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Your daily altar may be simple or ornate as you wish.Tools, Special Touches & Covert Operations

At this point in the class, you may feel that you do not have a clear understanding of what you actually "do" as a Witch.  We've covered much of the linear information about Witchcraft and Wicca; an intro to the elements, the tools, a potpourri of views of deity (some not classically Wiccan), and how to pronounce some Witchy words.  You have even learned how to work with energy, visualize and focus.

However, from this section forward, you will be using your own intuition more frequently as we delve into many of the personal and intimate areas of your Pagan path.

It is important that you take with you from this class, a sense of understanding of Witchcraft and Wicca, but it is much more important that you find firm footing on your chosen path. You may find from your studies that a certain tradition of Wicca appeals to you, or you may choose to delve into other magical or spiritual traditions instead.

Overall, we emphasis a focus on Youism. If you are Pat, then practice Patism, if you are Sam, practice Samism. Law enforcement personnel and news reporters know that if you interview twenty people who have witnessed the same event, you will hear twenty different stories. Individuals must walk their own path and interpret their own spirituality.

Now that the midterm exam is behind you, you will be bringing many of the topics we've covered to life as you begin your own practice.  In this section, you will be creating your own altar or rethinking your current altar.

This article is an excerpt from the PaganPath Academy course: Witchcraft & Wicca - Finding Your Path. Full enrollment in the Academy with access to this entire class and many others is available here.

As you begin to practice, and as you complete future assignments, you may encounter what is sometimes referred to as The Mysteries. We cannot create these encounters for you in mere words on virtual paper, but we can nudge you into the circumstances where they occur for many open individuals.

It is important, now more than ever, that you write down your experiences and feelings in a notebook or your Book of Shadows.

So as we transition from basic, linear studies to hands-on experiences, here's a memorable quote:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.Theodore Roosevelt

What does Votive mean?

Votive: offered or performed in gratitude, thanks or devotion, or  to fulfill a vow.... expressing a vow, desire, or wish. You may have seen votive candles, which are usually short fat candles, they derive their name from this word because they are often used in religious ceremonies.

The altar you will be creating for this lesson is a personal daily votive altar.  On this altar, you can place a symbol or representation of deity. It can be indoors or outdoors, it can be the same altar you will later use for Esbats, Sabbats and magical rites, it can be a shelf, a flat rock, a box, a window ledge, etc. Traditional Altar design and layouts are covered in later lessons.

Your daily votive altar need not be an obvious altar to others, it is simply where you will perform a daily ritual observance, thanks, dedication, and/or asking. More on this later but for now try to think about what you will use for your daily altar, and what tools, if any, you will place on it.

Basically the 'rules' for your votive altar are:

1. Use what you have.
2. Use what works for you.
3. Use what you like.

No ancient Witch or shaman had access to the tools we do today. They used what they had. One saying in the Craft is, "If it works, use it" and your altar is the same way. If you like the costume jewelry shaped like a palm tree, if it has meaning for you and you feel it should go on your altar, use it! If you found a rock or shell outside and it 'speaks' to you, use it. Your altar tools do not need to be 'traditional'. These "special touches"are you, they make your altar personal and like you, they will constantly change throughout your life as a Witch.

This lesson is a very hands-on approach and takes the form of an assignment. Think about your connection with deity and how you will represent deity on your altar. In the lesson entitled "There's a Deity on My Altar!" you thought about what you would use to represent Deity on your own altar. It is customary to place this representation on your votive altar if you wish. 

Honoring deity or forces beyond yourself and within yourself, in the Earth and the universe, and feeling your connection to those forces is one of the primary goals of your daily ritual observance at your votive altar.

Your Votive Altar!One of Friday's first Athame

It is time to create, or re-evaluate your altar. It is best to start with a bare minimum of tools and create an altar that is aesthetically pleasing to you. Some people go all out in full regalia with every tool we've covered, plus bells to clear the air (or to send out energy, or to signal coven members of events in a circle, etc.) stones for various purposes, herbal mixtures, and more. Some practitioners who lean towards ceremonial magic will sometimes use an aspergillum. These are used in Catholic churches to sprinkle holy water, and look somewhat like a perforated tea ball on a stick. Brushes or bundles of herbs are sometimes used in a similar way to sprinkle consecrated water in a magic circle.

You've learned about the classic magical tools: Cup/Chalice, Wand/Staff, Athame/Sword and Pentacle, and you know about some of the primary tools such as the cauldron, besom etc. However these tools are not always utilized  by individual practitioners, particularly solitary Witches. As you become familiar with the tools and rituals, you may find that all you wish to have is an Athame, a cauldron, a broom, a candle, and a  pentacle or you may be perfectly happy with no tools at all.

It is not necessary to have an elaborate altar and there is much to be said for simplicity. Tools can be costly, and if you are in the "broom closet" with your beliefs, it is sometimes dangerous to have obvious tools out on an altar.

There are many types of altars....the piano top filled with family photos is really a type of ancestral altar, the executive's desk with everything in a specific place is also a type of altar. Most people naturally create altars without realizing they are doing so. A small curio shelf with a vase of flowers and a bowl of potpourri can be commonplace in a home, but for a Witch, this could be an altar too.

Covert Operations:

College students, those with disapproving family members or friends, or those with a strong sense of privacy may wish to keep their daily votive altar under cover.

