I have had an altar for several years now. I’m sure that seems strange to most non-pagans. And if a guest in my home, who knew nothing of my religion, wandered into my bedroom and saw my altar, they would probably be very curious (or weirded out).
But people have been creating altars for thousands of years. Admittedly, it’s become less common in the Western world since the Protestant Reformation, when the intentional use of icond became taboo for many Christians.
Nevertheless, people continue to create what Denise Linn calls “subliminal altars”. They create altars subliminally, for example, when they arrange photos and other special objects on fireplace mantels, dresser tops, coffee tables, and pianos. I think we have an intuitive need to create sacred spaces and fill these spaces with objects of devotion.
For me, an altar also serves as a focus for centering or grounding myself, for praying or meditating, and to give thanks to the universe or express my deepest desires.
As a Jungian, I see tending to a visible altar as a way of attending the invisble places within myself. Whether I do this consciously or not, the objects on the altar represent aspects of my inner self (or selves). And when the objects are brought together on the altar, they become something more–a part of an integrated whole.
My altar consists of pictures and statues, both modern art and reproductions of ancient pagan art, candles and sage, small bowl for water and a singing bowl, and other objects of personal significance, both natural items I have found, like acorns, and manufactured items I have purchased, like pagany jewelry. They are arranged in a way that makes a special kind of sense to me.
But I’ve noticed how this sacred space can gradually become descralized. For one thing, because I use the top of my dresser as my altar, it is too easy for me to toss my wallet or keys on it at the end of a day. Even when I don’t do that, however, the space seems to gradually lose its significance over time.
So a while back, I stripped the altar. I removed all the statues and candles and paraphernalia until there was just the flat surface of the dresser. I gave the space a much needed dusting. And then I left it. For several days, it sat empty.
At first it felt very refreshing, the empty tidiness of it. But gradually, I felt the space calling to me again. Like a vacuum, it begged to be filled.
So slowly, I started replacing objects. One at a time. Over a period of several days. I didn’t replace any of the items unless I felt that the object was needed somehow to complete the space.
I started with the altar cloth. Then I added the bowl, which I put water in. The simplicity of this arrangement had its own appeal. But gradually I added candles and statues and the other images. Until it was almost back to the way it was before, with only a few changes.
Though the altar wasn’t much different, the process of “rebooting” my altar made it come alive for me again. Each object resonated with significance, and the whole once again became holy.
I’ve been feeling the need to do another reboot recently. This time, I may not put everything back, and I may add a few new items.
Do you have an altar or similar sacred space? What do you do to maintain or restore its sacred quality? Share in the comments below.