Altering the view on Altars

Altering the views on Altars

The most basic ritual tool in any religious or spiritual practice is your altar. It is where any work with the Gods or spirits will be done.  It is your spiritual home.  Your altar is your connection to the Gods and spirits of your path.  They can be complex or they can be simple.  You can have them up permanently or you can use them only when you need them.  You can have them outside or inside or you can make one on the fly at locations for specific rituals.  There are as many ways and styles of altars as there are people who build them.

The purpose of the altar is to be tool in your spiritual, magical, and or religious work.  An altar is simply a working surface.  It is the place where you hold rituals and place offerings for the spirits or Gods that you work with.  If you do spell work it is the surface on which all your tools and ingredients for your spell.

Many people believe that you need to follow strict requirements for altar set ups like being in the north, what tools you must have on them, and positioning of those tools and items.  The fact is that unless you belong to a specific path like Traditional Wicca which has specific altar requirements no one can tell you how to build your altar and what you can and can’t have on them.    It is your altar, your sacred place to connect with the Gods and spirits that you work with.

There are many different types of altars and many different ways to work with them.  The type of altar that you build will depend on your path and the Gods and spirits that you work with.  Each altar has its own uses and practices.  Some are more devotional and some are more for active working.  There is no right or wrong way to work with your altar surface.

The most common altars in magical and spiritual work are working altars:

dad-healing-poppet
Healing spell working altar

The above photo shows a working altar near the end of the working.  At the start this altar would have had the needles, herbs, and the fabric outline of the Poppet.  Working altars are just that- a space for performing magical and spiritual works.  They contain all the materials that you need for any spell or working.  They can be used for one time or be used continuously it depends on the working involved.

Other working altars would be spell type specific altars like a money altar.  These altars are altars designed for specific type of spell working.  On a money altar you would perform any spells and workings dealing specifically with money (new job, raise, getting debts, sales etc) basically anything related to finances.  Another working altar could be a healing altar where only workings based on healing would occur.

Aside from working altars devotional altars are fairly common;

Saint Michael Devotional altar
Saint Michael Devotional altar

A devotional altar is an altar that is dedicated to a specific spirit or God.  Only items related to that particular God, Spirit, or being are placed on that surface.  They commonly involve statues or images of the being, candles, incenses holders, and bowls or glasses for offerings.  Devotional altars are places where you can honor a specific spirit through prayers and offerings.  You can ask them for help, thank them for being in your life, or just honor them.  These altars are typically only used for prayer work and offerings.  However if a spell or working calls upon them you may include the completed poppet,charm,etc on their altar to add their energy to the spell.

One of the most common types of devotional altars is that of an ancestor altar:

An ancestor altar
An ancestor altar

Ancestor altars are common place in many different pagan religions and traditions.  An ancestor altar is used to honor and venerate our beloved dead.  Ancestor altars are a place for us to remember and honor those who have come before us.  Most often they include pictures, a candles, and an offering bowl or plate.

Many people have permanent altars in their home.  In some witchcraft traditions the altar may look something like this:

Neo-pagan witchcraft altar
Neo-pagan witchcraft altar

On that altar they have all the tools they need for any sabbat or esbat as well as any impromptu ritual they may feel like performing.  Permanent altars like the one above often provide a sense of security and satisfaction.  To many it is a physical symbol and reminder of the path they have chosen to take in this life.

Its common to find that people practice or have influences from multiple pagan paths.  Often they will  have separate permanent altars for the different paths that they practice.  For example someone may have a religious witchcraft altar set up for Sabbat work and practices while they may also have an Asatru or Kemetic altar set up.  They work in and honor both sets of beliefs and Gods but keep the altars separate as they are separate paths and are kept separate out of respect.

There are many other forms of altars from outdoor altars to travel altars and even pocket altars.  Altars are very powerful and very personal tools.  Let the spirits you work with guide you on building your altars.  You will know what is right for you and you alone.

 

The Frugal Witch and her Working Tools Part 1

Working tools are those of which you will want or need to be able to practice your Craft for Rituals, Sabbats, and other magical workings that are dedicated to your tradition. I will be giving you examples of different tools that are used in many different Paths and what you can use in place of the more expensive versions of them.

KNIFE

The Athame is mainly used for directing energy in magical Rites. This can be used for creating circles, calling the corners, even for adding salt to water. The Athame is associated with fire and the masculine aspect so this can also be used to represent the God on your altar.

