I swear to all the possible deities in our universe and beyond… it took me twenty minutes to open up this new post page. I wish I could blame it on the extreme wind outside, but no. Our internet provider is just the worst possible provider, ever.
But you cannot stop old determined Mori. I get what I want when I want it – well, maybe with a twenty minute delay – and I eventually managed to get this damn page loaded. No thanks to my internet provider.
I’m going to talk to you today about a topic I really, really love. Altars and shrines.
Altar vs. Shrine: What’s the Difference?
I wish I could tell you that there is some big important difference in order to make this post longer and more interesting, but in reality… there isn’t a very big difference. Many people will tell you that the difference is, more or less –
Altar: the space where you do your workings, or a generally religious space where your workings and meditations and that sort of stuff is carried out.
Shrine: the space dedicated to a certain god, goddess, spirit.
They are not wrong, that is a difference, of course. But for the most part, you’ll often see people with what is a space dedicated to a certain god, goddess or spirit and call it an altar. You’ll see small spaces to do one’s witchcraft workings that are called shrines by their owners. In the general sense, considering that people will call what is supposedly an altar a shrine and vice versa, they are a very similar thing. Above all, though, you call your sacred or working space whatever you want to call it.
To me, the difference is a little bigger than that. I personally see an altar as a place of work for witchcraft and a display of one’s crystals and similar items. Those crystals aren’t simply being displayed, as they are constantly releasing and absorbing energy and working while just looking pretty on that shelf. A shrine, for me, is the religious one. For example, I have my witchy altar where I do my witchy workings, but my Kemetic shrine is a totally different story. I do my religious rituals there, I give offerings… My worship differs from my work, and I like my sacred spaces to show that difference.
Overall, your sacred space is yours, and if you prefer the term altar or shrine, it is entirely up to you.
How to Make an Altar or Shrine
This is the fun part, because you get to be creative. Ideally, before you set your place up, spend some time thinking about what you want it to reflect. Depending on your preferences, you may want to use only items of a specific colour, or you might want to show more of one element or another, or you may want to have a lot of space to do your work… The possibilities are endless.
Can’t think of anything? No problem – sometimes it comes to you by just putting stuff on that space.
Here is a list of things you might find useful on a pagan or witchy altar(or shrine).
- Things to represent the elements. This can include feathers for air, candles for fire, a small jug for water, and a potted plant for earth. If you also include spirit in your elemental list, you could put a talisman or special candle there. These are especially useful if you are an elemental witch or if you want to honor all aspects of nature. You can even take the elemental pentagram and put items on your shrine in places according to the positions of the elements on the pentagram diagram.
- Candles. Good for simple candle magic, the fire element, offerings, symbolism, and making your place look nice and cozy when lit. Try out different shapes, scents and colors for different deities, elements or intents. Want a constant flow of money into your life? Keep a green candle lit on your altar and enchant it with positive energy and maybe surround it with gemstones and herbs that correspond with finances. You can even take an old pentacles(coins) Tarot card and put the candle on that card to allow for that monetary energy to bring you some cash. Make sure you watch that candle, though. It might burn out on its own but it can also burn down to the bottom and set that card on fire and you don’t want that.
- Crystals, gemstones, good ol’ plain rocks. Decorate it with cool looking rocks that match your intent, or decorate it with those that don’t necessarily match your intent but you feel drawn to. Do you like violet colors? Cover that shelf with Amethyst. Like a pretty palette? Use Fluorite or watermelon Tourmaline! Or maybe you’re like me and get easily distracted and amused by reflective or shiny things? Try Labradorite, Opal, or Moonstone. Feeling crazy? Crazy Lace Agate is your new best friend, or Malachite if you’re feeling crazy and green. Feeli– okay okay, you get the point. Another thing you can do is make crystal grids. I will speak more about those in the fifth week when the letter C comes in. You might also like to stack up little Sodalite towers and use them to charge your other crystals. The possibilities here are endless. You could even pour out a box of a gemstone mix onto a table, and if that feels right for you, it counts. You can use stones with correspondences relating to your current situation or magical intent. Kinda like that money candle, but with crystals instead.
- Wand. If you use a wand, a good place to keep it is your altar. You can even bless, enchant or protect your altar using the wand when you put it all together, or every morning if you want. Plus, it looks nice on an altar.
- A deity statue(or two). I have an obsession with statues. My Kemetic shrine has a few of them and I am constantly looking for more. I have been lucky to get two from fellow Kemetics, so if you worship deities and want a statue, see if there’s someone on Tumblr or wherever giving one away. (Of course, be careful giving out your address to random strangers. You want a statue after all, not postal spam.)
