For this week's feature we have a fantastic interview with Sandra Kynes author of Your Altar. Please enjoy and feel free to leave comments below!
Is Your Altar specifically for Wiccan/Pagan people? Or can anyone read the book?
This book is for anyone interested in altars and spirituality – it’s an interfaith exploration about the use of the altar as a tool for meditation. It draws from Christian, Pagan, Buddhist and other traditions, as well as non-religious concepts such as the principles of Reiki and even our five senses.
What inspired you to write Your Altar? How long was the writing process?
It took me about two years to put it together. I was inspired by the power that an altar holds. It occurred to me that an altar is more than a place to put a candle or other objects for meditation or worship. Over time we build up a lot of energy with our altars and they become places that are separate from and yet important to our everyday lives.
Why did you choose to organize the book and discuss dividing the altar (from a one-part altar to a nine-part altar)?
Pagan altars are frequently divided into two (Goddess and God), four (the elements), or five (elements plus spirit) sections. This division is usually through intention rather than physical demarcation. I was pondering the effects of these divisions when I read about how Peruvian shamans used their altars like “game boards” to guide the journeying process. It occurred to me that meditation could also be guided by intentions set forth on an altar. When I began dividing the altar space, the number of sections seemed to relate quite naturally to their numerological associations.
From there it was a logical progression to begin with the number one and work up. I stopped at nine because of the spiritual significance of three times three – the triple trinity. However, there is no reason that other divisions couldn’t be used. For example, someone into astrology may use a twelve-part altar in some way. My intention and hope is that people will devise and personalize this concept. I see my book as a starting point to spark other imaginations.
In your research what surprised you the most when learning about people’s altars or altars throughout history?
In the survey I conducted while writing the book I was surprised with how eclectic people’s home altars are. Buddha and Ganesh are as likely to show up on Christian and Pagan altars as they are on Buddhist or Hindu altars. To me, this speaks of hope at a time when there is so much religious division in the world. To paraphrase something that writer and theologian John O’Donohue said: spirituality is a wonderfully beautiful music that moves just below the surface of life. People may tap into it differently, but it is the same source of spirit for which we yearn.
Although I have studied ancient cultures for years, it was somewhat surprising just how fundamentally important creating and using altars have been for people in almost all cultures. This is a practice that goes back thousands and thousands of years; long before anything that we now call religion ever existed.
What advice can you offer teen practitioners who are limited in budget? Or cannot use candles? And what kind of altars do you have currently in your life?
I’ll answer these questions together. Candles are not necessary. In fact, many of the meditations I suggest in the book mention the use of candles as optional or not at all.
When it comes to the cost of an altar; in truth, the best altars cost nothing. I know there are many things on the market for altars – even altars themselves, but none of these things are necessary. The most important aspect of an altar and what you put on it is that it have meaning to you.
The main altar I have right now holds a candle, seashells, a crystal (which I bought for a couple of dollars) and a stone that I picked up when I was on pilgrimage. The altar itself is a small old table that I recently painted just to give it a new look. I keep a couple of smaller altars/shrines around my house that consist mostly of natural things.
My altars evolve mainly because I evolve and change. I think this is true for most people. My spirituality grows and changes and as a result, my altars change with me. It’s a wonderfully organic experience. And it’s something that is very personal. The altar reflects who I am to me; not to anyone else. To another person it may just look like a table of stuff. And that’s the point: spirituality is personal and so is the altar. An altar doesn’t need to please anyone but the person who uses it, so it can hold a stone, seashell, feather, pictures from a magazine or hand-drawn – it doesn’t matter as long as it carries significance for you when you sit in front of it.
Other than magick work and honoring deity what other purposes can an altar be used for?
Meditation, contemplation or simply sitting in stillness in front of an altar can help us connect with ourselves. We live in a very hectic world where we are almost constantly distracted; especially in materialistic ways. Advertisements tell us to buy this product to be popular, use that to smell good and attract love, and to look a certain way – the list is endless. The result is that we lose touch with who we are or maybe have trouble finding who we are.
In actuality, we know the answer to who we are deep in our souls; but we must take time to allow that information to surface. We need to take time to listen. This just requires the patience to work on quieting the chattering monkey part of our brains, and to remain honest with ourselves. It doesn’t happen overnight, but by spending time sitting in the sanctity of our altars we can reach into the depths of our souls. This has a ripple effect through every aspect of our lives: We become comfortable with who we are and find meaning in the things we do.
Click here to visit Sandra Kynes website!