Altars are viewed as a spiritual technology, available to all for our evolutionary progression. Altars can be used to connect to the self, ancestors, divinity, or the present moment. Each altar is as unique as the individual(s) who create it.
What is an Altar?
An altar is a designated sacred space for worship, prayer, meditation, sacrifice, and other practices of presence.
The altar first originated in the greatest sacred space – nature. Sanctuaries were found where the sea met the Earth. Temples were found where the Earth met the mountains.
Eventually, humans evolved – likely from transformational psychedelic experiences – and turned these junctures of nature into institutions of sacrifice where elaborate altars could exist. Various styles of altars can be seen across religions and faiths as well as non-denominational practices.
In the present day of December 2020, it is common to now see designated sacred space for altars in residential environments and used in daily practices.
What are Altars Used For?
An altar can serve humans in many ways. For example, an altar is a sacred space to connect to our ancestors and spirit guides, to release, express, focus our intentions, meditate, and manifest. It is technology. Just as our cell phones are a space for us to connect, release, express, focus, and manifest on the physical plane, altars are a technology for us to do so on the spiritual plane.
Altar building is a human instinct. No matter what background of humanity you investigate, there will always be some form of the altar or sacred space of worship. What an altar is used for can never be fully understood because every altar’s use is dependent on the individual who is building or experiencing it. However, we can observe that altars are a vital piece of the human condition and a technology for our evolution.
Steps to Creating an Altar
If we look at technology as the sum of techniques, skills, methods, and processes that accomplish specific objectives, we can view altar-building as a form of spiritual technology. Tuning into this technology is a gift. Once you give yourself permission to dive into the art of altars with an open mind and heart, you will be able to see the benefits first hand.
So what do these techniques, skills, methods, and processes look like? What are the steps to set up these technologies?
Step 1: Find a Safe Space
An altar can be built anywhere and for as long as an individual needs it. Though, it is recommended to choose a safe space. A quiet space. Perhaps space where the only things happening around you is the subtle processes of the world. Such processes may be the fridge running, the birds chirping, or cars passing by. Try and avoid the louder processes of your world, such as the chaotic emotions of your family or the alerts from your different physical devices. If you can’t avoid them in your home, allow yourself time to find space outside of it.
Examples can be your car, a temple or church, a park, or a nature preserve. No matter where it is, your goal is to find a safe and relatively quiet space. Some may even refer to these sacred spaces as their meditation altars – a space to practice presence.
Clean and Clear and Under Control
Once you have found your sacred space, you must go through the steps of cleaning and clearing. Whatever the surface may look like, you want to make sure it is clean. This is an important step in the process of setting up your technology. Your laptop isn’t going to properly work if the processor is dirty, so make sure your altar is clean.
Along with having a clean surface, you will also want to take measures of clearing the air. You can do this by smudging, which is an ancient practice of burning sacred herbs, such as sage and sweetgrass. It is scientifically proven that burning sage removes bacteria from the air.
The last and potentially most important step is to clean and clear your headspace. An easy way to achieve this is by drawing your attention to your breath and heartbeat. Maybe even find and feel your pulse, allow yourself to recognize your humanity.
Step 2: Choose Essential Items
There are NO wrong items to include on your altar. If any such item or talisman helps you become more present to a higher state of consciousness, that is exactly the item you should include. If you are at a loss with what items to include, it is wise to pull from the natural technologies of the four elements – fire, water, earth, and air. In many traditional and historical iterations of altars, we see many items representing the four elements. There is no need to break the bank on altar items; 99.9% of them can be found in nature or a sentimental item that is already in your possession.
- Candles (fire/light)
- A vessel filled with water- rainwater is a plus! (water)
- Feather or smoke (air)
- Crystals or stones (earth)
Step 3: Decorate Your Altar
Decorating your altar, again, is all dependent on the individual’s intent. The most successful altars are those with a bit of sacred geometry and balance to them. Decorate your altar as if you were going to attend its grand celebration because, in reality, you are. Give your altar a stage to lay your essential items on. This can be any fabric that you resonate with. It is common to see fresh seasonal herbs and flowers as an altar offering. Change the fruit frequently.
The Taoist tradition practices putting fruit on the altar and removing it when it is ready to eat to further receive the gifts of your altar. Additionally, Taoists balance the yin and yang offerings. Each tradition will have its own suggestions for what items to include on your altar. Finding a tradition that resonates with you is a great way to build your altar. Going with your own instinct on essential items is also a way for your altar to be a form of your own expression.
If you are creating an altar with the intent to connect to your ancestors or guides, it is suggested to have photos of your past loved ones or spiritual figures present. For those of you with the specific intent on building an ancestral altar, here is an informative video from Yeyeo Botanica, that breaks down the do’s and don’ts.
Step 4: Bless Your Altar
The biggest blessing you can give to your altar is your divine presence. Without it, you will not fully receive the downloads your altar wants to give you. Ways to achieve this presence is through activating your somatic awareness through your senses.
Wiccan to Catholics alike usually bless the altar with some form of incantation or prayer.
Suggestions for blessing your altar:
- Incense or essential oils that resonate with you to activate smell.
- Chanting or humming to activate your active sound externally and internally.
- Physically put your hands on the altar to activate touch.
- Have a cup of brewed black coffee/tea or a fresh piece of fruit to activate taste.
- Close your eyes to activate your inner sight.
Step 5: Bless Yourself
Once your altar has been created you are present to its technology and energy. Now you have the ability to bless yourself by simply receiving all of the sacred lessons your altar wants to provide. Float in the presence of the altar and all of the timelessness it holds – with full acceptance and presence of you in that moment.
Altars Are for All
Altars are for all, not just for institutionalized religion. As stated throughout this article, it is a spiritual technology to help us evolve. However, institutionalized religious and spiritual practices are available for us to study and explore as we are developing our own practices. Only take what resonates with you. Below is a list of some of the different spiritual practices and the art of altar building for you to explore.
- Hebrew Bible
- Shinto Norse Paganism
RS Contributing Author: Niki Perlberg
Niki is a social and arts entrepreneur who specializes in project and creative production development. With her passion for social structures and the arts, she has been involved in the architecture of performance and festival culture around the country. In rapidly changing times she is now taking her passion for these sub-cultures and sharing them with us in our digital atmosphere through her writing and content development. Some of her favorite parts of life are coffee, campfires, and contemplating the mysteries of existence. Feel free to follow her on Insta @itsnikiperl