Do you have an altar? That’s probably a silly question – most Pagans have an altar of some sort in their homes. It is where we worship, pray, celebrate, work our magic…
Is yours a permanent altar, set up all the time? Mine is. I used to only set up my altar for Sabbats and Esbats, but for most of the time I’ve been practicing I’ve had a permanent altar set up. I like having it there as a visible reminder of my path.
(Pack rat that I am, however, the top of it tends to become a catch-all for various bits and pieces of magical… stuff. Currently it contains (in addition the items that are supposed to be there) an assortment of feathers, rocks, and crystals, an extra athame or two (I’m an Air sign: I like knives), a leather pouch, an extra goblet (where did that come from?!), a few branches of sage (why?), and a small figurine of a horse (no clue, although I rather suspect that I put it there to keep it safe while I was working on my bookshelves).
(You know, there is something to be said for not having a permanent altar…)
A mess? Yes. But everything on it is, in some way, sacred. (Yes, even my little porcelain foal – I’ve had it for half of forever and it holds an emotional attachment for me.) And, yes, clearing the altar off for use is time consuming and sometimes I get irritated with myself about it, but it is also a chance to spend some time with my tools and other items, reminding myself to slow down and connect with the Sacred.
And that is one of the good things about setting your altar up each time – it gives you a chance to slowly enter into the right frame of mind for ritual as you bring out each tool and place it on your altar.
(Ha! My clutter serves a purpose! It forms a bridge between having a permanent altar and one that I set up each time.)
(More seriously, I just realized that most of the “not supposed to be there” stuff relates to either Air or Earth, the two elements that I tend to work with the most.)
Is your altar always the same? Mine generally is, minus the aforementioned odd items that congregate on it when I’m not looking. Sometimes I will decorate it for the Sabbats, but I don’t usually.
Whether I decorate it or do a separate Sabbat altar depends on how much stuff I’m decorating with – I still want my main altar to be useable and I just don’t feel overly comfortable with a candle flame and a burning incense stick next to dried cornhusks or wheat. (I set my besom on fire once when I was just starting out – I’m now very careful about what gets near the Fire element.)
(How did I set my besom on fire? That’s a story for another time!)
So, what’s on your altar? I’ll get some pictures of mine eventually, but in the meantime…
The altar cloth is a table runner that I embroidered ages ago and someone that my roommate used to work with crocheted the edging on. The fabric is white, the flosses I used for stitching are silky white and golds, and the crochet thread on the boarder is a yellow and white variegated.
My athame – the one I actually use – is a Depression Era glass cake knife. Hardly traditional, but I bought it at a flea market long before I’d heard of the Craft. I saw it, fell in love with it, and the guy gave me a really good deal on it because it was the end of the season. I owned it and moved it from home to home for a few years before I discovered my Path and it became my athame from that moment on.
My wand is a stick of wood found in a parking lot in downtown Pittsburgh. (Well, more in the Strip District than actually downtown.) There were no trees around, just this piece of wood that I walked past for a few days, each time thinking, “Hmmm. That would make a nice wand.” One day I stopped and picked it up, and it measured from the inside of my elbow to the tip of my middle finger. It was mine. (I still don’t know what kind of wood it is, how it ended up in that parking lot, or how it avoided being crushed beneath car tires for several days, but I do know that it is mine.)
There is a flat stone to represent Earth, and a small pottery saucer with a spiral on it that I use to hold matches until they cool, and an incense burner and “ash catcher” which never catches the ashes so there is also usually incense ash on my altar as well.
In the center there is a small cauldron.
For Fire I now use an oil lamp. (The trick to that is to remember to make sure there is oil in it before you start ritual – yet another story for another time.)
For Water I have a clear glass seashell that was originally supposed to be a candle holder. I put water in the hollow that was supposed to hold a votive candle.
And there is a goblet, of course. The goblet that I use does change occasionally, mostly because I haven’t found “the” goblet yet.
And, of course, there is a statue of the God, along with a couple pine cones and an antler that I found in some woods next to an old cemetery. There is also a statue of the Goddess, and an agate egg. I don’t usually use deity candles, but when I do I have a large variety of candles and holders to choose from. (Is there a witch out there anywhere who does not own enough candles to get through an extended power outage? Are there any others who could supply half the neighborhood with light during said power outage?)
And I have a bell. I really want to find a small gong but there isn’t any place here that sells them and I want to hear it before I buy it. Meanwhile, the bell has a fairly good sound that isn’t too jarring.
Sometimes there is a crystal ball. (I have a few crystal balls but I don’t know why – I can’t scry to save my life.)
The altar itself is an old secretary desk that I bought from a second hand shop. Closed up, it rather looks like a chest of drawers, and I love that I have the drop down desk for extra working space, not to mention all the storage of its drawers.
And that’s about it. (You know, I didn’t realize I had so much stuff on there…)