Dwelling Place of the DIVINE – role and purposes of the home altar

Altars are a spiritual technology for focusing and deepening our personal relationship with the Divine.

Many of people have a special place in our homes – a shelf, benchtop or small table – where we keep some of our special things. These are usually things which are especially lovely or which have become invested with a symbolic or sentimental significance because of they way they came into our lives or what they have come to stand for.

By naming and creating our special shelf as an altar we are taking this impulse one step further. By calling it an altar we are investing it with sacred significance. We are, in effect, declaring it to be a dwelling place for the Sacred, however we understand that.

Human beings have been making and tending household altars for many thousands of years.

On our trip to Bali last year Miriam and I were struck by the way that the making and offering of baskets of flower petals – on altars, on the doorsteps of houses, on the footpaths in front of shops and market stalls – was an integral part of every day life for the local Hindu population. Similarly, when I recently went to visit my parents while they were up in Perth for a week, I remarked at how the lady of the house they were staying in had filled her house with many and varied beautiful icons of the Virgin Mary, connecting to what is very much a living tradition of Marian worship and creating a beautiful feminine presence throughout her home.

Altars with Intention

Creating and tending an altar or shrine is like sending out a personal invitation to the Sacred. When we deliberately establish and tend a personal altar or household shrine in our home or garden, we can add power and energy to our project by consicously focussing upon our intention. By consciously creating a physical form that appeals to and arouses the senses – by the use of colours and textures, scents and symbols – we focus our invitation towards their corresponding sacred qualities or aspects of the Divine. If the objects upon our altar invite us to engage – to ring the bell, to light the candle, to dip our fingers into the water, to place offerings of fruit or money or chocolate in the bowl or upon the plate – then each of these actions reinforces the intention or invitation which the altar embodies and increases the energy that it holds.

It is possible to create altars with a wide range of intentions. We can create altars for healing, as an expression of devotion, to manifest desired outcomes. By being intentional with our altars – by careful choice about what we place upon them, and how and where we place them in relation to each other – by giving our full concentration to what we do when we stand or sit in front of them – we send out a particular energetic vibration – and the natural response of the Universe comes back to us as waves of energy.

Energising your personal or household altar

If your personal or household altar or shrine is currently feeling a bit flat, you could try

  • giving it a good physical clean,
  • energetically cleansing it with smoke or salty water,
  • saying a prayer or invocation and blessing it with your hands,
  • spending some time in engaging with it in meditation or contemplation.

January 24, 2010