Making an altar is a powerful way to affirm your values, focus on a particular aspect of spirituality, express your devotion to a deity, saint, or principle, and to express your creativity.
Altars can be temporary, created for the duration of a certain ritual or special time period, or they can be permanent.
Usually altars are created for spiritual reasons, but there are completely secular altars, as well. If you are an atheist scientist, you could create an altar to honor the great scientists of the past.
Altar making can help you to get clear about what is important to you in your life.
Set aside a special space, and decorate it with things that relate to the thing you wish to affirm/honor/worship.
- Decide what your altar is for. It can be anything from something very small and specific, like a shrine to the memory of a loved one, to something large and general, like an altar celebrating every aspect of God in your life and the world. Some altars benefit by being very narrowly defined. Others blossom when their intentionality is wide open. Be creative with this.
- Define the space of the altar. Minimally, it could be a shelf, window ledge, or table top. Whatever the space you decide upon, it should not be used for any other purpose. Altars work best when they are special-purpose-only.
- Place objects in the altar space which affirm the the intention of the altar. Putting the objects on the altar can itself be a powerful ritual.
- Close the altar making session with an appropriate ritual. This can be as simple as sitting for a moment and appreciating the altar. If you have made an altar valuing something spiritual, you could light incense, pray, or meditate.
- Feel free to add or replace the objects on your altar over time. This can keep the altar fresh and “alive” for you.
The creation of an altar is an extremely ancient practice. In a loose sense, cave paintings (such as those at Lascaux) could be considered to be shamanic "altars," and some of these are 30,000 years old.
Altars were used widely in ancient Greece, ancient India, Norse pagansim, etc.
Christianity makes extensive use of altars. Most churches contain at least one altar, and some contain hundreds.
A beautiful Buddhist home altar
Build your own altar
Hindu home altars
A web page featuring photographs of a Wiccan altar that changes for many occasions. Very creative use of an altar.