I tend to accumulate these little impromtu altars around the house... this one’s at my desk. It contains rocks I found beautiful one day, a piece of jewelry I wore recently, art from college days, a stalk of lavender, a tiny Buddha, a four leafed clover... and a new bottle of 24k gold ink that I am excited to make art with, whenever the impulse arises. These little clusters of meaningful things bring me joy and exercise my urge to create beauty in small and quick ways. The poem in the background here, Alter, incorporates wordplay between altar and alter, two very different words but words which have threads of connection nonetheless. I am constantly altering the altars I have around the house, to alter my state of mind.
An altar is food for the soul... Check it out:
Our eyes literally consume the things we see, in the form of light. Did you know that? Streams of photons from light sources (ultimately tracing back to the sun) bounce off of objects before us, taking on imprints of that object that conveys the colors and textures there, and then they flow into our eyes, where these imprinted photons are converted into messages that are transmitted by our neurons to the processing centers of our brains that tell us what we're looking at and how it appears. So when you look at something beautiful, you consume that beauty with your eyes, and the perceptive parts of you get to experience the pleasure of that beauty.
So while indeed an altar is a very external way of creating a feeling, by simply beholding its presence and composition we are taking into our being some of the energetic principles represented there. And what does one place into an altar and how? That depends on the practitioner, its really your choice, but the idea is to use things that represent the sorts of communication you wish to further with the divine, or with yourself (no difference there, really). You can work with traditional symbols for protection, love, abundance, honoring the ancestors, or simply gratitude through beauty.
One could define magic as any number of methods by which we create change in our realities via intentional communication with the divine. And so, an altar works magic, by way of sending visual signals from physical symbols, in through our eyes to the center of our consciousness, our brains and our hearts, as the beauty of the altar before us evokes certain feelings. And it's the center of our consciousness that is our connection to the divine. Direct to the source.
Altar making is a spiritual folk art that is found in traditions old and current, all around the world. I encourage you to look into your heritage for altar making traditions, if you haven't already. There's a whole world of beauty to explore there.