How to Create an Altar

Creating an Altar | Whisper & Howl

My altar is the most important place in my home.  It’s the place I go to in the evening before bed, to do my yoga sadhana (practice) including asana, meditation, mantra, pranayama (breath work), and sometimes to read books or Tarot cards.  My altar defines my sacred space, a personal corner that is the outward manifestation of my inner spiritual life.  It helps to calm and focus my energy at the end of the day or any time I need a little peace.

How To Create an Altar or Sacred Space in Your Home

Getting Started

  • Choose a space.  Any space will work, but it should be a place you feel comfortable taking time out to reflect, meditate, etc.  This depends on what your purposes are.  I do yoga in front of my altar so I need space for a yoga mat.  Your altar can be any size that works for your space and your needs.  Currently, my altar takes up about 3 feet in the corner of my room, and extends right up the wall!
  • Choose a base.  Again, this depends on your space and needs.  I prefer to have my altar at sitting eye-level.  I’ve had altars on small stools, large bookshelves and in the alcove of a makeshift dresser/bookshelf combo.  Last year, I invested in a beautiful, handmade cedar table to use as my altar.  It’s a slice of tree trunk and retains its natural shape.  I like to turn it to mix things up periodically.  I also have “wings” on either side of my altar where I have laid down scarves to keep other items such as books, my Tarot cards, extra candles and my mala beads.

What should I put on my altar?

Your altar should be a space for contemplation, love, and peace.  It should bring you joy! Whether or not the items you choose for your altar have religious significance, they should have personal meaning for you.

Some things you might consider for your altar:

  • Figures or icons.  I focus on animals for my own sacred space.  I have a strong connection to nature and I love looking at my little animals, many of which I’ve had since childhood.  Some other figures to consider are icons of gods and goddesses, saints, or any other figures that bring you joy.
  • Crystals.  While I do not believe that crystals have any magical healing powers, I’m also not discounting the possibility.  Mostly though, I find them beautiful.  I’ve always loved rocks and gems and my great-grandfather was a jeweler who tumbled gemstones in his garage.  I do choose my crystals based on their “meaning” and give places of prominence to those with qualities I’d like to attract.  I use these a focal point for my thoughts, so that I can think about the qualities when I look at the stones.  Should they also happen to be magical, I’ll take it.
  • Images.  Many people keep photos of saints, gods and goddesses, etc on their altars.  I don’t do this but I do have images from magazines, collages, photos of calming places, quotations, postcards and other meaningful or beautiful images posted on the wall behind my altar.  I also keep a lovely drawing of a horse that a friend made for me in a frame on the floor beside my altar.
  • Candles or lamps.  I love candles and I keep several of them in my sacred space.  Lighting the candle on my altar reminds me that it is time to gather and focus my energy inward.  I often light the candle before I go to brush my teeth and wash my face, so that when I return to my room I know it is time to do my sadhana.  I have candles in many different colors and scents, mostly homemade.  A salt lamp can also be a wonderful addition to an altar.  Salt lamps have air-cleansing properties and create a gorgeous, warm glow that can be very soothing.
  • Incense or essential oils.  Aromatherapy can be a great way to help you get into the mood for meditation and other sacred-space activities.  Herbs and their essences have different evocative properties.  My acupuncturist just recommended I add frankincense to my routine as it is both grounding and uplifting, and sets the mood for spiritual communion.
  • Flowers, fruit, and other objects from nature.  If you place food on your altar, it will become sweet–metaphorically if not physically–and blessed.  I have a found butterfly wing on mine, and today I came across a perfect cicada to add to the collection.  I recently added a small vase to hold herbs and flowers from my garden, because these things bring me joy.

In addition, you might consider adding a prayer rug, yoga mat, meditation cushion or bench, or small table to add comfort to your sacred space.   You’re creating a space that will welcome you, a place that will draw you to it and hold your attention.  If you don’t love the space, you won’t want to spend time in it, so take your time gathering items and arranging your altar.  It can be a growing, organic process.  I am always adding new items to my altar, and every couple of months I will change up the placement of objects.

There are special rituals for cleaning your altar and I will address these in another post, but the most important thing is to keep your sacred objects from directly touching the floor–which is why I place scarves under the books and things I have on the floor beside my cedar table.

Creating an altar can be a wonderful step toward creating more intention and joy in your life. If you’ve been thinking of creating a sacred, personal space in your home, I highly recommend going for it!  If you have one already, what are your favorite objects to keep on your altar?  

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