A: Altars-Phase 1- 6 key points and exercises to building an altar
This is the first post of the new year. Once again I will be participating in the Pagan Blog Project. The Pagan Blog Project involves one post a week on Friday based on the prompt of that week which will be a letter of the alphabet. With 52 weeks that means each letter will be done twice. So it’s appropriate that my first post of the year be a part of the project which got me writing and developing my audience. With out further Ado:
Pagan Blog Project week 1: A
The simplicity and the complexity
One of the first questions that many seekers ask themselves and look for an answer when they read a book is how to set up an altar. To be honest this is something I have often asked myself. Every path has a different style of worship and a different type of an altar. This is why altar creation is often a confusing topic for seekers.
I have found that altar creation often goes and works in two phases. The first phase is one of basic simplicity and progress of development spiritually, magically, religious or what ever. The second phase is one of more specificity. Here the path and orientation of the altar is more specific and designed for a specific path and practice. While a person develops spiritually they may end up going through both phases multiple times to expand horizons and to develop the way they wish to.
So with out further ado here are the seven key tips and pointers I have found for altar creation and development during the first phase of the altar and spiritual guidance. As a person evolves in their spiritual path their altar and how they use it will evolve with them. The first stage may see a lot of changes rapidly and that is completely normal. It’s important you try to be like water and adapt.
Seven points of Phase one
Figure out what style of altar you have in mind (ceremonial,shrine,easily hidden, permanent, easy up&Down, travel, indoors, out doors) each of these types of altars have different things to take into consideration.
With no specific deities or altar set up in mind let the altar build itself until you get a feel for where you are going (maybe start with a candle and some incense a statue, things that relate to your path, ect)
Tend to the altar regularly (spend time working with it, using it, making things for it, cleaning it, ect)
The Gods and spirits will guide you-let them
Experiment till you find what works for you
So let’s start with the first point as it then gets into the second point.
1) Define Altar
Any person who has spent any time reading books on meditation, psychic development, witchcraft, magic, spirituality, paganism, occult philosophies, magick and the like has read several different definitions of what an altar is and why it is used in that manner by that path. For this I can understand why it can be difficult to try and understand how to develop your own altar and what you might want to put on it.
Here is my definition of an altar:
1: A work surface for magical workings (spells, crafting magical obejcts, consecration, ect)
2: A place for placing offerings for spirits and deities
3: A focal point in ritual to direct and manifest energy to be sent out during worship
4: A place dedicated to a very specific spirit or deity where prayers and rituals are offered
When I am working a ritual I typically use all four definitions at one time. I often feel that in my religious and spiritual practices as well as philosophical experiments and practices I find a way to implement and use all four definitions. In that way I have an altar for every need including two for a two very specific types of spirits (Dragon and ancestral).
Take a piece of paper and at the top of the page write out your concepts and ideas for what an altar is.
Include diagrams of how you might picture your own altar or altars
This brings us up to point 2:
2: Figure out what type of altar you would like
In my outline and introduction I mentioned that there are many different types and styles of altars. There are altars outdoors, altars set up in Temples, altars that take up a wall, simple altars, complex altars, path specific altars and many more. In many cases books will provide some diagrams for altars, or can provide altars that look so complex and overwhelming that a new seeker and practitioner will get overwhelmed. That’s why before any one starts to form an altar they need to have their definition and an ideas.
So remember those sketches I had you do? You might have ended up with a diagram like this
The important thing is that you may have some sort of idea in your mind. This is great. Part of coming up with your definition of an altar was coming up with how you were going to be using your altar in your spiritual and religious development. With your definition you now have some idea where to start. The second point here is to decide exactly what type of altar you are going to construct.
When you consider what type of altar you are going to build there are many considerations. For one do you want to have an altar outside or do you want to have it inside? Is your altar going to be up permanently or is it going to be put up and taken down when you need or desire to use and work with your altar? Is you altar going to be open for any one to see or is it going to be hidden? Before one can construct an altar they need these questions answered.
On a new piece of paper (or the back of the same paper) answer the following questions about your altar
Inside or out?
Hidden or open?
Permanent or only when needed?
Once that is done we can get onto the next set of questions related to figuring out what type of altar you are going to be setting up. How you answered the above questions is going to dictate what happens next. For example I myself want to have an outdoor altar but I don’t have one because I can’t. For years I had to decide if I wanted to hide my altar or if I wanted it open and there was a time when it had to be hidden. There were times when I could keep my altar up all of the time and there were times when I had to dismantle it after a ritual and setting up the altar actually became a part of the ritual.
On the same piece of paper under the last three questions answer the next set of questions
Is my altar going to be ceremonial?
Is it a focal point for energy in ritual?
Do I want something simple or something complex?
Does my path require something specific at this point in my studies?
Now that you have decided on how you ultimately are going to set up your altar you can get on to point 3.
3: Let the altar Build itself
Now that you have an idea and decided what you want to do it’s time to start letting the altar build itself. The first step is choosing where to place your altar. If the altar is outside figure out where and how you are going to use it. Think about if it’s going to be environmentally friendly (if permanently established outside or in a closed area). Once you have that it’s time to build your altar.
Here you need to think about what you actually want to put on the altar. As a starting point you may want a candle holder and and incense holder. You may also want to put on any objects which seem to be spiritually important to you and help you focus. What you start with may be impacted by your location and supplies on hand. Never forget that you can use household candle holders and the like for your altars and rituals.
