Recently I came across someone on Facebook who was very worried about sharing their first altar with a larger group. Partly there was a fear their altar wouldn’t be accepted as well as a feeling that they hadn’t been able to achieve their ideal with the space and tools to their disposal. It set my mind whirling and after I shared my thoughts with him I thought it would make a great first Pagan Blog Project offering.
So, here are my musings on the things you should be thinking about when you set about creating that first altar.
What is your purpose?
Are you creating something to honour a particular deity or turn of the year? Are you going to follow a particular tradition or work in an eclectic way? Once you’ve identified a purpose it will be easier to decide what you want to include as you will be able to make associations between the subject and what you include
Top Tip – Look around for inspiration. Facebook groups like Celebrating Pagan Altars and Patti Wigington at About.com are just two places where you can find pictures of people’s altars online. There are also groups and websites which focus on particular deities and seasonal rituals that will be able to give you ideas.
Consider your situation
How much space do you have? Have you really got enough space to set up in the just so way suggested in that books you read? Whilst there are hard and fast rules within some traditions and rituals and paths and conventions such as goddess on the left god on the right you should be flexible. If it’s impossible to set up a north facing altar or one that you can walk around then don’t worry and work with the space you have. I’ve had a thin strip bench altar for years, and I’ve worked off windowsills, box tops, chest of draws over the years and that’s just indoors. The set up you first create will adapt and grow over time so try not to be too self critical with your first one.
Top Tip– if in doubt be minimalistic, see how the most basic arrangement you can conceive works for you and grow from there.
Consider your finances
Have you really got enough money for censure and resins when joss sticks will do in a pinch? Ultimately your altar will grown over time and develop as you do so don’t worry about altar envy when you see other people’s pictures.
Top Tip– shop smart and stay open. Charity shops, car boot sales and thrift stores are a potential goldmine whether you are starting out or not. I found Min at a local car boot, and my Heket representation came from a market trader. I am the Thrift Queen. If you think it will work it probably will and its probably calling to you.
What do you want?
Don’t feel that you have to conform to anyone’s ideas or answer, not even mine. The one truth is that there is no One Truth. Every one is different and the solution that worked for a friend might not work for you. If this is a communal space you will need to be able to compromise about how the altar takes shape however given you likely have a common aim and purpose things should fall into place.
Top Tip– Let it reflect you. Its your altar, not theirs, so it should reflect your values, your praxis.
I’ve seen a variety of questions around Facebook so I thought I’d repeat three of them here and give brief answers.
What direction is your altar? West(ish) because it is most practical. In hindsight many of my past altars have been West facing although it has never been a conscious decision. The associations of this direction are also personally resonating.
What is your must have item? Myself, I don’t need tools to work magick but they are nice. If I had to pin it down I’d say candles, because I don’t want to stub my toe in the dark.
I can’t light candles or burn incense, what can I do? Firstly see above answer. An alternative to incense would be aromatherapy sprays or mists, it brings in the scent and the action can be incorporated into the ritual. They are also simple to make. Candles are harder to replace especially if they have purpose in your ritual or spell . You can keep the light on, although if you are wanting to create a mood you might want to use a side lamp or even ambient street light, and you can place the actual candle unlit and visualise it burning. Replacing deity candles can be done by using images instead.
I’ve added a couple of pictures of altars past at the end of this post to help with ideas should you be looking for any.