Your altar reflects who you are and what your energy is like at this point in your life. It can even be a reflection of the goals you wish to achieve. Sometimes just a glance at the personal altar can bring a sense of closeness to spirit, relaxation, and peace.
Altar is from the Latin word altare and may be related to adolEre, meaning to burn up. This is probably the most popular 'activity' at an altar, burning incense, candles, or herbs. However, some altars consist of a simple vase with a single flower, or just one tarot card.
These micro-altars can be even more essential for personal daily rituals than a full blown ceremonial style altar. If you don't have the time for upkeep of a large altar, sometimes an elaborate altar will only make you feel neglectful of your perceived duties. If you are in the broom closet, a full altar can be impossible.
Lets take a practical and somewhat humorous look at what a full blown altar entails in time each week:
- Chalice/Cup: clean & dust twice weekly 5min
- Wand/Stave: clean & dust twice weekly 5min
- Altar Cloth: Wash weekly 10min Use iron and paper towels to remove wax from fibers, 20min Make new cloth when red color from candles does not come out 3hours
- Athame/Sword/Bolline: Explain to visitors about how you don't do sacrifices with it. 10min
- Athame/Sword/Bolline: wipe and polish to prevent rust twice weekly 5min
- Water Dish: Change water daily, refill after cats, oops, I mean familiars, drink all of it twice daily. 10min
- Salt/Earth Dish: Change weekly 2min
- Cauldron/Incense/Censer: Empty ashes and wash & polish twice weekly 5min
- Candleholders: clean & remove wax buildup twice weekly 5min
- Pentacle: wash & polish twice weekly 2min
- Assorted statues, pictures or other images, stones, bottles, etc.: clean & dust twice weekly 10min
So there you have it, almost four and a half potential hours each week to maintain the altar. hehehe Unless this is a ritual in itself, this can be all the time many busy Pagans have to spend at their personal altars. Seriously though, the point here is that an altar doesn't need to be fancy, it only has to fulfill your needs.
Instead, many modern Pagans are turning to the micro versions of altars. One such altar could be a small plant stand with a cauldron filled with sand where you light a stick of incense and say a quick blessing each day. Another could be your computer, with images of the Goddess set as wallpaper for the desktop and candles in front of each speaker.
Altars reveal a great deal about you. While driving slowly up a mountain road near Breckenridge Colorado, I heard the sound of water babbling and trickling, and stopped to investigate. Walking into the woods along a small stream for a short pace, I was drawn to find a surprise discovery! A ritual area had been set up. This is the picture I snapped quickly of the main ritual area. Sorry about the quality, it is a quick cam shot of the picture as I no longer have a scanner.
The altar is an old tree stump with a piece of plywood tacked to the top. It faces exactly North (I never travel without my compass! hehehe) I could tell from the energy, and the layout of the circle, that this was a Pagan setup. A smaller circle lay East of this one about 20 paces and 'felt' like the area where perhaps an initiate waited for her 'que.'
Another altar I saw while visiting some associates held several dead house plants. I said, "Oh, I put sick plants on my altar to nurse them back to health too!" They exchanged confused looks and then proudly told me that the energy of their altar was so powerful that it killed any plant that was placed near it. yikes!
Another friend of mine has a large round table in her attic. On it are several fantasy pewter figurines and her 'Sting' athame. You can tell right away that she and her husband love role playing games and books.
Overall, your altar is a very personal connection between you and spirit. It creates a sanctuary in a part of your home. No two altars are ever alike!
Ideas for Alternative Altars
High priced altars made by hand can be purchased for thousands of dollars. But some of the most interesting altars I've ever seen were put together with things already nearby such as the outdoor Colorado altar in the picture.
A small, whimsical item may be placed on some altars to represent the unknown, or Loki, or to satisfy the mischievous spirits who like for things to never go according to planned. Some covens use toys or small stuffed animals for this purpose.
This spiritual focal point of your home need not be a fancy Victorian pedestal. Shelves are often convenient places to create small sanctuaries.
Place a cloth over a sturdy box, top it with an old Ouija board and a heavy piece of glass (this was once my coffee table, complete with planchette coasters)
Cover your altar with herbs, dried flowers and pieces of ribbon, then cover the 'potpourri' with a piece of glass cut to the same size as your altar. This makes for wonderful seasonal changes and herbs can be switched to coincide with the energy of any workings.
Those small curio boxes with multiple compartments can house your collection of stones and minerals, place a piece of glass over it and it becomes a working altar surface!
Old tables from used furniture stores, rummage sales and flea markets can be dressed up by cutting out pictures from magazines and laminating them onto the worn top. With the popularity of the sun & moon motif, it is easy to find interesting material. Speaking of material, cloth from the fabric store can work well too, or paint and stencils.
Altars are often consecrated before use, and blessed occasionally throughout the year. If you are incorporating used items, especially Ouija boards, this is particularly important.