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  • Writer's pictureHallie Swan

Building an Altar

An altar is a great resource to support you in whatever internal psycho-emotional, spiritual, and even physical process you are undergoing at any one time.

It is a place where you can honor the themes and energies that are coming through you. Building an altar, “feeding” it (by giving it offerings or prayers), or simply looking at it can be a great way to reconnect with your medicine, and remind you about the inner processes you are working through.

Here are some suggestions about how to build an altar:

Dedicate one place in your home to be an altar space. You might build a structure of some kind to elevate that which you are putting on the altar as a form of reverence and respect.

Tune in to the energies and themes that have been up for you in your recent life. Tune in to that which feels like a leading “edge” for you in your evolution. In other words, what personal development are you moving towards? What inner resources do you want to build? What relationships with parts of yourselves or with others do you want to kindle? What form of personal empowerment do you want to embody? What allies do you want to connect with? What do you want to focus on in your life? What elements from nature, animals, spirits, etc call to you? Are there any whose essence you want to integrate in to your own being/ let inform you of how you want to be in the world? Is there anybody or any large-scale phenomenon you want to offer prayers for?

Here is an example of an altar from my own life:

At the time I was really feeling the energy of water pervade my life. I no longer felt so rigid or solid or fixed on structure, holding, or grounding (which would have been more earth element). I was opening to fluidity: being flexible in my own life, and allowing things to happen organically. I was feeling more in touch with feminine creativity and receptivity, which both corresponded with water, the moon, subjectivity, reflectiveness, and magnetism. So I put a deep blue cloth down on top of my altar. I also put an image of the moon.

I was simultaneously feeling that dreaming would be a big area of my life where wisdom would come through. I wanted to “feed” the spirit of dreaming so to speak, by letting it know of my interest in it and concerted effort to engage with it. Therefore, I put an image on my altar of someone lucid dreaming/ astral projecting. This set the psychic intention within me of being more mindful around my sleep, and of being open to what the mystery wanted to show me through the realm of dreams.

Ocean mammals were also calling to me at the time. So I included an image of dolphins, and in fact, had dolphin sounds playing over the stereo while I built my altar. In the same vein as these more yin energies, I was feeling a resonance with darkness, and nighttime, and things that flourished in the dark. I had an image of mushrooms, which thrive in dark and damp environments, and communicate through their subterranean mycelial networkJ Also along these same lines, I was feeling called to honor the power of my menstrual cycle, so I put a jar into which I would put my blood each night during my moon time, before offering it back to the earth. This was a way of making the unseen visible, reversing shame, and honoring the power of the collective process that all female mammals go through.

This is just one example. Some other examples of elements to include in your altar to get you brainstorming:

- Certain words, phrases, prayers, or mantras that feel relevant to you at this point in your life

- Perhaps synchronicities have been happening surrounding a certain symbol or object in your life. Without even fully understanding the significance of the synchronicities, you may want to put the object or symbol on your altar as a form of openness to the process the universe is unfolding before you

- Perhaps you feel the need for grounding, or connection with certain plants or elements. Maybe you want to include real live plants, stones, bones, shells, feathers, or water on your altar

- Maybe there is a certain guru, beloved teacher, or role model whose photograph you want to put on there.

- You may want to emphasize different colors on your altar that correspond with different vibrations (browns= grounding, blues= water or sky, red= passion/ fire/ alchemy/ creation, purple= magic/ mystery/ queer themes, etc). By the way, these are just my felt sense interpretations of what these colors mean. Sense what each color means for you.

- There are many symbols you can include in physical form or in the form of image: a ring symbolizing marriage, union, a sacred vow or commitment; a skull to symbolize death or the ancestors; bridges for stepping into an adjoining phase of life; a compass for direction; a butterfly for transformation, etc. Again, these symbols can have many meanings. Find what they represent for you.

- Archetypes are quintessential symbols of forces that live within us and in the collective world. You may want to pick up a deck of Tarot cards at a metaphysical store. Tarot cards have a lot of universal archetypes and symbols on them you can use for altar-making. Some examples of archetypes that you may be in touch with include: The seductress, the Great Mother, the clown, the black sheep, the bully, the rebel, the hero, the explorer, etc. Are any archetypes coming through you at this time in your life?

- Shadow work: The term “shadow” was coined by Jung in reference to parts of ourselves that are unconscious that drive a lot of our behavior that we don’t want to acknowledge out of shame or fear of rejection. Honoring our shadows on our altars is a powerful way to bring them to light, let them inform us about ourselves, shift our relationship with them, and become more whole, integrated beings. A shadow part might be: a bitch, an anxiously attached/ needy part, a pervert, etc.

- Images or sculptures of certain parts of the body or bodily processes. Perhaps you have a health issue that you want to honor, or perhaps there is a bodily quality that you want to honor. It can be helpful to think of the chakra system as a map for the qualities associated with different body parts/ processes. For example: the pelvis and sexuality, the feet and grounding, the throat and one’s voice, the back and “having a spine” or self-support, the abdomen and personal power, the third eye and one’s inner vision, legs and our primate strength, the digestive system and our ability to “take in” the world/ digest issues in a healthy way, etc.

- Artwork we have personally done, poetry we have written, etc to honor our creativity

- You can include crystals with properties that you want to invoke in your life. Some examples: (Rose Quartz- heart energy, Selenite- clarity and cosmic singularity, Tiger’s eye- discernment, etc)

The possibilities are endless.

It can be nice to have a candle on your altar, and whenever you are in an introspective or creative process (whether that be song-making, dancing, writing, love-making, etc) along the lines of what you embellished on your altar, light the candle. This is a way of saying “in session,” or, “in ceremony” and commune with the forces you invoked through your altar. You may want to get a votive candle at a superstore and decorate it with images to which you wish to pay special homage.

One tip: don’t overcrowd your altar. It should be cohesive. It should have a clear, concise focus. When you make an altar you are a sending a message to the universe about what you want to receive in your life. The clearer the message, the better able the spirits are to deliver, and the better you are able to help facilitate this process.

Altars are meant to be changed every so often. On average, I change mine about once a month. They are living things with energy and power. You can sense when an altar is alive… it has a strong “presence” about it. Spiritual entities and energies live in these mandalas of symbol. Altars are portals that connect us with the unseen realms. And since our psychic landscape is in constant flux and transformation, we want our altars to reflect that. Otherwise, it is a dead altar, with dead energy. Kind of like if you have a bouquet of flowers and you let it sit out weeks after it has wilted and browned. Therefore, when you feel the major themes of your inner psychic process shifting, rebuild your altar.

I hope this helps you to think about the life that resides behind the various symbols and objects of our everyday world, and helps bring nuance and richness to your own inner process. With blessings for your deepening relationship with the power and presence of objects and symbols in your life, and for your own psychic process,



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