Creating an altar space

The shamanic altar is a place to honor the spirits and show them you welcome their presence. It can be used by you as a focal point for meditation, communion and to add a powerful aesthetic to a room. Altars can be physical or digital. The guidance in this post is about physical altars.

Here is a simple guide to help you build your home altar:

  1. Decide upon the intent. What is the primary purpose of the altar?
    • Is it a place to make offerings?
    • Ask for blessings?
    • Clear your mind?
    • Find peace?
    • Seek insight?
  2. Choose the location. It can literally be anywhere in your house:
    • on a furniture surface
    • on the floor
    • on wall shelves
    • What’s important is that it feels right to you.
  3. Select the basic implements:
    • Start with a base. This can be a cloth cover, a rock slab, or even circuit boards. Something that signifies the boundaries of the space.
    • Altars will typically need to have items for receiving offerings, such as a goblet or bowl. This can be something natural like made of bone or a simple metal or even something very modern like an electronic lock-box.
    • A candle is a useful tool for signifying that you are spending intentional time before it. Or perhaps you prefer an LED light that you can control with an app on your phone.
    • Another implement is a bell, chime, or even a USB speaker that you use to  play whatever sound that signifies purifying the space.
  4. Select the adornments. These are decorations that creates your altar’s “theme”, that beautify the space and enhance it’s sacred feel:
    • Small items of personal significance to you such as crystals or jewelry
    • Carvings relevant to your intent
    • Small found items such as rocks or bottle caps
    • Tools such as a knife or a compass, a remote control

After assembling your altar, dedicate it with your first offering. What you offer is your choice. The most important thing about an offering is that you value what you offer. The altar works best when you also build a habit to interact with it at specific times. This can be daily, weekly, twice a month, etc. Whatever you feel is the appropriate amount, define that from the beginning and stay with it.

Some things I have learned

Spoiler alert: This is my understanding. If it doesn’t feel right to you, let it go. There is no value in debating spiritual matters. I am sharing this for the benefit of those who are seeking to learn different beliefs, in search of their own understanding. The thing to keep in mind is that what we believe is the choice we need to make at the time we make it.

Urban shamanism is not a religion. As shamans, we do not worship gods. We do not pray to deity. We communicate with spirit entities on behalf of others to help them in this world. We request guidance, insight and healing in order to benefit our communities. Here are some of the things I have learned through working with those spirit beings:

  • The universe is not divine.
  • There is no universal “love” or any other emotion.
  • There are no gods or goddesses.
  • The universe does not punish us, nor does it reward us.
  • The spirits shamans work with are kin.
  • We are spirit entities who are experiencing the world, the universe, from the perspective of physical matter and energy.
  • Everything we experience while being “alive” is for the purpose of learning and having fun.
  • Many of the spirits we encounter have experienced countless “lives” here.
  • We choose to be here, in this state. While most of us purposefully forget who we really are while we’re here, this identity we accept is just temporary.
  • Often we meet others here in our physical lives that we also know as our true selves.
  • The spirits are energy beings, just like us but are not directly experiencing the world as we are. Some know us in our true form and stay close during our trip through the middle layer.
  • The spirits want to help us, but typically will not interfere in our experience unless asked.
  • Shamans are able to perceive outside the experience of the physical world, and interact directly with those entities who are not currently inhabiting this layer of being.

 

Obligations to Self

An obligation is a strong duty. To every spirit, I have an obligation. To every person who comes to me in need, I have an obligation. To everyone I agree to help, I have an obligation. To myself…I have an obligation. While I have many obligations to all things, I want to focus at this moment on obligations to self:

  • It is my obligation to myself to enjoy my life and to learn about anything that interests me. 
  • It is my obligation to be true to myself and allow my thoughts and spirit to always remain free. 
  • It is my obligation to be steadfast when I want, to bend in the wind when I want, to be contrary when I want and to agree with everything I want. 
  • I am part of the planet, part of the spirit realm, part of the universe. I do not attempt to deny anyone the comforts they desire and this includes myself. My life as this person is short. To not live it to the fullest, to deny myself any experiences (some pleasurable, some sorrowful) is to squander a great gift. The world of physical perception is fleeting and it is my obligation to myself to live it without regret.

For me, my obligations are the tenets by which I live. They are all simple, common sense things really, like “do as little as I can to disturb nature when I hike and camp in the great forests”. They are always focused on being true to spirit as I know it. They are not always moral however.

I’m definitely not a new-age type guy. If something feels pretentious to me, I will discard it. If I think something is bullshit, I will call it like I see it. Later on, if I change my mind, I’ll do that, too. I’m carnal, primal and enjoy sensual pleasures without guilt. These are just examples of my own path.

A shaman doesn’t have to be all zen and emotionless. I’m not a spiritual guru sitting on the top of a mountain waiting for people to partake of my wisdom. Wisdom is a benefit of experience. Just experience as much as you can and you will have wisdom. Sometimes, we should be foolish, anyway. Learning by mistakes is a time honored tradition, too!

I can get angry, I can get sad, I can feel joy and rage and remorse. These are things I am here to experience. If I try and be “above all that” I’m simply denying myself the benefit of all that.

So, if you take only one thing from this, I hope it is that you choose to open yourself up fully to life’s experiences. This is, in my opinion, the most important obligation to ourselves we can make.