- Bones. If you use bones – and it’s okay if you don’t – you can keep them on the Altar, too. Bone magic, divination, or even as offerings, they make a nice addition to your little space.
- Book of Shadows. Or a Grimoire, or a notebook if you will. The Altar is a good place to keep it and if you have a chair at your altar, you can actually write in your BoS while at your altar for that ultimate witchy feel.
- Offering bowl. Or a plate. Or anything, really. Something to put offerings for deities into, again if you follow deities. You could also use a bowl for water for offerings or even for non-religious, spiritual workings.
- Incense holder. You can offer incense, or you can burn it for a spell, or you can burn it ’cause it smells damn nice.
- Jars, sachets, and boxes. Good for storing all those tools or for making spell jars and similar things.
- Athame. Not everyone uses one and that’s okay. I had one for a while, then I decided I didn’t really need it, then I had one again, and now I’m not using one again. An Athame can work similarly to a wand in directing energy and such.
- Books. You can put books relating to paganism, witchcraft, or whatever your practice is. You can also throw in a mystery novel if you like that, too, because after all, your sacred space is supposed to be a positive place for you. Which brings me to my next point…
- Valuable or positive things you like. You want your altar or shrine to reflect your practice, but you also want it to be a place you enjoy being in. My witchcraft altar has my Aloe Vera plant sometimes because I have no other place for it in my tiny room but also because I love my plant and even though I very rarely use it for witchcraft it makes me happy and adds a positive note to my altar. I even have a small statue of a dragon that doesn’t really relate to anything of my practice, just that I really like it and it makes me smile. This makes my altar a pleasant place to be. I think it’s one thing to have a sacred space and another to have a truly sacred space.
You can also put on it a bunch of other stuff, like a cauldron, mortar and pestle, canvas prints, chalice, whatever you want. You can also have an altar that doesn’t have any of the things I mentioned in this post. That’s the cool part about having an altar or shrine, it’s totally yours. The look of it and the amount of stuff is all up to you. You can have a table full of crystals, tarot decks, statues, herbs, whatever else – or you can have a simple plant and candle if you will. It is not any less of an altar or shrine or sacred space if it has less items than someone else’s does.
Where Should I Put My Altar?
Wherever you want. Some people might say it has to face a certain direction or be at a certain height but, in the end, whatever makes you comfortable. Most people usually choose a shelf or a small table or cabinet. (Personally, I use a windowsill. But one day, when I have my own house, I’m going to dedicate one entire room and make an outdoor shrine in the garden. But that’s one day…)
Altars and Practices: Reassurance for the Atheist(Witch)
If you’re an atheist witch, you can still have an altar. As said above, not all of them are religious and so, you can adjust it as it fits. If you don’t even practice witchcraft and don’t believe in any deity you can still totally have an altar. It’s not just for religious or spiritual purposes, it can also just be a place to meditate and relax. Different colors and gemstones work differently on the mind from a psychological point of view, so if you find green stones to be calming, you could set up a green-colored altar. All up to you, again. It’s a good place to sit in to clear your head, do some writing or reading, to relax, or even to sleep and recharge.
Where Does Everything Go?
You can put things anywhere on your altar. You can make a layout, have your candles or gems form a shape, or it can be random. Usually the general outlook is that a statue stands in the middle or on the north of the altar, surrounded by everything else like candles and stones. Offering bowls and plates are usually put in the middle in front of the deity statue, but again, this can vary. You could even take two statues and put them on the left and right sides on the altar, and put everything else in the middle. You do you!
Travel Altars & Shrines
You can make small travel altars to take with you when you… well, travel. You can use a small tin box, or a plastic box if you will, and put in a small candle, an image of your deity, a stone or two, a herb, maybe a small scented gel ball for scent. Some people use a locket, and some people use a plain necklace. They will pray while holding the necklace or just use the necklace to calm down or recharge. They could wear it for protection as well. Another form of a travel altar is a simple small candle with the intents or deity names engraved in it. Light it at any time when you travel and you’re all set to go! You can even use birthday candles for this as they are smaller than tealights and thus, more portable. If you want to use incense in a travel altar, use cones, they take up less space.
And there you go!
As you can see, an altar is a very creative process and it can be very positive and beneficial for you. Give it a try if you’re new to this, and even if you already have an altar, send me pictures! I’d love to see what you come up with.
That’s all! I hope you enjoyed this post, forgive me for rambling at times. I’m a bit of a chatterbox on the web.
By the way, I’m taking suggestions for all those topics! From B to Z, if you want me to cover something, just let me know.
☽ Mori ☾