Creating Your Own Altar

In every women’s circle I lead, I find that creating a centerpiece altar is crucial. Creating your own personal altar is also essential. Perhaps you have heard meditation and alternative healers recommend building an altar. Does this seem like a nice idea, yet somehow you never get around to it? Here’s another way to look at it: if a sacred church were pillaged and desecrated by a raging group of bandits or violent lunatic fundamentalists from an opposing religion, what would the most devout group of followers and the leader of the church do once the bandits had left and it was safe to go back to the church? Most likely, they would return to the church, even if it lay in rubble, and pick up the pieces. For however long it took, they would sweep, dust, and repaint that church, and then they would lay down flowers and relight candles and grieve the destruction that befell it before decorating it and making it even better than before.

If you have experienced abuse, you may feel like you are damaged goods. There is no question you have been violated. But there is also no question that your soul, your beauty, your sacred goddess self is there, and you just need to build yourself an altar. Even a candle, a small object that has meaning to you, a rock, a leaf, a feather, your favorite gem stone, or a picture or photograph of you or someone you love or even someone you don’t know but who inspires you, or a picture of a rainbow or a beautiful beach surrounded by a lush forest, whatever it is, create an altar for yourself. You could create this altar in a passageway of your home so that every time you pass by it, you can touch your heart and say a mantra or a phrase that empowers you—or just pass by and smile. Or you could create an altar by your reading area or the place where you meditate or go to sleep. In fact, you could create several altars and see how creating physical manifestations of your own devotion to yourself and your life can start to deepen your self-love.

While Britney doesn’t find inspiration from goddesses, altars have played a part in her self-love. Britney began creating altars when she started therapy over 20 years ago:

“I do find it helpful to have small altars throughout my house. My first altars were where I would sit and meditate back in the early days. Now I walk for my meditations and have several altars scattered through my house. I have a shelf of women’s power statutes, an area where I have photos of people who have died in my life, a shelf of tidbits from my daughter’s childhood. I love walking by these areas—they keep my memories alive.”

Perhaps the ultimate archetype is that of Maleficent. I will be forever grateful for experiencing Kristy Arbon’s ingenuity in showing how we can develop mindful self-compassion by learning about the modern-day tale of Maleficent, the evil fairy in the Sleeping Beauty fairytale as told in the Angelina Jolie film. In the Maleficent archetype, we learn that she was an innocent child just as we all once were. In her story, her wings were ripped from her, a metaphor for a loss of innocence and also a common metaphor for rape, the shattering end of innocence that can haunt us until we face it and learn to heal it. For survivors, this story is particularly powerful because even if it is a fairytale, like all archetypes it comes from a shared experience. For Maleficent, as with all of us, there was a defining moment in her story, a loss of innocence and loss of naiveté. She hardens and tests her boundaries and power but then through looking after Sleeping Beauty her maternal and feminine side comes out. Kristy Arbon:

“She sees that innocence in this other young girl and she develops this fierce protection for this young girl. So, she mobilizes this power she has, this hardness, to protect this young girl. Towards the end, there’s this mobilizing to an even greater degree of her power and her strength, to extend her desire for protection to the whole land that she’s taking care of, so this maternal instinct that she has for this girl extends to the whole land. It’s like a social activist sort of piece she has there. The personal becomes political for her. There’s a forgiveness piece in there so she learns to rise above old hurts to a forgiveness piece. Then right at the end she gets her wings back.”

These stories remind us we are not alone because, as Kristy Arbon points out, many of these stories are hundreds of years old, allowing us to feel a kinship with women—sisterhood—throughout time. By feeling less alone, we feel more connected—an integral part of our healing.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Way of the Warrior Mama: The Guide to Protecting & Raising Strong Daughters. Sign up to be notified when the book is released. The book is a Finalist in the CIPA EVVY Awards.

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