I believe that death is an extension of life on another plane; a graduation to a higher level of existence, but yet still connected to the physical earthly one. Here in the earthly, the vehicle is the body, there it’s the spirit.
Death is a daily part of a spiritual workers life. We petition spirit to assist us through candles, prayers, and divination. We want them around, we need them in order to achieve our goals.
In Curanderismo, it’s believed we couldn’t bring spiritual/magical workings to pass without the help of the dead, without the help of Spirit, a Saint, deceased family, or another deity, the living and the dead work as a team. The dead offer us insight, guidance, knowledge, secrets, wisdom, and assistance. Therefore keeping an ancestor altar is very important to us. The ancestor altar becomes a bridge from here to the world of the dead and a constant connection to loved ones.
Erecting and dedicating the space brings responsibility. Attend it at least once a week, daily is better. The altar is a place of give and take. We want the help of our deceased; they want our light, our prayers, and a connection to the living. Here is where you take your problems, worries, concerns, needs, and happiness. This is the place to sit and talk with the ancestors. Here you can ask for assistance, guidance, and solutions to any problem. On the other hand you don’t want to use the space only when you need something ... you also want to attend the altar just to spend time with them, without wanting something in return.
The more the altar is used, the more energy it builds. Eventually the energy becomes so powerful that someone walking near it can actually feel the power radiating from it.
Metal surfaces shouldn’t be used for the altar since most spirits are turned away from it. The best surface is wood. I find that an old chest-of-drawers works especially well since you can store things inside it.
In Curanderismo white altar cloths are used since it represents peace, purity, and the dead. Bright colors used on this altar are only for special occasions, not as an every day thing. This can include an ancestor’s birthday or some other special occasion.
Like everything else in spiritual work the altar is cleansed. Holy Water alone can be used for the cleansing but I like to prepare a special liquid for the job. I use a blend of cleansing herbs consisting of Rue, Basil, Hyssop, and Holy Water. Sometimes, if I feel moved, I may include Rosemary to the mix. After the cleansing, the altar is then spiritually fumigated. My preferred incense for fumigation is “Church Incense”. I think it’s also called “Gloria Incense”. This is the same incense that the Catholic Churches use.
The entire time I’m cleansing and fumigating the altar, I’m praying. I’ll start out with Psalm 23 and then pray from the heart asking to keep bad spirits away and for protection. To end the cleansing ritual I rub the entire surface of the altar with fresh yellow marigolds. These flowers represent death. Spirits like them and are attracted to them.
Photos of the deceased and items that belonged to them can be added. Don’t forget trinkets and gadgets they liked or were known to wear. Larger objects can be set on the floor near the altar or hung on the wall over the altar. Photos placed on the altar should never include a person who is still living. It’s believed to bring tremendous bad luck, illness, and possibly a shorter lifespan to the person.
The altar should also have a bible or a book of prayers so that you can read to your spirits. You can either choose what you will read or let them choose. Ask them to lead you to the bible verse or prayer they would like to hear then open the book at random and read from those pages. Sometimes what they lead you to is actually something you need for yourself rather than something they want.
A clear crystal vase with fresh cut flowers can go anywhere on the altar. The flowers can be of any kind and of any color. They serve as an offering and are also a sign of respect. The crystal vase amplifies everything at the altar (communication, work, energy, etc). Any candle burned here should be white.
A Crucifix and Holy Water are always present. The Holy Water can be placed in a spray bottle for ease of use. It’s used to cleanse your hands when you first approach the altar and to cleanse your hands after working there. Just mist your hands with it. You can also lightly spray the altar top with the Holy Water to refresh the spirits.
Offering are limitless and are only given during special occasions or for answered petitions. Offerings can include any food item and any type of beverage especially if it was the deceased favorite food.
The altar should be set up with at least 3 glasses of fresh water. Water is an important substance in Curanderismo. Sixty percent of our body is water, Seventy percent of our brain is water, Ninety percent of our lungs are water, and Eighty percent of our blood is water. Without it all living things would cease to exist. Water is refreshing and purifying, it’s also a very spiritual substance that links us to other realms. It’s a substance that makes communication to the dead easier, its presence absorbs negativity and it’s a vehicle to receive and transport spiritual energy.
The 3 glasses of water should be placed in the center of the altar to form a triangle shape. The point of the triangle should be facing towards the front of the altar and the long base facing towards the rear.
The glass to the right rear is dedicated to your maternal ancestors, the glass to the left rear is your paternal ancestors, and the single glass towards the front is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. This particular setup is for honoring only the ancestors. The water should be changed once a week or sooner if they develop a lot of bubbles.
In Curanderismo it’s okay to add one Saint or Folk Saint to the ancestor altar, one that you feel very close to ... but just one .... Santa Muerte is not included in this choice. I work closely with a particular Folk Saint so I also have his picture on the altar since I consider him to be part of the family. With the addition of a Saint or Folk Saint the glasses are set up in the same triangle pattern but the dedication of the glasses are different.
In this case, the glass to the right rear is dedicated to your maternal and paternal ancestors, the glass to the left rear is dedicated to your Guides and to the Holy Trinity, and the single glass towards the front is dedicated to the Saint or Folk Saint. Again, the water is refreshed once a week. When you refresh the water in the glasses, no matter which setup you use, don’t pour the water down the drain, instead, pour it in the street off and away from your property. If you can’t pour it off and away from your property then pour the water into the toilet and flush it away.
The glass dedicated to the Saint or Folk Saint brings that Saints energy to your altar. I use this glass a little differently than others because I like to “ingest”, so to speak, the Saints energy ... I’ll explain, and hopefully I won’t confuse anyone.
The glass dedicated to my chosen Folk Saint I add fresh water to it every single night before I go to sleep because I’ll be drinking from it the next morning. For me, I dedicate this glass to Folk Saint Dr Jose Gregorio Hernandez. Every time I place a fresh glass of water out for him I ask Dr. Hernandez to enhance the water with any spiritual medication I need to stay healthy and to instill it with his wisdom and knowledge so that I can take it in to my own body and use it to help others. The next morning, I drink the spiritually enhanced water to transfer these energies from him into and inside myself. I take 3 sips from his glass of water; the first sip is “in the name of the Father”, the second sip is “of the Son” and the third sip is “of the Holy Ghost”.....I say this as I take each sip. Then I pour the rest of the water outside on my doorstep to attract blessings to my home.
Sometimes I will also place a gallon jug of water on the altar and ask him to fill it with spiritual medication for healing so that those that are sick can drink a glass of it. I then keep this jug in the refrigerator for when it’s needed. This works really well.
Some, not all, who practice Curanderismo keep a bottle of blessed olive oil on the altar and a small empty container to pour the oil into. I’m one that does. I use this blessed oil to pour libation (a liquid offering) .... yes, Christians pour libation, they do it at Christian Mass all the time, it’s just not practiced much at home.
I use a small soapstone cup to hold the libation poured. For me, pouring libation is a way to ask for my ancestors to be forgiven of any sins they passed with, to cleanse and purify them, to allow them spiritual progress and peace, and to remove any obstacles from their journey.
So I bet your wondering “when do I pour libation” well that is done during my Ancestral Healing Prayer I use once a week at my altar. I attend my altar every day. I have a daily routine, a weekly routine, and a monthly routine.