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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 14,770,103  

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Question of the Week: 37 - 4/16/2001

What's On Your Altar?

What is on your altar, disir stone, hearth or horg? What tools do you have and which ones-be honest!- do you actually USE? Does your altar/stone/hearth/horg change with the seasons or is it a permanent set-up? Is your altar/stone/hearth/ horg a meeting place or honoring place for the Old Ones/Ancestors/Gods/Goddesses or is it a place to work magick-or both? What does the altar, stone, hearth/horg mean or represent to YOU?

 Reponses:   There are 45 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

As An Asatru Gothi, My Personal Altar Is Set Up With A... Apr 16th. at 11:02:48 am UTC

Edred Wodener (Roseville, California US) Age: 35 - Email

As an Asatru gothi, my personal altar is set up with a Wooden Blot Bowl, Thor's Hammer, candles, A Set of Runes made of Ash, a Drinking Horn made from a Bull's horn, and various candles, I am currently looking for an oath ring. My personal altar doesn't change except for an image of the god or goddess that I am honoring and the tree sprig that goes with them, usually pine and I use all of my tools. I use my altar for personal honoring of the gods and I use it for performing magic. My altar is my daily reminder of my ties with the gods and my troth to the Aesir and Vanir.

My wife and I lead a group of men and women of various traditions and have a pernament altar set up outside in our circle, the actual altar tools change, depending on the circumstance, the reason for the ritual, and who is leading the ceremony. This altar is also used for honoring and shamanic magic work.

Both of my altars remind me of my ties with the gods, my outside altar s also a representation of the family that our group has become and our ties that have grown through the year that we've been practicing. We call it our altar of kirth and kin.

My Main Altar Is Set Up And Taken Down For Rituals, As... Apr 16th. at 11:15:30 am UTC

Marea (Niagara Falls, Ontario CA) Age: 30 - Email

My main altar is set up and taken down for rituals, as I have two cats who would tear it apart if left to their own devices. Most of the items which are used during ritual however are carefully stored on my elemental altars which remain up constantly. There are four of course, one for each of the elements. Each altar is draped with the appropriate color and holds the representation of that element as it is used in ritual, as well as the corresponding tool and ace card in tarot. Each altar also has an appropriately colored candle and some additional items which reflect that element's character:

Air: A beautiful bird's nest found dislodged from a tree - with two robin's eggs which miraculously survived the fall, feathers found on walking trips, spring flowers, jewelry of birds, feathers, pegasus, etc.

Fire: Gold jewelry, including my and my husband's engagement rings from our youth, a bottle of well-aged chili oil, charcoal and ashes from various special fires

Water: A constantly filled bowl of water, plenty of shells, my scrying crystal, lots of silver and abalone jewelry, esp. turtles, fish, and starfish. I intend to replace the bowl of water with a small fountain, eventually.

Earth: A box of rock salt, stones of various importance including one from Pompeii and another from the Berlin Wall, barks and branches of various importance, three sprigs of wheat for the Mother, and my beloved oak leaf earrings ;)

I occasionally add and subtract items as the spirit moves me, and have plans to eventually make each altar more interactive and animated, with living plants and animals, as well as a permanent central altar - but that's for someday when I have a temple room with a door and much more space.

I Have A Slightly Odd Altar. It Lives In My Bedroom. (i... Apr 16th. at 1:32:46 pm UTC

Jenett Silver (St. Paul, Minnesota US) Age: 25 - Email

I have a slightly odd altar. It lives in my bedroom. (I have a one bedroom apartment)

It's on two plastic-board shelves (they're about 3 feet high or so, and are pushed together. The total surface area is about 1' by 1' by 2' or so. One has open shelves, where some of my Pagan/Wiccan/magic books are, the other has drawers (and rather prosaically holds my underwear and socks and such)

It's against the north wall, mostly because that's the place that had a convenient nook for the shelves and no baseboard heater.

