Creating an Altar
Updated: Mar 7
It is Vata (air and ether) season on the East coast; the air is becoming dry, the mornings are crisp, the winds have picked up, and the leaves are showing their colors before they crinkle and fall to the Earth. As we move from the outdoor summer harvest towards indoor winter coziness, it’s a perfect time to clean and spruce up our homes. For me, part of this transition includes tending to my altar.
I’ve always loved the way Ayurveda, as well as many indigenous cultures, emphasizes the importance of syncing with nature. In 2011, when I began my Ayurvedic studies journey, I was inspired by the book, Vastu Living by Kathleen Cox, to create my first altar, honoring the elements and directions. I learned how to create sacred space with special objects from the living world, candle light, incense, and an altar cloth. Although I’ve changed the objects and learned from different teachers over the years, I’ve had an altar ever since.
Building an altar connects us to the unseen energies, the natural world, helping us build self-trust, creativity, intention, and presence. I currently have two altars in my home. One feeds the spirit of my life, and one feeds my well ancestors. Sometimes, I create a temporary altar for a specific time in my life, such as a transition or a challenging situation.
When first creating an altar, it’s important to designate a quiet, easily accessible space. Altars can be on a low table, a bookshelf, a cubby, the side of a desk, etc. Next, clean the space. Some options include burning herbs, diffusing essential oils, spritzing hydrosols, or using sounds like drumming, clapping, or singing bowls. Herbalist and Earth intuitive, Asia Suler says, “there is a reason why brooms are associated with witches..one of the most important parts of keeping a healing and spiritually clear space is cleaning!” Once the space is clean, feel into your intention and intuition and gather items for your altar.
Traditions differ in how and where to honor the directions, elements, and wise ones on an altar. It can be helpful to learn from a tradition you feel resonant with, but it can also be fun to play and create something beautiful from within. For my larger altar, where I meditate twice a day, I have a cloth, four stones to ground the four cardinal directions, two small bowls containing tobacco and cornmeal for the above and below directions, and flowers in the center for the direction of Source within. I like specific items for each elemental honoring–a candle in the Northeast for Fire, a bowl of Water in the Southwest, herbal burning bundles in the Northwest for Earth, a feather in the Northeast for Air, Space in the middle. From that foundation, I call on my heart and intuition to make the altar meaningful for me. My ancestor altar is more
simple, I have a few objects each from my maternal and paternal line, a small vessel of water, a little bowl for food offerings, and some dried flowers.
Altars are living, and as we spend time tending them, they in turn offer more growth and transformation. They are enlivened by our presence, prayers, smoke, energy healing, drummings, and literal offerings like fruit, water, flowers. Continuing to clean and refresh your altar makes the energy much brighter and more effective.
If you create a temporary altar, remember to close the space once the intention has manifested or the time feels right. Even if you plan to re-use some of the same objects in your next altar, take time to honor them, cleanse them with herbal smoke, or return them to the Earth to re-energize them.
It can also be fun to build an altar in reverence for the Earth or favorite nature sit spot.
What kind of altars and sacred spaces do you enjoy creating?