Little Altars: Creating Sacred Spaces in Your Home

Sacred spaces are all around us. From your chosen place of worship – religious or otherwise – to that expansive stretch of beach where you like to sit and listen to the waves lap at the shore, we know what it feels like when we experience the sense of peace, awe, or wonder that they bring us.

It's a busy world, and as women, we tend to ask a lot of ourselves. Having practices that help us to stay centered and soft can help us keep our equanimity and stay aligned with our intentions for how we want to live. I've certainly benefited, in my personal life, from the practice of centering myself and remembering my intentions throughout the day. One of the ways I’ve done this over the years is by decorating my home and office in a way that they contain what I call sacred spaces. The idea behind the sacred spaces practice is to create physical spaces at home that also give you that feeling of wonder or serenity, of being transported or exalted – that inspire you in some way. They create a moment of timelessness for reflection, prayer, and even healing. It is a space that feels like a mini-sanctuary and gives you a moment of pause and retreat in your busy day and in a hectic world.

I also believe nourishing and calming our inner life is also an important part of healing the body when we are struggling with health challenges, and can help us to find deeper resilience than we might believe we have. It's part of the process I call transformational healing, which I teach in my programs Herbal Medicine for Women and The Women's Integrative Medicine Institute

Today I want to share some thoughts on creating sacred spaces in your home. Whatever your beliefs or religion, you can create spaces that serve as a daily reminder to connect with yourself and with what for you, is the divine.

What are sacred spaces?

While creating an elaborate room for meditation and tranquility at home is not within most of our reach, it is always easy to create a small healing altar or place for meditation and focus in your home, or if you have one, yard or garden. Think of it as a sacred place where you can sit quietly for five minutes each day to reflect on gratitude, your intentions, and cultivation of your inner life. I have shared the practice of creating altars with numerous women over the years and all have found it a comforting and helpful practice. An example is for a woman who has struggled with fertility to create an altar that contains images, objects, or mementos that remind her of fertility, her strength as a woman, her bond with her partner, or whatever will help her to re-frame her attitudes and beliefs around her fertility struggle toward one that is more inspired and productive. While not necessarily for everyone, many women find this practice brings them hope and increases their confidence, reminding them to focus on what is productive rather than worries and fears, and an important part of an overall healing protocol that can renew their sense of possibility.

For me, even just when I pass by or glance at a sacred space in my home or work space, I am reminded to pause, go deeper, and tap into my purpose – for me to keep love, kindness, gratitude, and service first. Because my personal sense of connection to the earth is deeply important to me, I also include natural objects and elements in these spaces (medicinal herbs, flowers, or stones I’ve gathered on special walks or shells from the beach). And because I want to remember to stay aligned with my inner wise woman, my sacred spaces include small statues of women or goddesses from different lands – many of which have been given to me as gifts by women I’ve attended over the years as a midwife.

How to create your own sacred space or ‘little altar”

Set an intention

When you first set to work creating your space or assembling your altar, it helps to get clear on your intentions for the space. Is it a space just for you: to honor your inner wise woman, to inspire you creatively, or to help re-frame your attitude toward a part of yourself and your health? Or will you be sharing the altar with your partner, or your kids? Do you have room for just a small corner of a shelf or dresser, or do you have a larger space – for example, a small table in the corner of a room that can be more fully dedicated for this purpose. Setting your intention will help you choose the right location for your altar (next step!), as well as help you pick the most fitting objects, and knowing how much space you have will determine what you put into it.

Choose the location(s)

If you're creating a sacred space just for you, you might want to set up your altar in your bedroom (you can use a section of your dresser, or use a low stool or bench), on your desk, or in a favorite, but perhaps more private spot in your garden. For a shared sacred space, hallways, family rooms, or living rooms work well.

Get creative

There are no right or wrong ways to create an altar in your home. It’s a completely personal process – much like creating a vision board – based on intuition and inspiration. Take a few minutes to close your eyes and breathe deeply, then softly and slowly walk around your home (or garden) and ‘feel out’ the best location for your sacred space. Does your bedroom offer the perfect spot that speaks to you? Perhaps you have a weekly bath as a self care practice and a shelf near the tub speaks to you – or you can purchase a bath-shelf to do the trick. Perhaps there’s a sideboard or cabinet in your living room that is exactly the place. Let it happen. You can always change the location! In my house, most of my decor has now become sacred spaces – so locations include a stairwell landing, my bedroom dresser, a living room hutch, and my dining table!

Choose pieces of meaning

Choose elements that serve as a reminder to connect with yourself, with nature, with the divine. Medicinal herbs and flowers have a long history of use in altars and sacred spaces. You can bring in plants as the space allows, stones, sacred figures, framed images, special family heirlooms, mementos, candles, incense, religious objects – or  you can keep it as simple as a floor pillow placed in front of a low table with simple objects or even a picture that inspires you to meditate, or a photograph or candle placed in a little nook of your house that you pass by often. I have a wall in my home with photographs of my maternal ancestors – that remind me to value my lineage. It’s just a bunch of old framed photos arranged artfully as a small gallery – but to me it’s a sacred space I often stop to reflect in front of, particularly because I was very close with my grandparents who are now passed on, and with my great-grandmother who died when I was 8 years old, and who I learned, much later in my life after years of studying herbal medicine, was also an herbalist and traditional healer using old world Hungarian traditions.

Options: Candles and Incense

Lighting a fire – or at least a candle – is a common way to welcome in the sacred in so many cultures, and can quickly create a shift in mood, mindset, and setting. Herbs have been – and continue to be – used in most every culture and religion, even in Judaism and Catholic churches in the form of incense to ‘clear energy.' Buddhists burn incense in front of shrines dedicated to their ancestors to respect their memories and remain in good relationship with them. Smudging is common in many indigenous North American cultures to clear unwanted energy, welcome in positive ‘spirit' and to send prayers to the heavens. Plants containing the compound thujone have been used for clearing energy and supporting spiritual work in many traditions around the world (think: cedar, sage, wormwood).

In my own life, I light a candle and use it to light Palo Santo, cedar, sage, and sometimes incense when I sit down at a sacred space, especially before I sit down to write the very content I create for you, my dear readers, with the intention that my energy be pure and that I be a conduit of my inner wise woman and best self. I also do this at the start of days seeing patients, with the same types of intentions, and that I be a healing presence. I also use incense in my intention-setting practices and personal rituals. I love that we can make our own cedar bundles in much of the US where cedar grows so abundantly, and that in the Southwest we can gather Artemisia tridentata – desert sage – for beautiful smudge sticks. In Mexico, where I have gone for vacation or a couple of work retreats at the beach, copal is burned in large amounts – even casually to keep away mosquitoes in the evening, but also for healing and spiritual awareness.

Walking in Beauty

Among the Diné people, there is a common wish that is uttered: May you walk in beauty. It is also a phrase used in prayer: May I walk in beauty. It is about living and moving through life with grace, in a sacred way.  It means to walk in harmony with all living things, in that state of awareness where you feel connected to everything around you. The practice of creating sacred spaces brings together my love of design – for me a spiritual and creative passion –  with one of the values I hold most dear – to walk in beauty – to create beauty and bring healing energy into all I do and everywhere I go.  

If this article inspires you to create a sacred or healing space, I’d love to hear! And if it’s something you already do, please share how having sacred space impacts your life!

May we walk in beauty, together.

Share your sacred spaces with me on Facebook or Instagram, by tagging me and using the hashtag #littlealtars. I can’t wait to see and hear about your little altars!