An altar is a sacred focal point for religious and spiritual practices. While many churches and temples centre around marble, wood and stone altars, many spiritual practitioners are also creating sacred space at home. Designing an altar can involve simple or ornate elements. The home altar is typically in a space set aside from routines, and is used principally for prayer and meditation. Whether your path is Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Goddess-centric, pagan or something else, you can use the same basics when creating your altar.
The first thing to do when setting up an altar is to decide on the appropriate space. Find an area of your home with little foot traffic, and perhaps good ventilation in case you plan to regularly burn a lot of incense. The size of the space you choose will determine the size of the surface or table space from which to begin building the altar. Some cabinet or furniture and antique stores have trunks, cabinets and chests that can serve such a purpose, but tables, out-of-use piano benches and even a few bricks with a piece of wood firmly atop them can become the altar's base. Include a pillow or chair for sitting or kneeling.
Coverings and Drapes
Sacred cloths or tapestries can be used to cover the altar platform. You can also use plain-coloured silk or patterned fabrics purchased from fabric or bedding stores. Simply drape your chosen cloth over the top of the altar, and if it hangs down or has excess at the floor, tuck it in or under, or create small poufs with a few ribbons. If your altar is from an ornately carved wood, you may not want to hide the wood. Instead, use small cloths or lace pieces under certain items.
The items on your altar depend on your religion or spiritual path. Candles always work, including small votives, or oil lamps. Images, tankas and icons of can be placed on or hung behind the altar. Chalices, small bowls for water, animal totems, crosses, boxes holding sacred items, prayer beads/malas, crystals, feathers and photos of loved ones are other objects you might want on your altar. Arrange the items in a manner pleasing to you.
Season Specifics and Regular Offerings
Candle and incense containers might remain year round, but sometimes you will want to add or remove altar items for season-specific themes. Certain holidays, such as times of astrological importance like the equinoxes and solstices, are appropriate for adding seasonal flowers and decorations. If you use flowers as regular offerings, keep them fresh. Some people leave water, milk or wine as offerings to accompany prayers. Smoke from incense can also be used for offerings. Make sure you have enough room and appropriate containers on your altar to burn candles and incense safely.