When I was studying to become an interfaith minister, I experienced firsthand the beautiful and many ways people create sacred space. I was fortunate enough to pray and meditate with Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Lakotas, Wiccans, Pagans, Humanists, and even a Yoruba priestess!
One thing they all had in common was the art of creating an altar. And while the objects placed on the altar held different meanings, the intention behind them was the same: to help the community come together and connect more deeply with themselves and all that is.
It is in this spirit that I invite you to help us co-create a community altar.
What is an altar?
An altar is often a central focal point for prayer, worship or sacred activity. It can be a permanent fixture, like in a Christian church, or it can be a temporary space to put meaningful objects.
When people come together in dream circles it is common practice to create a community altar. Since many dream circles are comprised of people from a variety of ancestral heritages and cultural beliefs, the altar takes on the flavor of the diversity present.
Co-Create a Community Dream Altar
Although the following describes a common altar creation process, what happens during the process depends entirely on who is creating it. There is no right or wrong way to lay the foundation for an altar.
1. Establish the altar location, perhaps by using a small table or spot on the floor, and cover it with a piece of fabric.
2. Consider using candles to represent the four cardinal directions: East, South, West and North. Additionally, the four elements may be represented: earth, air, fire and water.
3. Say a prayer or call in the directions, the ancestors and Spirit (G-d, Goddess, Allah, the Universe, or the Higher Self, or who/whatever is desired) to help create sacred space.
4. Once the basic elements are in place, participants take turns placing objects on the altar. These might be dream related objects, like a plastic tiger to represent a dream character. Shells, stones, pictures of ancestors, food, flowers, plants, statues of saints or holy teachers, or anything that holds special meaning can be placed on the altar. Each object is placed on the altar with reverence. Often a short prayer or intention is verbally or silently accompanied by the altar piece.
5. When the altar is completed it remains intact throughout the duration of the dream circle. When the dream group ends, people return to the altar and ceremoniously collect their objects and blow out the candles, closing the direction and thanking all who helped hold the sacred space.
This practice helps a community come together as equals, each represented in his or her faith or beliefs.
A Personal Dream Altar
This is my dream altar. It is a permanent fixture that stands in the corner of my office. Every object on it represents a character or theme that comes directly from one of my sleeping dreams. For example, I often dream of big cats, mostly tigers, so I have a plastic tiger present. The pink sphere of rock salt comes from a dream I had shortly after I started The DreamTribe. In the dream I was a leader and my people were crossing a mountain filled with pink Himalayan rock salt. Having the sphere on my altar helps me remember to be “the salt of the earth” a reference, perhaps, to Matthew 5:13–16.
Creating a dream inspired altar is a great way to bring your inner images to life. It’s fun, creative and all yours to make.
Buddhist Altar photo by Wonderland