Making Altar Art

Leaning Into The Practice

When the Reyes Católicos, the “Catholic Royals,” unleashed the full weight of the Spanish religious and military machine upon the Americas they encountered the word…


And the conqueror’s lies grew quickly around it.

“It’s heretical and it’s witchcraft,” they said, immediately condemning those with the title, and assuring our people would become the newest victims of the Holy Inquisition.

To be tlamatinime means you make art of your life, in whatever role or circumstance you find yourself, you make art of it. Some of the practitioners were generals, some were artists, some plumbers, healers and bakers – the tlamatinime, the toltec artists, held all possible occupations and duties; and all of them practiced their life as art.

The spirit and power of the tlamatinime never dimmed, in spite of the conquest. Their struggle demanded the ultimate price and while genocide is not quite over, it’s strengthened the way of art over all. The spirit and the practice are alive and well.

Defining the word “art” is like defining “love”. It gets millions of answers, none of which cover the total meaning of the word. The motivational author, Seth Godin, offers a useful definition.

Art is the work we do where there is no right answer – and yet the journey is worth the effort. We might make art with a keyboard, with a paint brush, or with our actions. Mostly we do it because we lean into a practice, trusting we have a shot to make a difference.

We emphasize practice because it is practice that makes the art real. To be tlamatinime, to make an art of one’s life, one must act upon it, consistently.

The essence of the word spilled into our lives before we could pronounce it. We knew it, heard it, sought it, without knowing what it was.

We put the art into creating and operating an altar – a place where the spirits move about, where people find answers and healing, and where, sometimes, Deity visits. We have been large and small, colorful and plain, intricate and simple. Everything we put on the altar gives us something back. Candles, feathers, stones, statues, snake skins, skulls, crosses, Saints, Buddhas and of course, our best words and our best songs.

Of course, society, government, public opinion and so forth, have other ideas of what an “altar” should be, and what art should be. We decided we too had the right, being human, sons of creation, to base our altar in/on our experience and on how we choose to make art of it. Experience determines our evolution. How can we not follow its guidance?

When we didn’t know what to do, or lacked the power to do it, we, as Mr. Godin says above, “leaned into our practice,” the practice of tlamatinime – making art of one’s life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s