Friday, August 12, 2011

How-to: Set Up an Altar

This is a question that gets asked on a pretty regular basis--how you you set up an altar or what is the "right" way to set up an altar.  For starters, it really depends on what tradition(s) you might be working in.  Someone who is a practicing Catholic is going to have a very different looking altar than someone who is Baptist or Hindu.  Furthermore, in many folk magic traditions altars are not necessary or are even relatively late inventions.  However, there are some general rules to consider when creating an altar or sacred space for yourself.

  • What do you do?  Do you light a lot of candles?  You probably need a place for matches as well as candle lighting tools, if you use oils you need a dark cool place to store those as well.  If you work with needle and thread a lot then you might want to consider dedicating a part of your craft or sewing room to your ritual work.  If you write recipes and petitions then you writing desk might be where you do most of your work.  An altar is a place of honoring the Divine and a place where you can do your sacred work--it does not have to be in any one specific room or locale.
  • East is for gain and West is for decrease.  This idea comes out of the very old tradition of following the sun--the sun rises in the East so on a spiritual and metaphorical level our desires, fortunes, and dreams can rise and gain strength with that fiery star.  It sets in the West allowing our fears, bad habits, and negative issues to go down with it.  If you want to set up a prosperity altar you might think that given the above rule you would place it in the East, but I encourage you to think about what the biggest challenge to your prosperity is.  If you really need to draw more money then make that altar in the East, but if you really need to decrease debt you might want to consider a Western banishing altar.
  • Altars need to have tools that you actually use.  If you are going to use your altar for prayer then have your rosary or mala or prayer beads and sacred text ready to go.  If you do a lot of hands on ritual work at your altar have the tools that you need for that--do not try to have a high magic ceremonial altar unless you actually are a ceremonial magician
  • Altars need to be private--usually this is true--an altar needs to be in a more private place so that when you are working at it you attention and intention are clearly focused and uninterrupted.
  • Altars should be beautiful--consider your tradition and influences, build something that is pleasing to you and to your Higher Power(s), don't skimp and remember: simple can be beautiful.  You are also not limited to only working with table top space--decorate the walls and floor around your altar as well.
  • You might need more than one.  If you are an active amateur or a professional then I recommend you have at least 3 altars--2 are for clients: one for increase and one for decrease and the third is your own personal altar where you go to reground and pray or meditate.  If you find yourself doing a lot of one type of work you might want to consider creating an altar specifically for that as well.
  • Altars are not magically shielded from dust and debris--at least mine aren't--like everything else they require consistent upkeep and cleaning.
Creating altars should be invigorating and fun!  If you start to really stress about it then stop--don't force the issue--altars have a way of letting you know where they need to be and when they need to be created.  Trust yourself to know when the right time is.

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