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April 26th. 2015 ...
Gods, Myth, and Ritual in Naturalistic Paganism
13 Keys: The Crown of Kether
April 24th. 2015 ...
Sex, Lies, and Witches: Love in a Time of Wiccans and Atheists
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Seeker Advice From a Coven Leader
The Three Centers of Paganism
Magick is No Illusion
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January 1st. 2015 ...
The Six Most Valuable Lessons I've Learned on My Path as a Witch
Manipulation of the Concept of Witchcraft
Publicly Other: Witchcraft in the Suburbs
Pagans All Around Us
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October 20th. 2014 ...
Thoughts on Conjuring Spirits
A Microcosmic View of Ma'at
October 5th. 2014 ...
The History of the Sacred Circle
Abandoning Expectations and Remembering Your Roots
September 28th. 2014 ...
Seeking Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials
Creating a Healing Temple
September 20th. 2014 ...
GOD AND ME (A Pagan's Personal Reply to the New Atheists)
September 7th. 2014 ...
Deer Man- A Confounding Mystery
August 31st. 2014 ...
Coven vs. Solitary
A Strange Waking Dream
August 24th. 2014 ...
Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
The Pagan Cleric
A Gathering of Sorcerers (A Strange Tale)
August 17th. 2014 ...
To Know, to Will, to Dare...
On Grief: Beacons of Light in the Shadows
August 10th. 2014 ...
As a Pagan, How Do I Represent My Path?
The Power of the Gorgon
August 3rd. 2014 ...
Are You a Natural Witch?
You Have to Believe We Are Magic...
July 27th. 2014 ...
Did I Just Draw Down the Moon?
Astrological Ages and the Great Astrological End-Time Cycle
The New Jersey Finishing School for Would-Be Glamour Girls and Boys
July 20th. 2014 ...
Being an Underage Wiccan
Greed, Power, Witches, and the Inquisition
Malleus Maleficarum - The Hammer of the Witches
Thoughts on Ghost Hunting
July 13th. 2014 ...
A World Of Witchcraft: Belief Is Only The Beginning...
From Christian to Pagan (Part III)
My Wiccan Ways...
July 6th. 2014 ...
Keys: Opening the Portals into Other Worlds
The Lore of the Door
Leaves of Love
June 29th. 2014 ...
What Does the Bible Say About Witches and Pagans?
Are You My Familiar ?
Everything's Alright, Yes: Mary Magdalene
Invocations of the God and Goddess
Results Magic and the Moral Compass
June 22nd. 2014 ...
Witchcraft vs. Religion
Christianity and Paganism: Why All Of the Fighting?
June 15th. 2014 ...
Becoming Your Own Wise One
Canine Familiars: Role of the Alpha
June 8th. 2014 ...
Moral Relativism and Wicca
Paganism in Cebu, Philippines
June 1st. 2014 ...
Rediscovering My Pagan Faith
13 Keys: The Wisdom of Chokmah
May 25th. 2014 ...
Some Differences Between Priestesses and Witches: Duties and Trials
How to Work With Your Muse
Awakening to our Celestial Nature (A Free 8-Day Course)
10 Things I Love about my Sacred Work as a Public Witch
May 18th. 2014 ...
Finding the God (From Christian to Pagan -Part II)
The Medea Within Us All
Visits from the Departed
May 11th. 2014 ...
Breaking the Law of Return
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Is It an Altar or a Shrine?
Article ID: 13188
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,199
Times Read: 6,798
RSS Views: 68,320
Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: April 19th. 2009
Times Viewed: 6,798
“What should I put on my altar?"
This is probably the number one question my students have asked most often over the years. And it's certainly the question I see most often posted to various online Pagan forums and e-mail lists. Whatever the medium, my answer is always the same:
"That depends. Are you getting ready to perform a ritual or setting up a space in your home for personal devotion?"
Because there is a difference.
An altar holds the tools and other implements needed to perform a ritual. A shrine is a place designed to enhance personal worship. What confuses new Pagans and Witches is that the same small table, nightstand, bookcase or shelf - and its contents - is often used for both purposes.
