What is an Altar?
An altar is a sacred space that you can dedicate to a specific energy/entity for ritual, spiritual manifestation and development. Shrines and altars have existed since the beginning of time and are central to many ancient cultures and religions to this day. An altar is a place of self-contemplation, meditation, prayers, a place of honor for those we love and respect.
Ultimately, an altar is a focal point where you comfortably “Alter” your consciousness. Your altar is a place where you’re able to not only recognize the 10% of your brain that you use, but also activate the subconscious mind, the other 90% of the brain you don’t use which is your spiritual, higher self. A spiritual altar is your sacred space to “alter” your being. According to dictionary.com, Alter is defined as “change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way.” This is what my Boveda Espiritual (Spiritual Vault) has always been to me. A place where I seek change in character. Small and subtle changes, but progressive nonetheless. At your spiritual altar your predominant work must be about elevation, not materialization.
Who can use an altar?
Anyone can set up a spiritual altar. You do not need to be an advanced occultist or initiated into any group for you to set up an altar and be successful with your altar. It is a personal space where you can build relationships with your inner self and the divine world around you.
It’s about building intuition and self trust.
When do you use a spiritual altar?
A spiritual altar can have many purposes. Personally for me, it’s my refuge from not only the world but also myself. Often times we create ideals and thoughts in our minds about ourselves and the world around us. It’s important to self evaluate and step outside of ourselves to examine the life we’re living.
Are you who you really say you are? Or are you what others dictate you should be?
These are the type of questions that come up when at your altar. How genuinely are you really living out your life?
I greet my altar daily before I pick up my phone to check emails and social media. I take a moment to breathe and acknowledge my higher self. It’s also the place I go to when I’m having difficulties and need answers that I’m unable to get from myself at the moment. It can be your source of inspiration, when you want to reconnect with your ancestors, become a better person, etc. The purposes are endless and unique to you only and should not have any bearing on validation from people, things and circumstances outside of yourself.
Where do you use a spiritual Altar?
Your spiritual altar should be placed in an area clear of distractions, clutter and people who may not have productive comments or thoughts toward your altar or spiritual development. It should be a place where you’re able to express your troubles, emotions, dreams, desires without judgment. It’s a place where you and your creator congregate periodically to examine the progress you’re making on your path.
How do you use a spiritual Altar?
As mentioned, there is no right or wrong way when cultivating your spiritual altar, but there are a few basic guidelines which sets the foundation for your altar. In the beginning your altar will be minimal, but as time progresses you will notice your altar grow with personal objects to you or to the specific energy you have dedicated the altar to.
The items you choose to place on your altar are simply tools and symbols that speaks and activates your subconscious mind. You are an altar onto yourself. The tools you need for advancement are within you already waiting to be ignited. With an altar you are simply projecting to the universe the elements that makes up the energy that already exists inside you.
Caring for your altar: I normally clean my altar at least once a week. You can pick any day of the week that best suits you. Cleaning means changing of the water, wiping away any dust or remnants from offerings or rituals and smudging incense to clear and purify. This is also a good time to set the tone for your week ahead or start/end of your day. Prayers, affirmations and development are the things you should be working on your altar periodically. Its a place where I seek answers from within and I speak to my altar as if I were speaking to a friend or any person. Because in fact your ancestors and spirit guides are your friends and are listening to every word you speak there.
Items to place on your altar: You can place any item you’d like on your altar. Anything you decide to place at your altar will have a purpose. Pay attention to the things that you like or catches your attention. For beginners, there are certain guidelines you can follow to help get you started. I unknowingly started altars from a very young age and it was always of things I loved or resonated with me, be it fairy animals, Native American Indians, African Cosmology and so on. No two altars are eve alike and always resonates to the person who sets it up. However yo find yourself creating your own spiritual altar will be unique to you only. Its your place of pure contemplation and elevation without judgement or rules.
Three most basic and essentials for your altar is a table, white cloth and a cup of water. As you continue to progress, you can add more cups according to your development. Typically a spiritualist and Misa Espiritual (Spiritual Gathering), where further look into your spiritual framework is investigated, will clarify the guides that walk with you and how they manifest with your personally.
Below are the significance and dedication for each cup on your spiritual altar.
