TLDR; (Too Long, Didn’t Read): Altar Within really is a radical guide to liberating your divine self! It leaves out the toxic positivity trash and encourages actual self-reflection and hard work to accomplishing real change within ourselves. Do yourself a favor, witch — pick this book up and do a deep dive into a new reality for yourself.
LbDR; (Long, but Did Read)
Today I’m reviewing The Altar Within: A Radical Devotional Guide to Liberate the Divine Self by Juliet Diaz, published by Row House Publishing in 2022. I received an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) and so this review may not accurately reflect corrected material.
About the Author
Juliet Diaz is an accomplished author, with Altar Within being her third published book. She is also a creator of oracle decks. Juliet is a self-described Bruja, Seer, and Self-Activist from a long line of curanderos and Brujas. Curanderos are native healers, predominantly from Latin America.
Please consider buying directly from Juliet’s website or Row House Publishing to get your own copy! Purchasing from third-party sellers usually does not support the authors unless the seller is also the publisher or author. Support the blood, sweat, and tears that your favorite authors put into creating content!
The Chains That Bind
I’m a consumer of books that focus on shadow work and I steer clear from the ones that focus on “positivity” being the catalyst for change. The reality is that most of us can’t just Peter Pan ourselves out of a shitty life or circumstance, okay? “Think happy thoughts” is for the birds – and for privileged folks. For some of you, that statement will rub you the wrong way and you’ll be Peter Panning yourself right out of this blog post. Ta-ta!
For the rest of you, thanks for buckling-up ahead of time.
Diaz addresses head on the impact colonization has on modern spiritual practices, particularly paganism. Her book is centered on liberating the self through self-activism, and when we liberate ourselves then we are free to assist others in their movements toward liberation. Liberation from what, you might ask? Liberation from self-hatred, unhealthy relationships with others, generational trauma, resentments, disconnection from community, and more.
What I like most about Altar Within is that it helps readers work through the chains that are both visible and invisible in our lives. Piece by piece, we are free to break the links of these constrictions.
There are writing prompts throughout the book that assist readers in self-reflection. For example, the “Self-Worship Prompts” in Chapter 8 challenge the reader to think about those aspects of ourselves that we keep hidden. You know, those things we hide because we’re ashamed of them or fear how others will react to them if they ever find out. The prompts in this chapter go on to ask about how we show compassion and love to others; how we would talk to our younger selves if ever given the chance; which areas of our lives we are running from; and which behaviors we have that are holding us back from becoming our ideal selves.
While there is writing space beneath each of these questions to answer the questions, I’d recommend keeping a journal instead. You can bet that some questions may require longer responses than others. That, and you may find that you need to come back to this book more than once throughout the years. THAT and I’m a librarian and it makes me feel a certain kind of way when people write in books.
This book does not contain rituals in the way that you might be used to. Instead, it might be worth it to understand that a “ritual” is any act that is habitually done for a purpose. If you regularly brush your teeth before bed then you are engaging in a nighttime ritual. Altar Within seeks to assist readers in creating habits (read: rituals) that will lead to actual change in a person’s life. Each chapter is a call to action and the expectation is that transformation is a continuous process. Your work is never truly done, my friend. There is always more that we can be doing for ourselves and for others.
Liberation of the self is a process and Altar Within can help you navigate the murkier parts. Like spells, the processes of self-discovery and liberation are magical acts. Your body is the altar of your life. You feed it, tend to it, decorate it, and talk to it. But, like all of us, I bet you also sometimes neglect it. Sometimes we neglect things because we don’t know how to care for them and other times it’s because we don’t care about them. If you care anything for yourself then identify the ways you are neglecting yourself and get to work.
The way to liberating the self is a holistic process. Altar Within touches on self-worship, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-discovery, self-love, self-patience, self-forgiveness and, lastly, self-activism. The book may be centered on all the ways we can help ourselves but in first helping ourselves we can then help others. Remember how we’re supposed to put on our oxygen masks first in the event of an imminent plane crash? Well, if you feel that your life is in the process of an imminent crash then take this as a sign to put on the oxygen mask dangling in front of your face.
If I may leave you with some advice: Altar Within makes you take a long look in the mirror. Do yourself a favor and consider working with a therapist or counselor as you engage with this work. Books are wonderful tools but a book like this would complement therapeutic counseling. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Courage is a magical act, too, ya know.
Overall, I enjoyed Altar Within and Diaz’s real-talk approach to self-help. This librarian recommends it!
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