An alter can be used for different purposes; as a shrine, as a platform for spell working or as the centre piece of ritual ~ the dictionary definition of altar is “an elevated place or structure.”
But an altar doesn’t have to be a raised table or plinth that is used solely for your religious or faith based practice.
An altar is for helping you to connect to the wider universe ~ it helps us come that little step closer to all the things we cannot see or touch.
A walk in the woods, or getting blown to pieces on the beach are all ways we connect to that feeling of divine energy. Nature has become our altar.
If you find your connection on busy city streets, then indeed, those well-trod pavements have become your church…
I want to talk about altar’s because I remember how doubtful I was about setting up my own. I was so filled with worry that I’d do something wrong. That I’d offend.
I’ve been an eclectic pagan for twenty plus years, and for the first ten of those I didn’t have an altar ~ or at least I didn’t think I did. But I’ll come back to that.
There are lots of faith paths under the Pagan Umbrella, but as an eclectic witch, I’ll stick to talking about Witch based practices.
Within the Wiccan community there are some fairly exacting rules about what should be on your altar, which way it should face and what you should use it for.
And at different stages on our path it’s good to have guideline; they make us feel safe, and give us confidence in what we’re doing.
I’ll be delving into the different subdivisions of Wicca at a later date. But if you’d like some guidelines, have a look at the branch of Wicca that appeals most to you and see how you feel about how they set their altars up.
For the most part a wiccan altar will have certain things placed upon it ~
A bowl of water and a bowl of salt
And representations of the God and Goddess.
If you use a cloth covering, the colour should have some significance to the sabbat or ritual.
The altar is very much a part of the Coven.
To me, this is a very traditional use of an altar.
When an altar is first set up (or moved, or redressed,) there will be a ritual cleansing. A circle will be drawn, the elements and God and Goddess invited in, and the altar is contained within sacred space.’
The process is very much steeped in traditional ritual.
This can seem quite daunting for a beginning witch. That volume of ritual still feels big to me.
The energy raised when doing this level of ritual work is wonderful, and being in a group raising energy is so powerful.
It’s just a case of learning what’s right for you and your practice.
I’ve known coven’s who keep spell workings on their altars ~ this works especially well if your practice involves the use of spell jars. As they can remain in sacred space on the altar and the jars can be regularly activated. (Given a shake 😉 )
I want to say at this point, that one of the most important things to me about my practice is the element of joy. There are serious witches, the same as there are serious people, and you will find some who take the business of casting a circle and raising energy very seriously. And the mood can feel almost sombre, and the rules must be adhered to.
Other covens are more about going with the flow ~ it’s just about taking your time to get to know people.
If you chosen path is eclectic, then you can gather your practices as the years go by, tweaking your path until you’re left with a beautiful blend of styles and traditions, a patchwork blanket of spirituality, if you will.
So if you’re nervous about getting started, begin with small. In fact, you probably already have, and don’t realise it. That’s what I’d been doing.
A few years ago I decided it was long beyond time that I had a working altar ~ silly really, we needn’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. But, I started doing my research. I knew I didn’t want anything traditional, I don’t cast a circle, unless its really BIG MAGIC ~ and even then, I don’t do that in a traditional way.
I started looking around the house trying to work out where I’d put it, and if I could keep the children from taking the shiny things. And then it started (slowly) to dawn on me; I had lots of little altars, all over the house.
Crystals on certain shelves, a feather on a window ledge, acorns in jar ~ even the way I’d arranged my tarot and oracle decks, with a pretty statue of an owl in the middle… These were altars, hidden nooks of sacred space tucked all over my home.
Realising that broke down the panic I’d been feeling – also, made me feel pretty daft. But that’s okay J
So have a look round your space and you’ll probably find you ‘ve already started and just didn’t notice.
There’s also a vlog to accompany this topic ~ and i’ve created a little downloadable PDF with some extra ideas to get you started.