Art and Altar-Building with Carmela Carlyle


A home altar is your own creation. It can be dedicated as a creative respite, a place to meditate, an inspirational sanctuary, a source of power, a place to honor your loved ones, or as an outward manifestation of your focus or intention.

Making and using a home altar is an ancient tradition that anyone can follow. You probably have informal altars in your home already; a collection of items found on hikes or vacations, photos of loved ones, childhood mementos, dried flowers from a special bouquet, maybe a little gift from a friend long ago.

How home altars work

The power of the altar lies in its visual synthesis which is far greater than the sum of its parts. The structure and objects of the altar appeal to our subconscious mind because they give form to the formless and provide a visual representation of our intentions, our desires or our dreams.

The altar objects exert a powerful influence on the subconscious because they simultaneously synthesize various levels of truth beyond the reality of surface appearances, thus helping us to understand and cope with the complexities of life while working at a deeper level than everyday consciousness.

Choose traditional and/or personal symbols to serve as inspiration.

Select objects for your home altar which symbolize, for you, what you wish to attract or manifest in your life. Depending on your cultural background or belief system, there are traditional images that can provide powerful energy for you.  Or, you may select items with personal meaning just for you.

For example, Kwan-Yin is the traditional Chinese goddess of compassion, forgiveness and nurturance. Buddha is revered as the god of compassion, but depending on his accessories can also represent the wish for prosperity, good fortune, happiness or love.  Lucky Cats and Money Frogs serve to attract prosperity and good fortune in Asian cultures. Mermaids can represent diving deeper in the sea of emotions. Dolphins can remind us to play. Guardian Angels watch over us. St.Jude is the patron saint of so-called lost causes.

You may wish to attribute different meanings to altar items and it is your personal intention that will make it work for you.

A rose on your home altar might represent heart energy. A rock collected from a day’s hike might serve as a reminder to get out in nature more often. Adding a photo of yourself doing what you love will empower you.  A funny toy object might serve to make you chuckle every time you see it.  You might include items for spiritual connection, healing, growth, inspiration or manifesting powerful life-transitions.

Creating a home altar is a powerful practice which serves us at  so many levels.



Traditional Day of the Dead Ofrenda, 2003.


Community Altar, 2004 dedicated  to our dear animal companions.


Day of the Dead Ofrenda with traditional “Dead Bread’ as its centerpiece.





In addition to making your own art and creating collections of mementos on your Home Altar, also seek out the work of others to inspire you.

A painting by Sayulita artist, Cori Jacobs hangs above my home altar.

I met Cori years ago and I was immediately enchanted with her work! Cori is not only an artist, but also a yogini and a dancer and that is evident in her work. I find the internal energy of the flexible Horned Yogini Goddess to inspire me in my home yoga practice.

Cori has a deep connection with the community and art of the Huichol. Her glowing ”indigenous extraterrestrial Spirit Beings” predated Avatar by years. They seem ancient, fully-present and futuristic, all at once. She says “For me, painting is love made visible. Each piece is an exploration of a world of color, shape, and form, a layered journey through the imagination, seen through the eye of the heart. It is my hope, through the paintings, to open a window into a space of joy, love, hope, creativity, memory and celebration.” Visit  her at or stop by her Sayulita Gallery, Agua y Terra.