What is the Purpose of an Altar?

What is the Purpose of an Altar?

An altar reflects beauty: flowers, candles, photos, art, a rosary, a braid of sweetgrass, arranged in a particular way. An artistic presentation of your own design at home or office, a reflection of something personal, heartfelt, and sacred.

As a chiropractor, I had altars everywhere in my office, in the reception area and treatment rooms, on tables, windowsills and desk corners. To the ordinary observer, they were just part of the decor. For me they were touchstones.

No matter what my patients came in with, I saw reminders of peace and well being wherever my eyes came to rest. This always helped me to remain calm and present with the most important being in the room–the person right in front of me.

Later, I began building beautiful altars outside around a fire with wood, iron, bone, antlers, crystals, abalone shells, and feathers set on flat rocks covered with a blanket or woven cloth. Kneeling on a folded blanket beside my altar, I’d feel alive and invigorated, huddled in the cold before dawn, waiting for the warmth and light of the sun.

The ritual of making fire and building altars provides a powerful connection to earth below and sky above, the rising and setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, the movement of stars. A  deep and abiding sense of peace is both common and natural around altars.

What is an Altar?

The word “altar” has religious, sacrificial and matrimonial references; as a place of worship, to make offerings; a structure built for entrances, courtyards and temples; or simply a table. It is often used figuratively to imply a place of value or a focal point of significance. It’s not about making idols or praying to false gods. The word itself reflects its spiritual origins.

An altar is a symbol, the conscious arrangement of things in space to create a sense of balance and order in the natural world. In esoteric terms, an altar is not a thing, it’s a devotion. Devotion is love, loyalty or enthusiasm for something. It’s a commitment to give our attention to whatever we are doing at the moment.

An altar can be a reminder of the Spirit within, a cue to be present time conscious, where being and doing come together in a focused way. As with all forms of art, we become part of our altar, a tangible reflection of our creativity, an anchor point to our creative, spiritual nature. Every altar has all the meaning we give it, and can instantly shift awareness to what is sacred and holy within us.

How to Make a Simple Altar at Home

To make your own altar, prepare a place in your home, whether tabletop, desk, counter or windowsill. Create an arrangement of personal mementos, flowers, photos, artwork, candles, feathers, dried sage, stones, crystals, a rosary or crucifix, a bowl of water, a Buddha, a pair of praying hands, or favorite books. This is your design, your intention, so there’s no right or wrong way. Keep it simple, joyful and meaningful.

When you pray, meditate or journal, light a candle and place it near your altar as a focal point. Let it be a reminder of all that is holy and good in your life, a place of peace and tranquility, no matter what is happening in the outer world.

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