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Let Your Altar Renew Your Spirit for the Holidays and Beyond
by Sandra Kynes - Let Your Altar Renew Your Spirit for the Holidays and Beyond - December 2007

Your altar is more than just a place to put things. Through the ages, the use of altars has been both communal and private. Although home altars seem more prevalent in certain faiths, in recent years their use has become more widespread regardless of one’s spiritual path. While altars and their purpose have evolved over the millennia, they continue to fulfill a fundamental need that transcends spiritual orientation.

There is a certain power to an altar. It is not just a thing that holds a collection of objects; intention and energy transform an altar into a space that is separate from our everyday world. When we use an altar, we step outside the boundaries of our day-to-day lives. When we sit in front of an altar, we place ourselves in the presence of spirit and open ourselves to receive answers to the questions that guide our souls.

As a central part of ritual and worship, an altar is a place of spiritual encounter. It serves as a reminder of our contact with the Divine as well as contact with our souls. Using an altar strikes a familiar chord within us. We may not understand why this occurs, but we can sense a shift of energy away from ordinary awareness. Altars hold objects of inspiration and devotion, personal and sacred, resulting in a space that visibly and energetically links the spiritual and physical worlds and provides clues to our innermost thoughts and feelings. The Greek word gnosis is usually translated as “knowledge;” however it can also be translated as “insight.” According to Elaine Pagals, “[g]nosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself.” 1 An altar becomes a tool for gnosis—knowledge that comes from spiritual insight and self illumination.

In the past, the sacred and secular were not so rigidly segregated. This is not the case in today’s world; however, having a place where these aspects of our lives come together can be a means for finding balance. This meeting point of spiritual and mundane energies can provide an orientation or anchor in the world—a place to hold onto and come back to for personal strength and exploration. The things that we place on an altar become symbolic of what is going on in our hearts and minds. Because of the convergent energies, an altar is not a passive space—there is constant interaction.

In addition to providing a place for worship, an altar functions as a tool for exploration and growth. Like a labyrinth, an altar top itself can act as a “blueprint for the psyche to meet the soul.”2 An altar is a place where you lay out your intentions—put your cards on the table, so to speak—to manifest particular energies into your life. In describing how Peruvian shamans interact with their altars, Jim DeKorne said that the altar top functioned like a “game board, a symbolic paradigm against which the ritual is played.”3

This is the premise of my book, Your Altar; using the altar as a game board—for lack of a better term. The phrase “game board” is not meant to be irreverent. It’s a way to convey the concept of a matrix or setup for an altar and a different form of meditation practice. While it is standard practice to use an altar for focus, it can be used as an integral part of the meditation technique. Dividing the altar top into multiple sections and using them to focus a flow of thoughts allows the altar to function as a powerful and symbolic tool not unlike a Buddhist mandala, classical Christian icon or Hindu yantra.

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Back to Top - Author Interview - December 2007

An Interview with Sandra Kynes, author of Your Altar
by Llewellyn

What is the main purpose of an altar?

I believe there are two main purposes for an altar. First, altars are as old as human belief in divinity and represent the attempt to communicate with the Divine as well as provide a place to make offerings. The second purpose is to maintain contact with ancestors and other spirits with the altar providing a visible link between the living and dead. The first purpose has a slight duality: The altar creates a place for communion with divinity (through worship/ritual) and a deepening of the soul (through meditation/contemplation). I say “slight duality” because these are intertwined. Meditating to find the true essence of who we are eventually leads us to the Divine and vice-versa. There is a divine spark in all of us and when we find it, we discover who we are and that we are part of a universal energy.

In your book Your Altar, you discuss ways to setup an altar. What is an altar setup/matrix?

I used the words setup and matrix interchangeably to indicate that the altar top is divided in some manner. Assigning areas of an altar for specific functions is not unique. On Christian altars the Paschal candle at Easter is placed on the right side, which is called the Epistle side. (The left side is called the Gospel side.) The traditional Buddhist altar consists of three tiers: the top one is for images or statues of Buddha, the second for symbolic elements such as a dharma wheel and the third for offerings. Often Pagan altars are divided into five parts with areas representing the cardinal directions and the center for spirit. Traditionally, a meditation altar is used to focus the mind. I’ve gone a step further by using the altar not only to focus but also to guide the meditation. In the introduction to the book I refer to an altar matrix as a game board as way to convey the idea of dividing the altar into separate sections for specific purposes. If you want to play backgammon you wouldn’t use a chessboard, since each board game has its own physical layout, its own rules, and its own mindset. This also applies to an altar matrix because each one is configured with a certain intent that functions as a path to guide the meditation process. Dividing the altar top can be done by putting a large piece of paper on the altar and simply drawing a grid for whichever altar layout you plan to use. For example, if you are using a nine-part altar matrix it would look like a tic-tac-toe grid. If you prefer to work simply, anything straight and thin can be used to demarcate the sectors. A simple or elaborate setup is a personal choice.

