Altar Work is an essential tool for our daily practice as a shaman to keep in ‘Ayni’ with the world. This is a Quechuan word for right relationship. An altar will help us to come back into balance with ourselves and to reach that deep point of stillness. An altar acts as a bridge between the worlds.
We use other tools for this too, including breath work, meditation and ceremony. Each tool is used to highlight and support our natural rhythms. These rhythms may feel like we are finally ‘coming home’ and seem faintly familiar. They hold a connection to our ancestors, to our lineage and help to ground us, walking softly on the earth again with beauty.
Altars are beautiful, traditional and help us to deepen our connection with our hearts and to spirit through the offering of flowers, candles and incense. Altars can be a focal point of a ceremony, or for anything we’re focussing on dreaming into being. Having an altar in our home or outside in the garden helps us to step outside of time and look at any issues in our life with perspective. It helps us to step outside of the ‘drama’ or story we may be unwittingly creating and helps us to connect to our power animals, guides and ancestors for further assistance, which we sometimes can’t hear in the day-to-day routine. There are many ways of making an altar, which follow tradition. Here, we are going to create something unique.
Working with an altar is a personal and deeply creative, interactive learning journey with spirit. Whilst we sit regularly at our altar, we open up a clear channel for spirit to communicate with us, it’s like saying to spirit “O.K, I’m honouring you/my ancestors with this altar work, please give me advice on this issue and help me to work with it in the most efficient way for my highest good”. Spirit will either speak to us after meditation, as we’re waking up or doing the dishes. Often, it will be a time when we’re ‘between the worlds’. It’s important that we’re open to these messages as they often weave into visions, words or sounds. As time goes on, you will become adept at discerning what is a true message and what’s a figment of your imagination. A true message will be repeated in various forms three or more times. It’s like journeying to the underworld for a message, if the message or power animal is presented to you three times or more, then that is the one for you.
After a shamanic healing session, synchronicity is often speeded up and many ‘out of the blue’ occurrences happen to guide us and show us the way forward. Any blocks to our path will have been removed, allowing positive energy to flow into our lives again. This positive flow is the universe’s way of talking to us. If we feel connected to this positive flow and imagine an even better situation as if it’s already happened, then magic arrives.
If you look around you in nature and get a sense of the expansive way that nature communicates and is connected through insects, birds, stars and the sky – you can understand that this invisible living energy has infinitely more wisdom than we could ever imagine. Using nature to help embed the healing really helps, such as connecting with trees or the ocean after a session.
This positive energy will also show us where we may need to do some work still. So, it’s important to trust that the universe has our highest interests at heart, even though it may feel particularly stormy in that present moment. An altar will act as your anchor in deep trauma and a magic carpet to help you learn to ride the waves. Remember, that energy constantly changes and shifts, nothing ever stays the same. It’s good to write at your altar, channel those words of wisdom and then reflect on them later.
Think of your altar as a two-way channel of communication, what could you do to open up that communication with spirit even further? Whereas a sand painting is an important tool for a specific issue, it uses the earth to help dissipate some of the heavy energy and bring things back into balance. An altar has a myriad of ways to be worked with, depending on your focus. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Firstly, always call in Sacred Space. Make sure that your altar is set up in a space that has been smudged with white sage or Palo Santo. Have an intention of clutter clearing or blessing and space cleansing when you are preparing the space.
Also, bear in mind that each altar will contain an element relating to the direction it’s facing in, food for the ancestors is paramount. Your guides, ancestors and lineage will enjoy looking at anything that resembles them and also feeding on the energetic essence of chocolate, cornmeal or tobacco. Tobacco, sage and cornmeal are the traditional feeding elements.
Other sacred objects that could be used are:
- Antlers can be used as antennae for messages from Spirit.
- Twigs are also useful for blowing our intention into; these can then be burnt or floated away in a release ceremony at Full or New moon when you’re ready.
- Prayer sticks – for releasing and calling in certain things.
- Khuya’s/Stones for each corner of the altar to protect you and one main stone/candle/mesa in the centre, as your main piece. Essentially, there are no rules. It’s totally up to you and the traditions you are already weaving into your practice are perfect just as they are.
- Gratitude is an important element, as well as prayer, intention and your breath.
- Candles, incense, flowers , water – depending on the element you’re honouring.
Choosing the direction of your Altar.
We can also relate an Altar to a relation who has passed over, or a specific chakra we need to strengthen.
In my tradition, South (Serpent, Sachamama) would be about rebirth, death, release or shedding a skin and bringing in something new, also clearing any issues connecting to the earth element, community and family. South would also be relevant for issues concerning innocence, the inner child, beauty and truth. The South is very protective and nurturing, imagining caves, mountains, supporting roots and trees. Sachamama helps our relationship with Mother Earth and the elementals, the nature spirits.
Colours: Earthy – black, brown, green.
Materials: snakeskin, snake totems, stones, sand, earth
This would be an altar facing west to face any fears of letting go, any mulching of heavy energy to be done before it’s released and shadow work, this is where emotional work is done and includes memory, love, the unconscious and improving flow in your life.
Courage, passion and sexuality are here. It is here that we work on integrity, purifying our intention. We can grow compassion for ourselves here whilst we go through this process.
Colours: Blues, turquoise
Materials: Archetype stones: Jaguar, Khuyas (stones imbued with your love and compassion) shells, water. Clear quartz to cleanse heavy energy on yourself or your altar and consider finding yourself a tracking stone, which will enable Jaguar to help you to the heart of the issue you’re working with). Our Mesas have red, yellow or black stones associated with the west direction.
This would help us to step out of time. This is a good direction for honouring and developing a relationship with your lineage, your heritage, and your ancestors. If you want to call in more creativity, inspiration, love, fun and nectar into your life than you can call on hummingbird to help you do that. If you want help with being more present, then this is the right direction for you.
North is connected to air, communication, and timelessness and following our soul’s calling across thousands of miles. This would also be where you can get advice about developing your talents and skills.
Materials: Archetype stones: Humming Bird, Khuyas (stones imbued with your love and compassion or connection with your ancestors), feathers, iridescent materials that represent Hummingbird.
This is about new beginnings, vision, and trust. This is about listening to the steps you need to take that will carry you towards your highest destiny.
This is about connecting to others through the heart, about working with Munay for the good of the collective.
This direction connects us to universal love, unconditional love, and the source, following your bliss.
Materials: anything that connects you to your heart – feathers.
Have fun, the Q’ero have a word “puqllay” which means sacred play. You can be as playful as a child whilst creating your altar and be open to the results.
The twelve sacred apukuna of Cusco are:
Ausangate, Salkantay, Mama Simona, Pikol, Manuel Pinta, Wanakauri, Pachatusan, Pijchu, Saqsaywaman, Wiraqochan, Pukin, and Senq’a. Other Apus are Akamari, Illampu, Lady of Illimani, Machu Picchu, Pitusiray, Putu Cusi, Tunupa, Wakac Willka, Wayna Picchu, and Yanantin.
For all our relations : Ali Rabjohns 2020.