New World, Old Newts: Five Women Show Us Their Sacred Altars

Whether you're hoarding crystals or curating trinkets from traveling, an altar is the perfect way to find connection to something bigger than yourself.

Gabriela Herstik

Gabriela Herstik

Photo by Gala Darling

For some, the notion of a woman keeping an altar conjures up a solemn old world scene, with rows of white candles and flickering against laminated prayer cards. For others, its brings to mind the goofy imagery of a Disneyfied witch's shelf, complete with newts and cobwebs. But what these stereotyped images fail to realize is that modern women the world over are curating sacred spaces that are every bit as eclectic as the spirituality they serve to realize. Whether these altars are created by healers, witches, spiritualists or just flea market junkies, altars serve as a daily reminder to our connection with the universe at large. One of the most wonderful benefits of having an altar is that they transcend religion, inviting an integration of different beliefs in a physical and visual way.

Kelsea Woods, a 23-year-old literary market executive and Reiki healer, says, having an altar is a reminder of her devotion to her practice. "Every time I see it and sit with it I take the opportunity to be mindful and really cherish what's on there and how it's representative in me. It's my way to celebrate my personal power and the tools and spirit guides that help me along the way".

There isn't a right way to have an altar either. You don't even have to adhere to a single religion to create one. Woods was raised Protestant, but has been curating her own altar over the years as she grew into her own spiritual practice. By working a deeper connection between creativity and spirituality, the young healer has been able to form a space where mindfulness, tarot and angel oracle can all play along peacefully.

The current setup of Woods's altar emphasizes the importance of each element; wood and crystals for Earth and grounding, a feather for air and inspiration, candles for fire and passion and a sea salt rock for water and emotions. By adding a prayer flag and her Kundalini name card, Woods gives her altar an even deeper invitation to resonate at her frequency. And fear not- animal sacrifices don't play an active part in having an altar (for most of us anyway). Instead, rituals such as writing wishes, embedded with colors and vibes, is followed by a candle ceremony.

Silvia Herstik, a 61-year-old consultant (and my mom), was raised in a Jewish community in Mexico City. Herstik first started toying around with spirituality in the 80's, but kept her curiosity under wraps since soul-searching was often derided due to the hyper-consumerist boom of the decade. Now with the stigma around spirituality almost entirely dissolved, Herstik's spiritual practices revolve around Judaism and Eastern thought. Influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism and Kabballah, this Rabbi's wife has created her altar as a place to meditate, center and focus.

"I cleanse my altar," Herstik says. "I constantly change and add things to my altar it is a reflection of my spiritual journey and my relationship with Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. It is a mirror of my travels and where my soul has journeyed along with me"

Curating an altar happened unintentionally for Herstik, who began to collect mala beads, crystals, statues and photos of different gods and goddesses from the different places she traveled. Bringing back spiritual mementos from where her physical journeys took her added a sense of connection to these sacred objects, and viola, an altar was born.

Photos of Lakshmi, statues of Ganesh, a variety of crystals and an alabaster shell with sage and an accompanying feather all have their place along the three shelves of the altar. A place for the mindfulness and intention of her yoga practice to manifest, Herstik's main purpose of her sacred space is to slow down, give thanks and "relish in the gifts that life has given her".

Ivory Woods, 27, is a vintage clothing seller and avid collector of all things that "speak with their own energy". Woods has been creating altars unintentionally since she was a child. The vintage connoisseur has graduated from boxes and tins filled with tiny objects to altars bursting with crystals, shells, dried flowers and all things earth. By bringing pieces of nature into her indoor altar, Woods finds connection to her environment.

"My altars remind me of my family and how I grew to be the person that I am," Ivory explains. "They are like small pieces of me that remind me where I came from and the times in my life that led me to each object. Most of my trinkets are vintage, and those that aren't from my family are found in thrift stores, flea markets, and antique malls. They remind me that we always have chances to end up somewhere different in life. That there is always more change, and we can choose to find value in things once forgotten."

Although altars can serve a religious or spiritual purpose, they can also aid as a reminder to honor the past, where you came from, and the objects that have helped you get you there. The energy that each object brings from other lives helps embed Ivory's altar with a new, colorful aura.

Marissa Kathrine Patrick, 21, a stylist and actress, was raised Catholic. Her altar is a way to fuse her upbringing and her current practice with Shamanism. Patrick's goal is to create a space that invites these two seemingly separate worlds to merge.

Patrick has an accidental altar of sorts. A hand-me-down wooden chest lead to a natural curation of important objects. Candles, rosaries, and a vintage rabbit pelt all found their way onto the chest, which eventually become Patrick's altar. Nowadays, the energy of different animals is the most prominent on the altar. Patrick's practice with Shamanism and her work with animal spirit guides and lucid dreaming all impact the contents placed atop the chest. A giant selenite wand, various types of dried sage, a plethora of feathers, fur and antlers all live comfortably on the altar as well.

"I can look around my altar to see where I am and what I need to be doing to further my spiritual journey. Whether it be crystals, cards, candles, herbs, or rosaries I can always go to my altar when I need some sort of guidance," Patrick says.

Patrick's main practice with her altar is to use it to work with various angels, saints and animals by offering herbs and flowers in exchange for their guidance.

For many witches, an altar is the focal point of any sort of magical work, and very often works past rituals and spells to assist in a daily connection to craft and magick. For the blogger and speaker, Gala Darling, 32, an altar is "a reminder that I am always connected to something greater." Darling adds, "My altar is my place to set my intentions, to focus my energy, to remind me of my connection to the divine."

Like most of the other women featured here, curating an altar just happened for Darling, who has long been a collector of crystals and feathers. Nowadays, her altar is a round, hot pink table under a huge mirror used to amplify energy. Candles, pentagrams, tarot cards, a miniature cauldron, photos and an oracle board from Oliver Hibert all live on the table. Darling's mission as a speaker and writer is to curate self-love, so it seems natural that the main attraction of her altar is her book Radical Self-Love (hits Amazon in February of this year).

For special magick work, Darling has paper that sparkles when it burns--a beautiful way to write down what she wants to release into the universe.

So whether you're hoarding crystals or curating trinkets from visits, an altar is the perfect way to find connection to something bigger than yourself.