea, which feels nice to me.

    Many thanks,



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