Turning 50 Series – Creating a Home Altar

By Audrey van Petegem, Senior Editor

I recently created an altar in my home office. It is my private space where I can make the shift from a busy day to one of quietude and reconnect with my inner self.

Some people may think of altars for religious purposes. In fact, the history of a home altar was to bring one's faith into the home. Think of a Catholic altar with a Crucifix, candles, rosary and prayer book.

To me a home altar is something a bit different. To me, it is a visual of my beliefs and symbolic of who I am and who I want to be. It is a place where the world stops and I can just…….BE. It is so personal that one may look at my altar and see a hodge-podge of “stuff”. I have feathers, things my children have made me, keepsakes from my parents and a book of poetry, to name a few.

As I turned 50 I was feeling like I had lost a sense of myself and was being pulled in all directions. I felt a real need for a space that was just mine. When my husband made the little alcove off of our bedroom for my home office, I bought a leather chair and ottoman to go in the corner beside a small table that I made into an altar. Interestingly, most of the pieces on my alter came from the dresser beside my bed. It made me wonder if we all naturally create an altar without even knowing it. This thought was confirmed when one day I was cleaning my daughters' room.

My eight year old daughter Thea had all sorts of nick-knacks displayed on her desk. I was just about to put them in their rightful spots for her when I realized that the little silver box, a dog made from Play-Doh, bracelet, and a small pottery shoe her brother made for her, was, indeed, part of her altar. I am so glad I clued in before I destroyed her personal space. To me, this represents a natural need for a place where we can all reconnect with our selves.

It is easy to set up an altar. It can comprise both an area or space that is meant to trigger a shift in perspective. It can be either indoors or outdoors. There are no specifics in constructing an altar. The furniture is not as important as what it represents. Altars can be as simple as a few pieces on a side table, shelf or dresser or more elaborate as a piece that was made to specifically to be an altar to sit in front of.

How to start

  1. Find a place that is quiet and away from heavy traffic. It should be a place where there would be little chance of your altar being touched, such as in your bedroom or, like me, a home office.
  2. Find a table, dresser, bench or any other solid flat surface. It can be large or small; whatever suits your need.
  3. Place on it anything that means something to you, i.e. items that bring you peace, make you happy, carry fond memories or have a symbolic connection. Feel free to drape the surface with a cloth if you like. There are no rules. It is completely up to you.
  4. Let your family know that this is your space and that they need to honor it by not touching or removing anything.

Everyone's altar is different – as it should be. I asked some friends to share their altars to show as examples;

The most important thing to creating a home altar is that you express your own self and make it personal and meaningful only to you. Do you have or have the makings for  a home alter?

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9 Responses to Turning 50 Series – Creating a Home Altar

  1. As a Christian, building an “Altar” must be done very carefully, if at all, because we shun “Graven Images”. But I agree, I do have little vignettes all over my home which are alters of sorts…groupings of meaningful things whether its pictures or college mugs or my grandmother’s china that make me feel peaceful when I look at them for the memory they embody.

  2. My version of an altar is my large bulletin board – it has all kinds of meaningful pictures, cards, momentos, etc. It reminds me of who I’ve been, who I am and where I’m going.

  3. Marci Rich says:

    I felt at peace just reading this. I never before thought of it as such, but in our living room I have a little reading corner that’s all mine: chaise lounge, books stacked on the stairway leading to the second floor, and now a bookcase and small table and lamp. I cannot begin my day without spending time in this corner, sipping my coffee and reading. After a morning’s work, I’ll come downstairs, have lunch, and give myself a small pocket of time in my corner to read again before heading back to work. Books have always been altars for me, I suppose; perhaps this isn’t too far a stretch since I was raised Catholic, and the Bible was always open on the altar. I’ve never made that connection before. Thank you for guiding my thoughts to these notions. It’s wonderful what a little spirituality and calm can do.

  4. Love the idea of this. I’ve begun creating this space without even knowing that’s what I was doing.

    Great tips!

  5. Haralee says:

    Good for you and good tips. My motto is if blood is not seen no one crosses the threshold unless asked! Not very Zen of me, but effective.

  6. Audrey says:

    Love all the comments! It really is amazing how we create an altar without even understanding what we are doing. I thank my young daughter for bringing this to light for me. Since I have been in Canada I have missed my home altar. The picture above with the books and feathers is the altar I created here in Canada.

  7. DarleneMAM says:

    I don’t know that I’d call mine an altar per se, but it is a space that means so much to me. And it makes me oh so very happy.

  8. Grace Hodgin says:

    I have little alters I use for centering myself and meditation purposes too Audrey. Enjoyed your article.

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