A brief history of Altars
If you look around, you may notice that altars are everywhere, and have many uses. Fireplace mantles, various houses of worship, courtyards, etc. are prime examples. Some altars are portable like a table, while others are stationary like a fire pit.
According to encyclopedia.com, an altar by definition comes from “The English word altar, meaning “a raised structure on which sacrifices are offered to a deity,” derives from the Latin altare (“altar”) and may be related to altus (“high”). This ancient meaning has been further verified by the corresponding Classical Greek term bōmos (raised platform, stand, base, altar with a base, i.e., the foundation of the sacrifice). The Latin altaria is, in all likelihood, related to the verb adolere (“to worship”; originally, “to burn, to cause to go up in smoke or odor”), so that the word has come to signify a “place of fire” or “sacrificial hearth.” “
Throughout history, altars have been used for ritual of sacrifice, worship, and beyond. The Greeks and romans used altars in symbolic ways. To offer sacrifices to the heavens, they used raised tables and pillars, however when offering gifts to gods of the underworld, the altars were placed in pits or holes in the ground.
Modern Day uses for Altars
In modern times, altars used in the home reflect more of the Egyptian rituals. They used both stationary and portable altars, and “had no sacred function but were simply cult accessories such as tables or stands used for holding a tray of food, an incense bowl, or a libation cup (according to the type of sacrifice involved).” (encyclopedia.com)
I have many altars around my home. All of which, have various uses. I celebrate the seasons and offer gratitude to mother nature in my living room. I have an altar above my bed with statues, crystals and other artifacts that offer protection as I sleep. The altar on my bedside table has crystals that ground my energy, a pendulum and oracle deck to offer guidance, and a selenite charging plate to recharge various crystal jewelry that I wear on a daily basis. The two altars in my zen room (meditation room) have various candles, crystals, smudging implements, etc that I use. Some I place near me or hold while reciting mantras, some offer support during meditation and journalling, and some are simply housed there for my use in practical moments.
To me, the importance of the various altars in my home have everything to do with the intention I set for them. Offering gratitiude, asking for clarity and guidance, and aligning or balancing my energy are all examples of the intentions I have set for the altars.
How to build your own Altar
Creating your own altar for the home doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Repurpose an old shelf or table from your garage or attic. Grab some tea lights, your favorite essential oil, some dried flowers or herbs, sea salt for grounding, etc. Shop your house first, you might be surprised by what you find!
When purchasing crystals, I prefer to support small businesses that have sustainable practices. Make sure to always cleanse your crystals before using them as well. Resale shops are great places to find various treasures and adornments for your altars, but again, make sure to cleanse anything before entering your space, you don’t always know what energy you’re bringing in! You can always add as you go.
If your intention is to meditate in front of your altar, make sure to build it in a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Change your altar(s) up as you feel called. Your energy and intentions will change frequently, and so can your altar set up!
Altars on the go
When traveling, I bring an old cosmetic bag with me to set up a meditation altar. I line the bottom with Himalayan sea salt to charge my crystals, then proceed to add anything that I’m called to bring for the trip. This usually includes sage, palo santo, and matches to clear the energy of the space I’m traveling to. Crystals, a singing bowl, tea light, etc. are also great examples of things to pack as well. A desk, bedside table, or even garden/lawn are great places to create an altar on the go.
Setting intentions for your altar is always the most important aspect. Wherever you create your altar space, and for whatever reason you create it, have fun making it uniquely your own.