One of the things that is similar across many religions and spiritual movements is the use of altars.
Altars have been used since very early times. Especially in earlier polytheistic societies such as Mesopotamia, over 2000 deities could have an altar dedicated to them in urban areas.
In early Judaism, altars made of carved rock were to be found up mountains in places called sanctuaries or high places. These altars were used for sacrifice and seen as places where direct contact with the divine was possible. As such they became the centre of religious practice.
Early altars were mainly used for sacrifice and to leave gifts to the gods in order to gain their positive judgement, the use of fire was also very common. Symbols reflecting the attributes of specific deities an altar was dedicated to were often carved into altar stones.
An interesting addition to the altar in Mesoamerican times was the creation of sacred paper by a shaman or priest, which was cut in the shape of specific deities and lined up on the altar. Sacred paper was also used by the Chinese, who learned the art of paper making over 2000 years ago.
Soldiers that travelled often brought stones with them which were dedicated to specific deities. They would build shrines with these stones, which sometimes became permanent fixtures and a place of worship for pilgrims.
It wasn’t until monotheism caught ground that places of worship started featuring altars that only could be approached by people with a specific religious role. The consecration of altars became a very specific ritual, as well as dimension, relics, cloth, colour, etc.
To read further on modern day altars in different religions, I refer to this well written Wikipedia article.
Of course, altars have also had a place inside the family homestead for centuries. To commemorate ancestors and worship specific household deities.
I have altars in my home. They represent a sacred space in my home and carry items that express my connection to the divine. What is represented on these altars varies throughout the year.
When I am holding a specific person in my prayers, I often place an item gifted to me from the specific person on my altar, or might use a photograph of them in happy times.
On the picture you can see the altar I created in the past few days to help me hold space for a gathering of fellow ministers. I added:
- 12 tealights, representing all ministers part of the group
- Holly, celebrating king Holly who reigns the period between summer and winter solstice
- A copper gong, copper carries the alchemy of the planet venus (sacred feminine)
- A selenite wand to sound the gong, carrying the moon energy (acknowledgement of the oak moon and the sacred feminine in the moon)
- Statues of Mother Mary and Quan Yin, representing the Christmas season and the divine mother energy in east and west.
Once I finish decorating my altar, I always use white sage, incense or sacred wood to clear the space around it. Also, I will ask for a blessing for all the people represented on the altar.
My blessing for this altar:
I ask the all-pervading source energy to bless this altar and all that are represented on it.
May we all walk on a path of light in these dark days.
May we walk our path in good health, may we feel loved.
May we see blessings in our every day, may we be ever grateful for what we receive.
In love and light (3x)
I would love to hear about the altars you connect to, if any! Do you have one in your home? Do you visit a place of worship with an altar? Please let me know in the comments.