What is an Altar?


St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Mendocino, California

Wikipedia is such a gift to this world. And, like this and many other pages on this web-site, has been the starting point for many of my essays.

My first experience of altars began as a child in an Anglican church. But now I am reminded, as a good dictionary will tell us that for our ancestors an altar was 1.“Any raised place or structure on which sacrifices may be offered or incense burned as an act of worship.” And, 2. “The structure of wood or stone on which the elements are consecrated in the Eucharist; the communion table.”

And then, in recent years, as I began to visit mostly women who did various forms of energy work including massage, I discovered that many of them had created sacred space in their homes with small personal altars. In one such home I saw a jade statue of a monk and I thought that I would like to have one of those too.

One of my daughters was, at that time, the Asia/Pacific Project Manager for Newbridge Networks, in Kanata, Ontario. And she looked all over the Far East for a similar little statue without success. And I was doing the same thing in Ottawa. Then, in an Eastern store in The Glebe I found myself looking at this pure white six inch china statue of a seated woman with eyes closed and head bowed.


I didn’t know until I asked who she was that I was looking at Quan Yin, known as The Queen of Heaven, the female Buddha and the Chinese Goddess of Compassion. But what I did “know” was that I was supposed to take her home with me. That was about sixteen years ago and the seven foot high altar that I had made when I came to Victoria, three years later, then honoured her and the Goddess in her many other forms.

She was originally guarded by two grey dragons with big pink tongues but one got broken. So, as you can see. another pair of equally ferocious green ones moved in to take their place. The survivor now has a new home in a woman’s healing room here.

Today, as you can see, in the living room of my little basement apartment, Quan Yin occupies the place of honour on a much smaller altar. And, in the bedroom I go to sleep and awake to this beautiful painting done by a local artist of the Tibetan White Tara above a table of three angels, two of which were gifted to me by a loving friend back East.