Humans have constructed altars for over 30,000 years. The rituals and ceremonies of ancient altars have been lost but the inclination to build altars is still vibrant today. In many places altars are considered necessary in every home or place of business. In our modern world we often unknowingly build altars on our work desks with favorite objects or pictures to accompany us through the day.
Setting up an Altar
An indoor altar can be located in any room of the house. The more personal the altar, the more personal space it might require. It is important to clear the horizontal surface where you will place an altar. A cloth may be used to designate the boundaries of the altar. Or, a shelf can serve as a contained space for an altar. A centerpiece, or larger object, that has significant meaning gives an altar its direction.
Choose items to place on the altar that reflect the theme for which the altar is dedicated. We highly recommend natural elements such as flowers, stones, wood, metal, water, earth or fire. This will make your altar a living creation. Unattended fire is not recommended.
Rituals and Altars
An altar is only as useful as the rituals used when visiting the altar. One needs to interact with one’s altar to make it a healing place. Daily, weekly or monthly rituals such as meditation, opening sacred space, greeting the objects on the altar or simply freshening up the altar will insure its ability to provide comfort in times of transformation.
Altars for the Dying
When working with the dying and their caretakers, altars can serve many functions.
Sick room altars can provide a focal point across from a bed or chair. This altar can offer support from loved ones, the comfort of sacred objects, and solace from poems or songs in difficult times.
Specialized altars, dedicated to healing and letting go, can be the center of a meditation or prayer practice.
Directional altars can be placed in the four cardinal directions allowing sacred space to be held with intention.
Memorial altars provide a review of someone’s life just lived at a funeral or memorial service.
Ancestor altars are places of remembrance, story-telling and ceremonial honoring. These altars allow the dead to continue to live among us.
Outdoor altars can be visited by the sick and dying. After death an altar may mark a special place in nature cherished by your loved one.