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A Pagan Altar

Author: Shion Flame
Posted: June 7th. 2015
Times Viewed: 4,724

Imagine one Witchís perfect space. The temperature is just right in the room; a gentle light floods the area from the windows that overlook the garden from the circular sky light in the center of the ceiling. Soft pillows decorated in bright hues of blue, green and orange lay on the dark wood floor in front of a low set altar. On the altar in a circle is a large shell filled with water, stones, crystals, salt, feathers, incense, fresh flowers and a candle. Music softly drifts in the room and shelves of books are within easy grasp. In the left corner is a cabinet filled with jars of herbs. There is a large round carpet with woven circular mandala patterns that lay in the center of the floor. For me, the focal point of this perfect space is always the altar but how do we go about creating them when situations are not ideal? What might we find on them and why?

Some Kinds of Altars:

Few of us have an entire room to dedicate to spiritual space. Sometimes we only have a corner to work with or even less. Over the years Iíve seen various kinds of altar space both large and small. I find that spiritual space and altars are very personal they may have many items and tools on them or it can be as simple as a large candle engraved with spiritual symbols.
Not all altars are the same. Though they are all spiritual focal points for a certain purpose. Those purposes vary widely and become even more complex when you consider cultural differences. The root purpose is very simple. To spend time at an altar is to connect to our spiritual source and focus our intentions. Iíve listed some kinds of altars here though Iím sure there are even more altars out there.

Seasonal Altars: To celebrate the seasons and other spiritually holy days. The items you find on a seasonal altar will depend on the symbols, foods, colors and personal association a person or group has with that particular time of year.
Working Altar: that is specific to the job that you are working on now. If you are working on prosperity there might be deities of prosperities, the colors of red and gold, money, coins, other symbols that evoke a personal sense of prosperity and more on the altar space.

Divine Altar: Erected to honor a divine source or energy and come to as a place to connect to the divine energy one is developing or continuing a relationship with.

Ancestral Altars: Iíve also heard it referred to as an ancestral shrine or altar for the dead. You might find pictures of loved ones on a little table, some candles and small personal items that belonged to relatives that passed over on an altar like this one. When I was a little girl, we had a wall in the hallway that was full of old pictures of family members. Though I didnít realize it then, it was clearly a kind of shrine to members of my family that were deceased.

Travel Shrines: Initially I didnít really perceive these small collection of items as altars but I realize now that altars tend to be created even without the conscious intention of doing so. I walked into a friend of mineís home and noticed in her living room she kept a small end table full of memorabilia related to her travels. There were pictures of herself with friends waving and pointing at state lines, magnets, key chains, snow globes, and vials of sand from desert and ocean, shells from the sea and rocks from mountains that she climbed. She told me it reminded her of adventure and the fun in travel.

Travel Altar: This is simply an altar that goes where you go. It can be a decorated box that is easy to close and put away but can easily be opened and is filled with sacred objects pertaining to your spiritual focus, a clever shadow box with sacred items you carry and hang in your dorm room. These kinds of altars can be very creative, large or small, decorative or simple.

Spirit Altars or Shrines: Initially I was going to lump these together with the divine altars but really I feel they deserve a place of their own. Iíve encountered some of which included tiny houses in the garden for land spirits or trees that were marked in some way where visitors passed through. It wasnít usual to find that some of these trees were the same ones altered and used as marker trees by the natives who once lived on the land. Iíve seen stone tables with items on them, which were offered by people passing through, and even stone statues of beings with offerings being left at the base. Of course no one thinks the statue is going to lean over and pick up the offering. The images simply serve as a representation of the spiritual forces encountered. While living near the Mark Twain National forest, an old friend of mine named BT, still living out on the land, took me on a journey through the woods. On unmarked areas of our path were some of the small stone tables and marker trees to leave offerings at. These were the places where energy was really strong on the land. Offerings included things such as stones, tobacco, cornmeal, jewelry and more.

Altar Items and a few things to consider:

It is my opinion that some things just shouldnít be on the altar. It really isnít a place for the empty coffee cup or that bowl of pasta. Of course I have seen people set their plate on an altar to give thanks and offer some to the spirits of the household. Either way, it is a space that should be treated with respect and reverence. If you are working daily with spirits or gods then you may personally know exactly what Iím talking about. If a feeling of malice or over-bearing energy suddenly begins to flow from your space then it might be time to take a closer look at what is on the altar and address the energies that are collecting there with respect naturally.