The simplest altar I have:
Here you can clearly see a single candle in a candle holder and two religious symbols one for the God and one for the Goddess. You can also see that I am simply using the top of my dresser as the altar. It’s a simple altar for basic daily affirmations and meditation exercises. It was also used for focusing energy towards the spirit of the home and land before I could give the offerings to the spirit in person.
Some people freak out when they see an altar like this (not mine):
Early in my seeker years the above picture is how I always figured a magicians and witches altar would look like. I never felt my small altar (like the one pictured above) would actually work for magic. Though all the books I read stressed the importance of making sure that your altar reflected yourself and what you had, I never felt comfortable and that I was doing it right even though I was doing what seemed to feel right. This goes into the next exercise I have for you:
Find where you are going to build your altar and clean it.
Gather up the items you are going to place on your altar and place them to the side of the location.
As you put the items on the altar focus on the altar and it’s new purpose and keep an image in your mind of what you are using the altar for.
When done stand up and say something like a dedication prayer:
“I now call this my altar and it shall be consecrated and dedicated to all my spiritual, religious, and magical pursuits”.
Focus your energy into a ball and “throw” it into the altar
Now that you have an altar built and established it’s time to talk about the fourth point which is tending to your altar regularly.
4: Tend to the altar regularly
Tending to an altar seems like a simple task right? Well it’s not that simple. Tending to an altar can be simple but it can also be very complex and require time and effort. This ties into the first point about understanding and defining an altar and then figuring out what you are going to be using the altar for.
An altar that is dedicated to a specific spirit type such as a Dragonic Altar:
Tending to the altar is a daily task. The management of these altars is the primary way to maintain relationships with these beings. Here you will give offerings, keep the place clean, offer prayers, focus energy in worship, and use as an aid in both magic and spiritual endeavors.
A meditative and simple focal altar like the one on my dresser are simply tools for practice and serve specific purposes. Maintaining them is about using them to build practice and strengthen your meditative and trance practices. They are primarily magical tools and working with them exercises those magical mussels.
Altars set up for generic rituals, and specific sabbatts are designed to be created and maintained as part of worship and a development of a relationship with the Gods and spirits.
Once your altar has been established spend about 5-10 minutes a day working with your altar.
Fondle the items on the altar, light the candle, give a prayer, etc. Build energy and focus the energy into the altar.
Record each day your experiences.
After two weeks feel the energy of the altar before you begin your altar maintenance and after. You will be seeing how an altar starts to develop ts own energy and persona. Take that energy and mix it with your own and put the new combined energy into the altar.
Record and repeat.
This brings up to the fifth point of developing an altar.
5: Gods and spirits will Guide you, Let them
As you begin to build your altar and your relationships with the spirits involved you may start feeling the Gods, Goddesses, and spirits directing you over time as to what may and may not belong on the altar. It is important that you listened to these voices. The altars I have posted above are always evolving and changing. With each change I try to capture a photo of it that I can eventually place into my BOS for prosperity.
For that reason there the final point of this essay is important.
6: Explore and Experiment
Over the years my altars have been experimental. Sometimes the layout and the rituals just failed. Sometimes the ritual worked, but the altar layout failed and didn’t make any sense. It’s through these trials and errors that we finally start to figure out what works for us and our path as well as the spirits and deities that we are involved with.
The experimentation should also reflect growth and trials for new things and development. You need to be willing to fail and willing to try something before putting it aside. You need to have the courage to develop on your own. You can use what others have shown and have it be a base, but in the end you need to make it your own.
As you evolve the different aspects of your spirituality may evolve and start to merge together into one cohesive path. This is what starts and evolves into a tradition. Things that were separate blended together to make one, a syncretic path. A key way to discover this and see how they are becoming one is to watch you altar over time (this is why the pictures are important).
As I understand my deities and my path I hear their voices and my instincts have started to guide me in developing my altars to reflect my path. Every once and a while when something doesn’t sit right a new altar is created and it allows for new insights and different types of worship.
That is the essence of exploration. Now my path has three distinct altars one for dragons, one for ancestral and home spirits, and one for worship. With out exploration I would have never found that this was the best balance for me. The worship altar does change as I have a different sabbat altar than I would a ritual and prayer altar.
My Dragon altar evolved from God and Goddess with a Dragon too being it’s own altar:
Exercise 6:Once a month try a new set up to your altar.
Draw a diagram or take a picture of the differences and record the physical changes.
During the month continue the maintenence exercise as above and record the differences.
Notice any changes that occur in your energetic field.
If something feels wrong change it and record the changes.
If you feel more powerful or more positive record the changes and start to expand and understand the way the energy works.
You may find that one setting is better for you than an other
I hope that this outline and guide has helped you as a seeker. As I said this only covers the first phase and part of altar making and development. The second phase is a bit more indepth and will be the focus of next week. If you have any questions or thoughts please post them in the comments section.
~Loona Wynd 1/5/2013 12:01 am~
Posted on January 5, 2013, in Ancestral veneration and worship, Asatru, Hellenismos, Pagan Blog Project, Ritual, Shananism, Temple Tradition of Witchcraft and tagged God or Goddess, Neo Pagan witchcraft, Pagan, Pagan Blog Project, Religion, Ritual, ritual prep, Sabbats, Spirituality, traditional witchcraft, wicca, Witchcraft. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.