The New Year is an excellent time to set up an Altar, be it to energize your new resolutions you have made or to deepen your connection with Spirituality. Here are some things to consider when setting up an Altar.

What is an Altar and what purpose do they serve?

An altar is a physical space to come to when the world seems too chaotic and you need to step out of it and take a break. In the books of the Old Testament , specific woods, gems, metals and even dimensions were written to be used in the construction of an altar. An altar not only provides a physical space, such as a table top, china hutch or dresser bureau, but also its’ sacred elements, deems so by you, create a psychic space in which you can open up to the Divine and seek comfort. What you use for your altar, be it driftwood from the ocean or a folding table with silks draped over it, the most important element in altar construction is what you deem sacred and spiritual and the placement and enjoyment you garner from the ritual of the construction.

Many Altars, Many Reasons

A good question to ask yourself  is this: Why are you drawn to create an altar? Some have one because they have received or collected small images of deities and want to display them. Some create an altar for a place, such as the ocean or the forest, because the individual connects or is devoted to that region on Earth. Some create an altar of relatives who have passed, like on a dining room hutch or the fireplace mantle. Do not be surprised that even people who are interested in a favorite rock or pop star or an actor will have a rudimentary altar constructed for them with framed photos, concert tickets, snapshots and maybe even the drink cup from the venue, all to memorialize the function in which the fan attended.

Other altars are created to “do” something, like draw money, work for court cases, humanity or to keep the family members safe. Some set small altars with a white candle near a bedside table when someone is ill, along with prayers and hope for them to return to full health. Whatever the reason is, there is no time limit or amount of items needed to create this sacred space, and you might find that you move things around or change out items until you feel that it is “just right”. This is your Sprit guiding you, and there is no ‘wrong’ way to create an altar.

Basic Altar Construction Tips

First, you must choose the best location for your altar. Some are set in accordance with the compass points, as in Feng Shui, Native American belief systems, or have various other meanings to place an altar where you want. Ideally, it should be a quieter part of the house, away from the hustle and bustle of the family entering into the home or the activities of living, although my large All Saints Altar sits in the Family Section of the Feng Shui bagua as it is placed in my home and give a sense of calm to the whole house. If your belief system is one that would not be understood by everyone who comes to visit, lessen the chance of scrutiny and curiosity by moving your altar to a more discreet location.

Next, make sure your area near and around the altar is free from clutter and unnecessary objects. Remember that pleasure and peace is what we want to experience when you enter your sacred space. Try to not upset the tranquility by having boxes, magazines and stacks of dry cleaning near your altar, all harbingers of negative energy. To further increase positivity and the removal of stagnant energy, use white sage, frankincense, myrrh or any of the other traditional herbs used for space clearing.

You can define the area with a mat or throw rug of a different texture or color that the rest of the room or area or if in front of an alcove or window, some silken drapes or gossamer tulle will heighten the sanctity of the area. You may use a color that connects with your Deity or Element that you are honoring with this altar, like shades of blue for the Virgin Mary, Yemaya, or the Spirit of the Ocean. The textures and colors you choose will help you prepare for meditation and will define the sacred space.

Use a solid wood table or shelf – natural products here – in the form of a cabinet, hutch, shelving or dresser as your base for your altar. You may layer your altar, choosing to use the table top for candles and offerings, but suspend your Deity image or statue on a shelf placed on the wall directly above the table. Again, use rich, silken fabrics to cover your table – no polyester for the Saints! You may want to also add candles and fresh flowers to your altar, to please the senses and the Spirits.

Now that you have your basic altar, gather items that represent your Energy, Element or Deity you are honoring. Shells, driftwood, images of dolphins, seagulls and the like would be a natural decoration for any Goddess of the Sea and for the Ocean in itself. If Beings of the Forest is to your liking, photographs of mountains, a small living tree in a planter, earthy colors and lots of green would be in store. For entities of the Air, wispy fabrics, pictures of clouds, the Sun and Fairies might be some things to consider. You might incorporate all the elements like in Feng Shui, to honor all of them in the Universe.

Make sure you keep your altar as what it is intended. Do not place things like lotion bottles, brushes and car keys on the corner as a quick place to keep them. Keep this space sacred. Likewise, when you are ready to sit before your altar, make sure you are in clean, comfortable clothes. If you had a bad day at the office, a 5 minute shower will wash away all those cares, leaving you clean for spiritual meditation and reflection. Also, make sure when dust settles on your altar cloths or candle wax drips on them, take time to break down your altar, cleaning out the dust bunnies that may have gathered under the tables. Wash everything and replace as needed.

By creating your altar, it becomes a personal representation of what you consider sacred. It is never ‘wrong’, so do not let others influence your items, offering and the like. This is one reason you might want to consider a space bedroom or rarely used room for your altar. It is YOUR space, your devotion, your way. By creating a sacred space, you will begin to see the sacredness in all sections of your life, as the puzzle pieces of your life will come together as One.

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