Tina, a friend in El Paso called me over to her house once with the explanation that she had something she wanted to give me. I arrived at the planned time and to my surprise was presented a statue of Isis. The Egyptian gods were very sacred in her home and they each had their own place. She explained that she once made the mistake of placing several goddesses on the same altar together. Apparently this action caused some discord as the powerful energies of these forces were clashing. Tina gave them their own place and peace ensued. Plus, lucky me, I was gifted a lovely Isis figure.

The location of an altar is something to think about deeply before it is set up. I like to make sure that mine is out of the way of heavy foot traffic. It seems to stir up a lot of energy. I find it personally difficult to settle into meditation with all of the energy swirling around. The location of the altar might weigh heavily on its purpose. At a craft shop in New Orleans. I noticed how as soon as I walked into the business the first thing I noticed directly across from the main door was a prosperity altar. The altar cloth was red, the symbols multicultural but all of them dealt with bringing in fortune, good energy and abundance. The man told me that he had placed it in that location to invite the prosperity strait through the door ďGood for business, Ē he explained. The place was busy and seemed to stay that way.

Creative ideas for altars:

Small boxes with spiritually dedicated items glued inside of the box. I used one of these when I stayed in a college dorm for the first time. Though I did have my own room, I was not allowed to burn candles or incense. So I created this box and filled it with a few things so I could connect to elemental or divine energy when I felt that I most needed to. I further decorated with stones, potted flowers, a small wind chime, and images for focus, study and creativity. I admit that I really like having candles and didnít realize quite how much I missed them until they were not allowed. I picked up candles that ran on batteries and found they were just perfect to help set the mood. All of this was set up on a small end table Iíd placed in my dorm.

Flat stones that you only pull out when you need them. You can find these easily at an outdoor supply store. They can easily be drawn on with chalk and easily washed. I really like the earthy feeling that comes with working on a large stone. Instead of building a large shrine for my yard I used a large flat stone nestled in a quiet area of the garden.

Kitchen cutting boards. These make great altars and they are very easy to put away. I do however try not to use the plastic ones when it comes to burning candles.

Large heavy books. Long before setting up elaborate altars Iíd simply grab a heavy book and throw a small piece of material over it that had been marked with symbols that corresponded to the work that I was doing.

Corner Shelf-a small corner shelf whether standing or floating is a great space for a little altar.

My Altar:

Each item on my altar has a tale to tell. A Pagan friend gave a small box to me. She didnít seem to know for sure what the original use for the box was. We thought perhaps it could have been a jewelry box or maybe a box that had a religious purpose. Nonetheless, she desired to get rid of it and I thought it was perfect to use as a small altar. At the time I received the box I was living in a cozy camper and didnít have a whole lot of additional room to work it.

I brought it home and found a special nook. It fit right in. The top of the box was composed of two folding lids that opened horizontally. In the center of the lids is a round dish. The box opens at the top to reveal a singular, square, and velvet inlay. At the bottom there is one simple drawer. The dish became the central space for my salt. On the four corners I placed a shell, a stone with a natural rune carved deeply into it, feathers, incense, and a small candle. Across the bottom lies my wooden oak athame. In the center on top of the salt I placed a small wooden star, or a candle in a small glass jar to represent a coalescence of the elements in sacred balance.

Now, this box has found more space in a room of its own beneath a window on top of a wooden box with the image of a stagís skull burned into its surface. The box was originally designed as an ammo box by a craftsman in Doniphan, Mo but now it holds dried herbs, pens, petition paper and other items I stock through the year. The surrounding space is more decorated with seasonal flowers with my journals and books close at hand. I use it every day. I perform any workings at my altar space, meditate here, and journal here. At the moment it is a shrine to the sacred elements. I am working with cats as spiritual totems and the Egyptian goddess Bast because she has always watched over my dear feline companion Sheena who has most recently needed extra protection. It isnít unusual to find images of animals, small bones or even masks around my altar space since I work with the animal and plant world most often.

In the early years of meeting other witches I came across a witch who used her garden tools. She explained that hiding her craft was very important. The seamless way in which her spiritual practices were integrated into her daily routines were a personal inspiration for me. Terra-cotta pots became crucibles of transformation, sheers became tools of severance, and a simple stick from a tree in the front yard became a basic wand. Spirits she worked with were the ones of the plants and insects that she interacted with on a daily basis and the elements were literally at her fingers. The garden was her living altar.

The point is an altar should serve its purpose and work for you -reflecting personal values and beliefs. They can be as simple as a stone with drawn on images or as complex as you can imagine. Really, I feel that they are beautiful works of art. Whatever kind of altar you decide to erect, have fun with the process, connect with its energy by visiting often and over time you will find that there is an art and beauty in creating and connecting at this spiritual focal point.

-Shion Flame June 3, 2015





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