(Above: A photo of part of my altar as it appeared a few years ago in my shop. It's a lot different now because I moved the shop to a smaller space and don't have as much room as I did then. Another reason why it has changed is because an altar changes over time, just like we do. When you keep it updated, you are reflecting your spiritual progress in the current symbols you choose.)
If you’re lucky enough to own property, perhaps you can locate a quiet outside nook for your altar. But even if you inhabit a one-room apartment, there is always space for a collection of symbols you consider sacred. Put them all together in or on a shelf, a drawer, on top of the fridge, anywhere they can remain undisturbed except by you. If possible, add a candle among the collection that you can light while contemplating the peace and sense of identity your altar offers. In the right place, your altar can be a wonderful source of comfort, and it will definitely aid you in setting your intention during meditation, ceremony or even while relaxing.
Go ahead and make an altar and then experiment with it a little. Bring out those special things you keep hidden away and move them into the light on your altar. Make something with your hands that reflects your heart, and place it on your altar. Try adding or taking away various items until you feel a sense of peace deep inside.That's a sure sign that your altar is functioning perfectly.
This idea doesn’t mean you will be indulging your “alter” ego, but rather your genuine spiritual outlook and connection with All That Is via your altar. In short, it reflects the “real” you!
Sure, there are dozens of ways to accomplish this, beginning with looping a string around it and hanging it up. But, spiritually speaking, there are other ways of tying it that will honor its existence as a symbol of a messenger that carries our prayers to God. And that is to wrap it in a spiral, just the way the hawks soar.
Here’s a rather fancy method, one of many available. Experiment, and you may find a variation you prefer. I like this one because it allows the formation of a neat spiral without a “rib” running beneath it that thicker lace can cause. If you are using thin lacing, like thread, you won't need to slice the quill, and can simply cover the quill with some glue and wrap one end of the thread around and around it until you come to the end. Then put both ends of the thread through a bead, close the bead up on the quill end, put in a squirt of glue and hold it a minute or so. That's it!
With thicker lacing, though, the following is a good way because one half of the lacing is “buried” in the center of the quill and will not form a "bump" when the feather is finished.
Here’s the way.
First, in addition to your feather (illustration, left), you’ll need a length of leather (or hemp, strong yarn or anything else you like) lacing, a sharp knife or razor blade, a bead and some good general purpose glue. (I prefer to use leather lace and leather glue, shown in this example.) The length of lacing depends on the length of the quill and the diameter of the lacing, but a rough general guideline is to allow four to six inches of lacing per inch of quill. You can use normal string to do a “dry run” and wrap the feather without glue before proceeding, to make sure you know how much lacing you’ll need. Some people prefer to have two ends to tie with once the feather is wrapped, but this requires more lacing. So if you’re budget-minded, you can buy less lacing and have a single end to use. You’ll see what I mean as we progress here.
Choose any sort of bead you like, making sure its hole is just large enough to hold the quill and lacing snugly.
Begin by slicing open the quill just below the lower tuft, as shown (left), down to and including slicing through the tip.
Next, fold your lacing in half and place the mid-point of it into the top of the slice, as you see here (left). Work the lacing into the opening for the full length of the slice and out the tip.
Then squeeze a small amount of glue along the slice (photo left), making sure some of it penetrates into the crevice while also making a visible line along the entire slice to the tip.
Then, begin tightly wrapping the top half of the lacing around and around the quill in a neat spiral (left). Don’t worry if any glue should ooze up, you can wipe it off in a few minutes.
Once your spiral reaches the tip of the quill, hold it tight while working both ends of the lacing through a bead, then slide the bead up to the tip.
Put a daub of glue into the bead and slide it up and over the tip until it seats snugly inside (left and inset photo). Add another daub of glue on the bottom of the bead if needed. Tie a knot in the lacing and slide it as close to the bead as possible before tightening. (Note: If you’ve chosen the budget saving way, there may not be enough of one end of lacing to tie a knot. Don’t worry! The glue will hold everything together.)
Wipe off any excess glue with a moist cloth and hang up the finished project to dry. Once dry, you can cut off the short end sticking out of the bead if you chose the budget saving method.
(Note: I’m assuming in this article that you prefer to have a smooth spiral without a rib. In cases where quills can’t be easily sliced and you must put the rib on the outside of the quill, choose a lacing that is rather flat or flexible so that the rib is not so noticeable.)
Nice job! Enjoy your beautiful feather.
Aho & Namaste,
Thunder Valley Drums
*FEATHER WRAPPING *MAKE AN ALTAR *MAKE A SPIRIT SHIELD
Spirit shields were and are treasured warriors’ allies in Native American, Celtic and other cultures, and shared common purposes when it came to spiritual connection. In many Native American traditions, a warrior was provided with a totem to paint or otherwise depict on his shield, which was generally made from leather, after a vision quest. This would represent his quest for the remainder of his life and death, and he carried it into battle for its symbolic and deeply personal protective qualities. The Celtic warrior’s shield was generally an actual battle shield, made of leather-clad wood and metal, and often bore a spiritual totem animal or symbol on its front. In most cases, the shields were buried with warriors when they died.
From the great cathedrals to the great outdoors to your own living room, it's natural to feel connected to altars of one kind or another. An altar can be a place, or an object/group of objects, even one constructed in the mind. But they all represent a sense of the sacred, at least to the eye of the beholder. And in that way, they are very personal.
Who hasn’t visited the beach and picked up a special sea shell? Or retrieved a little piece of petrified wood while walking among those rare places where they are available? I even know someone who can’t pass up a shoe store before adding another addition to her “shoe altar!” LOL!
Whatever the case, we retrieve things along life's path because we feel connected to them and to the special feelings we encountered while there.
In these “interesting times” we find ourselves in, though, with wars and revolutions and the seeming breakdown of so many things we once took for granted, it may be a good time to consider making a stronger connection with your own concept of the sacred. And one way of doing that is to make an altar.
If you’ve found a feather along your path in life and consider it special or sacred in some way, here’s one method of honoring it and keeping it suspended in the air where it belongs. It is always a wonderful practice to begin with a smudging or other cleansing ceremony to prepare both you and the feather. But this article is about actually tying the sacred feather.