From the book:
Tapping the Power Within: A Path to Self-Empowerment for Women By Iyanla Vanzant
Glass 1: Ori, the spirit of your head
Glass 2: The spirit of your bloodline (ancestors)
Glass 3: The spirit/essence of masculine energy
Glass 4: The spirit/essence of feminine energy
Glass 5: The spirit/essence of the inner child
Glass 6: Karmic spirits (spiritual energy from past existences)
Glass 7: Spirit of the creator, the god head that established the divinity of your life and all life. (Largest Cup)
7-9 cups are traditions of the Yoruba/Lucumi/Santeria traditions. The spiritual altar is called a “Boveda Espiritual” translated as, “Spiritual Vault”. Its where you store what you value most, your personal power, intuition and dreams.
It was my first experience with “organizing” my spiritual lineage. We all create altars subconsciously in one way or another using images & symbols of things we’re attracted to. I always found myself as a child creating shrines for butterflies, unicorns and as I got older moved on to other symbols.
Your altar is a reflection of you and the universe around you. All the elements that exist on this planet also exists within you. Here are the main elements to your altar.
Spiritual Focal Points
- Water (Feminine Principle)
- Receptive/Passive energy
- Carrier/Conduit of energy and vibrations
- Represents movement
- Fertility, Initiation
- Water Absorbs, connects
- Use as a portal or gateway to realms
- A place to “house” or contain entities
Uses of water on altar: Use as a conduit to communicate with spirit. Water also represents the feminine principle of nurturer, soothing and renewal. Use during libations to call and honor ancestors and spirit guides.
- Fire (Masculine Principle)
- Alchemy + Transformation
- Third Eye + Illumination
- Guiding Light
- Action + Beginnings
Uses of Fire on altar: Fire is used in the form of candles and colors, be it red, black or white known as the primordial colors. It’s a symbol of life, passion and activity.
- Air (Masculine Principle)
- Activation of thought
- Transporter of thought
- Breath of life
- Prayers +Affirmations
- Conscious Breathing
Use of air on Altar: Burning candles or incense is a great way to manifest the air element on your altar. It shifts energy in any space to bring clarity and movement.
- Earth (Feminine Principle)
- Heaviness, obstacles
- Time, memory
- Established powers
Use of Earth element on Altar: The element of Earth (Wood) can be represented by the table you use. Crystals and plants are also great symbols of the earth element for any altar. Crystals hold memories or rather “crystallizes” information in time. Plants + soil are representations of growth, death and renewal.
Boveda Espiritual + Shrines + Ancestor Altars
A spiritual altar and an ancestor altar are known to be used interchangeably. In addition to a spiritual altar, I also have an ancestor altar which is slightly different in set up but used for similar purposes. An ancestor altar is set up on the floor/ground and in most traditions the ancestors essence is housed in a sort of walking stick where the energy of that ancestor is housed, known as Egguns.
Where a spiritual altar is to elevate guardian angels, god’s appointed guardians, spirit guides and ancestors, an ancestor altar is used to ground your energy and a place of reverence and recognition. All shrines and altars are centers of elevation. Elevating your spirits and self to higher vibrations and projections.
Offerings: An offering is a sort of sacrifice or connection you make with the entity or energy you have the altar set up for. For an ancestor altar you may want to set up things your ancestors liked. I place coffee, bread rum and many other basic items as offerings to the spirits. Offerings “feeds” or rather empowers the energy you’re working with. Sacrifices can come in many forms. You can give up a bad habit that is preventing you from elevating thus starving the lower self and feeding your purpose.
Common types of offerings:
- Food you cook (give as an offering to give thanks for providing food to your family)
- Crystal, stones, gems: They carry vibrations you can charge at your altar ans use.
- Liquor: Ever heard of wines and spirits? Liquor like many things has essence or spirits that enliven the ancestors and spirits.
- Bread: Symbol for abundance, life and the cosmic body.
- Flowers to bring life and new energy to your altar
- Photos & symbols of the energy you work with.
- Prayers: Any prayer will do. Prayers are forms of offerings as you’re pouring yourself into the moment.
As with every person, every altar will be different. Each item you place on your altar speaks to your subconscious mind. You should not expect too much from your altar as with the items you place on your altar are symbols, so are the day to day experiences you have.
Spirit speaks in many forms and it is up to us to be aware, conscious and accepting of the symbols and messages being given to us. If you’re in constant pursuit of trying to define or identify your spiritual experiences you’ll end up losing the point. The point is you must allow the experience to reveal and define itself to you.
Tapping the Power Within: A Path to Self-Empowerment for Women-By Iyanla Vanzant
Shrine and Altar: Establishing Your Personal Sanctuary for Spiritual Awakening, Self improvement and Divine Contemplation-by Yuya Assaan-Anu