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Altars - Where do I begin?

Yesterday, one of our Sisters requested some Altar Advice- the Where, Why, and How. I am compiling some information here from my own practice, however I highly encourage you to create your own. I’ve said it before and will continue to say it-

Your practice belongs to you! The energetic strength comes from YOU and if an item doesn’t FEEL right, it’s going to do nothing but hinder you. When it comes to building your altar, always do what feels right. 💕

Here we go: The power of intention is real, and I’ve found that practicing or meditating in front of an altar can be a great way to manifest those intentions. As we begin to turn into 2020, preparing an altar as a dedicated space to the bounty, gratitude, and blessings in your life and where you’d like to go is a great practice to wind down your day and look forward to the next.

Altars are not uniform across the world—though they traditionally are any kind of structure or platform where sacrifices and offerings are made. They’re not exclusive for one kind of occasion, nor are they reserved for the most spiritual among us. They come in all shapes and sizes and vary in uses across religions and philosophies. My personal use of altars is something ingrained...I grew up seeing them everywhere and creating them on my own as well. I saw them tucked away in corners at Asian restaurants, bodega stores, the butchers market..... I admired roadside altars outside temples. It taught me from an early age the importance of focusing our thoughts and energy for forward movement in our lives.

Here we have arrived at the most important reason to create an altar: a focus for one’s efforts or heartfelt intentions. It provides a very real and very simple reminder of what is important to you and what you are working toward. The objects you adorn your altar with represent these goals and inspirations and remind us to stay on our paths. Take time to sit in meditation and decide what you would like to clear out and bring in to your life. As you create your altar, keep your intentions in mind and perhaps write them on a piece of paper to place on your altar.

Decorating Your Altar

The foundation of the altar can be a plate, tray, scarf, slab of marble or wood, or just use the floor, table, or shelf that you have. In many traditions, photos of teachers, mentors, loved ones, or other inspirations are placed on the altar. Add rocks, crystals, gems, flowers, fruit, jewelry, totem animals, singing bowls, or anything that is special and meaningful for you.

Placing a deity on your personal altar—particularly a deity whose qualities you seek—I will sometimes place a statue of Ganesha on my Altar (“to remember that obstacles can be essential elements that help us find strength”)
One one of my Altars I have a portrait of a Raven- This honors my matron Goddess The Morrigan. Additionally, The Raven is sometimes called the “Keeper of Secrets” and like all birds is a messenger between the heavens and the earth. She encourages us to dive deeper and to look within to seek the answers to put in motion the much-needed change.
Candles or incense are also common altar objects. I love the symbolism of smoke and fire—the burning away of the old, the transformation of what no longer serves, the fuel to maintain an inner power and strength.

Your altar can be decorated according to each season (with the flora/fauna to accompany it), or to symbolize an element (air, earth, water, fire). Many may choose to include some sort of crystal arrangement. On my working Altar I keep rose quartz, amethyst, clear quartz, selenite and citrine. My mother has a collection of rocks and crystals that sit among her rattle, medicine bag, palo santo, sage sticks, feathers, candles, plants, and a little bit of tobacco. Her altar has more of a shamanic flavor to it.

It can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. In my house I have several altars on shelves of all sizes. They move around within my space, and some pieces travel with me when we head out of town for meetings or shows.

Where to Place Your Altar

Altars can be anywhere! Perhaps you set up a permanent one in a quiet corner of your home where you like to practice yoga or sit in meditation. You could create different altars weekly on a side table where you drink your morning tea and reflect upon the day ahead. Or, you could write a simple quote for remembrance on a chalkboard. Try having pieces displayed on a shelf that remind you of travels you’ve taken, and these pieces go on all your travels with you. The possibilities are endless, as are the sizes and the meanings of each altar we design.

Taking your treasures with you when you travel is a special practice and I actually have a travel Altar that I will set up for overnight stays. Due to the nature of the places we visit and the reasons we are there, not to mention the varied individuals who have joined us, it is a constantly rotating series of items that have been gifted to me or found in the outdoor spaces where I practice. For space conservation, I ditched the little box I used to use and now wrap everything in a cloth. 😊

Whether to deepen your connection to prayers, to the divine, to the source, or to love, altars are a beautiful symbol of our cycles: from inspiration from our pasts, to the abundance in our futures. They hold our intentions, and when we are ready, we let them go and move toward a new altar with new intentions.

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