Rocking on with the last part of the ten steps...
6. Permanent Altar Items. I liken this to directing a play. If you were directing a play how would you arrange your scenery and setting to enhance the action? What important and significant items do you want on the altar which will be a constant reminder and inspiration to you; a representation of the Gods and Goddess in some form, a pentagram, chalice or drinking horn. Perhaps even your favourite tarot deck or runes. This is the ideal place to really express some of the cornerstones of your religion and magickal practice. This forms the main and constant backdrop to the altar - but permanent doesn’t have to mean forever, don’t feel compelled to keep something on your altar if it no longer serves you!
7. Temporary Altar Items. These the things which are on your altar for a defined purpose and for a limited period, they may reflect a current magical working, something you want to keep in your subconscious mind for a particular time period, or even perhaps seasonal or festival specific decorations and offerings. The key with these things is to treat them consciously and remove them when their purpose is served – don’t let them linger and become part of the background or start to rot, this will dilute their power and purpose and might start to dilute the powerful associations you hold with the altar itself.
8. Keep it clean and tidy. I am not the world’s most enthusiastic cleaner, I have a dust allergy as well which only reinforces my view that I was not born to do lots of housework. But even I make an exception in the case of my altar. Seeing your personal altar choked with dust and covered in rotting flowers and fruit can give you a shocking insight into the state of your spiritual health so keep it clean. I try to clean my altar as an act of meditation rather than as part of the same frenetic and hateful job I do all over the house – perhaps one day I sweep the floors and clean the oven in the same way…but I fear that day is a long way off.
9. Make it Personal. If it wasn’t already obvious I am saying this again. Your altar is your personal connection to the Universe, the Gods, Spirit, and the Ancestors etc. So make it all about you. Don’t accept anyone else’s word for it concerning what should be on your Personal altar – re-examine all your beliefs and associations and pick what resonates for you now. Then in a week, a month, six months check that this is all still what is right for you. If we were setting up a specific altar for a particular ceremonial magical purpose then I might say something different – but we aren’t. This is a personal empowerment altar. Make it personally empowering!
10. And Activate! My experience of altars as described in my last few posts is that they can be active or passive. When I want to activate my altar I light the candles and incense I keep on it. Then I stand before the altar and place my hands palms upwards on either side of the top of the altar. In this position I close my eyes and feel the power in the altar, I feel and visualise the altar opening up like a door or even a chakra and I know it is working when I feel the energy start to flow into me, through me and around me into the room. It makes the room feel charged, positive and empowered. Great stuff.
I can't sum up these 10 steps better than William Morris so I'll leave you with his famous quote...
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” (William Morris)
I would love to hear about your altars and see pictures of them so please do comment and let me know how you use this practice!
Here is the first five of ten ideas for transforming your altar:
1. Location, Location, Location. Work out where you want to put your altar. You might want to dowse, or you might just *know* where the perfect spot is. But I would always urge you to consider that the more times in a day you pass the altar the more likely you are to be provoked to use it. Of course everyone is different and you might have important practical reasons for wanting the altar hidden and out of the way but if you can give it a go in a more public space then trial it for a week and see if it works for you!
2. Cleansing the space. Before you start to use your altar you will want to spiritually cleanse the space. This has two effects – firstly, psychologically you will feel better about the space if it is cleansed; it will feel more sacred to you. Secondly it will remove any unwanted energy from the area, this space should be a heartfelt manifestation of your spiritual being so don’t allow anything in the space which you don’t put there yourself actively and with intention.
3. Establishing ground rules with your housemates. Most people live with someone else and it is polite to establish some ground rules here about what it is and is not ok to do in a communal living space. Be respectful of their wishes and ask that they respect yours – for example your housemates may be fine if you have an altar in a communal space as long as you don’t burn incense because the don’t like the smell. Equally you might ask that they do not touch your altar, lean on it or leave mugs of tea on it.
4. Make it special. In my last two posts I talked about how I treat my altar as a combination of an amphitheatre where I converse with the Gods and the Universe, a workspace, a portal, an energy centre and a part of my subconscious. Any one of these things is special so dress you altar in a way which reflects how and why it is special to you. If you need your space to be clear and uncluttered then make it clean and simple but above all I think that altar should invoke a sense of wonder and beauty and it is to this end that I decorate my space with things which are deliciously scented and gorgeous to look at. If you treat the altar as a special place by decorating it and cleaning it in a mindful way then it will be a special place.
5. Getting you in the Mood. I have talked a great deal in the past about using positive triggers to get you in the mood for spirituality. On my altar I light candles, I burn incense and I keep sweet smelling herbs – all of which are things which I associate with being in a spiritual state of mind and which therefore invoke that state of mind in my when I use them. I think that the act of candles and lightening incense in itself is a powerful act. It draws a line under the mundane day and signals to your subconscious that you are ready to start some serious spiritual work.
