Creating an Altar And Worshipping at Your Altar
By Mary Kurus
Copyright 2000 by Mary Kurus
Vibrant and energetic health can be achieved and maintained only when we are healthy in all major aspects of our being, including physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. This requires integrating time and practices for developing and maintaining a high level of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health into our everyday lives. If these various aspects of ourselves are not nourished on a very regular basis, difficulties will often be found with the physical well-being of the individual and illness can occur.
This article deals primarily with spiritual health and will identify one approach to help us connect with the God within us and with the Universal Power in the external Cosmos. It's important to separate the concepts of organized religion and spirituality. This article deals with spirituality that includes a direct and personal relationship or connection between a human and that Power which created and influences how the Universe evolves. Creating a personal altar and worshipping at this altar provides us with a simple act which we can perform on a regular basis, to fit in with any schedule, and which can form a major cornerstone of an individual's spiritual health.
What Is an Altar
An altar is a sacred space where we go to connect the Divine Spirit within us with the Divine Spirit and the Gods in the Universe. It is that special place that an individual has chosen to help them withdraw from the busyness of life for connection, rejuvenation and energy. It can be a small space, it can be an entire room or it can be outdoors. An altar helps you to personally connect the Holy within you with the external Divine Spirits which you consider to be Holy. An altar is that place to which one goes to concentrate their energies for many purposes. An altar can change with the seasons or it can change to reflect the changes in you as you experience personal growth.
Altars are part of ancient traditions and have been used as places of worship for thousands of years. Every civilization around the world has worshipped at altars as an integral part of their spiritual or religious practice. Asian, European, Latin American, African, and various North American cultures have integrated altars into their practices of worship. Many great religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and the ancient religions, have used altars for many purposes in worshipping the Universal Deity.
Why Do You Need Your Own Altar
Human beings have always had a deep need to pay homage, or just to connect at a deep and personal level with that power which they consider to be their God. I call this the need the need to worship. Worshipping is an essential element in every individuals spiritual journey in life. Altars help to remind us that there is a God or Gods much more powerful than any human power. It provides us with a focus to think, pray, meditate and listen. It helps us connect the God within us with the Gods of the Universe.
Worshipping is essential for humans since it renews our spirit. Worshipping feeds our souls in the similar way we nourish our bodies with food and water and our emotional selves with love and caring. An altar helps to remind us to stop during our hectic and busy lives, to take time to be, to listen, and to talk with the God of our understanding. It helps us to stop with our everyday tasks and to take time to nourish our souls. It is an oasis of silence and peace, a place of spiritual comfort and inspiration.
We can go to a temple or church on a regular basis and worship, but daily worship is most easily conducted at an altar at home. A home altar is a more personal place of worship including those elements that represent the sacred to each one of us. A deeper connection is possible when we worship alone in the quiet of our altar, with our Creator. An altar at home connects the God within with where we live, eat and sleep with the Universal Power. It reinforces spirituality into our everyday lives.
What Is Worship
For those reared in North American religions worship normally consists of ritualistic ceremonies and repetitive prayers. Normally, we are observers in this type of worship. This type of worship does not encourage a personal and close connection with something Holy. A personal altar does just that, bringing you to that sacred place for that personal connection with a Universal Power. This type of worship is intimate and individual.
Worship can include many elements, but essentially it means connecting the Holy within you with what you consider Holy. It can be simple and consist of being present with God. It can include asking for yourself or others, sharing your hopes, dreams, fears or anxieties. It can be used as a time to listen, to thank, to praise, to recite affirmations, or to remember someone for a variety of reasons. It can be used to experience a time of peace. It can be used as a support when experiencing transformations at emotional, mental, physical or spiritual levels.
This Holy Power is called many things including the Creator, the Universe, the Universal Power, God, Buddha, Allah. It doesn't matter what you call this Power. What matters is that there is a spiritual belief and that this belief is integrated into your everyday life.
Why Do You Need to Worship
I firmly believe that the emotional stability of any individual is a direct reflection of the relationship of that person with a Universal Power. We need to honor the God of our beliefs and doing so brings us emotional stability. In life we act from one of two sources, either the source of love or the source of fear. When we worship and place in God's hands what belongs there, we treat ourselves and others in a relatively loving manner. When we try to control and manipulate life to provide us with what we consider important, we are filled with fear and its many manifestations. Regardless of the materialistic success, individuals whose behavior is driven by fear, are not content with life, or at peace with themselves or others.
