Altars are a state of grace and a form of prayer- with or without religious beliefs. All religions of the world have altars, be it Christian, Pagan, Buddhist or otherwise, but altars themselves are not inherently religious. They are inherently private. And as such, they will hold whatever belief system you are currently exploring.
An altar is a place you have consciously defined as a safe and peaceful refuge to receive assistance from realms beyond your limited understanding of life.
We can not receive information until we become quiet and still. An altar is a focal point for stillness. When you build an altar you create a living, ever changing sculpture that reflects back to you the challenges in your life as they rise and resolve. Altars are a dialogue with unseen, unproovable guidance.
All religions of the world have altars, be it Christian, Pagan, Buddhist or otherwise, but altars themselves are not inherently religious. They are inherently private. And as such, they will hold whatever belief system you are currently exploring. Well before organized religion and as far back as Pre-history, humans have instinctively build portals into the Great Mystery of life which connect the physical with the metaphysical world.
Sounds great! How do I build one?
It is your internal energy that clears a space and pulls an altar into physical being. Since an altar is a mirror, your desire will reflect what you build. Where do you want your altar to be?
Inside? Outside? Find your power place. It is a gut feeling about a location that may require rearranging your furniture to open up energy channels. Once you’ve found the power place, let the area be empty for a while. The emptiness is gathering a silence and the silence is gathering a power, your power. Don’t allow the area to clutter up. Don’t let people leave their bags or gadgets in the space you’ve defined.
To make sure your altar is grounded in reality, place the four elements on it; a candle, a stone, a bowl of water, and an herb to burn by the candle light. I use sage and sweetgrass as well as Palo Santo and cedar. No matter how complex or sophisticated our modern lives become with touch screens, mp3’s, and instant streaming video on demand- it all breaks down to Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. These are the four most basic realities of life. Return to them always.
Once the elements are on your altar it is time to declare the space as safe and sacred. You declare this with the simple power of your conviction and your voice. “I declare this space as a safe and sacred place to explore my hopes and dreams.” With this statement place a Focal Object in the most honored position on your altar. A Focal Object is Medicine. It is the primary symbol of philosophical orientation which defines your primary belief systems at this time. The focal object needs to be a complex symbol which always prompts positive, life-affirming contemplation and comfort. You will want it to be a symbol you respect as an authority, something you will not dismiss or criticize in moments of frustration. It is an agreement you make with the symbol which says, ‘Whenever I turn to this, I will remember, am the student, and I will listen.’
Hawk is the protector of my altar. I invite you to work with this totem as well, or to find your own symbols of clarity. Most major religions build altars around the legendary people of that religion such as Christ, Buddha, Ram Das, Krishna, Shiva, Ala… etc. Where I will also place representations of these enlightened masters on my altar, they are not the focal object since I do not follow their religions. But they are most certainly invited! It is important to specify the primary focal object as the guardian of the space so that the altar does not become philosophically vague. You can change the focal object as your perspectives change. The important point is to make it specific to your belief systems so that the altar is a place to clarify your thoughts. Not sure what your belief systems are? That’s what altars help you find!
Once you’ve discovered your defining object and you’ve set the high integrity of your altar, you can then arrange your altar in any way that feels good. Fabrics, objects, lights… What do you love? What do you not understand? What is causing you pain? Bring all these things to your altar.
I often place pictures of people on my altar who I struggle to find peace with and then I remove the picture when I feel that struggle is no longer there. Often times, the very act of placing them on my altar enables clarity to arrive between us. It is the act of clarifying a desire for peace that brings peace into your life.
There are no mistakes in personal ceremony except for proceeding in a manner that is not enjoyable to you.
Even though altars are a deeply private activity, they are also all connected to one another. Integrity finds integrity. And though you and I may never meet, my altar and your altar connect us into a current of sacred healing energy as our souls are forever learning how to walk in balance. As I approach my altar, I declare that I am here, free, and willing and I recognize that you are also here, somewhere, free, willing, and seeking. In the act of altar building, we are alone but connected as we find our joy.
I hope you discover the simple clarity and self empowerment a sacred space can bring you!
(for all my relations)