On the east side, I have a candleholder which was a gift from a friend, with a plain white taper in it (the candleholder is Egyptian in style, but nothing even vaguely authentic - turquoise color and with assorted figures and heiroglyphs). That represents the light of knowledge and intellect. To the south I have a very small knife blade (it stays sheathed when not in use. I have a cat) to represent action. To the west, an electric pump fountain with ledges covered in sea glass and a few rocks for contemplation and meditation. Finally, there's a leather mask (acquired at the local Ren Fest) which is for mystery and the ideas of levels of depth at the north.

I usually have a few specific stones there (for use in charging if I want to use same) and an occaisional small candle or two for illumination. I keep lighters, a spare old candle to light the other ones with (so I don't need to singe my fingers trying to light the candles in glass jars) and a candle snuffer on the first shelf of the bookshelf side. I keep at least one of my Tarot decks nearby, usually on the floor next to the shelves, and a notebook and pen for any notes.

I don't use incense (this is my bedroom, and I'm sufficiently asthmatic that I don't want to risk causing problems in the place I sleep), nor do I use anyhting to represent the God or Goddess on my altar. Behind it, now, I have three pictures cut from the book of collected cover art for the Neil Gaiman _Sandman_ series (they all have green leaves as part of their design) and I have a just-acquired necklace (beautiful cobalt blue glass and amber pieces) hanging on a hook between two of the pictures.

The overall effect is quite simple but effective, and everything *feels* like it's in the right place to me, even though the candle in the east isn't very conventional, nor is the lack of a direct representation for three of the elements (rather, there are indirect ones).

I don't use tools much in my magical or ritual workings (the knife, for example, rarely gets actually picked up) and what I've been doing recently is libations of some kind (the cups and bowl for that usually live in the kitchen, though) so everything is more meditative than anything practical.

Right Now My Cats Are Maintaining The Altar. I Put Some Statues... Apr 16th. at 1:56:18 pm UTC

Darcie (Lawrence, Kansas US) Age: 40 - Email

Right now my cats are maintaining the altar. I put some statues of Bast on it, which they periodically rearrange, but never knock over. Sometimes they sit on the altar in perfect Bast pose, blending in with the statues. A few photos of this found their way into my Yule cards last year.

I Used To Use The Top Of My Bedroom Chest Of Drawers... Apr 16th. at 3:39:06 pm UTC

Jane Spacebat (Edinburgh, Scotland UK) Age: 20 - Email

I used to use the top of my bedroom chest of drawers as an altar. I used my mum's tea towels as altar cloths, and I changed them with the seasons. I always put them back in her kitchen afterwards. Now I have most of the stones etc on my mantel piece, because I live in my own flat now, and there's not enough space for the chest here. So I went looking for a smaller altar of some sort. And last night I found the perfect thing: a circle out of a tree trunk that someone had thrown out. Unfortunately the bark fell off when I lifted it, so I plan to sand it a wee bit and then wax the wood, so it doesn't rot. It's small, but the right size to put an offering bowl on and a candle to meditate. I might even add my element symbols: a Whitby ammonite for earth, a red candle I made for fire, a stone sculpture of a bird for air and a dried seahorse for water ( well I don't want to permanently risk the seahorse- I live with a Scottish wildcat). I think its too small for my pride and joy- a pair of copper candlesticks in the shape of cobras, which my dad bought me in an antique shpe. I just want this altar to be a focal point, like my old one was. If I can find a small, cat-proof plant, I'll add that too. Until then all my plants can act as little altars... I also saw a nice Goddess picture today, that I need to buy
(I think it was meant to be the biblical Eve, but who cares?) I plan to treat the wood and then sew a black velvet cloth, but I'm not sure how to use it. My current Goddess representation is a stone with a hole in it that a friend gave me; my God is a humongous trilobite that just looks God-like. Basically, my altar will accumulate fossils and other cool things I can find, but I think most of them will live on the mantle- I have a puppy tooth from my dog, and the collar of my cat who was killed by a car.

