Bright Blessings, Witches and Witchlets! In this installment of our Magickal Tool Care Series we’re discussing altars. What they are, how to build one, care for it and more! Let us begin.
Old English alter, altar “altar,” from Latin altare (plural altaria) “high altar, altar for sacrifice to the great gods,” perhaps originally meaning “burnt offerings” (compare Latin adolere “to worship, to offer sacrifice, to honor by burning sacrifices to”), but influenced by Latin altus “high.” In Middle English, often auter, from Old French auter. Latin spelling restored 1500s. As a symbol of marriage, by 1820. Altar-piece is from 1640s; altar-boy from 1772.SOURCE
WHAT IS AN ALTAR?
The way that I think of altars in witchcraft is a place where we can interact with the Divine. It is a sacred place to honor your beliefs, tools, and workings. Holding root in Latin, altārium means “high”. Altars of yore were typically constructed to be raised and folks could come worship, honor, and bestow offerings to their deities.
Current day altars are placed high and low, most often wherever the constructor deems right. Personally, my altar rests on a decent-sized square table, about as high as a coffee table stands, and holds various items of importance to my craft.
Altars aren’t limited to the indoors, either. Using what the natural world provides, like a stump or large rock for a surface, is appropriate to use as an altar. If it feels right – and you are respectful of Mother Nature – build your altar outside.
WHAT DO ALTARS LOOK LIKE?
There are as many altars as there are practitioners. Sure, different paths call for specific settings and places for items on the altar, but there are plenty of practitioners – myself included – who have no set structure.
WHY DO YOU NEED AN ALTAR?
Let me preface this with recognizing that an altar isn’t for every practitioner. Like everything else, YOUR craft is YOURS. Don’t let anyone tell you you are doing something wrong if you choose not participate in a magickal activity – especially if it feels wrong to you.
Having said that, altars can help to centralize your focus when it comes to casting. They provide a place where you can meditate or practice gratitude. Altars furnish a space to hold precious magickal objects like goddess statues, Tarot cards, moon water, a goblet, your wand, Florida water, candles, etc.
At the end of the day, by demarcating out a space for you and your craft you know that no matter what there is a place in your home that is ultimately yours.
HOW TO BUILD AN ALTAR FOR YOUR PRACTICE
The following is a list of easy-to-follow steps to build your very own altar. With a little guidance, I’m sure your first will be a success!
- WHAT IS YOUR GOAL?
Writing this as an Eclectic Witch myself, the goal for my working altar (as opposed to the one I create for Sabbats and ancestors) is to provide a space to hold my magickal tools and give me an area where I can focus my spellwork and rituals.
Perhaps yours will be the same as mine. If not, you may wish the goal of your altar to:
- pay tribute to a deity you work with
- honor your ancestors
- regard the season
- celebrate Sabbats
- pay respect to anything else you deem important
- WHERE WILL YOU PUT YOUR ALTAR?
Location, location, location! Altar real estate is important. You can use your goal as guidance for where you will place your altar. If your goal is for ritual and spellwork, remember that you need to have enough space to perform. If your goal is a Sabbat altar, you won’t need as much space as a ritual altar but you will most likely want to see it every day.
If you aren’t the only person in your home, pay mind to how others feel and what their beliefs are. They may not be of the same faith or perhaps they would be offended by an altar put in a shared space. These are all things to consider before you begin to build.
- CLEANSE, CLEANSE, CLEANSE
You’ve got your goal and your spot picked out for your altar. Now it’s time to physically clean and then spiritually cleanse the space. Use appropriate cleaning solutions to spiff up the area, followed by your choice of cleansing methods – sound, smoke, visualization, etc.
When we cleanse, we leave an energetic vacuum behind. You want to make sure that you fill this vacuum with your specific intention. When we leave that vacuum open, it can fall prey to nasty wandering negative energies. Be diligent in your preparation.
- CHARGE YOUR ALTAR
Charging is the act of filling an object or space with intention or energy. It’s also known as consecrating or blessing. This step is crucial. Again, when we clean and cleanse a magickal tool, we leave an energetic vacuum behind. This vacuum leaves us open and vulnerable to wandering energies that will take up residence.
For this step, you will need either Florida Water, charged Moon Water, or your choice of cleansing oil/spray, plus a clean cloth. Immediately following cleansing, take your cloth and dip it in your chosen charging agent. In a deasil (clockwise) motion, wipe your altar while stating your intentions out loud. It can be something like:
“I consecrate this altar as a space of magick and Divine intersection.”
This can be changed to include any deities you work with or other goals you wish to set forth.
- WHAT WILL YOU PUT ON YOUR ALTAR?
Here’s where you get to be creative. The items and tools you choose for your altar should speak to your intuition. However, if your altar’s goal is specific to a religion, then by all means, follow the rules pertinent to the belief system.
Some ideas of things you may wish to add to your altar include:
- Herbs and flowers
- Items collected from Mother Nature
- Tarot cards
- Altar cloth to protect the surface and/or correspond with color magick
There is no limit to what you can use. You may wish to keep a minimalist altar or slowly build and add to it to create a large shrine. Remember, it’s YOURS so build it to your liking.
- ORGANIZE IT
This is the step where you decide where all of your chosen items will live on your altar. Take your time, try out different positions, and take a step back and see if you like how it looks. Sometimes it takes longer then the first round of placement before you’re happy with it.
- PUT IT TO USE
The final step is to interact with your altar. This ties directly into your goal. If it is an ancestor altar, start with presenting food offerings that they enjoyed while still alive. If your altar is for spellwork and rituals, start performing a couple.
If you find yourself hesitant to interact with your new altar, just take it slow. A simple ritual like lighting a candle is an easy way to get started. From there, aim for five minutes of being present at your altar every day. With time, it will come easier.
A NOTE ON CLEANSING
When first starting out, it can be pricy getting into witchcraft. I always suggest thrifting over buying brand new whenever you can. Just make sure anything brought into your home – new or used – gets thoroughly cleaned and cleansed before setting up. This will clear any magickal residue that may interfere with your efforts.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR ALTAR
As listed above, physically cleaning and spritually cleansing is a REQUIREMENT! With any tool that we use in our magickal practice, it must be cared for or else its efficacy will absolutely diminish over time.
A good rule of thumb that I stick to for my working altar is to clean and cleanse every month, during the Waning Moon. For my Sabbat altar, I clean and cleanse it every time the Wheel of the Year turns to coincide with the cycle to come.
As always, I hope that this post has taught you a thing or two about the care of your magickal tools. Do you already work with an altar? Is there anything you did or do differently with yours? Let me know in the comments. Bright Blessings and Happy Crafting!
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