From Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers
Working with one's ancestors is a strong and ancient part of many cultures, but in the form in which it is found among hoodoo and conjure practice, it derives in large part from African traditions of ancestor veneration and has become a form of spirit work, a term that covers a broad range of altar work and prayer as well as magical spell casting in which root doctors may contact or seek the aid of spirits and spirit guides.
You do not need to know the names of your ancestors to call upon them, and while generally speaking, the term "ancestors" refers to one's blood relatives, there are instances in which certain physical ancestors may be inappropriate to approach, by reason of their activities while alive, and in some cases, adoptive ancestors will step in to provide help and assistance.
The Home Ancestor Altar
African-American forms of ancestor work are not always recognized as "ancestor veneration" in the purely African sense of that term.
In America, spiritual contact with ancestors may be performed in the graveyard, or on a home altar -- but it is more likely to take the form of simple "memory place" in the home where photographs of family members who have passed are displayed.
If you seek guidance in undertaking ancestor work and wish to establish a valid connection to your ancestral lineage through the use of photographs, personal mementos, or maps of the land where they once dwelled, a gifted spiritual practitioner who works in the African-American tradition of ancestor veneration may be able to help you establish a personalized home altar.
The Spiritual Worker as Medium and Advisor
Among clients who seek our readers, ancestor contact may be achieved through the use of divination, such as scrying or the throwing of bones (a hearkening back to African traditions of divination), or through the intercession of a spirit medium, either informally or working under the auspices of a Spiritualist church. Often such contact begins with a pilgrimage to the burial site of an ancestor and the ritual collection or "purchase" of graveyard dirt from the site, which is carried home and placed on the spiritual worker's altar.
Ancestors as Spirit Helpers
Root workers who are blessed to have ancestors who will work as spirits on behalf of clients may petition their own ancestors for help in certain cases, especially if their ancestors have strong and distinct talents. For instance, a rootworker whose grandmother was a midwife may petition her ancestor's aid in cases of fertility and childbirth, a rootworker whose grandfather was a lawyer may seek his ancestor's help in spirit form while casting court case spells, and a rootworker whose grandmother was a psychic reader back in the day may call upon her illustrious ancestor for spiritual assistance before undertaking her daily card readings on behalf of her clients.
Root doctors familiar with ancestor work may also help clients to contact their own ancestors using magical coaching techniques, either long distance or in person, as suits the case. Many people of African descent who live in the Americas have adopted a highly modified version of the African Bwete cult of ancestor veneration as a way to honour their African and Native American forebears in the figure of Black Hawk.
In certain instances, if you cannot travel to where your ancestor is buried, but you know the location, you can hire a conjure doctor who lives near the site and who is proficient in ancestor work to help you obtain your ancestor's graveyard dirt. The rootworker will visit the graveyard on your behalf, pay respects at your ancestor's grave, leave whatever offerings you have specified, and "buy" graveyard dirt on your behalf, which will be shipped to you for use on your own home altar.