Blessed Be,
Jane Spacebat

Right Now, There Are 2 Candles, One Gold, One Silver, And A... Apr 16th. at 3:47:10 pm UTC

Adaryn (San Giovanni, Italy) Age: 22 - Email

Right now, there are 2 candles, one gold, one silver, and a 9" statue of Venus on a half-shell, plus a white altar cloth. This is because my altar is in the middle of my office area (half of my living room is living space, half is office b/c i can't stand a living room that's too big) and I have 2 toddlers who can't leave it alone. During rituals, I have 2 seasonal candles, a bell, a wand or an athame, a chalice, an incense burner, and 2 pentacles. The altar itself is a side table that we kept when we got new furnature for this very purpose. The girls cannot resist climbing on it, lying under it, or dancing around it so I have to make sure that ritual items that will get broken are removed directly after use. I also use wooden incense burners and iron candleholders to prevent curious fingers from shattering them.

My Altar Is A Place Of Function And Focus. I Have A... Apr 16th. at 4:20:22 pm UTC

Heather Welty (Boulder, Colorado US) Age: 30 - Email

My altar is a place of function and focus. I have a set of beautiful candleholders representing the Lord and Lady that I keep filled with a gold and silver candle respectively. I keep my chalice, athame, and wand there and use them all regularly. I change the cloths and clean as every Sabbat nears to reflect seasonal colors and themes. I feel that having an altar in a central, highly visible place in my home is a way of reminding myself of my eternal connection to the Divine and Nature.

My Altar Is Probably The Only Thing In My House That Isn't... Apr 16th. at 5:05:53 pm UTC

ƒowyn Forestchilde (Western, Massachusetts US) Age: 28 - Email

My altar is probably the only thing in my house that isn't tossed hither and yon when I get into my rearranging fits :) It is the wickedest hodge-podge of things - all of which have a special memory and were presented with love.

Despite my homebody nature, I have a warrior spirit. My altar represents that with abundance. The only place that I don't have a weapon of some sort is with my Goddess representation

The altar is facing East. Behind it is a pair of faerie wings that I got for a New YearÕs celebration. There I met my first girlfriend and started a new exploration of myself. At East proper are my 2 athames (one for full moon and one for dark moon), my wand and my incense burner. A piece of Ritual Tobacco that was given to me by a Shaman friend sits on my incense burner.

At South, I have my Fire Candle in a red votive holder, my bolline, a volcanic rock, and a candleholder of Brighid. Oh, yes, and my Sword. A small image of Dragon adorns the wall nearby.

At West, I have my cauldron in which I have a blue votive holder that stays filled with holy water. I have a dagger, a conch shell, a clamshell and half of a small blue shell that was given to me by the daughter of a dear friend. This is the front of my altar and I have a fountain on the floor in front of it.

At Southwest, I have a chalice dedicated to Dragon.

At North, I have my staff, a soapstone jewelry box in the shape of a turtle that I use to hold salt that is in a green votive holder. I have a polished Amatrine point and a rough piece that was dug out of the ground by my parents on a mining trip. I have a replica of an old knife (it is made of wood) that I picked up in Canada.

At Southeast, I have my crystal ball.

At the Goddess corner, I have my chalice (a lovely green one with a Venus of Willendorf on it), my silver candle, a Goddess candle and a mask that was made for me when I called the Lady at our first Pagan Pride day event :)

At the God corner, I have my gold candle, my statue of Herne and a stag-headed letter opener.

In the Center are postcard representations of paintings by Ann-Marie Eastburn --- one of women as the 4 quarters and one of Pan with Nymphs. There is a statue of Bast, of Turtle and of Bear.

The whole thing sits on a table that once was part of a kitchenette set. A green tablecloth covers the table and the assortment of stuff (and I use this term loosely) that is underneath my altar. "Stuff" includes Tarot cards, candles, incense, herbs, resins, oils, glitter, felt, beads and the other various and sundry things that I absolutely have to hang onto for ever and ever just in case I might need for a spell someday.