Long-term and sustainable health can only be achieved when we are connected to the inner and outer sacred essence that underlies every aspect of every human life. Spiritual health is equally important to physical, emotional and mental health.
Worshipping puts life and life's experiences in a different perspective, helping us to come more fully from a place of love. It helps you focus your intentions, become more centered, and puts you on the path of life that your heart is crying to travel. It helps you to stop and just be with yourself, your thoughts and feelings. It helps you to know you.
Where Should You Establish Your Altar
An altar can be anywhere that you can go to for your private moments with a Sacred Deity. This can be a small corner of a room, one shelf or three shelves of a bookcase, a desk, a cabinet, a room, a corner in your garden, or a sacred place outdoors. What's important about the space is that is has to be private for those times of worship, a place you can withdraw to, from the hectic moments of life, to quiet the mind and to spend time in prayer or meditation, or to be quiet just to hear oneself.
What Should You Place On Your Altar
Anything that represents to you the sacred power of the Universe should be placed on your altar. The following are some ideas to help stimulate your imagination. These are just ideas since the things you place on your altar should represent you, your life, your beliefs and your family.
The intention, or the aim or the purpose of what you place on your altar and what it represents is more important than what you actually place on your altar. Intention can be put into any object and therefore it is really important to concentrate your aim or purpose of placing a particular item on your altar. Think into these objects your intention for what they represent. We do not comprehend the enormous power of thoughts and intention.
Sacred Representations from Different Religions
Many different Gods from a variety of religions can be represented on an altar. You could have a large brass figure of the laughing Buddha to remind you that laughter is so important in living a healthy life, and to remind you of Gods wonderful sense of humor. You could have a wooden carving of a Meditating Buddha for those times when you need to strengthen your times of meditation and prayer. You could include a small carving of Horus, the Egyptian God, which is half eagle and half man. It represents the mysteries of the Gods that are beyond human comprehension. You could include a carving of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who helps so much in special requests for children. She has such a special love for children.
There are so many other icons, figurines and carvings that could be included. The Black Madonnas, Ganesh the Hindu god, Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, St. Francis of Assisi or many other Catholic saints, Krishna, another Hindu god, are just a few more examples of sacred deities.
The Spirit World
Certain carvings and figures represent different metaphysical spirits who are ever present in our everyday lives. You can have carvings that represent your guides or counselors who work with you and help you daily. You can have special representations for angels or guardian angels that protect you and look after you. You can be quite specific and have figures of specific angels, e.g. the archangel Michael, the powerful protector of us all or the Goddess of Mother Earth to represent the healing power of the Earth.
You can also place photographs or images that represent those who have left this earth and now belong in the spirit world. These images can reconnect us to these spirits, which are still part of our lives, even though on a different dimension.
Plants, Flowers, Trees
Nature is a powerful force in our lives and should be an important element of any altar. Plants, flowers, herbs and trees are great healers in nature and can represent different qualities that can support your personal development. You can use fresh or dried flowers, a branch of a tree, or you can place a picture of the plant, flower or tree that means so much to you. A flower, tree or gem vibrational essence can also represent that natural element which means something special to you. Choming Essences are the natural vibrations of flowers, trees and gems and can easily represent your favorite flower on your altar.
Crystals and Gems
There are so many different crystals and gems from which to choose that you can easily fill and entire room with small specimens of each. The healing powers of gems and crystals are powerful and as a result they need to be treated with care. Often crystals cannot be kept by many in the same room in which they sleep so you many have to experiment to find those, which are compatible with your vibrating energy. As with flowers, Choming Gem Essences can be placed on your altar to represent the specific crystal or gem which you want to place on your altar.
In the Native North American Indian culture, animals are representative of guides, teachers, counselors and protectors. A brass bear carving could represent your protector who goes everywhere with you to protect you and give you that overall sense of safety. He can be so ferocious and so powerful. And he just lives and loves to protect you. A carved elephant can remind you of the ancient wisdom in nature, and within you, if you'll just stop and listen to hear it. A dolphin can represent the rhythm of life, breathing new creativity into your life.
I have special relationship with birds and have a wooden carving of the Bird God of Nepal on my altar to remind me of that special relationship. Birds bring together elements of earth and the wider Universe and are often viewed as spiritual messengers. They can bring us messages and communications from the Universe.
You could choose a raven or crow that represents the mystical and magical; the Canada goose that represents travel and the natural mysteries of migration; the vulture which represents rebirth; the robin that represents new beginnings; the owl that represents magic, omens, and silent wisdom; the red cardinal that represents finding your soul song and renewing your vitality; the blue jay that represents the proper use of power; the heron which represents self-reliance; the hummingbird which represents joy from drinking of the sweet nectar of life; the loon which represents new states of consciousness; or the blue heron representing independence and strength.
