Intro to Altar Building
Building an altar allows you to connect to your ancestors, spirit guides and yourself. Whenever I would like to manifest something in my life I clear a space in my home and create an altar for it. Altars allow you to focus your energy and intention into a physical space, and serve as a daily reminder of that intention. Altars can also build a bridge between you and the spirit world, which is why they must be respected for the power that they hold. It’s important to maintain, cleanse and protect your altar space. Altar rituals are some of my favorite ways to manifest and connect with the spirit realm.
My most recent altar was to manifest bringing music back into my life after taking time off for two years. I built an altar using candles, photographs, instruments and items that were the color blue, which is associated with the throat chakra Vishuddha. I had a tuning fork in the pitch A to represent the violin, and percussive instruments from the Virgin Islands and Sierra Leone, where my ancestors are from. I added my Billie Holiday secular saint candle to represent the long lineage of amazing Black women who have inspired me as a musician as well as several other white candles. I also added a glass jar full of change to represent both financial success but also the fluidity of currency. I also included peacock ore and sodalite crystals. I performed a full moon ritual with this altar on the Scorpio full moon, invoking the themes of water and rebirth that Scorpio is infamous for. I called upon Mami Wata, a deity who rules water and music, and represents abundant changes. This altar now sits in my home next to my records and musical books, as a way to keep me musically inspired.
There is no one way to build an altar. Every culture and every person builds their altar different, but there are a few general things that seem to span across cultures as good items to have. I will explain my process and go to items for altar building.
Photographs or Painted Portraits
Photographs are a great way to invoke the spirit of a person or place. Photos or painted portraits honor and allow you to connect with ancestors and loved ones who have passed away. If you don’t have a photo a funeral program will also work for those who have passed. You can also use photographs to connect with those who are far away. I have an love altar in my bedroom in it that has a photograph of my mother on it draw on the love that she has for me.
Crystals are concentrated energy centers that can influence the intention of the altar. Using crystals that have the same properties of your altar enhance the power of your altar. I like to also use crystals that are the same color as my altar to match the vibrational frequency of it. You can also use crystals to energetically protect your altar. I like using selenite, which is cleansing, and tourmaline, which absorbs negative energy.
Candles evoke fire energy and are how I “open” my altar. Whenever I am about to do a ritual I light all of the candle on my altar. The color, type and scent of the candle can also hold significance specific to the intention of the altar.
Sacred items are items that carry a special meaning or importance to you and your spiritual practice. Some examples are religious texts like a Bible or a Quran, divination tools like a tarot deck or runes, or a statue of a saint or god. These objects whose significance give the item a strong energetic imprint and bring that presence to your altar space. Only include items that are sacred to you personally, not just any item.
Items from your culture or family heirlooms are what connect your altar to you. Items that were in country of your lineage carry the energy.
I usually have a bowl of salt on my altar, or a ring of salt around my altar to protect and enclose the energy. If you have others in your house often or you are in a home that has spirit guests (especially if you’re in an old building) it’s a good idea to keep fresh salt around your altar. Regular smudging or sound clearing are also other ways you can remove stagnant energy.
I love putting fabric on my altars. A beautiful piece of lace or silk or traditionally died cloth can add color and texture to an alter space.
Overall when building any altar, listen to your intuition. All of my altars are built intuitively, and if I feel the urge to put something on an altar I usually do. There is no one way to build an altar so feel free to research and see what feels right for yourself.