My first experience with understanding the charm of an altar was when I was sent to Russia in 1970 for my grade 9 summer holidays. You may ask what this has to do with altars and Feng Shui but if you give me a paragraph or so I will explain. When my Grandmother and her sister were young women, they fled the Ukraine to Canada. My Grandmother left behind her family, which consisted of three sisters and a brother and my Great Grandmother. My Grandma “Annie” made several pilgrimages back to the “old country”, as it was referred to, or called the iron curtain by the press back then, and as luck would have it, my brother and I got to have the experience of a lifetime.

During the holiday – okay, lets just turn the music down and get down to the truth. Landing in Moscow and being greeted by the red army guards with machine guns was my introduction to Russia. The customs ordeal was like total chaos and my luggage never arrived, so I had to spend five weeks in Russia borrowing my Grandmothers clothes to wear. In addition to this, Russian was the official language but my Grandma spoke Ukrainian and my brother and I only spoke English.

So, we did make it to the Ukraine and in retrospect, I realize “Annie” tolerated all those destination cities just so she could spend six days of a highly controlled tour to see her family. I never got over the fact that at the end of every day at the hotel, you would surrender your passport and then get it back the next morning.

Meeting my Great Grandmother was really cool, and my Great Aunts and Great Uncle. We went to their house where they lived, which was on a “farm” by a river. A cousin, who was a Lieutenant in the army, put us in a car and drove us past the check points at the edge of town to their home.
My most vivid memory of my Grandma’s family is that they were all happy! Gushing, smiling, singing, overflowing, untethered, sparkling, love, that was my Grandma’s family. The interesting part about not understanding a thing anybody is saying is that you are watching expressions and body language.

The home was small and the village shared one car, and I think this trip was going to include buying a fridge as a gift. The house had dirt floors that were swept flat and clean. They had an outhouse. A carpet was on the wall. They were devout Orthodox Catholics in a country that celebrated atheism as its official religion. My Great Grandmother sang stories to me and my brother, and my Grandma translated. These people were my first introduction to positive thinking. They were surviving in an oppressive culture and yet their energy and charm was that of a warm tropical breeze on Waikiki Beach. Their inner joy did not match their environment. Their focus was enthusiasm and grace.

Then I saw it: my first altar. In my Great Grandmother’s house on the fireplace was a picture of a nephew who was deceased. There was a beautiful cloth that his picture was on, with a small candle beside it, and a group of beautiful wood carvings of eagles and flowers. The energy of that altar was one of beauty and it was breathtaking.

That was my trip to Russia in a snapshot.

After studying Feng Shui for a while I observed mannequins grouped at display areas by escalators in department stores and realized that even on a commercial level altars are created. It is a concentrated level of focus and that is why that energy attracts us to look at the display. You can feel the energy of the display artist who created the vignette.

So I have explained the two extremes for you to illustrate that you can have an altar within your home that is a pleasing positive affirmation in its focus. Check out Meo O’Malleys site “altars within” for some inspiration. Just visiting Meo’s site is an experience. Consider thinking out of the box and just placing a beautiful stone, or one vase as a focal point. It has also been my experience that by taking all your smaller art pieces and grouping them as a collection, you will create a positive vision board. The charm of a well balanced home will have layers of altars woven thru out your sanctuary. The results will be great design and the benefits will be a focus of harmony.

Photo credit: ‘lotus flower” by Randall Friedman

Happy Feng Shui trails,


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