How to Build an Altar

When I walked into Mama Medicine’s space for the first time, I felt the energy shift the  moment I crossed through the doorway. Her oasis is in the middle of crazed Soho, but you would never know. It’s light and bright, and vibrating on a totally different level (seriously). Deborah Hanekamp, also known as Mama Medicine, is joy personified. She has a sense of humor and smile that’s contagious, and just being around her you feel yourself transforming into a zen, just-got-back-from Tulum version of yourself.

I’ve been wanting to learn the art of Altar making for a while, so I called up Deborah to help show us how. She studied in the Amazon for years and has been doing this work for “18 years, but is just getting started.” In other words, she knows a thing or two about this sort of thing. In this video she shows us how to make an altar, and how to use it. We use it to call in our ancestors and ground us before a meditation, and sometimes just making the altar is our meditation.

Here’s our conversation with Deborah:


Mama Medicine's Deborah Hanekamp shares with us how to build an alter on The Moment

Laney: Why do we build an altar?

Debora: We build an altar to give ourselves a place to ground and to dedicate our practice to something.

L: How do you choose what goes on the altar?

D: For me personally I like to incorporate something that includes all four of the natural elements, earth water, wind, and fire.

Mama Medicine's Deborah Hanekamp shares with us how to build an alter on The Moment

L: What do you do at an altar?

D: I personally really like to clear my energy. I find meditation to be very cleansing. I’m a boring meditator. I just sit with my eyes closed in silence and stillness. You can put anything that you’re looking to call in on your altar. Some people put what they’re trying to manifest right on their altar. You can put up significant objects that  remind you of your ancestors as a way to honor them. Look at your altar as a place of conciseness and manifestation and honoring. If there’s a part of the earth that I’m wanting to honor that day then I’ll make sure to put a piece on my altar that represents that. If it’s the anniversary of a loved one’s death, I’ll put their picture on my altar as a way to honor them. You can put your mantras on your altar too.

You can put anything you want on your altar. The different things I would put on your altar are, something to represent earth like a crystal, also a plant will represent wind and earth together and a water element too. Plants are life. Sage or Palo santo or cinnamon as a smudge to call in an air element. Then always water. You can have a special bowl that you put your water in.

L: When do you build an altar?

D: When you first move into a place, if you think about your whole entire home being an altar, you can make your whole home this really sacred place by bringing in the elements. Plants here and crystals here and candles there and sage around. Or you can have a stationary altar that you have set up for yourself to practice your meditation at. Most of the time in NYC apartments, we don’t have the space to dedicate a whole corner to an altar. What I showed you today is kind of a portable altar. You can put all of the items away in a special spot. You can lay your items out every morning and just sit at it which is what I personally do at home.

Mama Medicine's Deborah Hanekamp shares with us how to build an alter on The Moment

Special thanks to Deborah Hanekamp!

Photo and Video by Julie Florio



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