"What is an Altar?"
By Paul Solomon
As the children of Israel entered the wilderness, they had reached a point that all souls experience as part of life spent on this plane. They made contact with a higher power to seek assistance and guidance. God began to teach them the way out of the wilderness. The way out of the wilderness meant constructing a new body, a new mind, a new life. That new life would be a reflection of what they would become when Divine Teaching began to manifest itself within them.
Initially, they were told, "Take the most precious, the most valuable things that you haveyour pieces of gold, your coins, your jewelry, all the gold that you havebring it together, melt it down, and out of that gold begin to shape some things."
They were told to gather their most precious pieces of fabric and silk, things that they had secreted away as they fled Egypt. They were to weave all these fabrics together into one beautiful piece of cloth.
They were told to make out of these things a structure, an enclosure, in the wilderness. (Exodus 25:10-27) This enclosure would have at one end a place of fire where burnt sacrifices of animals could be offered. There would be as well a place of washing for spiritual cleansing. Within this first enclosure would be yet a second enclosure. Only a member of the priesthood could enter that inner enclosure, and only then, if he were cleansed. Within that second enclosure would be yet a third, innermost enclosure.
The outer enclosure would be called a Tabernacle. The next enclosure would be called a Holy Place. The innermost enclosure would be called the Holy of Holies. Within the Holy of Holies would be a container, made of a particular wood, built according to particular dimensions with specific carvings and overlaid with gold. This container would be the most precious of all Israels possessions, forever housed within this Holy of Holies. It would represent nothing less than direct contact between man and his God.
The nation of Israel, having followed the instructions precisely, looked upon the exterior walls of the structure they had built as holy in themselves. So, they never went beyond those exterior walls, never entered the outer enclosure, but gathered around it instead.
The Twelve Tribes were assigned exact positions around the periphery of the Tabernacle where they would assemble. Only the priests entered the first and second enclosures. The third enclosure was entered only once a year, by the head priest, with elaborate and solemn preparation.
The Holy Tabernacle of the nation of Israel, built and used according to Gods instructions, was indeed a reflection for the people of the new life they sought to attain.
The question to ask ourselves today is: "What does all that mean for us? What did it symbolize? What was its purpose? What is the message of this portion of scripture that describes for us the construction of this Tabernacle? What role does this event of 3,000 years ago play in our lives today?"
Imagine if you were to set aside a particular room in your house. You went into that room and scrubbed it from top to bottom, the ceiling, the wall, the doors, the windows. Everything in that room was scrubbed thoroughly and then painted new. It was furnished with the most expensive furnishings that you could find. When those preparations were complete, you then chose a special spot in that room and erected a sacred altar.
Imagine that the room was used only for meditation, contemplation, prayer and private worship. Every time you came to the door of that room, you first stilled yourself. You entered that room reverently and carefully. If you came to the door of the room and having examined yourself, found that you had been angry with someone that day, you would not enter the room. Instead, you would go to that person and straighten out that situation. You would make sure that all was in order, within and without, before entering that room.
Imagine that every time you entered that room you expected to meet and communicate with a very special divine presence. Every time you opened the door to that room, you would feel the living presence of that special divine being. The room would never feel empty, but rather, filled with a living, vibrant, conscious, loving presence with whom you could communicate.
Imagine that the living, divine consciousness occupying that room was always focused on that altar. The altar had become the focal point for where that being existed.
Now, consider this. Imagine that there is a very wise master soul, a being so evolved that he is one of only a handful on the planet. You are allowed to enter his room, to have an audience with him, but only when you have prepared yourself. You must enter carefully, gently, knowing that he will see and know your every thought. He will know whether you have prepared yourself with a fresh garment and whether you have brought a gift to exchange for the gold you are about to receive from him. Knowing all of that to be true, would you then enter the room as if that wise master soul were not present there?
If you ever establish for yourself, either in your home or in this Fellowship, that which an altar truly is, you will never, ever enter that sacred room where that altar dwells as if there is no one present there. When walking into that room, you will walk into the presence that has been invoked in that room, and your own consciousness will be changed by that presence. In that time, you will have built a true sanctuary, a tabernacle.
When you pray, when you perform a reading for another, when you worship, when you meditate, through your invocation you invoke not only the presence of angels and the majesty of God himself, but you also invoke God to live in the place you have set aside. Where he is invoked, he lives and his presence remains.
An altar is a living thing, a living being. It is a point of reference for a point of honor of the honored but unseen guestunseen to
the eyes that cannot seein any room where an altar dwells. Be very careful about this. It is a worse affront to God to have an altar that is not reverenced, than it is to have no altar at all. It is worse to have an altar and be insensitive to its real and vital power than to have no altar at all.
I have not often advocated that people have altars in their homes. Having an altar in a home is pointless until one learns about the living presence of that altar and the purposes that altar serves.
A little shrine in someones home can become the opposite of what it was intended to be. If the individual creating that altar begins to think of it as "My little bit that I do for God," as if he were doing God a favor by having an altar in the home, or if that individual puts his faith in the fact that "I have established an altar, therefore Im covered," I would rather not be the source of having inspired that in anyones home.