This is the heart of my home. It is in the center of the house right across from the front door. It welcomes guests into my home and protects it from intruders. It is my Honor to the Old Ways and the Gods that dwell there. It is also my working space. The whole room is dominated by this unobtrusive piece of furniture and it permeates throughout the space. Despite that, I surprisingly use very few of the tools at my disposal. It is an apex and sacred place more than a tool crib.

My Altar Is Jokingly Called By My Friends, My Altar In A... Apr 16th. at 5:33:56 pm UTC

Bridget Blackwater (Santa Barbara, California US) Age: 22

My altar is jokingly called by my friends, my altar in a box. It fits exactly into a plastic shoebox (consecrated of course!). I do ritual outside for the most part, and because I am still "in the closet" to my family, I cannot set up a permanent altar in any recognizable form. My altar setup is fairly standard. 5 candles for the airts (with spirit in the center), two chalices (one for wine, the other for salt water), incense, a bowl or plate for holding cakes, and sometimes something representing my totem anima, plus any herbs/spices to be burnt or used. In my home, I keep my rosary, pentacle and tarot cards at hand, near to where I sleep, and my herbs in jars decorating the top of my bookcase. This is me is my permanent altar, but no one would recognize it as such. For me, as I am both Catholic and Dianic, the altar is a place of worship, sacrifice, where we do all things sacred. The Profane, as one of my Religious Studies profs put it, does not belong there and when brought will be banished by the working.
My two cents....

I Found My Altar At A Flea Market During Grad School, And... Apr 16th. at 5:50:21 pm UTC

Alumenios (Danvers, Massachusetts US) Age: 26 - Email

I found my altar at a flea market during grad school, and repaired and cleansed it. It is 48" tall, a chest of drawers on the left, open shelves on the right, covered by 4 inch deep swinging louvres. I'm still in the process of painting and embossing it- I can't decide which design I want to do! The top is 30" wide and 18" deep. I'm eventually planning on setting a brass or silver pentacle into it, but I haven't found the time for it(or a 15" pentacle, if you know where I can find one, please let me know).
On top, I use 4 mineral pyramids (smoky quartz, amethyst, sodalite and jasper) set in a diamond in correspondence with the compass. These are around and touch an octagonal mirror; on top of that is a really cool lacquered brass stand holding a 3 inch optical quartz sphere (still trying to recreate a hermetic battery :) I keep my ritual jewelry in a small brass case embossed with a yin-yang in the center stand.
Around the edges I use 2 tea candles in shallow brass dishes for illumination, and 2 plain brass candlesticks for fe/male aspects. I change colors according to the upcoming sabbat. A brass dancing Shiva sits at the rear, just in front of my sword stand. Scattered around the top are various stones, an abalone shell my mother painted for me, and a bottle of bituminous coal (kept away from the candles).
On top of the side louvres, I keep my incense holder and a single chime. My athame, wand, book and flute occupy one shelf, and various cloths, candles and stuff that needs to sync up stay on the other. Inside one louvre there are shelves that keep jewelry boxes, feathers, and other small items. In the other louvre there are hooks to hang my chains, pendants and medicine pouch. The drawers contain various herbs, stones, icons, etc. I keep my drum on top of my meditation mat, folded in front of the closed altar when it's not in use.
The altar is a focus for me. I use it for all things magickal in my life. It has become the only piece of furniture I take with me everywhere (working in theatre I tend to move a lot) and has become the signifier of home to me.
The tools I use the most are my drum and athame. I tend not to mess with my altartop much so as to keep the energy stable and attuned.

I Have All The Tools! I Have A Couple Of Incense Burners... Apr 16th. at 8:44:57 pm UTC

Skyfiredawn (Ottawa, Ontario CA) Age: 21 - Email

I Have All The Tools!

I have a couple of incense burners; oils; a cauldron; dozens (ok hundreds) of candles in just about every colour possible; candle holders; bottles; offering bowls; a small broom; chalices; athames; and just about any other thing a Witch could possibly think she needs. The funny part is most of the stuff has NEVER been used. The stuff I do use fits nicely onto the little table that doubles as my altar or into my little bag that I take while performing ritual outdoors.

