Your Personal Altar: A Sacred Space for Tarot and Divinatory Tools
Making a place for tarot in private spirituality
The personal altar is a place away from the mundane in which we can create a reflection of our inner selves, and a celebration of the divine. Our divinatory tools are perfectly at home on our altars, where they enter the realm of the sacred.
There are many ways to use divinatory tools at our altars. The altar is a great place to store these special items, as they take on deeper spiritual significance, and a great place to get to know new divinatory cards as we meditate on them. The altar is a natural place to bless new tarot decks or rune stones and perform rituals with them. We can even create our own divinatory tools, such as ogam sticks1, on our altar, and we can turn our reading table into a sacred space with the addition of meaningful items.
Just a few ways of welcoming divinatory tools into your spiritual life are outlined below. Through these and practices you create yourself, your divinatory tools and your altar will have more meaning to you.
Playing background music that is serene or inspirational during any of the following activities may help you to focus and feel more receptive. Accompanying music as well as candles and incense2, may assist you in attaining an altered state of consciousness.
Blessing Divinatory Tools
A wonderful way of initiating a connection to your tarot cards, stones, or runes, is the act of blessing them before they are used for any divination or ritual work.
Blessing can be simple or elaborate, and you may already have a method you like to use. It can be done in silence or with prayer, chant, or song. What is important is the allowance of the divine, or divine energy, into the blessing. You may bless your item by calling upon the four elements and passing it through incense smoke for Air, over a candle flame for Fire, touching it to your heart for Water, and surrounding it with stones on your altar for Earth. Because you have called upon the divine, the fifth element of Spirit is present. A simpler way of blessing is circling your item three times with a stick of incense, and letting the smoke rise in spirals with your intention.
Once you have blessed your item, feel secure that it will work well for you and that it will bring truth and clarity to you and to those for whom you read.
Meditating On a Card
Meditating on a card from a tarot or divination deck will increase your understanding of it, open you to its changeable energy, and get you in touch with its significance in readings. It is a popular method of "getting to know" a new deck, learning the meaning of each card, and gaining deeper awareness of archetypes. Use your existing altar, or create a new sacred space for each card meditation.
Begin your meditation while you prepare your altar, including the selection of your card (which can be your choice or determined through a reading), lighting candles and incense, and requesting others in your home to respect your time alone. This all helps you to find an inner silence and begin focus on your purpose.
If you are creating an altar for your chosen card, gather items that correspond to its meaning or element. Include a candle and some incense if you like. Other items can include crystals, flowers, figurines, stones, or feathers.
Position your card where you can view it comfortably. You can place it in a stand or place card holder (available at office supply or party stores), prop it up against something, or simply lay it flat. Sit comfortably, say aloud or silently any prayer or invocation you like - or none at all, steady your breathing into a quiet rhythm, and focus your eyes on the card. Notice fine details, let the image speak to you, allow your emotional reaction to come and go, imagine the figure in the card is alive - what would it do or say? Picture yourself as the figure, how do you feel? Don't feel like you have to take this exercise too far, don't force anything, and don't be discouraged if you don't receive any amazing visions! Wind your meditation down by taking your focus off the card, breathing deeply a few times, and snuffing your candle. You can write down in a tarot journal any insights you received during the meditation.
Tarot Cards in Ritual
Because tarot card symbolism speaks on a deep psychological and spiritual level, tarot is great for ritual work. As in any ritual, start from your intention - and then select your cards. One card is fine; three is a good number to work with. More than three might scatter your energy (and you might not have room for them). Choose cards that represent your wish or need. If you are looking to invite love into your life you might choose the Empress or the Queen of Cups as your central card, to signify yourself as opening to an abundance of emotion and sensuality. You might choose for your central card the one that most closely reflects who you are.
Flank the central card with two that represent what you would like to add to your life. Consider several factors - if you are looking for love, consider the practical or rational aspects as well, not just the romantic. The Ace of Cups will bring in the influence of a new relationship, and the Four of Wands might bring in stability or foundation, the Knight of Swords might bring a man of intelligence and the Queen of Wands might bring an energetic woman into your life. After you have chosen your cards, gather together items that will reflect their meaning and your intention, and set up your altar. Keep the cards centered, light a candle, sit or stand before your altar and concentrate on the cards and what they represent to you; then say aloud or silently your wish. You can of course add anything you like to this, such as calling the four directions, singing or chanting, or raising energy. Cards that portray specific deities can be used in ritual to invoke their power or presence, and the same can be done with cards that portray animal spirits. After you have done your ritual you might want to leave the altar set up for a little while, and when finally completed replace your cards in the deck, and dispose of or put away the rest of your ritual items. As in any other ritual, don't give this one much more thought, let it work within you as you allow change to take place in your life.
Your Reading Table as Altar
You can make your reading table sacred too, and even a plain wooden table can become more by the addition of meaningful objects. Many people light a candle while doing divination; why not place a statue of a goddess or an image of a protective spirit nearby? When a reading is done in a place made sacred, it takes on a more serious, spiritual tone, and may resonate more deeply.
However you decide to bring your tools of divination into your spiritual practice by use at your personal altar, allow your intuition and creativity to be guides in the process. A personal altar allows you a place set aside for inviting the divine to dwell within, and your divinatory tools give the divine a voice. Together they become part of a genuinely empowering practice that can enlighten the spirit.
1 Ogam (also spelled Ogham) is the ancient Druidic tree alphabet, which when inscribed on cut branches or pieces of wood, is a divinatory tool, often called "ogam sticks." For more information, see "Ogam: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees," by Paul Rhys Mountfort, published by Destiny Books; and "Celtic Wisdom Sticks: An Ogam Oracle," by Caitlin Matthews, published by Connections Book Publishing, which is reviewed here.
2 If lighting candles and/or incense, please use them safely, keep them away from open windows, and be aware of surrounding objects.