These are just a few examples. The possibilities are endless. Place the bird on your altar that represents the quality you want to concentrate on and develop.
Customs in many ancient traditions throughout the world have used incense as an integral element of worshipping. Incense is made by compacting a number of herbs and spices. There is a special Tibetan Incense made in monasteries in Nepal from 35 different herbs and spices including nagi, red and white sandalwood, and saffron. The smell is gentle and beautiful and this essence will dissolve all negative energies that exist in around the area of your altar. This essence is prepared in accordance with Tibetan traditions, preserved through the centuries within the monastic orders of Tibet. This incense is special not only from the purity of the ingredients but also from the manner in which it is made.
The smell that is generated from burning essence helps to still your active mind as you are preparing to worship and to slowly bring all your senses to focus on why you are worshipping at that moment. You can use various scents including jasmine, juniper, or myrrh. Incense increases the vibrational intensity of your thoughts and purpose for worship helping to send a stronger message to the Universe.
White sage is used by many cultures, most especially Native Americans, to smudge and cleanse your sacred space for worshipping. It is said that white sage has special powerful properties for drawing wisdom as well as those of purification. Like incense, white sage will help you concentrate your energies as well as concentrate the energies that are being sent to the Deity during your worshipping ceremony.
Candles are another spiritual tool to help you focus and strengthen your energies of prayer and worship. Lighting a candle can be like an announcement to the Universe of your intention to worship. The flame of the candle can send a spiritual message that you are honoring the Creator and presenting to the God(s) of your understanding, and the reason for your worship.
The colors of the candles you use can be representative of the changes or intent of your worship. White can represent purity or spiritual intent; black can signify the release of the negative in your life; yellow can represent the sun, joy, or it can represent the mental aspects of your worship; orange can represent the release of resentment or it can represent the request for increased creativity; green can represent issues of the heart or it can represent healing; blue can represent increasing your ability to speak your truth. The intent around the choice of color is important for your altar.
What Represents You
Place on your altar the photographs or images that represent those for whom you pray and have special intentions. Place your own photograph on your altar. An altar should be a very personal place representing you, your family and various aspects of your life. Make your altar as personal as you can for you and those who worship there with you.
How to Use Your Altar
In Preparation for Your Worshipping Ceremony
We have not been taught how to use an altar as part of worshipping and we need to develop certain practices. The majority of North Americans and Europeans have been exposed to prayers of repetition, which are said in a formal religious setting, a church, mosque, or temple. We are not taught to develop our own ceremonies and customs of worship.
The first step in worshipping is to decide why you want to worship and focus on one simple area. It might be to simply quiet the mind and to become more calm and peaceful for that day or night. If one is experiencing painful emotions, it might be used to tell the Universal Power of the pain and suffering a person is experiencing. It eases the pain. Worshipping can be used to seek help in developing new qualities. The opportunities are endless.
It helps to choose a specific time of the day to conduct worshipping ceremonies. This helps us to put a structure around our worship and to develop the habit of worshipping. Some prefer to begin their day with a ceremony while others prefer to worship in the evening. You may need to experiment before you find your best time. It's best to choose that time of day where you can find some private time of about one half hour period.
Make certain you will not be disturbed. Sit or stand in a way that you are relaxed and comfortable. If possible, do some deep breathing or other relaxing exercises to help you prepare for your worship.
Opening Your Worship
It's important to have a formal beginning for each worshiping ceremony. I use the burning of incense or white sage to formally open my worshipping. This helps to still the busy mind and to focus all energies on the purpose of the worship. The smell of incense burning reminds me immediately to quiet my mind. For example, if you are having a special worship for a child, burning incense as you begin the ceremony will help to still the mind, concentrate your thoughts, emotions and all vibrational energy on the child for whom you pray. Burning incense or white sage will also dissolve any negative energies in the area where you are worshipping, clearing the space for positive energies.
Giving Thanks for Your Blessings
Once you have focussed your energies on the purpose of your worship, then begin your ceremony. It's important to honor God and to give thanks for the blessings one is receiving in today. Saying thank-you for the blessings you have puts you into a proper frame of mind for worshipping. There are always blessings regardless of the difficulties being experienced. For example, someone may be grieving the loss of a loved partner but is fortunate enough to have sufficient money for all their needs and material comforts. There are always blessings in every individual's life if we will only look for them.
