Crafting Your Dream Altar

Evening Dream Altar, photo credit: Mary Dwyer
My Autumn dream altar

By this point in August, I (like many people) have spent many hours out and about in my free time, trying to absorb as much of the solar warmth, lunar phosphorescence, and whispering breezes as I possibly can. Our time with these humming glory days each year is so precious, and of course, all of summer’s crucial expeditions open nourishing new pathways, perceptions, and relationships. But I find that while I’m drifting in the golden splendor of these zephyrean afternoons and evenings,  I sometimes spend less time on the stabilizing home practices that support both restful sleep and, in turn, lush dreams.

While still soaking in this last month of summer, I’ve decided to turn some of my attention back toward the sacred base of my bedroom (or as I like to call it, my “dream womb”) for the exercise of renewing my summer dream “altar.” My altar serves as a dedicated space for dream reflection. As often as I can, I sit before it both at night, when I am considering the questions for which I could use the guidance of my “shadow,” and in the morning, when I am recording my dreams and jotting down my associations with the symbols I’ve encountered.

The process of gathering objects for a space dedicated to dream meditation is not only a fun way to recalibrate our sense of equilibrium, but it also offers us the opportunity to reflect on how we engage with symbols in the waking realm before we descend into the hieroglyphic land of dream. If we practice working with symbols in our physical reality, we will be all the more prepared to harvest the potent imagery we find during the moonlit voyages of our minds.

Below is a framework for how you can craft and interact with your dream altar, based on my own ritual!

My August Dream Altar

  1. Choose a cozy space where you will want to spend meditative time, and where you can set up a small, elevated area.
    I chose a corner of my room, where I set up a compact dresser.

  2. Choose your objects!  
    Of course, there are no real “rules” on this front. The objects I choose typically fall into one of the following categories: 

  3. *Talismans, or emotionally charged objects. 
  4. I imagine carrying these with me into the dream realm, as tokens of serenity and courage. Examples in my photo above include:
    • My blue and gold beaded pouch necklace, given to me when I was 10 years old. This has always been my little reserve of childhood bravery, imagination, and love of adventure.
    • My handmade, leather-bound notebook, in which I write all of my dreams and poetry.
    *Seasonal Imagery.  I find that introducing seasonal imagery into the space allows me to sense how my mental, physical, and emotional states mirrors those of the flora and fauna. In the photo above, you can see:
      • A favorite painting by Erté, depicting a woman in a resplendent summer gown, over what I imagine to be a depiction of a blossoming, green Earth. (You can see a close-up in the image below.)
      • Dried summer flowers, gathered and given to me by my close friend.
      *Emblems of recurring dream symbols. Bringing imagery from my dreams into my altar space allows me to reflect more upon its significance. Some of my dream images in the photo above are:
        • The painted calavera, or sugar skull
        • Black “raven” wings
        • Black and gold “shadow” mask
        *Though not pictured above, I will also sometimes include my own recent collages or artwork, as these pieces can reveal what has been on my mind if I ponder them over time.
        1. Hold your first dream meditation in the space.
          After you’ve arranged your altar, carve out some time in the evening to sit with it. Reflect on the significance of the symbols you’ve chosen, and how each of them may relate to the others.

        I recommend writing down your associations with each object in your dream journal--it can be quite powerful to marvel at the many different aspects of your “self.”

        I will note that I think a dream altar should be renewed at least once with each turn of the season, as this exercise allows us to consider how our relationships to the objects we’ve chosen for our space change over time.

        What sorts of images and objects would you introduce into your dream altar?

        "First Dress" by Erté

        A close-up of the summer image in my altar; a painting titled “First Dress” by Erté

        Mary Dwyer is a writer exploring the interwoven webs of psychology, mythology, and ecology within and around us. Drawing upon personal experience and extensive research, she hopes to spark reflection about the relationships between our unconscious and conscious worlds, and to inspire others to harvest the healing nectar of dream, introspection, and creative ritual.   
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        Follow Mary on Instagram: @nekterranea

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