My morning began as most do. I stood at my altar in my office to light a candle and incense. That morning I made a commitment not leave the house. Whatever was going to happen would be within the sanctuary of my home.
I had just returned from spending 3 nights and 4 days with over fifty work colleagues. It was a good time, but I needed to cleanse and recover from drinking more alcohol than usual, difficult conversations, and lack of good sleep. My husband and daughter were away for an overnight trip, so I had the rare opportunity of having a day alone at home!
I decided to reset my altar. This one is in my office where I spend most of my time each day. Here, daily rituals are undertaken to ground me in connection to Spirit, the Ancestors, myself, my work, and my family. My altar includes items that centers its purpose in love, connection, and service.
Representation and Meaning
My altar rests on the fireplace mantle and faces East. I honor the Catholic lineage that my paternal line carries. Items are placed atop a piece of fabric from Mali. I have carried this fabric with me for over twenty years. I danced in it when I took West African dance classes. As a descendent of enslaved Africans, I am disconnected from my blood lineage to people in West Africa. This fabric represents that connection to me.
A wood framed mirror is positioned in the center. The mirror represents a portal into which I can reach through to the Ancestors and they can reach out to me.
Candles on my altar are a reminder of the Light we all carry in this world and beyond. It is a beacon of love, hope, and energy. As such, the fire it emits is elemental and grounds me to the Earth. I am an Aries and am charged by looking upon the fire to be curious, honest, and leaderful.
I am a lover of the ocean — its vastness, its wrath, its embracing calm. I feel safe at the beach. I place seashells on my altar to connect to Yemaya — Orisha of the seas, mother of all, and protector of children. She reminds me of who I come from — the line of mothers — and who I am as a mother. Pictures of my children are on my altar so that they are always close to me.
Photos of my grandmothers and my father’s sister are on my altar. These women appreciated beauty, travel, and lived into their independence as best they could. Married, widowed, ill and taken too soon, they remind me to take life on as the adventure it is. Their spirits remind me to be bolder than I think I can or should be.
A photo of me and my husband on our wedding day is at the center of the altar. We chose each other all those years ago, and each day, must choose again. This picture reminds me of the journey that love is and that it must be acted out through care, devotion, trust, honesty, and support of one another towards our highest potentials.
My daughter’s pre-school painting of the word “love” and bell hooks’ book All About Love: New Visions anchor the altar from either side. Reading bell hooks’ book taught me that love is about energetic action, not just feelings. She transitioned and I lift her up as an Ancestor connected to all those Black women not of my blood lineage who came to this Earth. They loved, struggled, taught, critiqued, and squeezed out joy from the lives they had.
I burn incense as an invitation to the Ancestors and Spirit to interact with me. Dried lavender adds serenity and peacefulness to the alter. A smudge stick of lavender brings positive energy while releasing fear.
Pennies are present on my altar as a conductor to the Ancestors and to remind me of abundance and wealth available to us. Fossilized palm root reminds me that my relationship to depression and anxiety can be helped and that balance can be restored to my emotions.
With a reset altar early in the new year, I come to it humbly and openly as a site that grounds, centers, and provides for me. There, I can reflect on how to practice the pillars of beauty, joy, rest, and ritual at home and in the world.
If you have an altar, what does it mean to you?