Tune in tomorrow for tips 6-10!
Poppet me do.
Recently I took the big step of moving my altar into our main living space (after consulting closely with the person I share the space with). It is in the living room, where we spend much of our busy time; in fact you couldn’t get a space which is much more mundane. This might seem like a bad place for an altar – it even shares a room with the TV! But in fact moving it here has radically improved my relationship with the altar space in ways both expected and unexpected.
As you may remember I am on a journey to integrate and bring myself into alignment, to consciously acknowledge and embrace everything I am. There is no stronger way of demonstrating that in my mind than moving my altar into the most public and mundane space in the house. It is a physical commitment to living in the most authentic way that I can, both in terms of bringing spirituality into my everyday life and being very open about that spirituality.
But there have been two other benefits to the move. Firstly the placement of the altar has improved and expanded the quality of the energy in the room itself and secondly since moving the altar I now use it all the time. Because I don’t have to make a special journey up two floors to get to the altar and I am seeing it constantly and thus constantly reminded of it, prompting me to use it more often. It is now a part of the fabric of my daily life and since bringing it into my daily life the altar has itself been very active in putting a very positive energy into my living space.
A short period after setting up the new altar it began to take on an energetic life of its own. The first thing that happened involved my Gods and Goddesses. Very soon after I moved and re-consecrated the altar the Deities moved in. I remember standing before the altar, stilling my mind and breathing in incense and suddenly realising that the Deities I work with were all arrayed in front of me, a little way behind the altar, like a council of wise teachers. Now every time I want to touch in with my Gods and Goddesses then I will usually make a speedy trip to the altar and suddenly they are simply there.
Next I became aware of the altar in a completely different way – as a portal to the magickal world. Most of the time the portal is closed, however it became obvious once the altar was established that there was a portal which I could open if I needed to something which simply had not been the case in its previous location.
Lastly it can change the energy in the room. The altar exists in two states, dormant and active. When it is dormant it is quietly and gently magickal, it is a part of the scenery of the room, just a part of the scenery which is whispering sweet things to my subconscious. When I choose to activate the altar it becomes a hugely powerful centre of the room which can raise the energy levels of the whole room, meaning that any work I am doing in the space around the altar or even simply writing on my laptop at the dining table is then bathed in that energy.
I am a total convert to the power and usefulness of personal altars especially as a stunningly, powerful tool for deconstructing and affirming your faith and your magickal practice. But even I didn't realise how much of a life of their own they can take on.
Next post coming 10 Steps to a Personal Altar!
Altars are common in so many faiths around the world in both halls of worship and homes. They can be both temporary and permanent but in all cases there are multiple layers of meaning, enlightenment and empowerment within the form. At its most basic level it is a surface which provides a focus point for religious worship (and magickal acts) on which can be placed a number of objects with religious significance, such as offerings and ritual tools. It is a sacred place consecrated and dedicated; but the many uses of the Alar are wildly and gloriously divergent according to faith, culture and personal practice. Some faiths are proscriptive about what should (and should not) be on the altar – others like Eclectic Paganism are totally freeform.
But I want to get into the nitty gritty of what an altar can really do for you and how I underwent a recent altar renaissance which has profoundly changed my outlook on this form of practice.
I use altars in three primary ways:
a) As a Sacred Space.This aspect is probably familiar enough to most people. I keep the altar clean and tidy, I may put offerings to various Deities in the space as a means of connecting with them but vitally I only place items on the altar which I actively WANT to have in the space. This means that when I stand before the altar and tune in to the sacredness of the space I am turning my thoughts towards the spiritual, and away from the mundane. It is one of the many ways I use to help me tune in to a more sacred mode of being and thinking from time to time.
b) A physical workbench for doing Magick.Because an altar is consecrated and sacred and therefore contains only those things I want in the space it is a perfect blank slate for performing acts of Magick. Nothing will be jarring in the space, physically or energetically and so nothing will interfere with the Magick in a way I do not desire. Equally doing Magick in this space feels (even more than usual) like I am bringing it to the attention of the Gods and the Universe. The Altar is a direct and powerful link with the spiritual realm (I’ll talk a bit more about this in later posts) and therefore when I do Magick on the Altar I am asking the Universe and the Gods to pay attention…be very careful about what you ask the Universe to pay attention to!
c) As a Second Brain.Finally, if I have an idea I want to mull over in my sub-conscious then I can put a representation of that on my altar. I will seethe object as I go about my business and it will be a reminder of the thing I want to connect with. I love this idea of a gentle sort of magickal act forming part of the background hum of my day but nevertheless slowly and quietly changing me. Examples of this might be a quotation or a tarot card; currently I have an old worn key on my altar as a precursor to some work I’ll be doing shortly.
But as I said before I recently changed my Altar set up. Since then how I use the Altar has radically changed and taken on a life of its own. Read all about it in the next post!