An altar, or mesa, is an extension of you. The medicine pieces, the sacred tools (artes), how they work together on the altar and where they are placed, is an expression of you and your gifts and how you work in the world with your medicine.
All lineages and teachers work differently, but the focus of intention is the reason for the mesa. Any altar that you create for yourself is a tool to support you in being intentional. It is a focus point for the medicine work you choose to do, and as such, it becomes a portal for the medicine you carry and share with others.
My mesa shifts and changes over time. I evolve and so my mesa evolves. The center of my mesa now holds my misha or mesa bundle (not pictured), which is a pouch that carries some of my most sacred items. This mesa bundle represents my heart and is the place from which I link in to other mesas and altars of those who are seeking to bring healing and light to the planet.
If you study with a particular lineage, you will want to set up your altar as they do, in order to be respectful of their teachings and work within their cosmology. I have seen powerful teachers move the energy of a room in mere seconds by shifting pieces on their altar. Some Paqos in Peru can work with the entire cosmos by working with their mesas. There are
layers of teachings and wisdom behind why they set them up the way they do.
After learning from different teachers and following the rules of numerous traditions, I have found that I resonate more with having an altar that truly represents my heart and allows me to continue to learn from the Star Beings and Ancestors, as well as from teachers in human form. Having created my own container through my personal mesa, I work with various tools and ideas learned from multiple traditions. Ultimately, I listen to the tools and the medicine pieces, as well as my Guides, in order to determine what I will work with and where it will live on my mesa.
Ultimately, it is about finding what is most resonant for you. Set up a mesa/altar that feels good to you, is most supportive, and you understand how to work with it as a tool, an ally and friend. Your mesa is very much alive and can be utilized in truly expansive and powerful ways when you create a working relationship with it.
And remember to have fun!