Author: Patty Tomsky
When I was a teenager, I went to Catholic high school. Growing up, the word “altar” conjured visions of robed men in a cloud of incense, and the cutest boys at school tending to golden chalices during somber masses.
These days, maintaining an altar as part of my meditation and Tarot practice has made me an active participant in my own spirituality — rather than a spectator to rituals that never felt personal to me.
I have nothing but respect for everyone’s individual spiritual journey. My journey has certainly been eclectic. I still attend a progressive church on Sundays, and pair this with quiet communions with my spirit every morning, using my Tarot deck and Tarot journal.
But my altar is where I have found a safe, sacred space of my own to deepen my Tarot practice and find grounding. By creating your own Tarot altar, you can create a space in your home that offers peace or inspiration, and allows you to deepen your Tarot practice.
Learn more about what a Tarot altar is used for, how to make a Tarot altar, and 3 ways to deepen your Tarot practice with your altar.
What is a Tarot Altar?
The word altar derives from the Latin altarium, meaning “high,” and from the Latin adolere, which means “to ritually burn or sacrifice.” These two definitions originations resonate with me for a few reasons.
The first is while I’m seated at my altar, I feel as if I’ve set aside the humdrum, ground-level issues of the day. Sitting at my sacred space allows me to ascend past my linear mindset that I use throughout my day to check off my to-do lists — even if for just a few minutes.
I can rise up from those practical considerations — that sacral-chakra stuff that’s still important, like work, food, and grounding — and commune with my higher self.
At my altar, I can ritually burn away all the detritus of the past, and be present in the moment. The sculptures, crystals, and other right-brain symbols I place there trigger twilight sight — the perfect vision to read Tarot, meditate, and ask God for direction.
The more time I spend at my altar, the less I spend on worry. My altar centers me and calms me at the start of almost every day.
The precedence I give to my altar — and to Tarot — pays off in a more-spirit-centered approach throughout the day. In addition, the cards provide mini-lessons every morning.
More often than not, Tarot will let me know the energies that will challenge or assist me.
Reading a simple three card spread — challenges, lessons (center), and energies, in conjunction with moon signs and planetary transits — often creates a sacred moment of understanding in which I can sidestep reactivity and drama.
What is a Tarot Altar Used For?
The answer to this question is as individual as you are!
Some people use personal Tarot altars to do ritual or spells. Some use an altar to connect with universal truths by meditating, read inspirational or devotional excerpts, or to simply take time to check in with their breath.
In the morning, I’ll often use my Tarot altar for ad hoc manifesting rituals. I pick a Tarot card and draw a little, write down some words that come to mind, and envision where I want to be that day, that month, or even within the next five years.
If one of my kids or my partner wanders into the room, I can greet them and have a chat, but return to my practice. There’s no reason to feel like you have to start over or re-dedicate the space.
Life happens during our rituals and meditation. Holding on to an overly formal mindset can cause unneeded stress. The powers that be understand you’ve got a life outside your altar!
During a ritual, I will sometimes “call the corners” asking for earth, air, fire, and water to encompass my altar with their complementary energies. I will then use my pointer finger and slowly walk around the altar, pointing to the directions for each element (north for earth, south for fire, west for water, and east for air) and then feel the element’s energy enter my body.
How to Make a Tarot Altar
Making an altar as a personal self-care ritual or to deepen your Tarot practice doesn’t need to be what my first Tarot teacher would call “a high falutin’ affair.”
She liked to say Tarot should be as useful as a spatula or broom — don’t worry about doing it right.
Altars for everyday use often include a mixture of high and low elements — think a Vuitton purse with fun little Target kicks. If the materials mean something to you, they’ll “work” to trigger a right brain response.
My Tarot altar changes with the seasons. I add flowers in spring, or sometimes an apple to symbolize the Goddess. Sometimes I add a little St. Francis resin statue with his arms up, with woodland creatures gathered all around.
I place these items and others on the four corners, and do my Tarot reading in the center.
An altar can have fun little figurines that make you smile. For example, I have a goofy plastic dragon for the “fire” corner. I also like elemental objects like rocks, a feather, a flower, or a candle or incense for fire.
For those who are new to crafting Tarot altars, I suggest getting a shoebox and a fine piece of silk or velvet. Heck, even a pretty designed pillowcase will work! This way, your altar can move around your home with you, until you find a spot where you can keep it.
If you never do find a spot, and simply “set up” wherever the mood strikes you (like I do most mornings) you might be joined by your companion animals, by more or less sunshine or cloud, by proximity to music or instruments like a little drum, or near a table to safely light candles.
4 Ways to Connect With the Tarot at Your Altar
Here are some ways your Tarot altar can help you align with both the meditative aspects and divination aspects of the Tarot.
Use each Monday to reconnect with the water cards — emotions, relationships, and hidden meanings.
The word Monday gets its meaning from the Anglo-Saxon word, “mondandaeg,” meaning moon day. In Nordic cultures, it was devoted to the goddess of the moon.
The moon card requires us to go within, and connect with the honesty of our feelings.
I start the week with this ritual, and with a Tarot altar comprised of my little dog sculpture (Hecate’s animal), a chalice with salt water, and a ritual where I “wash” my crystals in moonlight the night before and rededicate them for the week Monday morning.
I don’t get to this every Monday, but I’m always grateful for the weeks that I do!
3 Card Spread
Do a 3-card spread and write down the intention/affirmation, challenge, and assisting energies in your Writual Tarot journal. Then, find the altar items that work best with these energies.
For example, when I pulled The Fool card, I grabbed my little fun Buddha with the children crawling all over him. That card tells me to honor the child within and to spend time with her.
One morning, I danced to a song from my youth as ritual — “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain and Tennille. I didn’t stop smiling until noon. But I also confess — I’m happy no one woke up early and caught me!
Free write after drawing a Tarot card, then write an affirmation from the list of words you come up with. I make the affirmation a theme for the day and use the altar to meditate on aspects of the affirmation and write down what spirit shows me.
Draw a picture or paint a Tarot card on cardboard and use it to center throughout the day after you dedicate it on your altar.
For me, dedication on a Tarot altar is holding the card (or crystal, or ring, or any object I want to imbue with power/spirit) over a smoking smudge stick, and/or closing my eyes and holding the item in each of the four directions. I use my imagination to “wash” the item in fire, wind, or water, or encase it in the warm, giving soil of spring.
If the moon sign is in an earth sign, I will wrap items and bury them in the ground until the next new moon.
Finding Your Voice Through Tarot
There are many ways one might dedicate an altar to Tarot. By doing so, I create a more spiritual and centered way of being in the world. Sure, I sometimes oversleep, or miss a string of days in a row.
But I don’t think that matters. Perfection is not part of the Tarot practice.
All it takes is determination and some meaningful objects, my deck, and a spirit of playful adventure to recommit to welcoming the colorful, elemental energies of Tarot into my life.
Making time for my Tarot journal at my altar has had a profoundly powerful impact on my life. I believe Tarot can help us reconnect with ourselves — especially after experiencing a trauma or situation that worked to silence our intuition.
About the Author
Patty Tomsky reads Tarot and works as a medium as Lila Satori, a magical persona that means “creative play.” Patty has practiced Tarot since 1985. She specializes in trauma-healing Tarot, female-identified empowerment, grief healing mediumship, and goddess-centered meditation practices. She's also a published poet, fiction writer, and memoirist. Find her on IG at @lila.satori, and on Facebook at Colorado Springs Tarot. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.