Preferably, you would establish a meditation room that is never used for anything else and an altar that is so vitally important to you that when you approach it, you are automatically reminded that "I live in a house shared by the Lord God." Preferably, an altar would represent the living presence of God and you would approach it with a heart of thanksgiving that "I have given the best place in my house, myself, to what God is."
If you establish such an altar in your house, keep it in a secret place. Remember, an altar misused is worse than having no altar at all. Do not expose your altar to visitors because they will look at the altar and have a particular reactionwhatever their particular reaction to altars is, negative or positive, based on their life experiences. The energy of that reaction will be absorbed into your altar.
Everything in your home is a symbol to someone who comes into your home. You become judged by what a visitor to your home sees, and that judgment becomes a part of the atmosphere in which you live. Objects accumulate energy and power. They also accumulate the ability to express and the ability to accomplish. It is important that if you have an altar, it accumulate only the energy that you choose, both from yourself and from others in the home.
If you choose to have an altar in your home, it should be established as a point of attunement with God, not as a display case for metaphysical paraphernalia or religious artifacts. Some individuals accumulate many beautiful external items, spreading them across the altar, and become dependent on that array for their attunement.
There was a man in Atlanta who used to come to the Fellowship to meditate. He would arrive with a rolled prayer rug under one arm, a bottle of ginger water for ionizing the air, a meditation tape of a chanting guru, incense, candles, a special robe, a pillow to sit on. By the time he got all his paraphernalia unpacked to begin his meditation, everyone else was in stitches and could no longer meditate.
Another member of the Fellowship expressed a lot of devotion and reverence in establishing her altar at home, only to decide that it was in the wrong place, and it needed a new cloth, and a more suitable table, painted a hard-to-find blue-colored paint, and better pictures, and more sacred accoutrements. She altered her altar so often that no sacred presence ever had a chance to establish itself.
For the average person establishing an altar within the home as a point of focus for meditation, a few items on the altar are sufficient. That would include a Bible or other appropriate form of sacred Scripture, a cross or other primary symbol of faith, a candle, a censor for burning incense, and some living thing, such as a branch of pine or a flower. The most important thing to recognize in establishing an altar is that you are attempting to build a living temple.
Too often, we in the Fellowship have been guilty of playing gamespretending that God is here. "But lets not pretend that hes really here or we will have to recognize his presence and act as if he were really here. So lets continue to pretend."
What would be your necessary response and responsibility if you stood face to face with the Lord God Almighty, your creator and the source of your vitality, your very breath?
The time has come to be serious. If this altar is to be an altar of God, it is time to quit moving it around. It is time to stop piling things on it that do not belong there, as if it were a table standing here in the sanctuary. It is time to enter a room where an altar stands by first recognizing the fact that an altar is there, stopping dead-still and asking the holy presence in that room if we may enter. Have we prepared ourselves sufficiently? Have we brought a gift to exchange for what we will receive? Have we set our lives in order first?
You would not enter the private room of another individual, passing through as if you own the place with no thought of that individual, forgetting or neglecting to address him immediately after noticing his presence. You would not turn your back to that individual as if he did not exist. You would not meditate in his private room without first facing him and speaking with him, asking his permission.
Nor would you enter a place where there is an altar without preparation, forethought and awareness, if that altar is authentic and alive with the presence of God. If the holy presence of God has been invoked, know that he has answered that invocation with his presence. To stand before that altar is to stand before and communicate with that living presence.
I am not suggesting that the altar is the place where God is. God lives within your heart. However, the altar is a place for a point of recognition of his presence. It serves to remind you to honor that presence. It reminds you that the presence within you is also without, surrounding you.
You are affected by that living presence, from within and without. The more you are affected by the presence of the altar, the more power the altar accumulates.
Everything set upon the altar has a purpose, has significance, and should be carefully considered. If you were going to establish a proper altar, ideally, everything on the altar would be made by your own hands.
Technically, if you were going to practice as an occultist, you would create for yourself symbols made by your own hands and used for no other purpose. According to the occultist, they are virgin instruments used for a particular purpose. However, such an altar would never be exposed to the public or any other person, but would be a very private thing.
I keep my altar in a locked trunk at home. No one shares that altar with me. I open the trunk. I set up the altar. I have my period of communion and communication. Then, I put it away and lock the trunk. That is how important I consider the sacred instruments of my personal altar. Each has a purpose, an expression and an effect on my consciousness. Over the years that I have used those things, they have accumulated more and more power to effect purpose.
I would like to see that true of the Fellowship altar as well. So far, we have been like a group of children playing church. If we intend to be a group of adults, serious about our temple, it is time to be concerned about what is put on our altar and why. It is time to make our altar authentic and alive with the presence of God, established for a real and effective purpose.
