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The Cottage Sept/Oct Samhain 2002
Day of the Dead Altar

Day of the Dead Altar 


Witches and other pagans always love this time of year. But if you live in South Texas or another area with many people who practice Mexican traditions, you get an extra treat. Everywhere you look during the weeks around Samhain, youll find Day of the Dead altars. 

The altars are to commemorate the dead, and to celebrate. Now, pagans understand that concept. We can get behind a tradition that both honors Death and celebrates as well. So I always feel especially close to my South Texas community at this time of year. They're building altars just like I do all year long! 

You can build a Day of the Dead altar, too. My own altar mixes elements of pagan practice as well as traditional Day of the Dead inclusions. For a simple altar, choose pictures of ancestors and loved ones who have crossed over. My altar always features my beloved dog, Sam, and my two grandmothers. My grandmothers were good friends, and I have a wonderful picture of the two of them, arms around each other. 

Honor the remembered by placing some of their favorite things on the altar. Traditional altars are not at all politically correct. Youll find cigarettes, bottles of liquor, or, at the very least, the departeds favorite candy. If you have some of their favorite belongings, put them out, too. Add golden marigolds and candles, to light the loved ones way.  

If you want to go further, seek out a Mexican bakery and buy pan de muerto, bread of the dead that is baked in the shape of bones, or other sweets that mark the day. Or follow the recipe for pan de muerto at the end of this article. 

And if you really want to get behind the holiday, you can buy kits to make the traditional sugar skulls. These are skulls made primarily of sugar, then decorated with icing, sequins, or whatever else takes your fancy. I've made them. It was messy, easy and lots of fun, and if you keep them from moisture, your skulls will last for years. You can find the sugar skull molds, meringue mix and instructions at 

And feel free to add your own touch, in keeping with your own personal traditions, to your Day of the Dead altar. Directional candles, God/dess images and incense are all good additions. I love to cut an apple cross-wise, so the shape of the pentagram shows in its seeds, and put it on my altar until November 3. Then I bury it, to nourish the souls of the departed, or the fairies. Whoever finds the apple first! One of my favorite memories is of building my Day of the Dead altar on a table by my bed, and placing my apple on it. I woke in the night to see two little mice nibbling on the apple. Somehow, that seemed to me a very affirming vision. 

Traditional altars are built on November 1 and 2, but I build mine in the last week of October and take it down on November 3. Have fun with your Day of the Dead altar! What better way to honor the memory of those you've loved than with an altar built with respect, joy and love.

blessings of the thinning veil,

sisalfish <*{{{{>< 


Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead Bread) 

You can mold this bread into different shapes like bones, angels and animals. 


1 1/2 cups of flour

1/2 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon of anise seed

2 packets of dry yeast

1/2 cup of milk

1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup of butter

4 eggs

from 3 - 4 1/2 cups of flour  


Mix all dry ingredients together except the 3 - 4 1/2 cups of flour. In a small pan, heat the milk, the water, and the butter. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture. Beat well.

Mix in the eggs and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Beat well. Put in the rest of the flour, little by little.

Knead the mixture on a floured board for 9 - 10 minutes. Put the dough in a greased bowl and allow it to rise until it has doubled in size (about an hour and a half at sea level).

Punch the dough down and reshape it with some "bone" shapes on top to decorate it. 

Let it rise another hour. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 40 minutes.

After baking, sprinkle it with confectioner's sugar and colored sugar. 


sisalfish is a Dianic wiccan living in an old house in San Antonio, with her husband of thirty years and a neurotic sheltie named Chee. She's interested in chant, ritual movement, shamanism and tarot, and is a Mystery in the Dianas Grove Mystery School.