I was first introduced to the idea of altars as a spiritual practice when I was studying yoga, Vedanta, and Ayurveda. Yoga Oasis, Ananda Ashram, and the Ayurvedic Institute all had altars to the Hindu deities to which they were devoted.
I was deeply called to these altars in a way I was not called to the religious altars in the Catholic churches I grew up in. They were still religious, but more beautiful and cared for – offerings were made in the forms of foods, flowers, and incense. They had beautiful, intricate statues and carried an energy of love and devotion. They were interactive and we were encouraged to participate in the devotional act of caring for them in a way that was reserved for priests in the Catholic tradition.
When I started attending Unity Spiritual Center in Albuquerque, I was introduced to a less religious and more metaphysical idea of altars. Altars as a place to set intentions, identify qualities to cultivate, and call-in support from other realms – guides, angels, ascended masters, one’s higher self, for example. Altars as a reminder of the people one holds dear, whether alive or passed.
Over time, altars have become an act of devotion to myself and the metaphysical Universe I inhabit. Their creation and maintenance have become a part of my spiritual practice.
I use them to set intentions, call in qualities I want to develop or energies I’d appreciate support from, and as a reminder of my connection to that which is larger than me of which I am a part (The Great Mystery, The Universe, God, All That Is, etc.). They can also be a place to give gratitude for the blessings in my life and hardships that are challenging me to grow.
The Elements in My Altars
Each altar I create – and I create a lot of them – has a compilation of inspirational quotes, statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities (Ganesh, Quan Yin, Buddha), natural elements, and photos of people or places I hold dear. Sometimes the oracle or tarot deck I am working with is on or near the altar, so they are available for inspiration during the day.
I also tend to show devotion to the earth through representations of the natural elements (earth, air, fire, water).
Here are some examples of natural elements that tend to be on my altar:
- Stones that carry supportive and cleansing energies (earth).
- Candles, incense, sage, sweetgrass, or palo santo (fire), which can also be burned to clear the space.
- Aura-Soma, an essential oil diffuser, or a small fountain (water).
- Fresh flowers or live plants are a way to show devotion to several elements (water, earth, air) and a way to brighten a space.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to create a personal altar.
I do believe that it’s important that your altar reflects YOU – your loves, intentions, and the values and people you hold dear. And that each altar reflects the energy you want to cultivate in the room or house. The altar in my bedroom has a different feel than the one in my office or the one in the kitchen, above the stove.
I find that altars have a lifespan.
Our needs, wants, desires and life situations change, and it’s important that our altars change with us. For example, our home has an altar in and around the fireplace. I’ve been noticing I’m avoiding that corner – it felt too crowded and disorganized. There were so many plants and nick-knacks, I couldn’t even get to the fireplace to light the candles!
Tonight, I went on a clearing out and re-arranging binge and about an hour later it was clean, rearranged, simplified and a few plants and nick-knacks had found new homes (or were in the donation pile). Tonight, I’m lighting the candles in the fireplace and enjoying the view. I feel calmer and like that corner of the house is part of the flow of our lives again.
When our dreams change, it’s important to give gratitude to the things on the altar that have served us and let them go. Welcome in fresh energy and let the new elements find their place. Tend the new altar and invoke your new intentions and watch the magic happen!
So now it’s your turn!
- What’s on your altar?
- Was there something in this piece that inspired you?
- What did you learn that you can put to use in your life?
Join the conversation on altars in the Dragonfly Den– ask questions and share pictures of your altar!