Five Element Healing Altar
The first step in building an Altar is deciding its purpose. Once you connect with this, you may bring it into being. Building altars can be a sacred, spiritual, emotional, creative or philosophical process depending on your intention. When we build altars we embark on a personal journey and quest.
Ritual Altars contain objects placed for specific intent, which have deliberate symbolism. In Shamanism, an Altar created thoughtfully enhances our connection to ones Spirit and Mother Earth. It creates a center point for meditation and ritual and is transformative in nature. Often times we have sacred items placed throughout our home; such as dear rocks and stones, seashells, feathers and candles. It can be much more powerful and focusing to bring these energies together in one setting. Many times when they are scattered around the house, we also sense our own energy as scattered in our lives.
The most basic symbolism for an Altar is the four elements combined with Spirit. The elements are; Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Spirit; the fifth element, is the life force that animates all that is living.
The symbol for the element Fire, is usually represented by a candle. Candles come in various colors, each having a specific attribute. In the beginning it is nice to use white or natural colored bees wax candles. Fire represents creative energy, inspiration, strong will and sexuality. It is traditionally associated with Yang energy.
Water is most often symbolized by a chalice or cup. Seashells or ocean coral can also be used to represent water. This element signifies emotions, intuition, healing and reflecting, and it is associated with Yin energy.
For the element of Air, one might use natural incense, white sage, palo santo, feathers, or a bird image or totem. Air represents knowledge and powers of the mind. It is also a symbol of courage and is related to Masculine energy.
Earth symbols that can be placed on an alter might be flowers, crystals or stones, a potted plant or a land animal image. It is associated with nature, feeling 'grounded', security and material well-being and carries Feminine energy.
Everyone seems to have their own, understanding of Spirit. (Peruvian – Spirit is Rainbow, called k'uychi, integration of all the spirit bodies and directions). Simply stated, it is about the life force 'be'-ing, and the renewal - rebirth cycle. In traditional craft, it's symbol is often the caldron, which signifies the emergence from the womb and transformation. Other symbols of spirit can be a mirror, crystal ball, a picture of an ancestor, or even a butterfly; for these are all metaphors for the soul or spirit.
It's a good idea to place the objects so the elements correspond with their directions, or in a circle with spirit in the center. The four directions according to the Andean tradition is as follows: East is Fire, South is Earth, West is Water, North is Air, Spirit (Rainbow) is above center of the four directions thereby completing a star shape pattern (or placed in the center of these four corners).
These five symbols placed on an altar cloth (which protects the boundaries) become an Alter. Use your creativity and intuition to make it as simple or decorative as you are inspired.
* Words adapted by Arnell Ando, photography by Maggie Harrsen