1.an elevated place or structure, as a mound or platform, at which religious rites are performed or on which sacrifices are offered to gods, ancestors, etc.
Several dictionaries only define an altar as a trapping of Christianity or a place of blood sacrifice. An altar can actually be almost anywhere and made of almost anything. I have long since lost all horizontal surfaces in my home to altars of all kinds. So naturally, I have moved on to my walls.
An altar is any object or collection of objects placed with intention. There are several telltale signs of an altar: a cloth covered surface with candles, statuary, flowers, incense, crystals, small votive objects, offerings of food or drink. An alert eye can easily distinguish one from a random collection of objects.
Your tradition may or may not include the creation of personal altars. So what are the customs concerning such things? It is very simple and almost exactly like the customs we have concerning anything that belongs to another. Be respectful, do not touch someone else’s sacred objects unless you have been given express permission to do so. Some practitioners do not mind at all, while others have very strong feelings about it. It is similar to reading Tarot Cards. Some readers shuffle and draw cards for their Querents, while others are perfectly comfortable with their clients shuffling and choosing cards for themselves. Neither is right or wrong and both are appropriate for the individual reader.
Culturally, we often assume a level of ownership of the things we see and feel free to touch or comment on things that are out of bounds. An altar is someone’s sacred space. Within our Metaphysical diaspora we do not have shared sacred spaces such as churches, synagogues or mosques. So the importance of these spaces created by individuals hold great significance. While how we interact with them may be unclear. Even within such shared spaces one would not march up to the tabernacle and unceremoniously take hold of the eucharist or throw open the doors of the ark and paw The Torah, Neither would we be intentionally disrespectful in word or deed to the sacred space of another. The candles may carry prayers for the healing of a loved one, the crystal may symbolize a personal goal or intention, or the small shiny box may contain more bainful workings.
There is often times palpable energy wafting off such objects and it is natural for us to be drawn to them. If you have ever travelled to a sacred sites like the Great Pyramids, The Wailing Wall, The Delphic Oracle Temple Complex, you know how compelling they can be. Countless times I have stood close to objects enclosed in the glass cases of museums and thought I could give them a good, nay a better home and honor them by using them for their intended purpose. But I digress,
So how do we insure that we are mindful of others sacred space? When in doubt, ask. What a great conversation starter. Genuine interest and curiosity are usually welcome. If you are drawn to a certain object and don’t know why, asking someone who is currently working with that symbol could be very enlightening.
So go forth and build bridges, talk to one another and strengthen the bonds of our community.