A Home Altar Can Create Sanctuary

by jai cross


For a few moments, imagine that the worst has just happened. Perhaps that might take the form of receiving an unexpected phone call informing you that your parent had a massive stroke or that your child was in a serious car accident or that a friend is being rushed to emergency surgery.

After you have visited with those who need to be visited, after you have called those who need to be called, after you have made all the arrangements that need to be made, where would you go to replenish yourself, to reconnect with your inner core that exists apart from the circumstances and turbulence of daily life?

Many of us take great comfort in going to sacred spaces when our hopes are shaken and our prospects seem dimmed. These sanctified places range from the familiarity of a neighborhood church to the magnificence of European medieval cathedrals to the simplicity of a roadside shrine. Even agnostics and atheists often feel something akin to religious awe when standing in the grandeur of a redwood forest or humbled by the vastness of the ocean.

However, the gifts of sacred space are not confined to religious sites or locations of great natural beauty. Many of the sentiments that these “public” places awaken in us can be evoked within the privacy of your home at an altar or other hallowed area.

It is important to create and maintain a sense of separateness or otherworldliness to this special area, to preserve a sense of sanctity amid life’s daily routines. This is true even if your holy place has multiple uses, such as a dining room table that is converted into a place of worship and spiritual practice when devotional objects are reverentially arranged upon it.

Most people have sufficient space in their dwellings to exclusively devote a corner, a nook, or an area along a wall to a home shrine. This physical location will link ordinary reality to the spiritual dimension, and it should be respected accordingly. Similarly the objects placed on an altar possess great power as connections to divinity, which will serve you in direct proportion to the strength of your intent.

Many of us learned to pray in Sunday school, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, or some other place of formalized instruction. In many cases, a home altar may grant unique opportunities to deepen one’s personal connection to spirit and to one’s inner wisdom.

The word “altar” derives from a Latin word meaning “to burn,” a reference to the ancient practice of burning animal sacrifices on a raised platform. Nowadays, the traditional burnt offerings have been replaced with incense and candles, but we retain the use of altars as places to offer thanks, to make supplications, and to commune with the divine.

Harness a focused intent to honor the spiritual realm whenever creating a home altar or shrine. Feel into the sacred space that is taking form and that will be fed by your spiritual practice. Make decisions regarding this hallowed place from an open heart rather than an analytical mind.

Devotional objects for the altar should represent aspects that you wish to respect, possibly including candles, flowers, statues or carvings of saints or other holy figures, photographs of loved ones, animal figurines, sea shells, rattles, bells, stones, feathers, prayer beads, smudge sticks, prayer cloths, or crystals.

A home shrine can serve as a focal point for formal or spontaneous prayers, meditation, yoga and other fitness practices, chanting, visualization, trance induction, breathing exercises, shamanic journeying, recapitulation work, chakra cleansing, and many other spiritual endeavors. It also can be a private sanctuary, a place of refuge and stillness that nourishes the soul.

When at the altar, allow yourself to sink deeply into whatever practice or prayer you are performing. Bring your true self forward, allowing your inner light to shine brightly. Even if you are despairing or downhearted, you can bring that pain and confusion forward to offer up the truth of your being rather than a shallow “I’m all right” cover-up. This type of honest revealing eventually leads to self-acceptance, self-love, and self-empowerment.

To keep the energy fresh and moving, it is healthy to periodically rearrange or exchange devotional objects. You may find that your altar becomes the spiritual heart of your dwelling, and several altars may unexpectedly spring up in different parts of the house to serve different needs. Spirit loves playmates, and it will open to you as you open to it.

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