The tools I do use are my athame (a beautiful letter opener), cauldron; four candles if I'm indoors and sometimes my tarot deck. That's it! Out of all that stuff (not to mention the jewelry, but that's another topic) I only use these few things.

When I bought all this stuff I had just been dedicated. I was reading every book I could get my hands on and most of them listed the "Tools That Every Witch Should Own". Well I wanted to be a Witch so I thought I should own them all, especially since any one of them could be the one that would give me the confidence that other Witches seemed to have but which I lacked.

On the meager budget of a student I went out and purchased everything I could get my hands on. But instead of inspiring me with confidence I found that instead of enjoying rituals I was too concerned about what went where, and it's proper uses to be at all enjoying myself. So I did some more reading, a lot more thinking and came up with the perfect plan: I scrapped it! All of it! I packed every single tool in the special storage container I had bought for it all, put it away and forgot about it.

This didn't mean I stopped doing rituals. Instead I came up with ways to do them with no tools, no alter just me and the Goddess. I did rituals outdoors, in the astral, sitting on my bed. Most of the time, I just sat and talked to the gods like I was talking to an old friend. And then I gained the confidence I sought, not through tools, not even from lack of them but from simply spending time with the gods and discovering what I believed.

It wasn't long before I got out that special box with all my tools. But this time instead using them all, I took out just a few. Only those that I thought would help me focus my energy, and that I wanted to use. I decided I needed to write my own chapter on "Tools Every Witch Should Own", it was a very short chapter. I consisted of only one sentence: "The tools that no Witch should ever be without are those she believes she needs."

I still get out that box every once in awhile. I sometimes use more tools on Sabbats, or other special occasions. Other times I again put everything away on these special days and use the time to finish old conversations and start new ones. Old friends need to catch up every once in awhile.

When I Was Catholic, I Was An Altar-boy; So, As A Witch... Apr 17th. at 12:46:12 am UTC

John (New Naumkeag) Age: 33 - Email

When I was Catholic, I was an altar-boy; so, as a Witch, I'm not much "into" altars now... :-)

More seriously, my altar is my mind.

An altar for me is a place for conducting worship, prayer, magic, etc. And (with my Catholic background), people who performed religious functions at altars were priests. Well, while studying the Craft, I kept coming across the idea that Witches are, among other things, priests and priestesses. And I thought, "of what? What are they (Witches) sacrificing, oblating, mediating, etc. as priests and priestesses?"

I concluded that, as far as being a priest or priestess goes, Witches mediate Essence into Form and Form into Form and Form into Essence, through the interconnectedness of All. And they do so by realizing that interconnectedness of All within themselves, then by 'realizing' the need, and then by realizing the fulfillment of that need. Connecting all that (the need, the solution and me doing all that connecting) is, to me, the Craft of magic and the basis of the Threefold Rule and ... the act of priesthood which calls for an altar, of the mind.

As for tools: I primarily use concepts, beliefs, etc. Altering consciousness is often useful, usually through meditation or dance. Occasionally (but hardly at all anymore), I craft magic with herbs, athame, etc ... the "normal" tools. Mostly, I craft it with my mind and, perhaps, with what Nature provides me at that moment in that place (a leaf, a stone, etc.).

Moreover, I also view the work at an altar as being of sacrifice. Typically (and imperfectly), I find the altar for this work to be my heart and the sacrifice is petty ego and the setting is in dealing with other people, seeing the Divine equally present in others as in myself. Chiefly, this means (for me) realizing that dealing lovingly with other people is not distraction from my work; it **is** my work (and all else is so often mere straw of setting and circumstance). Again, my altar for that work is my heart. And an untidy, poorly tended altar it is (sigh), but I try to make it better.

The veil is an illusion, as well as a reality. The Craft of the Wise is the realization of Truth. Therein is altar aplenty.

Blessed Be.

New Naumkeag, U.S.A.
16 April 2001

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