Do we have to belong to a certain religion to set up and use an altar?

No, altars are common to most religious paths; however, my intent is to provide an interfaith exploration of self and our personal relationship with the Divine. While the concepts and practices that I present come from a variety of spiritual traditions, they do not require you to leave your own beliefs behind. I also feel that it’s important to be open to other religious paths because there is so much we can learn from each other’s beliefs.Some of the meditations that I suggest in the book are not connected with any religion. For example, one deals with the five senses: Because they connect us with the outer world as well as our inner world, tuning into our senses can help us become fully grounded in our physical being. Meditation brings us into self, which as mentioned, leads us to the Divine regardless of specific religious path.

In your book you mention that dividing the altar top into multiple sections allows the altar to function as a powerful tool; can you explain how this division makes a difference?

Click here to read the full interview.

Back to Top - Llewellyn Journal - December 2007

Celebrating Yule without Losing Your Mind - Or Your Life Savings
by Dorothy Morrison 
No matter who we are or where we live, the Yuletide season is something we all look forward to. As worthy of celebration as the Winter Solstice is, though, doing so often presents its own set of problems in the form of time and money. Dorothy Morrison illustrates how to celebrate the Yuletide season without losing your mind--or your life savings, for that matter.

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New Worlds of Shamanism by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke
After decades of being demonized by clergy, diagnosed by psychiatrists, and dismissed by academics, shamanism is thriving. So, what is fueling the West's new fascination with shamanism? Carl Llewellyn Weschcke reviews Roger Walsh's book The World of Shamanism.

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by Ly de Angeles
Two years ago, Ly de Angeles collaborated on Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future. Since then, has anything changed? Have pagans come together to change the world?

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When Purpose Calls
by Michael J Tamura
The New Year is right around the corner. Many will resolve to do so many things, from saving money to dieting to quitting smoking. Can you resolve to bring magic and purpose into your life? Michael J. Tamura, author of You Are the Answer, illustrates how to invite the serendipity of magic and healing into your life.

Read More

Back to Top - Try This! - December 2007
Create Your Own Unique Yule Wreath

Yuletide Trivia and Fun Facts

Candles for the Midwinter Festival of Lights

Llewellyn Journal - December 2007
Celebrating Yule without Losing Your Mind - Or Your Life Savings

New Worlds of Shamanism


When Purpose Calls - News - December 2007

The Essence of Tantric Sexuality Named one of USA Book News' "Best Books" 

The Essence of Tantric Sexuality, a Llewellyn Worldwide title exploring the Hindu tantric tradition, has been named a USA Book News "Best Book" in the Health: Sexuality category as well as being named a finalist in the Eastern Religions Category. Click here to read the full story.

2007 Newsletter Reader Survey
Please take a few moments to answer this brief online survey to help us improve your experience with Llewellyn's new monthly e-magazine.

New Worlds November / December 2007

Download the PDF file of the latest issue of New Worlds or click here to sign up and have it delivered to your home! - Llewellyn Encyclopedia - December 2007

A non-city dweller. A person of the heath, an uncultivated area usually filled with wild grasses and herbs. As Christianity and schools first took root in cities, the term became associated with Pagans and people who did not have a city education or manners.

A family of traditions whose practitioners focus on voluntarily entering altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves, or their spirit(s) interacting with other entities, often by traveling to other realms in order to serve their community.

December 21; the Winster Solstice marks the shortest day of the year.In most Wiccan/Witchcraft traditions the theme of the Winter Solstice is linked to the rebirth/renewal of the sun. - New Releases - December 2007

Your Altar
Your Altar
by Sandra Kynes

Neopagan Rites
Neopagan Rites
by Isaac Bonewits

You Are the Answer
You Are the Answer
by Michael J. Tamura

Unlocking the Healing Code
Unlocking the Healing Code
by Bruce Forciea

Why We Hurt
Why We Hurt
by Dr. Greg Fors - Reader's Top Picks - December 2007

The Temple of High Witchcraft
by Christopher Penczak

by Dorothy Morrison

Llewellyn's Holiday Sale - Save up to 50%!

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