By Katherine Skaggs, CSEE Board Member
Creating an altar is a spiritual activity of intention as much as it is a physical endeavor. Altars can be communal, public or absolutely personal and tucked away from others’ curious minds.
When created ceremoniously and in ritual your altar is a place for sanctuary, prayer, meditation and ritual. It is a place to hold your prayers and intentions, as well as to focus your love and connection to Spirit. An altar is a place of non-ordinary reality held within ordinary reality. Altars are for your spiritual mind and soul heart to merge with your personality. Whether communal or personal, altars help to anchor your focus on Spirit, love, faith and possibility.
The Qer’o people of the Andes (an indigenous people in the lineage of the ancient Incans) know an altar creates a portal to the heavenly realms. With prayers, intention and attention to honor the ancestors, the elementals and spirit helpers with the altar as the focal point, a column of light emanates from the heavens downward into the center of Mother Earth via the altar space. This column of light is called a canali, and acts as a gateway for angels, guides and masters from the heavenly realms to come into your place of prayer and ceremony. They come to answer your prayers and bring blessings from the supernatural worlds of Spirit.
Altars are created and used by many peoples around the world, indigenous, religious, and vastly spiritually oriented. There is a common experience of creating sacred spaces for prayers to be focused, sent and received to and from the Divine. Native Americans, Peruvians, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, protestants, Celtic Druids, and on and on and on, find sacred objects, for sacred spaces, to set an altar to speak to Great Spirit, God, Goddess, the Divine.
Altars can be large or small, they can be permanent or traveling. What they have in common is that they are a dedicated space which honors Spirit, your guides, helpers and allies. It is a place to pray. It is a place to recognize as you are in a sacred ceremony. It is a place to say hello to your ancestors and allies. It is a place to listen and gain guidance. Commonalities of altars are a sacred cloth as the mesa, and ground for the sacred items. Flowers, candles, sacred objects from stones and crystals to statuary may fill your altar. Statues or pictures of saints, the Buddha, the Christ, statues of animal totems are excellent to have on your altar to honor and call forth these helpers and guides. Sage, sacred tobacco, incense, corn meal, and other sacred plants are also good to have on the altar. During prayer these may be lit, allow the smoke to send your prayers to Spirit in ritual.
Pictures of your self or family members and loved ones may go on a personal altar or an altar dedicated to the support and protection of your family. When I teach ongoing classes we make an altar in my teaching space for the group, with pictures of each participant for that six month class. Each day I go to that altar and pray for that group, for each person, for support, for healing, for blessings and such. I light sacred tobacco and send to each person, calling in help from their allies and the allies of the group. This is an example of the power of prayer and an altar to hold the space for an individual or for a group of people.
Set aside a place in your home that is private where you can set up your personal altar. It doesn’t have to be large. It can be as small as your bedside table, or even the drawer of your bedside table. Clear it of all clutter. Find a cloth or covering that is beautiful and feels sacred to you. This will help set the space.
Next, place a small statuette, piece of art, a crystal, flowers or an item representing Spirit at the center of the altar. Place a candle on the altar. Use your intuition as to where it belongs. You can place other items in on the altar such as flowers, crystals, a small container of water, feathers, sand, etc. The items you place on the altar should bring love, beauty and honor to Spirit and integrate with your intentions.
Smudge your altar with tobacco, sage, cedar, sweet grass, or whatever combination of herbs you are called to use and keep it as clean energetically as you do by dusting it physically.
Take some time each day to sit at your altar, putting your attention on Spirit, through your heart, your prayers, gratitude and intentions. When you sit you can burn incense and play music to assist you in going inward to connect to your intuition and to Spirit. When you are quiet and focused, you begin to open to the messages and healing energies Spirit has for you.
Enter into prayer mindfully, centered in your heart with gratitude. Light your candle, and send your prayers to Spirit in your mind, in your heart, and in your words. Pray gratefully with an earnest heart, opening to the love and gifts available to you. Visualize your prayers as not only heard, but answered.
Let go of outcomes and open to the larger vision Spirit has for you and your life. Open to greater possibilities expressing from Great Mystery, answering your prayers in love beyond what your human mind can grasp. Spirit works in the mystery, and ultimately weaves a path of awakening when you will surrender and trust the Greater Spirit and inter-connectedness of life.
Making an altar and having a mindful practice of prayer, ritual and gratitude can heal your life beyond anything you can imagine. It brings peace with focus through the heart. This ancient practice of prayer and altar work anchors your prayers from earth to heaven and heaven to earth in a tapestry of woven intentions that are your heart song. Try it and discover more about yourself as a sacred creator dreaming your world through greater love and heart centered intentions.
What you ask and what you bless, shall be given.