Altars and Sacred Spaces
Article By: Eilfie Music
Altars can be many things and can come in many sizes. Some are for the worship of a certain deity or a pantheon, others are a place to store objects of power until needed, and some are a visual reminder of what the individual is striving for. The items placed on this space usually have some sacred meaning to the person, whether it is physical representations of the elements, statues of saints or gods, or simply the burning of incense and candles. This space is designated to a certain area due to the direction it will be facing, energy flow, or where it can fit in with the rest of everyday life, such as an out of the way corner of a room. Some people can have permanent altars set up year round, while others keep them stored away until they are needed.
Over the years I’ve had many altars in many sizes and set-ups. They have moved around my room and my current altar is now in a corner of the living room. The altar has also changed due to the changes in my studies. In some ways, the altar can be a physical representation of how you view your spiritual life. Like a journal, it grows and shifts from month to month and year to year. I also see altars as works of art that can be as elaborate or simple as the person. An altar does not require the priciest items or the most elaborate displays of devotion; they can be as simple as a bowl of salt, a candle, and a stick of incense.
When I first started creating my altars, I worked primarily with items I could find around the house. This would include decorative plates to hold items, an old belt buckle of a dragon, and feathers I found while walking around the woods. My very first altar was on an old steamer trunk which I would keep the items in when not in use due to space and cats knocking things over. This was also when I was first learning about the mechanics of ritual work and magick. I tried to keep to the formula that I was finding in various books such as A Grimoire of Shadows by Ed Fitch that had a visual of how an altar should look and what each item was for. I have since altered it to more what works for me and what I have learned over the years. These days, my current altar, as I said, sits in the corner of my living room, and is on a small cabinet that I bought at Michael’s art shop recently. It has just enough space on top for setup and plenty of space inside to put everything away or store extra items to change the setup. This worked very well when I had to move the whole thing to repaint the room. So I recommend that even if you have space for a more permanent altar, to have storage space nearby in case you need to move it or rearrange items, since some people reset it according to the seasons and holidays.
Even though when I first started to put my altars together I used the guidelines of a book, I also used that as a jumping point. Unless you follow a specific path that requires certain items on your altar at all times, you can start experimenting and see what works best for you. The books that give examples of how an altar is set up should be seen as just that – examples. It is good to learn the framework first to know why any of the items are used, but then start deconstructing the ideas and make it truly speak to you. This is your personal altar and is a connection between you and your spiritual self.
However you choose to set up your altar, you should remember to also keep it tidy. If this space is a representation of you and your spiritual path, it says something when the space becomes dusty and unused. This has happened to my altar a couple times before. Just like with your everyday personal space, the state of your spiritual space is a physical representation of the order of your mind. So when my altar has ended up in that state of dust and neglect, it is time to clean and reset the space. When I clean my altar space, it allows me to reevaluated what I have placed on the setting and whether or not it still needs to be there. If you want to get really elaborate with this, you can take photos of your altar over the year and see what changes on it and how that corresponds to your life.
With people’s busy lives in this day and age, it is at times difficult to dedicate each day to our spiritual path, but when that is not possible an altar can at least give us a reminder to know when to step away from the everyday life for a little bit and turn inwards.
- Fitch, Ed A Grimoire of Shadows: Witchcraft, Paganism, & Magick Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN 6th. Printing 2001
- Moura, (Aoumiel)Ann Green Witchcraft:Folk Magic, Fairy Lore, & Herb Craft Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN 8th. Printing 1999
- Cunningham, Scott Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN 1999
- Cabot, Laurie Power of the Witch: The Earth, The Moon, And The Magical Path to Enlightenment Dell Publishing, New York, NY, 1989