The Heart and Soul of the Worshipping Ceremony
Then proceed to ask, discuss, or present the intention of your worship. This is the most personal part of any worshipping ceremony. The power of prayer is immense and you can realize many blessings simply by asking for yourself or others. The asking needs to be done in humility and love for self and others. Make certain you spend sufficient time discussing what is so private and so important to you, and above all feeling your prayer as if it exists in today. God listens to you. Listen to God.
Another important element of worshipping is to listen. We tend to have such busy minds we need to learn to stop and be quiet with the God of our understanding. If you have sufficient time, meditate, quiet your busy mind so you can be more open to the messages of the Universe. This gives the Universe the opportunity to send us messages. But we need to be sufficiently quiet to hear these messages.
If we are intent upon receiving a certain answer and are determined to have our own way, we are not open to an answer from the Universe. Sometimes the answer is no because in the long-run what we want may not be best for us. We need to put aside our will, desires, fears and hopes to be able to listen with a truly open mind.
If one has a favorite prayer, for example the Prayer of Francis of Assisi, it is helpful to recite this prayer with perhaps a special intention as part of your worshipping ceremony. For those who read the bible, scriptures, the Torah or other sacred literature, reading from these writings can be an important element of a worshipping ceremony.
You will find that the content of your worship changes as you grow and change. The beauty of an altar and worship at home is that you can change it to accommodate whatever needs you have at any point and time in your life.
Music is an effective way to open or close a worshipping ceremony and to help calm the mind and emotions. It puts one in the right frame of mind for worshipping. But I do find music distracting during worship when one is connecting with the Universal Power.
If you decide to use music choose that which you associate with sacred music. This could include bells, chimes, singing bowls, flute music, the horn of Tibet, chanting, Gregorian music, or Cappella. Many types of music can be powerful ingredients of worshipping which help you express your emotions and needs.
Closing Your Worship
Close your worship any way, but I suggest that you experiment until you find a way that you can repeat at the end of each worshipping ceremony. This can include playing a piece of music, reciting a prayer, giving a simple thank-you and/or amen, or whatever represents an ending for you. The closing should leave you with the feeling that you have reinforced the God in you, expanding your ability to love and care for yourself and others, and other God-like qualities such as compassion, understanding or generosity.
Is It Prayer or Meditation
Prayer is defined as a solemn request or thanksgiving to God or an object of worship. A religious service consists mostly of prayer. Meditation is defined as an exercise of the mind in contemplation, concentrating on a particular object or sound, so that your mind can become quiet and empty of chatter and noise. Meditation consists of emptying the mind so that subconscious and superconscious messages can come to the surface. Prayer involves speaking, discussing, and is an active exercise. Meditation involves relaxing, and quieting the mind and is a passive exercise.
Both prayer and meditation are important elements of worshipping. They can be done individually or in a group. They can be done in a short or long period of time. There are many different forms of prayer and meditation and both should eventually be integrated into daily worship.
The Art of Praying
In his book The Isaiah Effect, Gregg Braden speaks so eloquently about the inner workings of prayer forgotten by our culture. He describes how we must feel our prayer rather than keep reminding ourselves and the Universe of what we don't have. He states that the secret is that when we ask for something, we acknowledge what we do not have. But he says continuing to ask for what we don't have only gives power to what has never come to pass. He provides many examples of how we must "feel" what we are asking for as if it is now - and feel it in its every detail and in its broadest dimensions.
He provides the example of praying for rain and feeling what rain feels like, of rain upon your body, being barefoot in the rain, the smell of rain, the mud oozing between your toes. You have to smell your prayer, taste your prayer, and feel what it's like. Then you give thanks for what you may have created with your prayer.
The subject and methods of meditation are so varied that I will not
address it in this article, but sometime soon will write another article on
The development and use of an altar can be a personal or private time or it can be used to bring a family together for many special times. It can be used to teach children about God and the power of prayer and meditation. Prayers said by groups can be even more powerful than those said by individuals. The development and use of an altar in your home can enrich your life and bring you many blessings. I wish you many occasions of powerful and fulfilling being, praying and meditating before your personal altar.
For additional information about Choming Essences, Vibrational Assessments or information contained in this article, please contact Mary Kurus or visit her website at www.mkprojects.com to read many other articles relating to holistic health and Vibrational Healing.
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The ideas and suggestions identified here are not intended in any way as a substitute for qualified medical advice. Consult a qualified medical practitioner in person for your health problems.