A Practical Witch’s Guide To Finding Sacred Space and Building An Altar
In a world that expects us to pour from an empty cup, your team only seeks to fill your cup and often a simple gesture of gratitude is all that is required.
We pay homage to our ancestors. We recognize and give thanks to the ancestors whose names we know and those we don’t. We pay gratitude to the land upon which we live. We make the commitment to honor and care for our bodies as we honor and care for the land. We know that we are sacred and give thanks for all the ways our spirit team reminds us of this fact. Give thanks for our remembering. Ase.
Finding the space to create, nurture and define as ‘sacred’ can often be the hardest part in creating sacred space. The world is in a state of massive shift, turmoil and unrest; it often feels like there is nowhere for respite and nothing is treated as sacred anymore — sometimes can only access our sacred space inside of ourselves.
Because of our trauma(s) and lived experiences, sometimes going inside is scary and we can only access the sacred outside of ourselves, first. Sometimes we question if we deserve it. And even more so, we question what we will invite in through the creation of that space.
We hold the right to make every space we step onto sacred, and I seek to remind you, that though it don’t feel like it — everywhere you step is sacred. This land has been made sacred from creation. We are continually reminded that it is still upheld and fought for as sacred by the many Indigenous nations who still take seriously this responsibility, despite colonialism working in opposition to this. The foremost part of developing sacred space is knowing that this land is inherently sacred, and it is our responsibility, as settlers and stolen bodies, to treat this land as such and regard our many communities that inhabit it, as such.
What is ‘sacred’? A dictionary definition connects ‘sacred’ to being “connected with God.” More specifically, I want to link ‘sacred’ to being connected to YOUR God-body. Beginning with a recognition of your inherent divinity, understanding that you and the land that you walk on are both of the Creator and (with your spirit in the human body) are inseparable.
I want to stress that this inseparable connection indicates that as you treat the land with care and consideration, you are encouraged to do the same with your own body, in the state that it is in right now. No changes to be made, no alterations. Right now, your God-body is deserving of its birth-right; to be given love, care, praise and a respect that allows it to take you into the far future with health and strength. How does your body reach its optimal health? In what ways does your body exhibit its strength without strain? How you treat and love la tierra (the earth), is how you can similarly be guided to treat and love your body. Exactly as it is.
Sacred space is individual, ever-changing & completely directed and maintained by, and for, you. It is somewhere that we can go to connect with creation, the Creator, or ‘God’, and our spirit team. Whether it is private or public, it is a place you deserve to access. Some folks will find their sacred space outdoors; a local park or trail, perhaps it’s at a stream under a bridge. Some will find that indoors; maybe it’s the library or a local club, your favorite smoke lounge or your bedroom.
It doesn’t matter what the space is, it is about whether or not this space is one that allows you to be your full, unbridled self, that you can lay your pains down and feel rejuvenated by. Some, who are looking to ritualize their sacred time and connect with deities that have called to them or they seek to know better, will set up an altar in their sacred space. This is a common practice for those of us amongst the African diaspora, especially when we are trying to remember and reconnect with our ancestral teachings.
An altar never has to be too elaborate (in fact, I’ve had my spirit team advise me to clear and clean it up when too many unnecessary crystals or decorative extras get laid upon it). It requires a simple demonstration of connection to the elements and connection to your ancestors and/or spirit team (which include your ancestors, spirit guides and angels). And please remember that your team will NEVER expect you to offer to them more than you are physically able; they are here to work with you, not against.
In a world that expects us to pour from an empty cup, your team only seeks to fill your cup and often a simple gesture of gratitude is all that is required. This altar construction is one of those gestures. Giving yourself a place to give thanks to your God-body and have safe, uninterrupted communion with your spirit team is a HUGE offering to them. Remember, your best interests are their best interests.
Building Your Altar:
Clean the quiet space you seek to put your altar. I have my main ancestral altar in my bedroom, this way I can control who makes contact with it.
If only able to place it on a shelf on the wall or on the floor, that is fine; do whatever is accessible for you. Find a sturdy box or stool that can be used as a pedestal upon which to place your altar and set it in the space you’ve reserved for praise.
Clean the surface of the pedestal with white rum, florida water or bay rum.
Get a cloth of a beautiful hue. White is the traditional colour used to offer protection and symbolize cleanliness, but trust your instinct or use whatever you have access to.
Place minerals or stones onto the altar to ground it to the earth.
Get a single candle (again, white is the traditional colour used, however use whatever colour feels right; orange is a phenomenal road opening colour) and place it on the altar to be lit during communion.
Place a clean, clear glass of water on the altar; water is a conductor and will act as a channel through which your spirit team can connect with you. ‘Spirit’ the water with a splash of white or bay rum, anisette or florida water.
Put up photos of ancestors you want to remember and keep close; you do not need to create room in your sacred space for ancestors you do not want around or who have been a site of trauma. We only call in our ancestors of (as a sister of mine says) “the highest good.” If photos are not accessible, don’t be afraid to paint, draw or use items to commemorate your ancestors. Let your altar be your greatest art project!
Smoke or smudge the area with medicine to activate the altar and protect it. I like to use tobacco, but others like to use rosemary, white sage or palo santo. Use what is most comfortable to you and ensure that the medicine is respected as sacred before, during and after use.
I will lay out offerings of food or drink that my ancestors enjoyed as an extra thank you. Coffee is great to also ‘wake them up.’ While you enjoy a cup, let them enjoy with you. Spend your mornings or evenings at the altar. Speak to your ancestors there; out loud or in your head. Meditate and pray there. As you ‘work’ the altar, your team will continue to work for you.
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