The positions of items on the altar and the relationship between them establish their relative importance. The items on the altar are all gifts, as they should be. The altar cloth upon the altar is a gift to the Fellowship from Dr. Biedler. The candlesticks are also a gift and were purchased in Jerusalem during the recent tour. They are a Hebrew symbol, and also a mystical symbol for the divine seals of God in man. The cross was given to the Fellowship when it first opened in Atlanta. The Bible was also a gift.
The scroll of the Torah was a gift bought for us in Bethlehem. It has particular meaning for many reasons. First, it is written in the Hebrew characters that are similar to the original manuscripts. It is rolled in the manner of the original manuscripts and is enclosed in a box, demonstrating something of the care and importance placed upon the Torah by the Jewish people. That is, it is a thing of beauty and spiritual importance in their daily lives. It is not just a decorative piece. The Torah is never allowed to sit open. It is opened only for reading the word. It is opened with prayer, and it is closed immediately when the reading of the word is complete. As it is closed, prayers on slips of paper are sealed inside as well. The scroll of the Torah was viewed by ancient Hebrews as a living thing. The word or expression of the law was a living thing. The enclosure that houses the Torah would be seen as a temple. In this way, it becomes a miniature temple sitting on the altar.
Alongside the altar is a small black box containing items used to make the altar sacred when necessary, such as when administering any of the Holy Sacraments. The items in the box serve as a baptismal font. There are two baptismal cups lined with glass, each with a silver spoon. One cup is for salt, and the other is for water. These are the two elements of creation blessed by the Master Christ. Water is a symbol of cleansing and a symbol of spirit. Salt is a symbol of activity and a symbol of earth, solidarity and materiality.
The two elements of salt and water are blessed separately, and each of them is invoked as a material expression of God. They are also exorcized. When mixed together, salt and water form a crystal as they dry. Whatever is invoked as the two elements mix and dry is held in the crystal formed. This is both literally true and symbolically true. It is symbolically true by invocation. It is literally true by the law of psychometric effect. Psychometric effect means that any material object carries within itself its own history. So, when a crystal is formed and an invocation is made simultaneously, the invocation becomes a part of the crystal. This combining of the two elements of salt with water is the most effective means of protecting a home or an instrument against dark forces. The occultist, for example, sprinkles every room of his house with salt and water with an invocation that seals the openings of the house. It is the most effective form of house blessing. It is used for baptism, for blessing and for cleansing.
The sanctity and the power of the Fellowship altar are completely dependent on the people who work and worship here. If the altar is abusedmoved, changed according to whim, neglected, not taken seriouslyit will have no meaning, no sacredness and no power, because no self respecting expression of God will bother focusing there. If it becomes necessary to move an altar, I would first wash my hands before I touched anything on it. Then, I would pray before the altar and speak to the Lord, saying simply, humbly, that "I seek to reestablish, after I have moved it, the power and the presence that is here in this moment." Although movement is not ideal, with that kind of sincere reverence, you will be able move what you have established.
This altar is the symbol of the heart of the Fellowship. The way that we treat it reveals what our attitude is toward God. The place that we have set for God in our hearts is reflected in the way that we treat the altar. The best way we can express our attitude toward God is by expressing it through our symbol for where God is in the Fellowship, which is our altar. We must recognize the altar as that symbol and care what happens to it, how it is treated, how the room in which it rests is treated. All of that must become holy.
The attitude toward the altar must carry over into the workspace of the Fellowship. The readings have said often that no one should begin the work day in this Fellowship before everyone has come together, washed their hands, and received a blessing of their hands by every other person present. It is to be a daily ceremony within the Fellowship, before the beginning of work, whether the assignment is typing, bookkeeping, music, counselling, or pastoring. The hands are to be blessed to that service. If someone is going to work with the readings, the readings and the equipment are to be blessed in recognition of the sacred instruments that they are. The Source has referred to this blessing of the hands as a necessity, equally important with tithing the first tenth. With these two functions at the foundation of the Fellowships existence, there is nothing it cannot accomplish. All these things are the beginning of reverence. As a result, the place of God in the Fellowship and his action through it will expand and prosper.
This Fellowship will begin to acquire the kind of healing energy and power that is the result of the presence of God when God becomes a continuous, permanent resident here, from our recognition of his continuous presence.
Know also, though, that you can study and fill your intellect with facts about the altar, how to consecrate and magnetize it, how to focus its power, how to maintain it, how to choose the instruments that go upon it, where they are placed, how they are used, all those things. But none of those factors will work optimally for you until your servants, your mind and your emotions, have become obedient. If you can already cause yourself to be attuned in a moment, if you can center yourself and rid your mind of fear in the face of adversity, if you can cause yourself to be happy in a tragic situation, if you can bring yourself to a point of inner serenity so that your emotions and your attitude obey you, then, you have discovered the way out of the wilderness. You have prepared yourself to enter the innermost enclosure called the Holy of Holies. You have taken that most precious and valuable, your own being, and have begun to shape a glorious thinga new body, a new mind, a new life that would reflect Divine Teaching as it manifests within you.
© Paul Solomon Foundation 1994
Grace de Rond has added a matching Source Reading - Make Your Life an Altar .