For those of us who come to Paganism and Witchcraft after a childhood spent attending a Christian church every Sunday, the confusion is understandable. There is a surface at the front of mainstream Catholic and Protestant churches, whether it's a huge marble slab or a linen-draped table, which is always referred to as an altar. I made a quick phone call to the head of the local Episcopal Church's Altar Guild. She confirmed that this surface is mostly bare during the week - there may be flowers or unlit candles, but not always. On Sundays, however, the tools needed to perform the ritual of Holy Communion are set in specific places upon it.
I asked the nice Altar Guild lady whether or not I would be sitting in front of an altar or a shrine if I were to go into her church on a Wednesday morning for some private quiet time. I told her my definitions of the two words. She promptly agreed that, on a Wednesday morning, without the Communion accoutrements present, I would be sitting in front of a shrine - but it's still called an altar.
With this in mind, let me reword the question: "What should I put on my shrine?"
Objects on your shrine should have personal meaning to you. Odds are you already have a shrine in your bedroom and you just don't know it. What's on top of your dresser or bookcase? A nice box to hold jewelry or other cherished trinkets? Photographs of family and friends? Figurines that were given to you by someone you love?
Of course, if you want to "Paganize" your shrine, the possibilities are endless: a nice cloth under all the other items to protect the surface from dust and wax drippings, a candle or two (never left burning unattended, please!) , an incense holder, something that reminds you of the God (s) or Goddess (es) you feel most comfortable with - a drawing or picture, a figurine or small statue all work well. Your shrine may look a little bare at first; once you've been practicing Paganism or Witchcraft for a while, you'll naturally acquire more "stuff" that has personal meaning to you and your worship. Trust me!
If you're living in a situation where a blatantly "witchy" altar is just not possible, you can look to nature for shrine-decorating inspiration. A feather, a pinecone, some pretty shells your aunt picked up for you at the beach, a bouquet of flowers from your backyard, a small stone you found in the woods when you were hiking with your best friend can all be added to the items you already have on your dresser. Since Paganism and Witchcraft tend to focus so strongly on nature and the cycles of the seasons, it would be completely appropriate to add these items to the more formal shrine described above.
The entire purpose of a shrine is to have a little piece of permanent sacred space in your home where you can go whenever you need to feel closer to the Gods. Of course, what you do while sitting or standing in front of your shrine is up to you. Meditate, write poetry, sing, light a candle and just watch it burn for a while. Time in front of your shrine can be as formal or informal, as long or as quick as you want it to be. One housekeeping note: be respectful and dust your shrine and everything on it once in a while.
"So what should I put on my altar?"
Well, if you're using the same piece of furniture that your shrine is on, you may need to take some items off your shrine to make room for the things you need for ritual. My first altar/shrine was a tiny twelve-inch by eighteen inch marble cutting board precariously perched on top of an even smaller child's stool I found at a junk store. I had no room to spare! Today I have a nice nightstand complete with two drawers that conveniently hold extra candles, incense, seasonal decorations, and all that acquired "stuff" I mentioned.
Now it depends on what sort of ritual you're about to perform. For a solitary holiday or moon celebration, you might want a cup of cider or other "natural" fruit juice (wine or ale, if you're over twenty-one. Please drink responsibly!) , cookies or a piece of fruit or bread, a small bowl to pour some of the food and drink into for the Gods, and maybe some seasonal- or moon-phase-appropriate poetry or stories to read.
For personal magical workings, or spellwork, you will obviously add the items you need to do the work. For instance, if you're doing a working to get a job (or a better job) , you will want a lot of green on your altar - cloth, candles, etc. You may want a copy of your resume and the classified ad section of the newspaper to "charge" with your intent and energy. They are, after all, tools of your search - tools you will use when you apply for your new job.
Notice I have not mentioned anything yet about the traditional ritual tools - athame, wand, chalice, pentacle, etc., mostly because the acquisition and care of them would fill another article completely. I will say this: if you have them, don't leave them out on your shrine day after day.
One, they will get dusty and, in my house at least, covered with pet hair. This isn't very respectful of the tools and what they represent. Two, any visitor could pick them up and touch them - or walk out the door with them. Prevent the temptation. Put your tools away.
The important thing to remember is your permanent shrine and temporary altar are a refuge - a place to sit and work through the ups and downs, hopes and fears, sorrows and joys that are all part of your life as a Pagan and Witch.
May you always find what you need there.
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
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