BY BRINLEY FROELICH
In a moment of love, I braided my hair and asked my friend to cut straight across the top of it, wrapping the top and bottom with elastics to secure the hairs. When I gave it to my boyfriend at the time, he showed me a space in his closet where he had a platform with a variety of memorabilia on it: in the center he had a headless Aztec warrior statuette, which was framed with a photo of Barry Bonds, an engraved family ring, snake skin, a god’s eye, and a letter from his mom, among other rocks and crystals. On top of the hands that the statuette had raised, he placed the lock of my hair. "It’s for luck," he said.
Until that moment, I thought altars were reserved for temples and holy places, and never really thought about making a space for my own relics. I owe it to him for introducing me to the delight of having an altar in your home that represents who you are and the things you want to remember. I started thinking about the things I had on my dresser, around my house, stuffed into forgotten junk drawers, and wanted to find a collection of my own that I could display and turn to when I needed a moment to clear my head and ground myself.
The best part about altars is that they’re universal—you could be a Buddhist, Muslim, Barbie, Atheist, Christian, Wiccan, or some unique mixture of a variety of spiritual cultures, or none at all, and there will still be something for you to gain by creating a sacred space in your home. There are no rules when you set up your space, you just need to follow your intuition to find the right objects you want to set an intention with.
Think of this space as a portal that will guide you to open the untouched parts of your brain. For some, altars will be used as a way you can communicate with spirit guides. For others, your purpose could be remembering a lost one, guiding a meditation toward loving-kindness, or it could be used as a tool to ground yourself before, after, or during a ritual.
If you already meditate or pray on a regular basis in your home, try to find a space that’s within eyesight of your practice. If that’s new to you or something you typically reserve for practicing outside of your home, start to think about a place in your home that you like to be in, and that can be a private, uninterrupted area. I’m a particular kind of introvert that would never leave my bedroom if it were up to me, so I have mine set up on a wooden box that sits on my dresser. This works well for me since I get to see it on a daily basis, and the images of the objects linger in my head as I walk out the door and into the world. You don’t have to place it on a table or dresser though—you could install a shelf on your wall, place items on a windowsill, use a stool, paint an old box, use an empty Altoids can. You could even gut an old TV to use for your relics—the possibilities really are endless. Work with what fits best for you and the space you’re in. (Tip: you can liven a prop that might feel lackluster by draping it with a colorful piece of cloth or a blanket.)
Once you’ve found a spot, clear it to make room for your mementos. In choosing the items to put on your altar, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Ask yourself the following questions while you go through your materials:
Is there a particular person or deity that I want to honor?
What kind of gifts, souvenirs or collectibles do I have that are too special to get rid of, but don’t have a place?
Where do I feel a lack or void in my life that I want to work on filling?
What kind of energy do I want to evoke in this space?
What types of objects or pictures inspire me?
Once you’ve honed in on those, the belongings you choose will become easier to filter through. Consider going on a nature hike to find organic paraphernalia like branches, rocks, bones, feathers, or dried flowers to add to your collection. A goblet or saucer of water can symbolize many things, and serves as a potent tool for cleansing, which can be useful to ponder when we spend time in front of our area. Candles, incense, oil diffusers and small lamps are good for setting an ambience. Crystals are awesome for clearing or attracting energy—but make sure to study what types of crystals you have before placing them to make sure it’s going to do the things you want them to do, and double check if it compliments or takes away from another crystal’s energy if you have more than one. Your altar can change as your life changes, so don’t feel like you’re stuck once you set yours up.
Here’s what’s on mine:
I use the oil burner to set the ambience. I usually like to burn citrus oils, like lemon or grapefruit, to clear my head and increase focus.
The skull of the cat is meant to serve as a guide to the otherworld.
The fossilized fish serve as a gift of love—whether it’s attracting it or reminding me that I need to be more loving.
Citrine and amethyst are my crystals of choice to provide a calm and uplifting atmosphere.
The jade elephant was a gift given to me, and is supposed to attract luck and fortune.
I like to keep my journal and a couple of books that are inspiring at the time.
The dog was my favorite of my great-grandmother’s toys when I was younger, and was given to me after she passed away. It’s a good reminder not only of her, but of keeping a child-like attitude as I go through life.
What are some of the things you have on your altars? Share them in the comments below!
Brinley Froelich can be found weaving on the web at booforever.com.