Your personal altar doesn't need to take up extra space or be obvious.The small box pictured to the left is only about 2 1/4 inches (6cm) tall and measures 5 1/2 inches (14.5cm) by 4 inches (10cm). In the lid is a meditational image from "The Power Deck" by Lynn V. Andrews, although any image or tarot card would also be nice if this addition is desired.

The contents of this covert altar can be cushioned with a napkin, closed and bound with a rubber band and stuffed into a backpack or purse. (The magickal Caboodle®)

It is nice, but certainly not necessary to represent the four elements on your votive altar. A vase of roses and a candle on a shelf can easily represent the four elements, water in the vase, roses from the earth, fire in the flame and air in the fragrance of the candle and roses. As you can see this is a very intuitive and intimate altar. You may also wish to include seasonal representations such as a colorful autumn leaf, a daffodil bloom, an acorn, etc.

 

Assignment

Repetition is an important factor in this lesson. Through repeating the same ritual daily, you will be training your mind in order to achieve a ritual state of consciousness later on. It is important for you to adhere to this assignment throughout the remainder of this course.

Set up your votive altar. You don't have to spend any money on fancy tools, one of the most powerful rituals I've witnessed was in a hotel room with a foil ashtray for a censor, a plastic cup for a chalice and birthday candles!

At least once each day, and preferably at the same time each day, go to your votive altar. Think about Deity, the beauty of the sunrise, the power of the cycles of life, the joy in living, how grateful you are to be alive, the simplicity and complexity of a leaf, etc. Light a candle, or incense, or sip a cup of your favorite tea  (the same one each day) or coffee.

Whatever your ritual is, try to repeat the physical actions each day. Here's an example:

At sunrise Jim goes to his votive altar which faces an Eastward window, lights a candle and says "Hail Lady of the Moon, Hail Lord of the Sun" He then sips the cup of his favorite tea and observes the beauty of the sunrise, feeling thankful.

At sunset, Jim returns to his votive altar, lights the candle again, says "Hail Lady of the Moon, Hail Lord of the Sun" and then closes his eyes and recounts the lessons of the day.

Another example:

At noon Joan takes a lunch break from her job at the local grocery store. She brings a bottle of ginseng tea with her and carries an amethyst stone in her pocket. While outwardly she appears to be having a cigarette break, a close observer would notice that she closes her eyes, breathes deeply and regularly after her cigarette and pours a small amount of the tea on the ground before returning to work. Joan likes to hold the amethyst in her hand and do a grounding and centering visualization on her lunch break. After her mini-meditation, she simply says thank you and pours out a small libation of tea as a ritual of thanks and respect. Joan essentially carries her 'altar' with her.

Another example:

Before going to bed each night, Jared plays his favorite music CD and lights a stick of incense, reflecting on the events of his day. After sorting out the activities of the day and putting them in perspective, he says "Blessing are behind me, blessings are ahead of me, I am blessed."

Another example:

Ina draws a tarot card each morning and places it in the corner her bathroom mirror. While she takes a shower, she contemplates the card, the symbolism, and the possible meaning if any to her day. In her shower she uses a special rosemary shampoo for purification and blessings. (Add one drop of pure rosemary essential oil to each ounce of your favorite shampoo.) While showering she visualizes the water washing away psychic dirt as well as physical. Some days she says an impromptu thank you to her patron Goddess, other times she simply prepares herself mentally for her day.

This assignment may seem rather simple, set up a votive altar and practice a daily ritual observance, but it is the consistency of this ritual that is important. Later lessons will cover same state memory, morphogenetic fields and how rituals like this produce a road in you, much like tire tracks in your mind which lead to a ritual state.  Fragrance, sound, and other aspects of your daily ritual will become memory triggers.

Please note: If you are completing this class for purely academic reasons or simply out of curiosity, you may not be participating with assignments actively in your personal life. The aspects of this course which are covered from this lesson forward may seem trivial, or even silly if you are not actually immersing yourself in the assignments. To gain a real perspective of Wicca, it is recommended that you participate in the assignments. However, this of course is optional.

If you would like to share pictures of your votive altar in a Gallery of Altars, please email pictures to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

After you have set up your votive altar and decided on a daily ritual, keep practicing daily and making notes in your Book of Shadows or notebook.

References & Resources

This article is an excerpt from the PaganPath Academy course: Witchcraft & Wicca - Finding Your Path. Full enrollment in the Academy with access to this entire class and many others is available here.

Numbered references are sometimes used in the PaganPath Academy courses and other areas of the site. Please refer to the Site Bibliography to find the corresponding numbered reference material.

The References & Resources section contains links not on the PaganPath site. Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. you find so we can update them.

About the Author
Friday
Author: FridayWebsite: http://PaganPath.comEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Author & Academy Instructor
Friday is devoted to writing books and articles on a variety of Pagan subjects, and is the instructor of the online PaganPath Academy. She has studied and practiced the Craft since 1987, and worked as a professional tarot reader and vice president of a national psychic network for several decades. Currently, she is now a practicing herbalist and ordained minister. As a Master Gardener with a deep interest in permaculture, she is developing the PaganPath Sanctuary with her partner. This long term community project is an edible landscape demonstration, orchard and educational facility for future generations.

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