Some Paths have certain distinctions of how this knife should be. Some say that they have to be double-edged, some single-edged, some say dull, some say sharp. I believe that your Athame can be of any shape, size, color, dullness, or sharpness that you are comfortable with. You do not have to purchase an expensive knife. In a pinch you can use a regular knife right out of your kitchen. I found my Athame at a thrift Store many years ago. It is double-edged and dull and is steel with a green on the handle. This knife called to me and I paid all of 50 cents for it. You can use whatever you are comfortable with.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

BROOM (BESOM)

This tool is used for cleaning away negativity from ritual areas and circles as well as at some Handfastings. The Besom is a very powerful fertility symbol. I have 2 small Brooms that I keep near my altar. I purchased these also at thrift stores for around a dollar a piece. I always have my Besoms brush side up to protect it from unwanted energies.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

THE BELL

The Bell is not a common tool but it is used in some Paths. You can use this tool to invoke the God or Goddess, to call for the Watchtowers or corners, to ward off negative energies, to welcome positive energies, or even during your Rituals or Rites to signify a beginning or end. It is basically up to you on how you would like to use this tool unless your path already has a use for it. I have a small bell that I purchased at a yard sale for 2 dollars.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

CAULDRON

These were found in the homes hanging over a freshly lit fire and always had something bubbling in them. They are now made today in many shapes and sizes and are used in Pagan practices with water for scrying and also to build small fires in. I have a small brass Cauldron that sits on my Altar that I use specifically for burning incense in or if I am working on a spell where a fire is involved I can place a small one in there. It is of personal preference as to what size you want or need and even if you need one at all. I found mine again at a thrift store and only paid a few dollars for it.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

CHALICE OR CUP

The Chalice is used for libations during Ritual or Rites for holding water, wine, or juice. It is also a symbol for the Goddess and can be used to represent Her on your altar. It can be as grand as a jeweled silver goblet to a regular ordinary juice glass from your kitchen cupboard. I love checking yard sales and thrift store shopping so I love looking for a single wine glass or champagne flute that has a beautiful color or cut to the glass. You can normally purchase something like this from 25 cents to a couple of dollars depending on where you find it.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

PENTACLE

Most Altars have a Pentacle on them. This can be made of wood, metal, clay, or even a picture of one in a nice dollar store frame. If you are a crafty person you could make one of clay or just purchase a small round piece of wood or metal and paint a Pentacle on this. Not so crafty, find a picture of one that you like and glue it onto a piece of wood, cardboard, metal, or encase it in a frame. Mine was a gift from a fellow Witch who made them.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

STAFF

This is used in some traditions to mark quarter points or to hold banners representing certain elements or symbolic flags. The Staff is also used similarly to the Wand. You can purchase one of these already made or you can make one of your own. If you decide to make one of your own, it is a pretty simple endeavor. I love to be able to take walks in the woods. I find it very relaxing. If you have the opportunity to be able to do this, listen carefully to the wind and the sounds around you. Look around you, on the ground or up in the trees and focus your mind on finding a Staff for yourself. You may find the perfect branch laying on the ground or even a low hanging branch. If you are going to cut it off the tree make sure that you ask the tree for permission first and thank it after. Once you have your perfect Staff you can then clean it up, paint, it, stain it, add cords or ribbons or even gems to it. It is totally up to you on what you want it to be. My Staff was a lonely piece of wood I found on the ground.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

SWORD

The Sword is used in a very similar way as an Athame. It can be used to cast circles and call the four corners, however if you are in a small area it may not be practical to use a Sword. If you do wish to use one, always look around at yard sales, thrift stores and even online to find what you are looking for at a price you can afford. Mine was purchased at a yard sale many years ago for just five dollars.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

THURIBLE OR INCENSE BURNER

This can be your Cauldron if you are going to be burning incense on a charcoal or you can purchase an incense stick holder rather inexpensively at a dollar store. Some people prefer to have a censer that hangs on a chain so that they can use the smoke to purify the circle as they walk around it. This again is of your own personal preference. I use stick and cone incense quite a bit so my stick incense holder was purchased at a dollar store and the cone holder (my Buddha) came from a thrift store for three dollars.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

WAND

The Wand represents Air and Male energy so this can also be used to represent the God on your altar. Wands are used in a very similar fashion as the Athame and Sword. These can be made from glass, copper, silver, or other metals but are usually made of wood. Just as the Staff you can make these yourself by purchasing a dowel from a hardware store or even using a small branch. I have a beautiful piece of driftwood that I found and I decorate it with ribbons and gems for whatever use I need it for. It is always changing and I love having the ability to do that. One little side note to this, if you do not have an Athame, Sword, Wand or Staff you can direct energy just by using your finger. The energy direction has more to do with intent than it does with the actual tool you are using.

DSCN1643

INCENSE

This is used for cleansing the area, tools, or space you are working in. It also helps clarify your mind and helps with meditation, not to mention making your home smell nice. Different scents are used for different reasons. The least expensive way to go is to burn sticks. You can find many different varieties and they are usually less expensive than cones or making your own. However, if you are going to burn powdered incense or fresh and you do not have a fire proof container to burn them in, a bucket or old coffee can with sand or salt in it is another inexpensive route to take.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

Keep an eye out for part 2 of this article coming soon!

Rose Miller ~ Ravenwings.