Creating a ceremonial altar is not just about transforming the energy of a space, it is a way of creating your reality. The altar can be seen as a microcosmos of your world, and the greater universe. When we commune with the elements of creation and connect with spirit through ceremony, we are able to re-create, and re-arrange our worlds through loving intent and prayer.
In Peruvian shamanic practice, the five elements – East/Fire, South/Earth, West/Water, North/Air, and Cosmos/Ether/Center – are called upon, when creating an altar, also called a Mesa. These elements are summoned by choosing objects that represent each direction, and their encompassing energies. The sacred objects are then arranged according to each cardinal direction, in a wheel or spiral-like fashion.
In the ancient Quechuan language, hailing from Peru, the North is called upon by the word “Wiracocha”, East by “Inti”, South by “Pachamama”, West “Mamakilla”, and Center by “K’uychi”.
East/Fire is most often symbolized by a candle flame, burning Sage, or Palo Santo. South/Earth by a rock, crystal, or a plant. West/Water commonly by a cup of water, or a seashell. North/Air by a feather or another object symbolizing the heavens. Cosmos/Ether/Rainbow is placed in the center, holding all the elements together, and can be represented by your most sacred object, or even a mirror that reflects the All. An altar cloth is used for protecting the boundaries and containing the energy. Once the five elements are in place, they are activated through sound; toning the names of each direction seven times, as well as by your intent, and your prayer.
I had the great pleasure of studying with a master ceremonialist and shamanic practitioner, Debra Kelly, trained in the Peruvian Pachakuti Mesa tradition*. I asked Debra to provide advise for someone just starting out in the practice of creating ceremonial altars.
– BOTTOM –
If my altar cloth mirrored the human body, to the center bottom of the cloth would be the Earth element. Symbol: stone. Associations: dream-time, nature, roots, nurture, foundations, body, health, animals, trees.
– LEFT –
To the center left of the cloth is my Water element. Symbol: shell. Associations: night, unconscious, ancestors, flow, change, womb, feeling, heart, remembering, whales, song, receiving.
– TOP –
To the top center of the cloth would be the Air element. Symbol: feather. Associations: star-beings, guides, winged ones, higher consciousness, intuition.
– RIGHT –
To the center right of the cloth is the Fire element. Symbol: candle. Associations: transformation, vision, clarity, becoming, masculine energy, manifesting, abundance, birth.
– CENTER –
To the very center of the cloth would be that which to you represents the center of the Universe and all that is. Associations: eternal, the void, all potential, everything, no-thing, creator, above and below, and all timelines.
In other words, entering with your heart wide open. Let the Mesa speak to you; commune with every object that holds space on this sacred ground, and you will quickly feel its essence guiding you. It is really helpful to have an understanding of your cosmology and where in the medicine wheel each element resides. That is a personal quest we must all undertake to have an effective exchange. The more you understand your placement and how it relates to each turn of the cosmic wheel, the deeper the integration of all the intentions being carried into the ethers to effect change, healing, abundance, vision, understanding, peace, protection, clarity. Follow your heart as you create your Mesa.
The Mesa is all encompassing and limitless in its ability to restore harmony, healing and beauty within Ayni (a sacred agreement of balanced exchange from the heart). Your part in this deepening connection is being present and tending to this ever-changing and growing creation, through song, dance, incense, flowers, or silent retreat. Offer your hopes and dreams, and sit with your Mesa. Work with it in humble confidence that you are being held and guided by the cosmos. The gifts of this sacred exchange will reveal in time – as certain as a tree that bares sacred fruit – its sweet nectar is sure to bless your life in all ways.
Debra Kelly / Shamanic Practitioner, Ceremonialist & Artist of the Sacred / www.insacredways.com
*Peruvian Pachakuti Mesa Tradition Cross-Cultural Shamanism was originated by Peruvian shaman and kamasqa curandero Oscar Miro-Quesada / www.heartofthehealer.org
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