A is for Altars

Background

When I was growing up my father would always collect stones, leaves and interesting things from our walks. The windowsill and the front step were covered in little beautiful pieces from everywhere we’d been. There were also candles, though these were rarely lit.

My windowsill follows this same pattern (things collected), though mine is compiled, arranged and sustained as part of my personal spirituality and as an expression of my faith. It is a place to meditate and reflect, and simply a beautiful place to enjoy. Everything except the candles was either found outside or given to me as a gift, which is important to me. I feel quite strongly that spirituality should not be something you can buy in a shop, not something consumable, which is why – despite loving sparkly crystals – I refuse to pay £££ to buy them in shops. I don’t mean that people shouldn’t receive money for their hard work, because there are some incredible creations out there. I just mean that I think representations of my own spirituality and expressions of my own faith should be received as gifts, created myself, or found in nature. It doesn’t feel right otherwise. (Expect a post about this!)

Reasons

I like my altar because it helps me to feel grounded. It indicates that I own the space, that I have called somewhere my home. It’s a bit of the outdoors inside my bedroom, and it’s lovely. It was not made with any deity or force in mind, but simply as an expression of joy and of faith. I subsequently tried to offer it to a deity, but this just did not feel right. I think an altar should be created with them in mind, not given to them as an afterthought.

Description

My altar has at its centre a carved wooden bowl from my stepfather surrounded by eight tea lights. Inside the bowl is all my precious jewellery: a ring from my sister, my father’s wedding ring, a gift from my friend S, and so on. The items aren’t monetarily valuable, but they are precious because they are dear to me. The bowl also contains a charm bracelet which has gifts from both my grandmothers, reminders of personal goals achieved, and a memorial piece for a friend I lost. It’s like a little collection of symbols from loved ones throughout my life, and it makes me feel loved.

On the windowsill itself is a collection of stones and leaves I’ve collected in the last few years. I have stones that I took from the beach when I used to live by the sea. In the last few weeks I’ve added fallen leaves I’ve found on walks: oak, a sprig of pine and something maple-shaped. I also found a perfect wand, lying waiting for me under a silver birch. The same day I received a silver birch leaf necklace as a gift from my friend Somhairle, which felt serendipitous! It sits next to its wood-mate.

My knitting needles, ukulele and penny whistle live on the windowsill too. (More on this in a few weeks in ‘C: Creation as an act of faith’.)

In the coming weeks I am planning to paint my own Wheel of the Year, which will be placed centrally.

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5 Comments

Filed under pagan blog project

5 responses to “A is for Altars

  1. Cledon

    Your altar sounds very down to earth and lovely. I went through a phase in my life where I collected small rocks just because they were interesting/connected with certain locations and would blanket my window sill with them. That stopped when I got a cat companion who insisted it interfered with her window meditations.

    • Thank you. I’m [un]fortunate enough not to have any pets at the moment, so my belongings tend to stay where they belong. I know I couldn’t have had any type of altar when I had my pet rats. They would have chewed it, climbed all over it, and finally fallen asleep on it!

  2. I agree with you – I don’t set my altar up for a certain Deity. My altar is set up for what resonates my inner self.

  3. Your altar sounds lovely. Simple, straightforward, personal. All good things.

    I like my altar because it helps me to feel grounded. It indicates that I own the space, that I have called somewhere my home.

    This. I have huge issues with finding places to call home, so wherever I’ve lived I’ve needed to be able to set up a proper altar. If I can’t…I never feel safe in that place.

    I tend to have several altars, too — I’ve got one for the main Three I worship, one for my ancestors, one for Aphrodite, and one for the rest of the Hellenic gods. I used to have altar space that was also a collection of personal items, but since moving I’ve had to downsize considerably. (F’ex, the altar to the Hellenic gods, the altar to the Three, and the ancestor altar are all on the same surface now. But luckily this new place also has a mantlepiece, where I can set up a small seasonal altar, as well as a space above the kitchen sink where I can have an altar to Hestia — so that sort of makes up for the smaller overall space.)

    Often when I travel anywhere for any length of time, I bring along my travel altar. Depending on where I’m going this can be small — one candle and my mala — or big — my old make-up case, repurposed to hold sacred items. If I’m going somewhere that won’t allow candles, I try to bring some representation of flame that I can fiddle with, to simulate lighting a candle (said make-up case plugs into wall and has vanity lights on the inside).

  4. Agree with much of what you say here. We think that many of the ideas for altars and shrines that you find in books and on websites, are useful as long as you treat them as suggestions or templates. It’s not good in the long run if people feel too constrained by them or think they haven’t got the ‘right’ representations upon their altar and worry where they can buy them. Whenever we experience the inspiration to create an altar, synchronicity often cuts in an we often ‘find’ just what we’re looking for in the course of our everyday activities.

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