I live in a very small house.
Due to limited storage space and family life in general, I don’t have the luxury of making every room feel like an oasis (although I try!). But I’ve found that having a small altar makes my home seem expansive, beautiful, inviting.
Even though it takes up only a tiny amount of space in my home (it’s simply some meaningful items arranged on a wooden cutting board I re-purposed) I find the energy that comes off of it transforms my whole house, even on days when I feel like all the chores will never get done, or if I think I’ll never have a moment of quiet to myself.
Although my altar is set up in my bedroom, it’s portable enough that I can take it around the house with me if I so desire. Right now it sits atop some storage baskets I have against one wall, and it’s the perfect height for me to sit in front of and meditate, ask questions or contemplate.
What I put on it changes through the seasons, but in general I like to have light (candles), spirit (Virgin Mary prayer card that sits in an orange bowl my son made in art class), family (the shells represent me, my husband, and my son; the long one shaped like an angel’s wing represents my stillborn daughter) and nature (the swan feather) represented on my altar.
I think it’s important to have a dedicated space for any kind of spiritual or meditative work one might want to do. If you’ve been wanting to set some space aside for an altar (you really don’t need a lot!) but aren’t sure where to start, here are some ideas for you.
1. What will it be used for?
Religious or spiritual practice? Prayer? Meditation? Simply a place to relax and unwind from your day? As a memorial of some sort? All of the above? These are questions you need to consider carefully. Once you’ve found an answer, it will help everything else fall into place more easily.
2. Choose where you’d like to place your altar.
This ties in closely to #1. Is this altar something only you will be using? Your family? Is it something you want visitors to see and appreciate or will it be for private admiration only?
I keep my altar in my bedroom because I can more easily get some privacy there than anywhere else in the house But don’t discount having an altar in your kitchen, in some extra closet space, even in your bathroom—having a bath with one nearby can be a very meditative, relaxing experience. And you don’t need a huge space: a small table, the top of a dresser or even a shelf on a bookcase can be used.
When I first made my altar, I had a ton of things on it. Rocks, shells, cards, knick-knacks—everything had meaning for me, but I found it wasn’t conducive to the meditative state I wished to achieve when I sat in front of it. So I started eliminating, sticking to the basics. Depending on what your purpose for the altar is, I highly recommend only keeping a few choice items on it at a time. I accomplish this by rotating what I put out, depending on the season or my mood
Keeping it simple will help you create the feeling of sacredness that will make your altar your own special escape from the everyday world. Don’t try to fill all the space on your altar. Think of it this way: the extra space in front of you is its own tool. It will help you create room in your life for whatever it is you need to achieve—contemplation, prayer, meditation, peace.
4. What do I put on my altar?
This is the trickiest question, and the simplest. The answer is: whatever has meaning for you, whatever moves you, whatever creates a feeling of sacredness in your heart when you look at it. These can be anything from religious icons to photographs of loved ones, crystals, pinecones, tarot cards, shells, your child’s artwork, your own artwork—seriously, anything.
I didn’t spend a ton of money on any of the items I put on my altar. The prayer card was a gift. So was the bowl my son made. So was the swan feather—a gift from nature that I came across while walking in a local park one day. The tealights are ridiculously cheap at IKEA. The votive holders were either passed down to me or purchased at a thrift store. Honestly, the incense I use is probably the costliest of all the items; I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a high quality incense!
5. Set the mood.
Before I start my meditation practice, I usually light a stick of incense, but even a small tealight will work—what you want is something that signals that this moment is different from all the other moments in your day. It is your time to look inward, to ask questions, to figure things out.
Music is also good for changing the “tone” of your meditative work. Silence is very distracting to me, personally, so some soothing music in the background helps me focus. Anything from mantra, to chill out, to Medieval polyphonic music helps set the mood for me. Find the music that helps you look inward or sparks a connection to divinity.
I’ve found that having an altar in my bedroom produces a pleasing domino effect: the sacred space it creates extends outwards, giving the whole room a relaxing, peaceful feeling (a nice vibe to have in the room in which I sleep!). It only takes up a small amount of physical space but, because the symbols and signs I place on it are rich with meaning for me, it allows me to decompress at the end of a busy day. Entering that sacred space has become an important and uplifting part of my daily life.
Do you have an altar or some sacred space set aside on your house? What does yours look like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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