"For thousands of years, people have sought to bring the divine or the supernatural into human time and space by a simple act: the building of an altar. Then as now, an altar can be as simple or elaborate as its creator wishes. In the hands of the wealthy or, in days gone by, of queens and kings, altars were built of the most precious of woods — cedar and ebony, among them — and adorned with gold and silver, precious gems, and the finest of fabrics. In the hands of the humble, altars have been no less effective in enriching spiritual life when made of scraps of wood and simple bits of woven cloth and gifted with small offerings of fruits and meadow flowers.
"I wrote this book to help you enrich the process of creating sacred space so that you can build altars that are meaningful and reflective of the spirit within you.
"I've often been asked by people who are just learning about domestic sacred space what differentiates a grouping of objects — family photographs on a mantelpiece or table, a collection of ceramics or glassware, a gaggle of angels or gargoyles on a shelf — from an altar. For many people, the answer is, I think, intention. What may begin as a collection of loved and meaningful objects or mementos ends up being something quite different when the person taps into what the grouping means for him or her, what it articulates. If you take a look around your home, you are likely to find that, even without being conscious of it, you've organized the things you own not just by how they look but also by what they mean to you. Take a moment to think about it, and you will probably discover that certain objects or places in your home make you feel more comfortable or energetic or more in touch with yourself them others. Building an altar is the next step to awareness.
"Creating altars will permit you to articulate feelings and thoughts in a physical way, bringing those feelings and thoughts into full consciousness. Yet, as a creative process, altar building draws on unconscious thoughts and associations as well, bringing thoughts and feelings we may not have been fully aware of out into the open. For example, Nancy Blair, an artist and writer, told me that, for her, the act of creating an altar is not as conscious as setting out to do an errand; it is not 'Now I am going to make an altar for my kitchen.' Building an altar lets us tap into what's really inside and shows it to us in a physical way. Sarah Teofanov, an artist and ritualist who teaches courses on altar building, remarks that we can learn from the process itself, for 'what we choose not to put on our altars informs us as much as what we do place on them.'
"The very act of creating sacred space makes us spiritually receptive to the sacred, as well as giving us a physical place to pray or meditate or perform rituals. Tom, a musician, says simply that creating a shrine or altar gives you a place to find 'what connects your heart to the larger heart.' And, as he says, 'Whatever does that for you is what works.' Rob, a practicing Tibetan Buddhist and a software engineer, echoes that thought: 'Connection is what makes a place sacred.' In addition to his traditional Buddhist shrine, a private place, Rob has created a family shrine on top of an antique secretary in a prominent place in his apartment. Photographs of all the members of his family, including his two parents, who divorced when he was young, and a drawing of the house in which he was born grace this shrine; he is in the process of surrounding the family shrine with photographs of everyone who plays a role in his life. In his words, this shrine 'helps to integrate my life,' for it 'acts as a reminder of the part of my life that is beyond me.' "